Sunday, January 27, 2013

Bedside Clock

Clock Tower
Our apartment in Sydney came with the largest bedside clock we’ve ever seen.  That’s the view from the bed, and it’s easy to read the clock tower in the middle of the night.  Pretty nice!  For some reason, the cheaper unit we reserved was not available, so they upgraded us, for free, to a penthouse loft.  It looks like we may spend a fair bit of time here too, as ex-Cyclone Oswald (now a tropical storm) is pushing steady rain into the capitol.
This is one way in which travelling long-term is very different from vacationing short-term.  When circumstances for being a tourist are adverse, it can be just as much of a ‘vacation’ to stay inside and watch the Australian Open finals (The Tennis, as it’s called), read an entire book e-cover to e-cover, and catch up on some blogging, without feeling the need to plod though the rain from site to site because you only have two or three weeks on vacation. Hopefully, tomorrow the weather will be more in our favor, at least for museums and such. But for now if we’re stuck in our room for the day, we couldn’t ask for a better one.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The rest of Chile

We’ve drawn out South America for long enough, at this point, that even we are beginning to be bored by it. We spent about 10 days in Chile: in Patagonia, in the Chilean lake district, and in Santiago. Chile was by far the most expensive country that we visited in South America. After Peru and Bolivia, we saw the general prices for things rise somewhat in Argentina. But even so, by the time we go to Chile we were surprised at how much things cost.

Nevertheless, Chile is a beautiful country, with an amazingly diverse environment. We spent 4-5 days in Chilean Patagonia, a barren, wind-swept landscape entirely different from the lake district. We rented a car in Puerto Montt and drove north, to Temuco, through a landscape of volcanoes, holsteins, and quaint Germanic-looking towns. This part of the country, with its rich volcanic soil, makes it the bread basket of Chile (and the world). We only got as far as Santiago, which is sort of at the waist of this long skinny country, but it is a vibrant city filled with interesting architecture and culture.

We spent a few days in Santiago, and intended to take a day trip out to Valparaiso, but it poured the only day we really had to do that, and we preferred to spend it warm and dry. Call us wimps, but we've learned that it isn't worth making yourself miserable to see something that everyone else tells you that you must do. If it works out, great. If it doesn't, put it on the list for "next time." We learn, we grow.

We hope you enjoy the photos of Chile. Our internet access here in Australia hasn't been ideal, so a SkyDrive slideshow was the best way to get the pictures uploaded so you all can see them. If there is anything you want to know more about, leave a comment and we'll go into more detail. We've tried to caption all the photos in SkyDrive, and a few have additional comments as well, so hopefully that helps.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers

Since we didn’t have time to do a cruise to see the glaciers when we were in Argentina, we decided to book a cruise in Puerto Natales, which would allow us to see two different glaciers (Balmaceda and Serrano) and the chance to hike out almost to the base of one (Serrano). It also gave us an opportunity to see a lot of sea life, and the tour included a parilla (barbecue) lunch on an estancia on our way back toward Puerto Natales in the afternoon.

On our way, we stopped to see a colony of Imperial cormorants.  At first glance, they look like penguins, unless you notice them flying to and from their perches on the rock.
We also saw fur seals.  We may be getting jaded, because we were amused  by the stampede of passengers to that side of the boat.  Apparently, they haven’t seen them before, let alone had to walk a beach carefully so as not to step on one by accident.  But we did take a few pictures before returning our eyes to the rest of the beautiful scenery around us.  The partial cloud cover made for some beautiful, but quickly changing lighting.
Eventually, we reached Balmaceda glacier, which is in retreat, like most glaciers around the world.  We observed this one just from the boat deck.
This was the furthest into the fjord that we travelled; the boat headed back along a different shore, towards Serrano glacier, passing some beautiful forests and waterfalls on the way.
The boat docked at a floating pier, near Serrano glacier.  Once we docked, we took off at a brisk pace. Having been cooped up in the boat for several hours, we were ready to get our blood pumping with a hike. Occasionally, when appropriate, we even ran a few bits of the trail.  The constant wind coming across the lake had chilled us on the boat, but the trail here was sheltered, and we warmed up quickly.
Serrano glacier still meets the water; there is a sort of ice lagoon that then spills out into the larger lake.  Our trail took us around one side of that lagoon.
The walk back from the glacier was a good opportunity to see all of the flowers and plants that were enjoying their spring in Patagonia. We couldn’t tell you what most of them were, but they made for some great photos.
That’s a bee—an enormous bumble bee that seemed to us to have fashioned an orange fur stole out of some unfortunate animal. We’d never seen a bee quite so large—about two inches long—or heard one so loud before.
This is Lana waiting to get back on the boat, not using an “outdoor” toilet.  We weren’t sheltered from the wind here, and Lana was happy to have her Peruvian hat along.

After we finished the hike, we got back on the boat and headed back toward Puerto Natales, to an estancia for a late parilla (barbecue) lunch.  Parilla cooking is very simple: they only use smoke, heat and salt.  It produces delicous, tender meat with a complex, but not overwhelming flavor.
First course was a lovely vegetable potato soup.
Followed by an enormous mound of lamb, chicken and sausages (you can’t see them, but they’re under all that meat), as well as potatoes and a lovely big salad.
After lunch we had a little time to wander around and attempt to walk off the enormous amount of meat we had for lunch.  The setting was beautiful and the animals were all as disinterested as they were picturesque.
After a bit of wandering around the estancia, we got back on the boat and headed back to Puerto Natales. Almost everyone had a little doze on the way back, and we got back in time refreshed and ready for a nice dinner.  After being dropped off in the town center, and having a good pizza and salad at a local restaurant, we walked back toward our hotel and caught the last rays of sun behind the clouds. It was a beautiful end to a long day.