El Calafate, Argentina

Getting to El Calafate on the cheap requires quite some efforts. I took the very early morning bus to Puerto Montt then transferred to the airport to fly to Punta Arenas. Luckily Tur-Bus has direct bus service from the airport to Puerto Natales. Being in the low season, there is only one bus departure to El Calafate at 8am and it was already 6pm by the time I got to Puerto Natales. I finally settled in for the night at a random hostel after an hour of ordeal finding a place because all the hostels listed on my lonely planet guide book were either full or closed.

There were only two passengers including me on the bus that left for El Calafate. Border formalities were a breeze. Journey takes about 4 hours and I got to see the famous Torres del Paine from a great distance during the first half of the bus ride on the plateau which was still covered in snow at the time. El Calafate is a touristic small town which is about an hour away by car to the Perito Moreno National Park to see the glacier. The America del Sur hostel that I stayed at has a very good view of the lake right next to this little town. I spent my first day researching for transportation to the national park and walking around town. I bought the transportation package from a travel agent that let me use my credit card to pay. The tourist van leaves at 9am in the morning and comes back at 5pm. Entrance is 100 pesos paid at the entrance. I also went on a cruise that gets as close as 300 meters to the glacier and feel that it’s worth the money. The glacier is really impressive simply because of its size- 74 meters (240 ft) tall and 5 kilometers (3 mi) wide with snow-capped mountains along the glacier. The frequent mighty sounds of cracking and collapsing of the glaciers make me realize how powerful the nature is. There are a couple of trails that lead to different balconies for different views of the glaciers and every single one has great view. I am glad that my transportation package gives me 4 hours of time which is more than enough to walk all the trails as some tours only give you an hour of free time.

Dawn in Puerto Montt

The amazing Andes mountains

Passing through a snow covered plateau

First glimpse of the glacier

Trail leads to different balconies different views

Cracking ice sounds can often be heard at a serene scene like this

The glaciers are about 30km (19 mi) long

View from cruise ship

Collapsing ice makes great sounds

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Valdivia, Chile

A 3-hour morning bus ride from Pucon and I arrived at the river front bus terminal in Valdivia. Following the directions from the Airesbuenos hostel’s website, it was an easy 10-min walk. First task after settling down my belongings was no doubt getting my flight ticket to Punta Arenas. The flight leaves in four days meaning I have three days to spend in Valdivia and another one for commuting. It is rainy season in August and very cold so I did not see a lot of tourists. I had a Cazuela (stew) for lunch at a local restaurant for 2900 COP and it was delicious.  As it rained every day during my stay in Valdivia, I did not go out to explore the city very often. To be honest, I feel that this is just a college town like Cordoba in Argentina except that it’s rainy and cold. I never thought of coming to this town if it weren’t for my cancelled ferry ticket and the Sky Airlines’ sales office. I chose to let the nature takes its course and ended up in this town. The town center is relatively small to explore for sightseeing purpose. It can be explored easily in 3-4 hours by foot. Another attraction I visited was the Castillo Corral which requires a 20 minutes scenic bus ride to get there. I wanted to go to another castle on another island by ferry but the foul weather prevented me from doing so and I ended up going to the Castillo Corral. All I did was walking around the castle in the super strong winter wind and visiting the free museum on site. My last day in Valdivia was spent by research of transportation in the South to get to Puerto Natales from Punta Arenas while waiting for my 4am bus to Puerto Montt. I am really grateful to the hostel owner that let me stay in the hostel until my departure time because the terminal was closed at 12am until 3.30am.

Valdivia center's riverbank

Skyline of a college town

A very typical landscape in the region

Museum in Castillo Corral

Cannons at Castillo Corral

Gloomy sky happpens everyday

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Pucon, Chile

I only had a general direction of where I was headed after getting back to Santiago- South to Patagonia and eventually El Calafate for the glacier. But I had no idea which city and how I was going to get there. My Navimag ferry ticket was bought this time so I had an idea of when I should be in Puerto Montt for the ferry to Puerto Natales. The task for now is just to find a city with cheap hostel midway to the South to kill a few days. So I looked up hostelworld and found that Pucon has a hostel that fits my budget. I had booked the night bus with Tur-Bus leaving around 11pm but the daylight savings time change made me miss that bus. I bought another ticket for the last departure and arrived in Pucon about 8am in the morning. The views along the lake before arrival were very scenic and different from Santiago. As soon as I got off the bus, the cold in the region made me open my luggage to get my warmest jacket. After checking in, I decided to use the superfast internet to call LAN Chile to track the status of my luggage claim as my luggage was damaged during the flight to Easter Island. No conclusion was drawn after two hours of effort dealing with the LAN Chile staffs who don’t really speak English. The boss from the hostel kept coming trying to talk to me to introduce me the tours they offer. I have to say that none of the tours appealed me and I really hate it whenever a hostel staff or owner pushes me to do a tour with them. I used my usual excuse that I needed more time to think to excuse myself from the situation. The rest of the day was spent wandering around town and waiting for the BBQ dinner. On the second day, I somehow still went with the cheaper tour to the thermal spring. As expected, the tour was mediocre and only in Spanish. And I found out that my ferry schedule has been cancelled due to the foul weather in the south. I spent the rest of the night on the internet looking for an alternative to go south as well as which city to go next. I found an affordable flight to Punta Arenas from Puerto Montt on Sky Airlines but it only takes Chilean credit card. I had to go to the nearest big city with the airlines’ sales office to get this flight booked: Valdivia.

Pucon lake

Best Picture I Took In Pucon

Walking Around In Downtown Pucon

The Thermal Spring

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Easter Island

I have five days on the island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Having heard that provisions are expensive on the island, I went there fully prepared with groceries. Even though it’s an island in the middle of the ocean, the weather is still pretty chilly in mid-August as it is winter in the southern hemisphere. When I arrived at the airport, the owner of the Petero Atamu hostel was already waiting for me and other guests with our names on a card board at the arrival hall. I also bought the entrance ticket to the national park at a discounted rate which includes the Orongo (crater and ceremonial site) and Rano Raraku (for the two famous “talking moai’s.) Right after we settled down our luggage, the owner brought us to a free food-giving event for lunch. It was a very authentic local cuisine. The leftover sustained me the meat supply of my entire stay. Having overnighted at the airport the previous night, I slept through my first day on the island. Second and third day were spent walking around the only city center Hanga Roa and the trail just north of town with a couple restored Moai’s along the coast.  I started the 4km trail late and ended up walking the trail back in the dark with no lighting except the flashlight on my ipod touch. It was a very scary experience. I tried to go to the Orongo by foot which was the ceremonial village of the inhabitants back in the days but failed because I got lost in the trail and my tour to see the typical attractions on the island until the last day because of some communication mistake. But my new friends at the hostel invited me to the only beach on the island and we had a good time on the beach. Anyways, my last day on the island was the most productive day. Because of the miscommunication, I was the only one in the tour which makes it a “private tour.” And I got to visit the Orongo that I did not get see the day before. View of the city from Orongo is pretty impressive. My favorite sites are the 15 moai’s and the Rano Raraku which is the moai factory on the island. I took great shots on both sites and am very glad that the weather was the best that day during my entire stay on the island.

Restored moai's north of town

 

Original fallen moai

Another row of moai's by the beach

15 moai's with another fallen one

Famous talking moai's at the Rano Raraku

Most of the "bodies" are buried under soil

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Santiago, Chile

My favorite capital city in South America, Santiago de Chile, hands down. Right after I was tortured by the public transportation in Colombia, I arrived at this beautiful capital city in the south right by the grand Andes mountains. Bus to city center from the airport leaves outside door T5 on the arrival hall. Convenient subway system makes everywhere in the city so accessible. I stayed at Chilli hostel and moved to the Ecohostel after getting attacked by bedbugs and everything was good after that. What I noticed in this city was there are a lot of universities and supermarkets are well stocked with the greatest variety of food. Supermarket is a must-visit place in every city I go because everything becomes super affordable so I can stretch my dollar to the largest possible extent in order to last my trip as long as I could. Going to the supermarket also gives me a feeling of living like a local in the city while I’m looking at those exotic products that I can’t find in the city I reside. I joined a free walking tour which is based on tipping the tour guide from how satisfied you feel about the tour. I really recommend it because they make the tour very enjoyable and you get to hear the story of the city and some tips from local. Another benefit of joining tours like this is that you get to meet other travelers which makes it a two birds, one stone scenario. Attractions in the city are the typical ones I find at any other cities: plazas, monuments, museums, cathedrals, and governor’s palace. But one thing that makes Santiago stands out is the Andes mountains in the background of every picture you take, especially when you are taking the trail up to Cerro San Cristobal. I find the view better halfway along the trail rather than the top because the trees on top are blocking the landscape. I also went to the financial district during my second visit after visiting Easter Island to purchase a Navimag ferry ticket to go to Puerto Natales from Puerto Montt. I enjoyed aimlessly walking along the main avenue in the distric while watching all the interesting looking buildings and the busy businessmen in suit carrying out their daily lives.

Taken in Plaza de Armas

La Moneda

Landmark known as the "Cellphone Building"

View of the city halfway up the Cerro San Cristobal

View from top of Cerro San Cristobal

Place to find local cheap eats near Puenta Cal y Canto metro station

The Andes mountains in the back makes every picture look pretty

 

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Medellin, Colombia

My last stop in Colombia, Medellin, got into the city by a 13-hour night bus. A city with spring-like weather sitting at about 1700m altitude, not too hot and never too cold which is perfect for me since I hate cold. Great thing about this city is that it has a subway (metro) system bustling around the major points of the city. Getting to the Palm Hostel was a breeze with the metro. A Colombian guy actually walked me to the hostel from the metro station. The thing is that we didn’t even talk on the metro but he just saw me holding the hostel’s flyer and decided to help me find my hostel. I had no idea how long I was going to stay as I was using my British Airways’ frequent flyer miles to book my flight to Chile and there was no flight available for my miles. So I had to check BA’s website and call them every day to look for my flight. Other than this daily routine, my stay in Medellin was very relaxing. Some of the days, all I did all day was staying on the bed browsing internet and drinking coffee while chatting with other travelers in the hostel. This may sound like a total waste of time but some people may find this the exact kind of life that they are looking for especially those whose daily life has been fully scheduled by meetings and errands. The city center of Medellin is good for people watching and street food/drinks. There is a pedestrian street runs parallel to the metro line. There is a famous Museo de Antioquia in Plaza Botero with a lot of fat sculptures. It is a very pleasant experience just sitting on a bench at the plaza enjoying the good weather. On the south side of centro there is a very interesting looking Parque de las Luces where there are a bunch of thin pillars which are illuminated at night. I went to Cerro Nutibara which is 79 meters above the city to get a view of the city from above. The Pueblito Paisa on top of the hill has a traditional Antioquia town for display. El Poblado is the touristic part of the city where everything looks nice and clean with a lot of shopping malls located next to each other. I was brought there by a local friend and told that money laundering is the explanation to the abundance of malls. We went to the high end shopping mall and it does look like modern malls that you find in developed countries. It also happened to be the Feria de las Flores festival time during my stay and I went to see the flower parade with people from my hostel. It was interesting to watch but the three hours delay made us grilled under the over enthusiastic sun in this tropical city. My worst time in Colombia happened at the end of my trip in the country where I was stuck at the bus terminal for 10 hours and the constant break downs of my bus to Bogota followed by an extortion by the cab driver to the airport. This whole torture lasted more than 24 hours.

City center street view

Some interesting looking building

Pueblito Paisa

Another side of the Pueblito Paisa

View of El Poblado from Cerro Nutibara

Feria de las Flores parade

Parque de las Luces

Plaza Botero

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Santa Marta & Cartagena, Colombia

I took the earliest flight with Aires airlines to get to Barranquilla then a 2-hr bus to Santa Marta. One thing I noticed about Colombia is that the airports and bus terminals in most major cities are usually located very far from the city center that you’ll have to take a cab to get there with your heavy luggage. I felt the tropical weather as soon as I got off the airport. The 2-hr bus ride was very scenic with a combination of sea and trees. Within 10 minutes of my arrival at the El Noctamburo hostel, I already sweated. The warm weather really reminds me of my home country, Malaysia, where wearing a t-shirt and shorts and flip-flop is the typical outfit all year round. Because of the warm weather, there are a lot of street vendors selling cold drinks like Tamarindo, Agua Panela, and lemonade. Tamarindo and Agua Panela are my favorites. Santa Marta is a beautiful small town and everything you need can be found on the main street in Centro. Five days in Santa Marta, one day was spent at beaches in Taganga. Another day at Bahia Concha which has crystalline water but getting there requires a taxi and a bumpy jeep ride. I also did a day trip to the Tayrona national park. The park needs a full day if not two to explore the beautiful beaches along the trail. Getting to the Cabo San Juan area took me about one hour hiking the trail in flip-flop. The rest of the time I just took a leisurely stroll around town, what a relaxing life! After Santa Marta, I hopped on the bus for Cartagena which is 4 hours away. Cartagena is hotter than Santa Marta, I had a hard time trying to sleep the first night in the dorm room with fan. The Makako Chill Out hostel that I stayed at provides complimentary lemonade which is awesome for the hot weather. The walled old town is the highlight of Cartagena with numerous colonial style architectures. I went out for a walk whenever I felt bored in the hostel. The style of the wall is very similar to the fort built in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which makes sense since they were all built by the Spaniards. Walking on top of the wall surrounding the old town is lovely during sunset. The BocaGrande area reminds me of Miami the way the buildings there look. The beach and sea color in Cartagena are only mediocre. I took a day boat trip to Isla de Rosario and Playa Blanca where everything becomes paradise-like after a 2-hr boat ride. The boat first brought us to the Isla de Rosario area where the islands there are barely big enough for one house. The boat then stopped at an aquarium where a visit to the aquarium is optional and I chose to stay on the boat and enjoy the view of Caribbean islands and sea. Playa Blanca was the highlight of the trip where we had 2 hours of time to enjoy the warm sea water and the beautiful beach. The El Castillo de San Felipe fort offers free entrance into the fort on every last Sunday of the month. The view of the old town on top of the fort is good and there is a super big Colombian flag flowing for a great show off picture.

Taganga

Playa Grande next to Taganga beach

Locals fishing at Bahia Concha

Tayrona National Park

Cabo San Juan

Another beautiful beach in Tayrona Park

Boca Grande in Cartagena

Walls built by the Spaniards

Views from the aquarium at Isla de Rosario

El Castillo de San Felipe

The flag is really huge!

This is Cartagena!!!

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