Hola de Chilean Patagonia!
I have finally left New Zealand (sob sob) and have embarked on the more or less penultimate journey of my travels. New Zealand was amazing but obviously it shares a common language and culture with the UK. South Africa was culturally very interesting, and while my Siswati is very poor, it is still an English speaking country. Asia, where I have spent the most time in the last few years, has it's share of difficult languages both to speak and to read, but the language of tourism is again English. Chile and Argentina are the first places I've been in a long time where English might not be enough.
Originally there was a possible plan I might be meeting up with an ex colleague from UWC to travel with. This would have been ideal as he has been learning Spanish in South America. However, this wasn't to be which is why with a few weeks left in NZ I started to try and learn some Spanish.
I touched down in Santiago with some great phrases. Classics like 'los gatos bebe leche' and an inability to count to six in Spanish without repeating five twice. The former came from Duolingo, a great little free app if you are looking to pick up or improve a foreign language, the latter is where the name of the blog comes from and a problem that all 90's teenagers will also have! Luckily the girls at the reception spoke English but I quickly downloaded some podcasts to supplement my Duolingo progress.
After combatting the jet lag with an afternoon sleep, the next day I set of to try and find a Wally. In Santiago and Valparaiso (where I headed next), there is walking tours for tips, headed by tour guides in a stripy Where's Wally t-shirt. This was a great way to see the city. I was on the 'Alternative tour' so we saw the markets and the cemetery, and learnt about the history of the city and it's two sides of the river, as well as trying a terramoto, a cocktail named 'earthquake'. As is often the case on things like this, you get chatting to those on the tour. By the end, myself and two other girls decided to head out to lunch together before I headed back to the hostel to book some flights to Patagonia!
As I mentioned above, my Spanish was pretty poor and I really felt like it should be better if I was to head out through the Spanish speaking world for a month. When out wandering near my hostel I spotted a sign for a language school and with a bit of investigating I found that several language schools seemed to offer classes for 1 week. I thought this might be a good use of my time before heading south, and would hopefully improve my confidence about travelling alone as well. Unfortunately it was Sunday so nothing was open, so I made a plan to visit a couple of schools in the morning and see what I could sort out. The school round the corner were really welcoming and said they had a beginner class that lasted 4 weeks, but it had already started. However they invited me to try it for the morning for free and see what I thought. As I was heading up to class with the teacher, she informed me that no English was spoken in the classroom, only Spanish. Gulp.
I think it was a very good experience for me to sit there as a teacher only understanding about 5% of what was going on. I imagine that is what many students feel like in maths classrooms, and it's not much fun. Turns out they hadn't told me this class was on week 4 of 4! There language skills were just a mile ahead of mine. At the break, the teacher agreed it was probably a bit much to join this week, but she invited me to stay for the whole day if I wanted, and without paying. I stayed until lunch, actually picking up a few things that made sense, but with so much vocab I didn't know, I thanked her and headed off at lunchtime to make a different plan that involved going to Valparaiso the next day. I headed out to try my first taste of Chilean wine and have dinner with Louisa, an Irish girl from the walking tour yesterday - just look at this wine list!
24hrs later I was in Valparaiso feeling pretty happy that I had managed to successfully take the metro (uno boleta, por favor) and buy bus tickets to Valparaiso and Puerto Varas. I had taken a crazy local bus to where the hostel was, only to struggle to find it as the sign was teenytiny. I wasn't sure if the people who worked round there also didn't know where it was, or they just didn't understand my Spanish (Donde esta hostal Luna Sonrisa?) I had convinced Molly, a Canadian girl in my dorm to come on the tours for tips and we were currently sitting on a balcony overlooking the city with a German girl and a French girl, having dinner and trying local cervezas.
Valparaiso was a recommendation of Ingela from Wanaka and I think it is best described in photos. You have the street art, the funicular railways all round the city, a boat ride in the bay and some classic Chilean food, alfahoras and empanadas, mmmm!
From here I took the night bus (14hrs or so) down to Puerto Varas in the Lake District, which is almost, but not quite, in Patagonia. Having slept incredibly well I woke up to scenery not looking to dissimilar from home. Long thin Chile has pretty much every climate going and here you have a pretty temperate place which could possibly be the UK, if not for the volcanos. On a recommendation from the last hostel (which was brilliant) I arrived at Casa Azul to find that no-one around spoke English. This is when I wanted better Spanish, I was starting to be able to read things (so many nouns just have an 'o' added on the end which helps!), but my ability to understand anyone talking to me is pretty much non existent. I have found travelling by myself that you can go from feeling unsure about what to do and a bit lonely, to being busy having loads of fun very quickly. I guess the first couple of days here I was feeling a bit of the first despite heading white water rafting on Rio Petrohue and getting to jump out the boat and float down some rapids. However the next day I had booked to go canyoning on the recommendation of Molly from Valparaiso. From the start the trip was incredible. For one it is about a third of the price of canyoning in NZ, we had a fun group and Phillipe (an aquatic monkey in his own words) and his German work experience girl led us on an amazing ride of jumping, sliding, falling and abseiling down a beautiful clear river. Strangely we were also being filmed by a French TV company for a documentary). There will be video of evidence of this when I can find a decent computer with a CD drive! After sharing a couple of beers with the Americans on the trip I headed back to the hostel to be persuaded to head out for my beer (a tricky job!) by my new roommates, a Brit and a Mexican who had returned from a couple of months working on an estancia with gauchos.
Everything is pretty expensive this far south in Chile and so whilst trying to save money and take two local buses to get myself to Puerto Montt airport to head into Patagonia proper, I had some timing issues and ended up having to get a taxi. Luckily I had already thrown my budget out the window with a 'when will I ever be here again' thought process but it still is painful to spend money that could have been used trying more of the local cerveza. There is actually a lot of local brewing in Chile, especially in the region I was leaving as it has a heavy German influence. Thankfully, the journey at the other end was a lot more smooth as I headed into Punta Arenas, although I was starting to find that it pays to book ahead in Patagonia. After 4 months of just turning up and deciding what to do day by day, it does not come naturally to book ahead but that is what it pays to do, especially in the crowded summer months. Several travellers I met expressed surprise and were impressed that I was not stressed about just turning up in new places with nowhere to stay. It worked out great in Punta Arenas where a recommendation was full, but the hostel next door was super friendly and incredibly helpful. It also helped that down here in the touristy areas there was definitely more English spoken although I by now I had increased my stock Spanish phrases to include asking for a room for a night.
As is the usual way when you are on the tourist trail you start the same people. A couple who had been on my flight, then the bus to Punta Arenas also were in the same hostel. I started chatting to them down by the beach where we watched some of the stray dogs (there are many in every town) try and attack the cormorants. In the end we headed to the see the Magellan penguins on the same trip the next day and I got some great recommendations for veggie food in Vancouver! Really Punta Arenas is just a gateway to the rest of Chilean Patagonia, and as my time did not really allow for a trip to Tierro del Fuego, the island of the bottom of the continent, I was heading to Puerto Natales the base for the famous W trek in the Torres del Paine National Park. So after a day with the penguins and a so far fairly uninspiring landscape compared to what I had expected, I got the bus to Puerto Natales. This little adventure requires a whole blog post for itself. Coming soon....