Como se dice ‘paradise’?

I just returned yesterday from paradise on Earth; or, as it’s actually called, Pucón. Pucón is a town of about 20,000 people in Southern Chile and it’s a bit of a mecca for backpackers in South America. (If it’s not on your list, it should be; any trip to Chile should include at least a weekend trip to Pucón.) I went two days earlier than my group, so I had two free days to do whatever I wanted, including a free day at the end of our trip. Both of our buses, in and out of town, were overnight trips; that’s fairly standard, as the bus ride is a disgusting 12 hours long (luckily for me, I slept through most of that both ways).

View of Pucón from a church we climbed to on top of a cerro.

View of Pucón from a church we climbed to on top of a cerro.

The main reason people make their way to Pucón, despite its many offerings, is Volcano Villarrica. This massive volcano is the second most active volcano in South America, stands at 9,341 feet high, and last erupted in 2008. It is a terrifying monument to Pucón and simultaneously breathtaking. When you arrive in the morning, it’s covered in the clouds, but when it breaks through, you won’t be able to look at anything else. For about 41 mil (or US$80), you can spend 5 hours hiking up this volcano. Once you summit, be sure to look for the ice cave that’s on the top; afterwards, the ride down – literally, a sled you carry up with you – is about an hour and a half.

Volcano Villarrica from a lakeside hostel.

Volcano Villarrica from a lakeside hostel.

Now, this may have not been what I should have started with, because it’s hard to follow up with anything else; however, this is so much more to do in Pucón. A personal favorite of mine was Parque Nacional Huerquehue; it was simply gorgeous. I felt like I had fallen into a South American jungle and, arguably, I had. It’s virtually untouched, except for a little clearing for a trail in some places. I took a bus at 8:30am to get there, arrived an hour later, and returned at 3 or so in the afternoon. In the process, I got one of the best hikes I’ve been on since I left Arizona, and saw two waterfalls.

Waterfall #2 of my hike!

Waterfall #2 of my hike!

Lastly, I would highly recommend kayaking. I know a few guys that came earlier to our group trip and went river kayaking; they said it was great, but as I’ve only done the lake kayak, that’s all I feel I can recommend. (Screw that, actually. River kayak if you can. Do it all.) We went out before the sunset and watched the sun set on the lake, and let me say, that was the best hour of my trip; watching a sunset on a lake, looking back at Villarrica Volcano, was one of the most calming hours of my semester.

photo courtesy of my friend's GoPro

photo courtesy of my friend’s GoPro

 

Cerro La Campana

Just a quick post, because I’m almost 100% sure I’ve written about this hike before: I made it to the summit of Cerro La Campana! (Why they call it a hill, I will never know. La Campana is 6,170 feet of increasing difficulty.)

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On the other side of the summit, the Pacific ocean can be seen. It was incredible, even if my legs are hating me for it today. The last part of the hike was almost entirely free-hand rock climbing (no, seriously, it was just big boulders we had to get around with red poles letting us know where to go). It was one of the more difficult hikes I’ve done, 8km by the end but with serious incline, but it’s also one of the hikes I’m more proud of for finishing.

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A side note for this photo: Darwin came to Chile! Darwin is my favorite scientist, and I love his work, and learning that he’s hiked the same mountain I have made the trip all that much sweeter.

Viva la Viña

This week, one of the girls in my study abroad group turned 21; naturally, despite being in a country that doesn’t care about being 21, us Americans wanted to go overboard to celebrate with her. So, today, to celebrate Caroline’s birthday, us girls went wine tasting.

In one of the best countries in the world for wine.

We went to Viña Santa Emiliana, which is a vineyard in the Casablanca region (there are several vineyards in that area; however, to my knowledge, Emiliana is the only vineyard that is entirely organic. I may be wrong, but that is what I’ve been told). It was gorgeous, and being a little cloudy, the perfect day to do it.

My friend, outside the restaurant in Emiliana; this restaurant serves everything that pairs with their wines.

My friend, outside the restaurant in Emiliana; this restaurant serves everything that pairs with their wines.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of communication and bad translation, we did not reserve a tour. So when we arrived, we were an hour and a half early for the next available tour; what we did instead, I’m sure I would have much preferred to a tour anyway. (Debatable, actually – if it had been 70 and sunny out, I’d have loved the bicycle tour they offered). We decided to do the wine tasting they offered, complete with chocolate, which differed depending on the four wines we tasted.

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Afterwards, with none of us particularly wanting to leave, we bought a bottle of wine (one of the reds, pictured above) and went to the upstairs level, drank, and talked for two hours before returning to our city. Needless to say, it was a fantastic day, with great wine and greater company.

Coffee O’Clock

Having likely admitted my (probably unhealthy) obsession with coffee and cafés, I’ve decided to compile a list of my favorite places to get (real) coffee in Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. If you happen to be traveling in this region of Chile, you’ve got to check out one or all of these. Keep in mind my love for coffee, so bear with me; this may be a long post.

My first favorite is Fika, hidden near the beach in Viña. This is an ideal place for studying or reading, and I’ve come here several times to attempt my Spanish homework. Fika has two floors and a balcony, so it isn’t often crowded; when it is, you can get coffee to go (which is a rarity in Chile and therefore worth mentioning).

Caramel cappucinos with a strawberry cupcake: heaven. On second floor of Fika.

Caramel cappucinos with a strawberry cupcake: heaven. On second floor of Fika.

Another great café in Viña, and much more centrally located than Fika, is Della Fé on Libertad and 6 Norte. Here, I am a bit biased: I made friends with the owner. The first time I visited Della Fé, the elderly owner (a man who lived in San Francisco for several years and is fluent in English) lent me his favorite book in English; the next day I went, he gave me a free espresso and invited my friend and I to a BBQ. The people who work at this coffeeshop are incredibly friendly and 80% of the fantastic atmosphere. Also, they have great butterscotch cappucinos.

My friend in Della Fe.

My friend in Della Fe.

My last recommendation for Viña is Café Negro Cafetería, off of Ave. Libertad. The owner was incredibly sweet to us when my friend and I visited, and the coffee was great. I’d suggest a mint cappucino if you visit.

Bonus: I visited on National Coffee Day!

Bonus: I visited on National Coffee Day!

Moving on to Valpo! An award-winning coffeeshop that tourists will likely visit (and a place I most definitely have mentioned in a previous blog post) is Café de Iris on Cerro Concepción. I had the Beethoven cappucino and have never been more satisfied with an order in my life; everyone else was happy with their choices, too.

The handmade menu at Iris, ft. their free appetizers (heart cookies).

The handmade menu at Iris, ft. their free appetizers (heart cookies).

Last but not least is a coffeeshop I was introduced to today: Café Incontrí. Visit hungry, because you won’t be able to avoid buying a dessert. I had cheesecake, after a difficult decision made while drooling over the choices. It’s fairly priced and located just outside the heart of Bellavista, Valpo’s cute and popular bar-hopping area. I wish I had the address of this place, but you likely wouldn’t find it unless you asked a local anyway. (Oh, the charm of Valparaíso.)

Vamos, Chile!

I ran a 10k in Chile today! Nothing went according to plan, but I did it, I finished, and it was a great start to the morning. (I was originally supposed to run a half marathon today, but as I drastically overestimated my ability to train for a half marathon in two months during a study abroad, I ran a 10k instead).

My friend Amy, who was registered for the half marathon with me, and I went to the bus stop at 5:45 in the morning. We were there until 6:20 or so, at which point we had fully realized there would be no buses coming our way and we hitchhiked with other racers that stopped their car when they saw our shirts. (In Chile, interestingly, everyone wears the free shirt given to them beforehand. We were a mass of neon orange on the beach this morning.) Being tired still, I hadn’t actually realized we were in the process of hitchhiking until we were leaving Viña for the area in which the race started.

Amy, who was committed to doing the half marathon, finished in 2 hours and 20 minutes. She kicked ass, basically, and I’m extremely proud of her. My goals changed drastically when I reached the start of the race: namely, do not walk. I had run a total of maybe three separate times prior to this morning, all of which were three mile runs, and I hadn’t exactly kept up a training diet either. I expected it to be rough.

But it wasn’t. I don’t know if it was the crowds of people, the unbelievable oceanic view, or what, but I finished my race without stopping or walking. It was a 12-minute mile, not my best, but not my worse. I managed to do it by myself and without music, too, which was the newest and most interesting challenge for me, having never done either before in a race.

If I had time, I would absolutely do another race in Chile.

Amy & I after our runs.

Amy & I after our runs.

 

Nick Miller, “Isn’t It Pretty To Think So?”

Travel is little beds and cramped bathrooms. It’s old television sets and slow Internet connections. Travel is extraordinary conversations with ordinary people. It’s waiters, gas station attendants, and housekeepers becoming the most interesting people in the world. It’s churches that are compelling enough to enter. It’s McDonald’s being a luxury. It’s the realization that you may have been born in the wrong country. Travel is a smile that leads to a conversation in broken English. It’s the epiphany that pretty girls smile the same way all over the world. Travel is tipping 10% and being embraced for it. Travel is the same white T-shirt again tomorrow. Travel is accented sex after good wine and too many unfiltered cigarettes. Travel is flowing in the back of a bus with giggly strangers. It’s a street full of bearded backpackers looking down at maps. Travel is wishing for one more bite of whatever that just was. It’s the rediscovery of walking somewhere. It’s sharing a bottle of liquor on an overnight train with a new friend. Travel is ‘Maybe I don’t have to do it that way when I get back home.