Posted on June 20th, 2010 at 8:48 PM by admin

To kick off my seven week trip I got on a plane from Santiago to the ever mysterious Easter Island. Although owned by Chile, it`s 2300 miles from Chile´s coastline making it one of the most remote islands on earth! Upon arriving at the airport I received a lay and at first thought to myself – well of course i´d get a lay, i´m on an island after all, but then I realized it was a REAL lay made of fresh flowers and stems. My day was immediately brightened after a just so-so flight.

I met my friend Christina, who arrived a day earlier, at our hostal – Camping Minihoa and we quickly headed off for some grub. Afterwards we wandered up the southwestern coast of the island and saw a few Moai -the native culture´s (Rapa Nui) name for the islands´ famous statues. Lonely Planet chapters in hand then lead us to a cafe called Micafe for some wonderful homemade ice cream. At night we couldn´t find the restaurant we were looking for and I was very disappointed with my extremely expensive yet unpalatable beef dish at Haka Hono and the service was equally unpleasant.


The next day we did a half day tour with an anthropologist to see some of the sites just north of the island´s only city – Hanga Roa. Our very knowledgeable guide first took us to Puna Pao, the site where the indigenous people constructed the Pukao (the red cylindrical shaped looking hats that are found atop some of the Moai). Nobody knows for sure what these ¨hats¨ signify but polynesian culture apparently associates red with royalty, which has become a popular explanation of the Pukao.  This was the point where I realized that I pulled a major Julie idiocy as I had left my camera at the hostel. I hit myself a few times and then continued to our next stop, Ahu Akivi, to see the only original Moai on the island that face the ocean. One of the theories as to why this might be is to act as a lunar calendar. From there we briefly looked at the remains of the boat shaped houses the people used to live in. The foundations were still very apparent even in some of the houses that hadn´t been restored at all.


The next two stops were the most exciting of the day for me because they were in caves. The first cave had an opening in the top that let it sun and water and clearly was a place to grow plants and food. This cave, Ana Te Pahu, was very large and very dark at some points (very glad to have had my camping headlight with me). We entered from one end and climbed out the other passing a fire pit at each end that was clearly used for cooking purposes – nothing like adding a little adventure to our learning! After the tour we decided to take a little break since we were planning to see a cultural show at night and have a full day in the morning. The second cave was called 2 Ventanas and was situated near the face of a cliff that meets with the Pacific Ocean. There are two openings to the ocean hence the name 2 Ventanas. The view was stunning and slightly scarey at the same time. Getting back to the cultural show – it was, well, testosterine-packed to say the least. While there were woman as well, the dance very much revolved around the men. I enjoyed the show but would´ve liked to see a better male/female mix but maybe this is representative of the culture. Who am I to say?

Christina and I in the 2 ventanas cave


Cultural Show

The following day we got up nice and early to head out on horseback to the highest point on the island – Maunga Terevaka. The horse guide was a little crazy but amusing. He asked us both if we already knew how to ride horses and we said yes but then he asked a few more times to make sure which made me a bit nervous. Finally I admitted that I had only done it a couple of times and Christina said she did as a kid but that she couldn´t remember anything. Apparently her explantion was better than mine because she got the ¨automatic pilot¨ horse while I got the 2-time award winning fastest horse on the island that needed a ¨strong¨ rider to control him. Grrrrrrrreeeat I thought. I almost fell off that horse 3-4 times but was proud that i did eventually learn to control him (or so it seemed). I still can´t properly move most of my body but it was certainly an experience. And not JUST the horseriding. The guide had no shame in asking me about my sex life (or lack there of) in south america and tried hard to convince Christina to hook him up with an English woman. Needless to say, the horsebacking ran late and we hurried back to the hostal to eat a quick snack and then head back out with our favorite guide. At this point we definitely realized that 2.5 days is just not enough to see the whole island but our guide promised to take us to the most important points in our remaining 1/2 day.

Me and Easter Island´s fastest uncontrolable horse

Maunga Terevaka – Easter Island´s highest point


First stop – Rano Kao – a volcanic formed crator filled with water and interesting plant life just off the island´s coast. What a site! The guide books don´t lie – it does, in fact, look like a giant witches cauldron. Afterwards we headed to Orongo – one of the most well-known ceremonial sites. Here we could see a different style of house that was built later than the boat shaped ones on the other part of the island. These were made with stones and topped with soil again making them appear somewhat underground. The constructions were very unstable but definitely looked like what you might build if you really only had a bunch of rock to work with. From Orongo you can see three small islands – a spectacular site. This part of the island requires you to pay an entry fee which is quite hefty for foreigners at $60. Luckily we were able to get the chilean rate ($20) since we had residency in Chile.

Rano Kau Volcano

Semi-underground stone houses in Orongo


After Orongo, which is located on the southwest tip of the island, we headed up the east coast to Rano Raraku – the volcanic site where the Moai were built. This place is truly one of the most impressive on the island. You can see hundreds of Moai at various stages of the sculpting and transporting process and many of the Moai are 2-3 times bigger than they appear since the ground has covered many of their bases over time.

Rano Raraku - the birth place of the Moai


Lastly, with the sun just barely still peaking through the clouds, our guide took us  to Tongariki. This is another very impressive presentation of ocean side Moai – the biggest on the island with 13 Moai lined up in a row. Only one of them is wearing a Pukao but apparently this was a restoration project funding by the Japanese that was never quite finished.

Tongariki

Posted on May 25th, 2010 at 4:59 PM by admin

          Well folks, this past weekend I just had to take advantage of another saturday holiday here in Chile and after much effort to find a way to make the best of the mountain bike I bought, I finally found a group and a lovely excursion to 7 Tazas for 3 days covering aproximately 120 kilometers.  I will forewarn that the recent earthquake definitely has changed the landscape of this area a bit since it’s so close to where the epicenter was, but all in all it was still breath-takingly beautiful.

          Day 1 was a rude awakening for ‘lil ‘ole Julie.  I think we did some 50-60 kilometers and at one point I was so tired that I had to hull the bike up by foot – sheesh!  That night we built a campfire and I became so enthralled with keeping it going that everyone in the group was convinced I was a pyro!  It was pretty cold but the campfire kept us warm and we all slept in tents that night trying desperately to get the rest we needed before another big day of riding!

Good times by the campfire

          With day 2 came the rain.  The thing is I don’t mind cold and I don’t mind rain but I HATE cold rain and this is pretty much what we got.  Furthermore I felt as weak as a house made of cards wondering at what moment the whole deck was going to collapse.  I struggled more this day than the first and wondered how I could really be THAT out of shape.  I was no longer riding with the group but well behind them.  I finally stopped on a bridge above the rocky river, took some pictures, looked up at the steeeeep slope ahead of me and decided I better get in the van and take the ride up a few kilometers!

Nothing like taking a break here!

          Finally we reached 7 Tazas and I was loving the waterfalls that I saw. We walked up and down and through the park. Unfortunately at this point I didn’t have my camera but it was interesting to see how the park had changed, or so I was told, due to the earthquake.  There used to be several cascading waterfalls and now there were considerably less. The remains just looked like little pools of stagnant rain water, but the cascades that remained, the rock formations and the plant life were still something to see.

The most beautiful view at 7 Tazas

          After dinner we played silly games that made us all feel like idiots at some point or another but we defintely had some good laughs.  Since there was no heat in these cabins, the gas stove we had previously used to cook food doubled nicely as a space heater. The cabin coziness was so inviting that some of us decided to ditch the tents and sleep there the second night. And you guessed it – I was one of those people!

          The 3rd day was objectively the easiest but still challenging.  The day started out beautiful and sunny but soon became cloudy, cold and rainy.  During the climax of the sun’s heat I regretably took off my fleece and nearly froze my &$# off later. And it wasn’t until this day that one of the friendly guides told me that the seat on my bike was set too high for me.  Finally the mystery was solved as to why I couldn’t make it up the hills and truth be told I wasn’t in THAT bad of shape after all!  THANK GOD for that!

          After about 40 kilometers we reached the town of Molina and had a very tasty and large meal at a restaurant. We reminisced about the trip – laughing and joking with each other over our meals.  After 3 days I felt like I was just getting to know these people and feeling comfortable and then POOF the trip is over.  Until we meet again my friends!  Thanks for the good times and not calling me a niñita for getting in the van! *smile*

Posted on May 9th, 2010 at 5:12 PM by admin

          Waking up on day 2 was not easy and taking a shower outdoors was even less enjoyable but getting the sand out of every crevice of my body was quite necessary. Having such a late start I decided to not to a tour and instead asked the locals what I should do. I was told there was a beautiful green valley called Cartape about 7-10 km from the city. Excited, I rented a bike, bought some snacks and headed out with a homemade map the guy at the bike rental store gave me.

The view on the bike path

          The path there was remarkable. I stopped near a tree for my snack and took many pictures of the landscape and the pretty nice looking bike I had rented. The only sounds I could hear were the wind and my own body movements. I felt very at peace.

The tree that provided me a shaded lunch 🙂

          After about an hour or so on the bike I veared left at a fork in the road as my map had indicated and started to head through some very interesting rock formations. Carrying my camera and 1.5 liters of water quickly became tiring as the slope gradually became steeper and steeper. Where I ended up was certainly not the luscious green valley of Catarpe -I eventually arrived at at a small tunnel about half way up a some very large mountainous rock formations. I could see Cartarpe in the distance along with San Pedro’s most magestic volcano – Licancabur. It was one of those times when getting lost really paid off !

Rock formations and the beginning of slope inclination

San Pedro de Atacama - View from tunnel

The view outside the tunnel of the dunes and the Licancabur Volcano

Posted on May 8th, 2010 at 4:35 PM by admin

          My roomie/friend Christina and I decided about a month ago that we needed to do so more traveling before our time here in South America runs out!  Unfortunately Christina elected not to go due to spontaneous health concerns so I got on the 1600km domestic flight from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama alone.  It felt like being in the states – traveling that far in one direction and still ending up in the same country!

          The first night was a bit rough since my room shared a wall with what must have been a really popular night club. I tried to drown the music out with my iPod, which would’ve worked if it were just the noise that was keeping me awake.  It turns out the vibration from the excessive volume was just as troublesome as the volume itself. Oh well – what can you do?!? 

Atop Pukara de Quitor

          To begin my first day I decided to hike to a popular point about 3km from downtown called Pukara de Quitor. Once I arrived, I paid about $4 to get in. After eating a $2 box of diced peaches (expensive town – ahem!), I read some of the informational signs about the native peoples (the Atacamens)  and then headed up the trail to the lookout. I saw lots of rocks and sand, took numerous pictures and met some friendly chileans from Antofagasta who graciously offered me a ride back to town in their truck and afterwards invited me to lunch.

         Later that day I had scheduled a sandboarding tour in Death Valley which was followed by a short hike to aDeath Valley - Sandboarding lookout of Moon Valley at sunset. As avid as a snowboarder as I am, I had trouble with the sandboarding at first. There are some basic concepts that are completely the opposite in one versus the other. But in the end it was a faulty binding set up that inhibited my progress. For the last run I requested a screwdriver and fixed the bindings up how I like ’em and conesquently the last run was, well i’ll brag – prolike. Too bad the bus driver shot pictures of me the second to last run! After a few hours of riding, well a few minutes of riding and almost 2 hours of hiking up and down the dunes, we were off to catch the sunset. Moon Valley was stunning – it really did live up to its name. I felt like I was on the moon. The rock formations were random and numerous with huge valleys of sand in between them. The icing on the cake, quite literally, was the evaporated salt at the surface.  At this point in the tour we were each given a glass of pisco sour. I had 4 and then took my good sweet time trying to get down from the off-trail lookout point.

Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna)

          That night the tour group went out to feast, drink and tell our travel stories. Oh and I remember fixing a pair of glasses with duct tape for a fellow traveler. The group was fascinated by my idea to cut the tape thin and wrap the frames in a figure 8. What can I say- former engineer = genious!

Posted on April 3rd, 2010 at 8:42 PM by admin

          So after 8 months in Chile I finally found someone who shares my love of the outdoors and who invites me to join him on a trek in the Andes. Woohoo I say! But truthfully I had no idea what I was getting into. I only have just taken up backpaking/hiking these past few years but I thought rather nonchalantly “Wouldn’t it be cool to get to the top of a mountain?!!” I mean most of us agree that it would but clearly I had no regard for how difficult it might be to get there. Well, I’ve backpacked about 14 miles in a weekend once, how bad could this 1.5 day trip REALLY be? HA HA HA the mountain laughs at me!

          The trip we embarked on was to a summit in the Andes called Punta de Damas. At 3149m, it’s certainly no cake walk to reach (at least that’s what I hear). I only made it about 1000m – or so I’m told. You can imagine how disappointed I was to hear that after I had already been hiking, what felt like straight up, for the better part of 8 hours. The reason I didn’t make it is not that exciting (hence why i’ve thus far left it out). But let the record state that my tendonitus in the inner part of my left ankle started acting up until I couldn’t seem to go more than 4 or 5 steps without feeling a shooting pain.

          Oh well I say. Dago, the one that had invited me, so generously offered to head back to where we had eaten lunch and camp with me there. We met up with the other 4 guys on their way down the following day. Needless to say the way back down was much easier than it was going up, although my knees probably wouldn’t agree with that statement. They have already told me many times during snowboarding sessions that they don’t appreciate being used as brakes. Too bad for them – I never listen!

          I suppose I shouldn’t be too disappointed with my “performance.” As i’ve done next to nothing physical in several, I reapeat SEVERAL months. The most amazing part though is that I don’t have a single blister to speak of. I would therefore like to take this time to acknowledge the wonderful hiking boots I recently purchased – they are a pair of Mammuts (Gore-Tex). I wore one pair of hiking socks with a liner (thanks Jillian!)

          The night camping was soooooooo relaxing. Dago and I camped near a stream, made a little fire, cooked food and tea, enjoyed the view, took pictures, discussed life, relationships and our love of nature. All in all I had a great time despite my temporary injury. Don’t get me wrong – there were certainly those moments when I asked myself “What the hell am I doing??!” but then there were the others – the ones that brought a smile to my face without a single thought. The mountains and their grandeur…I may never know why something that makes me feel so small and insignificant, also brings me so much joy and relaxation. They just do..they are my “happy place” Nothing better…nothin.