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Stockholm - Madrid


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Before this trip I had planned to take my car back and forth to Stockholm-Arlanda Airport to avoid missing the first flight due to train delay. Here in Sweden, SJ have had all but great critique in the media lately and statistic shows 1 out of 4 trains are delayed or doesn’t show up at all. So I played it safe this time by taking the car. Even though I got up extra early in the morning to finish packing down everything I ran late. So typical me! I did have a transfer to catch from the long-term parking lot to terminal 5 at the airport. But somehow I managed to catch up time during the way and embarked the transfer bus exactly at 11 am.

Finally at Stockholm-Arlanda Airport I sat down and chilled a little. Ate my sandwich, drank my yoghurt and just absorbed the atmosphere. Finally vacation! I was all excited and full of expectations and also happy to see my Italian friend in Santiago de Chile. I checked in through SAS self-check-in, printed my boarding card and got the tag for my baggage. Luckily it was only a short line to the baggage self-drop. But obviously people don’t understand that it is a maximum weight limit of 23 kg for international flights. The people in front of me tried to check in bags with weight over 27 kg! It’s obvious that you can’t do that. Then you must go to a manual check-in desk and pay extra… When I had checked in my baggage and passed the security check it was only an half hour left until boarding started at 1 pm.

The flight was fully seated when the flight attendants announced “Boarding completed”. The crew was Swedish except from one man who obviously was Danish (more about that soon). Time was 1.35pm when the flight taxed out (as scheduled) and one of the flight attendants announced that the safety demonstration would be in English, Spanish and a Scandinavian language… yes, exactly. I reacted as much as you probably did just now… what Scandinavian language!? It ought to be Swedish since the flight is between Stockholm and Madrid, right? But no! The English demonstration was performed by one of the stewardesses. Then it was time for the Spanish demonstration… oh my God! It was the Danish man who spoke now. Has anyone heard a Danish trying to speak Spanish?!? Ha, ha I almost laughed myself to death! It sounded hilarious! My first thought was… What language is that? I really had to make an effort to hear what language it was. And the demonstration with the Scandinavian language was in Danish – not Swedish. I bet it was not a single Danish person on that flight! Very impractical SAS!

Thanks to fair winds the flight landed around 5 pm, about half an hour before scheduled (5.35pm), at Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport. The airplane was swirling around for 10 minutes before stopping at the gate. I disembarked the plane and got to the baggage belt where my baggage was one of the first to come out on the belt. Thanks for that ;) Then it was time to get from Terminal 2 to Terminal 4-S from which my next non-stop flight to Santiago de Chile departed from. Madrid-Barajas Airport counts as the largest airport in the world (counted in terminal area) and since I’ve never been there before I had of course planned for some extra time just to orient myself and for transportation between the terminals. Madrid-Barajas Airport is the most important airport in Spain and has the most non-stop flights to Latin America out of all the European Airports. Good to know for those of you who plans to travel to South America. Madrid-Barajas consists of four terminals; T1, T2, T3 and T4. The latest built one, terminal 4, is situated more than 2 kilometers away from the other terminals and the passengers are transported with free buses in-between. Next to terminal 4 is a satellite building called T4-S. To get between T4 and T4-S you have to ride with an underground shuttle train (without driver).

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Thus it was to T4-S I had to go… so after asking at the information desk about how to get to T4 (in the first place) I walked out of the airport and found the bus stop after a few minutes. The heat hit me and it was almost excruciating being outside. But the bus arrived after a few minutes and I dragged my baggage onboard. It took about 10 minutes before the bus stopped at terminal 4. I disembarked and stepped inside and found a LAN Airlines check-in desk. Checked in my baggage and got my boarding card. Yes, so now I only had to find that underground shuttle train. But I had received clear instructions from the man at the check-in desk. It took a while to get there though. The underground shuttle trains departure with only a few minutes apart so you really don’t have to worry if you just missed one. A few minutes later I was finally at terminal 4-S. Now I was so tired and hungry that I stopped by at the very first place which happened to be Burger King (not the best place to eat but at least a hamburger will satisfy your hunger). After eating my hamburger I connected my cell phone to the Airport WiFi and I had a few hours to kill before my flight to Santiago de Chile departed. I went to the gate a few minutes before boarding started at 10.55pm. and delightedly noticed that LAN uses a Dream Liner airplane for this flight. I really like that model since it is both roomy and airy even for economy class! As soon as I boarded the airplane and sat down in my seat, I felt how the tiredness hit me. Now I had ONLY been up for 18 hours… The airplane taxed out and departed according to schedule at 11.55pm. Total flight time calculated to 13 hours and 45 minutes.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged traveling Comments (0)

Arriving in Santiago de Chile


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I tried to get some sleep during the flight but it was pretty noisy and fussy onboard. And an hour after take-off they started to serve food as well. But I guess the food was kind of well-needed. Chicken with rice and vegetables with salad and a little dessert were served with cutleries in real metal (no silly plastic knife and fork)… thumbs up! Later when the flight staff had collected all the food trays they finally switched off the light so you could at least try to get some sleep. But it’s never easy to sleep during flights. The hours felt like days but finally when the flight staff started to serve breakfast you knew it wasn’t that much longer until landing. Breakfast consisted of omelet, ham, fruit, juice, yoghurt and bread. Pretty steady breakfast I must say. With a substantial headache – I had not been able to sleep many hours – I managed to watch a beautiful sunrise during the landing at Santiago Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport.

The airplane landed around 7am local Chilean time which was about 30 minutes before scheduled (7.30am). I disembarked the plane tired as hell and remembered I hadn’t filled out the tourist card I had received during the flight. So I had to stop and fill out all the information as passport number and addresses I would be staying at during my vacation. Then I went to the baggage claim and picked up my baggage and later got in the long line to the border police. SIGH! But it really didn’t matter since we had landed earlier than scheduled and my friend Michelangelo (that was picking me up) had probably not arrived yet anyway. It took probably about 15 minutes before I got called up to a booth and got my passport and tourist card stamped… then I was FINALLY in Chile :)

Michelangelo and I had decided a place where we would meet up but since I had arrived earlier he would probably not be there yet. I looked around and I couldn’t see him. I went outside of the terminal to see if he was there, but no. So I went inside again and suddenly I heard a familiar voice calling my name. When I managed to locate where the voice came from I saw my friend. Finally! It’s been 9 months since last time, so it was time to meet again. He was worried that I had been waiting for him, but I had spent most of the time in line to the border police… so I had been waiting no more than a minute at our meeting point. So it was great timing I think ;)

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We loaded my baggage and backpack into his car and it was nice to sit down in a car for a change. I don’t remember how long the drive took from the airport and back home to his place. I was so darn tired and at the same time busy orienting myself in the – for me – brand new town and handling all the new impressions. It was warm outside. Well over +20 °C, probably even more than +25 °C, which was unusual during this time of year since Chile has the opposite season compared to Sweden. In other words; they have winter when we have summer and vice versa. Santiago has a mild Mediterranean climate with relatively warm and hot summers (November – Mars) with temperatures at sometimes over +30 °C while the winter (June – August) has increased humidity and mild temperatures at about +12 °C (+0 °C at the lowest). In more upland areas, like up in the Andes, snowfall occurs during the winter season. It does happen that snow falls in the Santiago Metropolitan Region but it’s very rare and it lasts only for like an hour before it melts away again.

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What has become known as “the city” Santiago comprises a much wider area than the central Municipality Santiago that the name actually refers to. The Municipality Santiago is a part of the Province Santiago which comprises 32 Municipalities in total. And the Province Santiago is in turn a subunit in Santiago Metropolitan Region that covers entirely or partially 37 Municipalities. So it’s actually this urban Metropolitan Region, also called Greater Santiago (Gran Santiago) with 6 million inhabitants, that the most people refers to today when they talk about Santiago.

Well back home at my friend’s place (where I would be staying for the first 8 days) I could finally take a well-deserved shower and have a change of clothes followed by a lame attempt to try and look sort of okay after such long flight. I felt kind of half-dead but I had at least manage to drive away the headache with headache pills. So then we headed off to grab something to eat. If I remember correctly we went to Parque Arauco and had brunch which is a huge shopping center with more famous brands like Dolce Gabbana, Armani, Adidas, Banana Republic and so on. Though we didn’t stay for any shopping but went straight back home for a power nap. I really needed to sleep since I was tired like hell, but still I couldn’t. So many new impressions and sounds made it impossible to just lie in bed and try to sleep.

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The apartment was almost at the top of the building so it was a decent view and outlook over the municipality of Providencia with the Andes towered up not far away. Mostly upper middle class and upper class people are living in Providencia and the area has many high-rise estates and all the trading in this municipality constitute a main part of the trading in Santiago.
After resting for a while I got to meet Michelangelo’s parents while waiting to get access to the car. Their apartment is even higher up (in another building) and the view from the balcony was amazing. A fantastic panorama view! When we got the car we drove to Costanera Center for some grocery shopping at the grocery store Jumbo. Actually the store didn’t have just groceries but also other stuff. You could compare Jumbo with our Swedish store ICA Maxi. Over there we met up with one of Michelangelo’s friends and now also my friend. So I took the opportunity to buy me some breakfast that I liked for the next days. All three of us went back to the apartment and unloaded the shopping bags and then drove to Bellavista for dinner. As I understand most of the Chilean people here in Santiago rather go out to eat at restaurants than cook at home, since it’s cheaper to dine out at restaurants (especially compared to Sweden). For an example; when I was in San Pedro de Atacama (between September 1st and September 4th during this vacation) I had a lunch menu with drink and tip included (which is generally 10%) for only 11000 CLP (about 15 Euros).

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Bellavista is known as the bohemian neighborhood of Santiago with new popular restaurants, boutiques and avant-garde galleries. The closeness to the subway makes Bellavista very popular and during the evenings people gathers here to feel the atmosphere and pulse of the many discos and bars in the area. During the weekends you can find handicraft markets and you can find handicraft made out of Lapis Lazuli, which is a mineral stone that can be found mostly in Chile and Afghanistan. At the restaurant I ordered Cazuela de Vacuno, a kind of meat soup with a lot of vegetables and potatoes in it. And what a portion I got. So I had to ask for a doggy-bag to bring the leftovers with me back home. On the way home Michelangelo drove through downtown and guided a little bit. Unfortunately it had gone dark outside so it was difficult to see anything but I really appreciate the gesture though. We got home pretty late that night and I don’t think I got in bed before midnight.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged cities Comments (0)

Downtown Santiago


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Woke up during the night every now and then (nevertheless it’s a minus 6 hour time-different compared to Sweden this time of year). But I felt quite alert when I got up just in time for the sunrise over the mountains. The sun’s fearless attempts to shine through all smog finally gave result. Rush hour was already in full speed and lasts between 7 am – 9 am in the morning and 6 pm – 8 pm in the evening. And all the heavy traffic in the central parts of Santiago Metropolitan Region is a main cause to the smog during the winter season that lies like a lid over the city. The smog contains high concentrations of air pollutions like grime, sulfur dioxide and fog. During the winter the Humboldt Current contributes to enclose the smog in between Chilean Costal Mountain Range and the Andes which makes the air so polluted that you barely can see the surrounding Andes from the central parts of Santiago. To the negative side effects belong health issues like headaches, nausea, cardiovascular diseases and asthma, even more serious health issues like lung cancer must also be mentioned. It’s not only the smog but many of the Chilean people smoke as well. Walking out on the streets you are almost guaranteed to get behind someone that smokes. In Chile it’s allowed to smoke outside at every restaurant, but not inside. So if you want a smoke-free environment you want to sit inside the restaurant.

The plan for today was to meet up with my new Chilean friend who offered to guide me downtown during his lunch break. But to get downtown I had to take the subway from Tobalaba via Baquedano to Plaza de Armas. The subway here in Santiago is one of the cleanest and safest in the world and I totally agree. I felt safe as a tourist to get around and on top of that it was well cleaned (unlike the subway in Stockholm) and well-posted signs so even I could get from A to B without getting lost. The ticket prices are slightly different during the day, divided into rush hour and non-rush hour time. One single ticket during rush hour costs 690 CLP (0.93 Euro) and non-rush hour costs 630 CLP (0.85 Euro). If you plan to use the subway frequently you may as well buy a subway card. As a tourist I would not recommend taking the local buses. First of all you cannot buy the tickets onboard, second you really need to know which bus to take since the buses usually only have a number (no destination name) and third you can forget any kind of time schedule since the buses can’t stick to it anyway due to heavy traffic.

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Downtown has well-marked walking streets without traffic and a lot of stores. Since I was a little early I had an hour to spend and getting to know the streets. Paseo Estado, Paseo Ahumada, Paseo Puente and 21 de Mayor are all walking streets that starts from Plaza de Armas. Plaza de Armas is a square from which Santiago’s original city plan was designed after (like a grid) and counts as the heart and soul of Santiago. Unfortunately the entire square was closed when I visited Chile due to rebuild of the underlying subway system. Characteristics for the stores along the walking streets seemed to be shoes. Store after store replaced each other and it was sales everywhere - in other words a heaven for a shop-aholic! And just like the food, clothes and shoes are much cheaper here in Chile than Sweden. I took the opportunity to eat something before I met my friend. The temperature for the day was no less than +30 °C and bright sunshine, true summer temperature even though it was winter season. So the high temperature outside didn’t made you that hungry but you still need to eat something to manage the day.

So my friend and I met outside Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago situated just in front of Plaza de Armas. We walked along the streets and my friend told me a lot of facts about Chile, Santiago and the Chilean people. I don’t remember it all but it was interesting to listen and learn about another culture. We got to Museo Bellas Artes, an art museum that unfortunately looked very much closed. We kept on going towards Cerro Santa Lucía (Santa Lucia Hill) which is a small hill (69 meters high) in the central Santiago.

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The hill is the remains of a 15 million year old volcano but nowadays represents a green park decorated with flowers, stairs and water fountains. Up on the highest peak of the hill is a popular view point with a 360° outlook over Santiago Metropolitan Region. The hill was first named Huelén but got its current name Cerro Santa Lucía since the hill was conquered by the Spanish conqueror Pedro de Valdivia on the Lucía day (December 13th) in 1541. Pedro de Valdivia had founded Santiago on February 12th that very same year and became the first royal governor in Chile.

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Thanks to the extreme heat neither of us wanted or had the strength to walk upstairs to the view point at the very top of Santa Lucia Hill. But we got a great view from where we did walk. By the tourist information office we asked for a map over Downtown that I could use for the rest of the week. From Santa Lucia Hill we walked along Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins, via Barrio París-Londres with its narrow cozy cobblestoned alleys (well worth a visit), passing Biblioteca Nacional, Universidad de Chile and ended up near the Palacio de la Moneda (La Moneda Palace).

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La Moneda Palace (or just La Moneda) is the home for the president. The palace occupies a whole quarter in downtown Santiago in the area known as Civic District. Here I had to say goodbye to my friend since he had to get back to work. I took the opportunity to walk all the way back, which we just walked, to learn how to orient myself in the city. And proud to say, but I managed to walk all the way back via Santa Lucia Hill and back to Plaza de Armas without looking at the map once! Now the time was about 4 pm and the warm weather had made me all sweaty and warm so shopping was out of the question. I took the subway back to Tobalaba and went back home to the apartment instead. During the walk from the subway to the apartment I did have time to reflect over the sidewalks here in Santiago. Very rough, sometimes big gaps and every now and then a plate stuck up. I don’t know how many times I stumbled but I learned pretty quickly to lift my feet up high and watch out where I walked.

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Well back in the apartment I ate the food I brought home yesterday in the doggy-bag which still tasted good. Then I behold the arrival of the night from the balcony and the street lights lit up one by one. When the sun had disappeared behind the mountains it instantly got cold and chilly outside. Rush hour came and went but the traffic was still heavy afterwards. But what can you expect in a big metropolitan region with 6 million inhabitants? I must say it is generally a higher speed in the traffic than I’m used to. They almost drive like maniacs and honk all the time. But they do respect the pedestrians and I felt safe walking in the city and on crosswalks – they will stop for you.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged cities santa_lucia_hill Comments (0)

Shopping at Costanera Center


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Today I woke up to a much colder Santiago. The clouds were tarrying so the surrounding mountains (including the Andes) weren’t visible. A perfect day for shopping in other words! My friend Michelangelo recommended me to visit Costanera Center and I got directions to walk over there. I think it took 10 minutes to walk from the apartment. Costanera Center is a trade and business complex in Providencia, Santiago. The complex consists of several buildings; one shopping mall, Gran Torre Santiago (the highest building in South and Latin America with its 300 meters), two hotel buildings andone office building.

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The shopping mall in Costanera Center has 6 floors. And when talking about floors I must mention that all entrance floors in Chile are called 1. That means if you’re going with an elevator and want to go to the entrance floor you need to push button number 1. And if you need to go to the 6th floor you need to push number 7 in the elevator and so on. As I said, 6 floors with stores and stores… and the highest floor with restaurants and above those are cinemas showing movies every day. I found out that the shopping mall covers 308 stores… so Kupolen and NK, you can dash yourselves against the wall! Costanera Center is the most superior shopping mall I’ve ever visited. And for those who likes shopping will definitely find something here – there’s something for everyone! Even though shopping malls can be boring I must say Costanera Center was light, airy and anything but narrow. Something I did notice was all the visible security guards everywhere. Not just inside but outside the stores as well. In the beginning it freaked me out a little bit by being watched all the time, but you got used to it and later it felt safe knowing that they were watching over you.
And you should definitely not be asthmatic or sensitive or allergic to strong fragrances if you want to go shopping here. All stores have aroma sprays in every corner and all stores have a different fragrance. Most of the times I didn’t mind the fragrance from store to store… but the fragrance inside Armani Exchange got too much for me. That super strong scent of coconut almost made me vomit so I never went inside that store again.
As said, a lot of stores selling everything from jewelries and electronic devices to clothes and shoes. A heaven for a shop-aholic, with branded clothes like H&M, Adidas, Banana Republic, GAP, Calvin Klein, Crocs, Zara, Ripleys and so on. And during this time of year it was obviously sales in every store and as I mentioned earlier clothes is much cheaper here in Chile compared to Sweden. Cheap clothes + sales = Great findings! Ha ha, if I had known that I would never had packed my baggage so full of clothes from back home… I could easily have filled up my baggage with brand new clothes bought here in Santiago.

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During all shopping I had to pause and eat. I’m surprised how little English the Chilean people speak, especially in a big city like Santiago within commercial business and restaurants. But with my knobby Spanish and with help from people behind me in line I managed to order the food I wanted. It’s obviously an advantage to speak Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country, no doubt about that, but you don’t have to be a pro… even I made it and I’m definitely not a genius for languages. I felt a little silly walking back to the apartment carrying all those shopping bags. But I was very happy with all findings I made during the day. Only problem was if I would be able to bring everything back home to Sweden without paying for over weight on the flight. In the evening I tried out ski boots, skis and poles that my dear friend would lend me during tomorrows skiing in Valle Nevado.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged cities shopping Comments (0)

Murphy’s law…


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Up early in time to leave for Valle Nevado at 8.30am. During this time it was still rush hour and when we finally got out of the city traffic we took off on a narrower and tortuous road leading up in the mountains. The road was edged with cactuses (!) that during winter were covered in snow… but due to the warm weather lately there was no snow now. Mainly two types of cactuses grew here; Prickly Pear Cactus and another species that reminded a lot of Saguaro cactuses. The road almost crossed itself every now and then winding uphill and we were getting ourselves from 520 meters up to 3000 meters above sea level.

My friend Michelangelo visits Valle Nevado regularly during the winter season and he told me we would soon arrive to a checkpoint where the police randomly select cars to check if the drivers brought any snow chains. Michelangelo had not brought any snow chains today since it was a rental car but also because of the warm weather and it was barely snow outside. And also he had not been selected by the police in ages and the cops have been busy with other cars or just sitting inside their booth doing everything but checking cars. So after a while we arrived at the checkpoint but today we got randomly selected by the police. Yeah, what are the odds for that? Since we didn’t have any snow chains with us we had to turn around even though the lack of snow was obvious. A little disappointed and half way there to the ski-resort there was nothing we could do. And driving all the way back to the apartment to get the snow chains and drive back would take too long so the time to ski would be too short.

Well, well. So we had to come up with other plans for today. When we got back in Santiago we stopped by at Alto Las Condes, a shopping center with 3 floors. It reminded a lot of Costanera Center in terms of fashion, a lot of sportswear and branded clothes. It felt a little weird walking around in ski clothes but my friend said that the Chileans would consider us as cool people since skiing is a sport that only a few percent of the population can afford. I managed to find two nice shirts that I bought.

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And since we had the rental car all day long (and we wanted to take advantage of that) we drove up to Cerro San Cristóbal (San Cristóbal Hill) and all the way up to the parking lot by the Virgin Mary Statue. From the parking lot you have to walk uphill for a while to get up to the statue itself. And as for many tourists this statue was one of my top-10 attractions to visit here in Santiago. Well not only because of the statue itself but also for the fantastic panorama views over Santiago that you get from up here. I got a little disappointed over the Virgin Mary Statue since I had imagined it to be much bigger than it was in reality. But I think I probably compared Virgin Mary to the Christ the Redeemer watching over Rio de Janeiro…

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San Cristóbal Hill rises about 350 meters above the surrounding Santiago. You can get up the hill by hiking, driving or riding a bike or taking the old funicular. But be aware of all the street dogs around here if you plan to walk or ride your bicycle. From most of the outlooks on top of San Cristóbal Hill you can orient and point out important landmarks like the Andes and Cordillera de la Costa for people that are new to the city. If you plan to visit Santiago during the winter you will have the best view from up here after rainfall since the air will get cleared up from the smog (which otherwise is like a lid over the city). During the summer you usually have great views from up here every day. Many people say that the sunset is spectacular to watch from up here.

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And for those of you who thought I had enough of shopping for today… no, no. I had time for a trip over to Costanera Center again in the afternoon. I never bought anything though except dinner and some frozen yoghurt. I was mighty impressed by the girl at the yoghurt place because she spoke very well English!

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged cities shopping san_cristobal_hill Comments (0)

Typical Chilean shoe fashion?


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Took the subway to downtown and Plaza de Armas after rush hour. It was significantly more people downtown today than earlier this week and it was more chilly and windy. But who cares when you’re running in and out of stores all the time? ;) So obviously a whole lot of shopping today too since it’s so cheap here in Chile. I found a great-looking soft shell jacket and a pair of winter boots (no high-heels)… Sure it’s an advantage if you do speak Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country as Chile. You don’t have to speak it fluently but basic stuff like ordering food and shopping is a plus. I’m not a pro at Spanish but I made it around with my “spanglish”. Sure there are salespersons who speaks a few words of English and that’s when you as a tourist is being tested of your language skills. Even though misunderstandings occurred both from my side and the salespersons no one ever got mad or angry for not understanding me.

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One thing I noticed about the Chilean fashion is that all the women obviously had a strong wish to wear high-heeled shoes. And all shoe stores had almost exclusively high-heeled shoes… and then I’m not talking about 2 inch-heels but at least 4 inches or higher! Seen with Swedish eyes the Chilean woman has indeed a shorter average height but instead of being proud of their height they compensate that with enormous high-heels. Most of them had no problems walking around with those high-heels but some wore them even though they almost couldn’t walk… I hope they wear them of their own free will and not being fashion victims because it doesn’t look comfortable at all.

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And since I was close enough I went back to Barrio París-Londres, a neighborhood with cobblestoned alleys and houses strongly reminding of Paris and London during early 20th Century. Typical English houses and beautiful street lights in the alleys made you almost going back in time. On top of that all cherry trees were blooming.

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And since I was near Santa Lucia Hill I took the opportunity to walk back there and this time hike all the way up to the top. Today was definitely not as hot as last time I was here, so this time I would be able to get all the 69 meters up to the 360° view-point. Said and done, standing up there looking out over the surrounding city you realized how much smog was in the air you were breathing. A grey heavy fog that was like a lid over the city with exhausts and other pollutions that stay in the air stuck in between the Chilean Coastal Mountain Range and the Andes. It was visibly more police officers out on town today with dog units and police vans in every corner. I found out a few days later that people were demonstrating against something (don’t remember what it was against though).

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged cities shopping santa_lucia_hill Comments (0)

Poisonous Corner Spiders


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Woke up yet again to a cold and chilly Santiago so I spoiled myself with another sleep-in. Biggest challenge for today was to get two new batteries for my portable baggage scale since the old ones obviously didn’t work. I didn’t need any other batteries than the CR2032, you know the flat ones. I took a chance that they might have those at Jumbo that seemed to have everything, but no they didn’t. I tried in another big store but without success. So I tried in a store at the bottom floor in Costanera Center and managed to find a small store where they had the right batteries. The man in the store actually spoke well English so it was easy communicating with him. Then, since I was already in Costanera Center I took the opportunity to look for a new pair of shoes. The shoes I had with me to Chile was a pair I bought in New York a year ago and they were pretty worn out by now. Such shame since I really liked them but it was time to throw them away and replace them with a new pair. I found a pair of Merrell shoes on sale. Very comfortable walking in (which is the main thing regarding shoes) and made in breathable material… so I ended up buying them.

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Later that very afternoon I met my Chilean friend and we just enjoyed the company without having any made up plans really. We talked about a lot of stuff and when the darkness started to fall we had walked half way up to San Cristóbal Hill and on the way back we had bought us Empanadas. I am quite picky when it comes to food but I actually liked the Empanada I bought (with meat). Tasted really good and warmed me up in the chilly weather. The word Empanada originally comes from the Spanish and Portuguese verb empanar which means “to wrap something”. Empanada is a bread or dough with filling inside. The course was brought to Chile and South America by the colonizers and is still very popular.

I asked my friend about the most dangerous animals here in Chile that I should watch out for. They obviously have a deadly poisonous spider here in Chile, the Corner Spider, that you need to watch out for… even inside the houses. It’s a small brown spider that often can be found in corners- thereby the name. The spider is common in the whole South America though and can nowadays be found all over the world. But still you don’t want to have a “little friend” like that with you back home in your baggage.

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Earthquake 6.4


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Woke up to a cloudy and chilly morning in Santiago and it was nearly raining outside. I wasn’t really inspired to even get out of bed because of that but equipped with mittens, a hat and an umbrella I got out. Yesterday evening my Chilean friend and I had walked along Avenue Suecia and in a nice little area called Paseo de la Villa. So I headed back to that area to take some pictures in daylight.

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Paseo de la Villa is a more expensive commercial area with stores selling clothes and jewelries and a café or two. The houses in typical English style and the cobblestoned narrow alley really stood out from the surrounding big city architecture yet a nice mixture breaking off the stressful daily life style.

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I kept on going to the financial district in Santiago with braggingly high skyscrapers reaching for the sky and you can’t help feeling kind of small compared to those skyscrapers.

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And then the rain fell. Just as the Norwegian weather website www.yr.no had forecasted… so that only proofs that the Norwegian weather website works all over the world! I have been thinking about what kind of special satellites they have access to that the Swedish SMHI obviously doesn’t? Because SMHI has more inaccurate weather forecasts than ever… so that’s why I trust www.yr.no more than anything right now. It rarely rains here in Chile and when it finally does the land is so dry that the water just flows on top and doesn’t absorb. So when cloud-bursts are expected the Chileans prepare themselves for days. Still equipped with umbrella, mittens and hat I kept on going for a while on the darn slippery sidewalks but eventually it got really cold. Homeless dogs (street dogs) are a problem here in Santiago. Even though it was bigger of a problem 10-15 years ago, they still haven’t solved the problem despite efforts. The dogs are seeking protection in the green parks among the trees and are difficult to catch. And homeless people are also visible along the streets here in Santiago.

Later that evening I went back to Costanera Center to have something to eat. I got up to the highest floor where all the restaurants are and I had just ordered my food when I heard people starting to scream around me. I turned my head around and saw people running away from the tables and I started to hear a muffled rumble. And I guess it was during that split of a second between the muffled rumble and the whole building started to shake that I realized – earthquake! The quake lasted for about 10 seconds and it was a strange experience but I was never afraid during the actual earthquake. For me it was an awesome experience since we (almost) never have earthquakes back home in Sweden and if we do have earthquakes they are so weak that you can’t feel them. But this earthquake was measured up to 6.4 at the Richter scale which is considered to be a strong earthquake. For the Chilean people earthquakes are part of their daily life so most of them acted calm, placed themselves in doorways, near pillars or stronger structures just as you should during a quake. The people sitting at the tables were running away from there because – as I noticed later – it was glass roof over that area… so no wonder why they were running away.

When everything had calmed down and I had gotten my food I couldn’t help myself starting to think about all “what if” situations. I was lucky to be in one of the most new-built buildings in Santiago built to manage earthquakes. But what if I had been in an elevator or stuck in a long car tunnel somewhere? Or even worse, in the subway? Then I would probably have panicking more than I was up here at the top of Costanera Center.
Later that evening Michelangelo and I together with our mutual Chilean friend went out for joined dinner at Eladio Restaurant. It got pretty late that evening and we didn’t get home until after midnight.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged cities Comments (0)

Italian family lunch


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Wasn’t able to get to sleep until after 2 am, so a well-needed sleep-in was necessarily this morning. Time was about 9.30am when I finally got out of bed. Today I was invited to lunch at Michelangelo’s parent’s home and even though I’m picky when it comes to food pasta is always something that I eat. And for dessert was Cherimoya ice cream which was new to me but tasted very good. The fruit tree grows on high altitudes up in valleys in the Andes. They had one Cherimoya fruit at home and showed me how it looked and I think I’ve seen those back home in Sweden in a store somewhere. After a nice lunch with company we went back to the apartment again and I felt it was time to start packing down clothes and stuff in my baggage. There wouldn’t be much time to pack tomorrow since we were finally going up to Valle Nevado to ski. Sure I had to cancel my booked Santiago City Tour tomorrow… but since I’ve already seen pretty much everything that was included in that tour it was an obvious decision for me to cancel and go ski instead.

For me it was actually the skiing part that once started the whole idea for a vacation in Chile. Born in a cross country skiing family I’ve never learned how to ski downhill and when my friend Michelangelo (professional skiing instructor) found that out he promised to teach me if I ever traveled to Chile… that was like – challenge accepted! So then I just had to start planning for a vacation in Chile to visit him and learn how to ski downhill :) Like… why start small back home at Romme Alpin when you can go extreme and start high up in the Andes at altitude 3000 meters? :P Ha ha, yes that’s how crazy I am. XD

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged cities Comments (0)

Skiing in Valle Nevado – finally!


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Up early in the morning for breakfast and pack down the rest of my things in my bags. Today was my last day of staying in my friend’s apartment and today we were finally going skiing. We had planned for this earlier during the week but now it was finally happening! Sure I had to cancel the guided Santiago City Tour instead… but I realized I’ve already seen most of the city so it was an obvious decision for me to cancel and go skiing in Valle Nevado instead :) When we walked to the garage to get the car it was really cold, just below zero Celsius degrees. But in the ski outfit you almost didn’t feel it. Morning traffic was already busy so it took a while to get out of the heavy city traffic. And since it had been snowfall up in the Andes during the weekend we were sure it would be a lot of snow up there in Valle Nevado. Perfect! Valle Nevado is a ski resort 3000 meters above sea level (Santiago is at 520 altitude meters) located at the foothills of El Plomo up in the Andes. Even though Valle Nevado is only 46 km east of Santiago it sure takes about 2 hours to get up there because of the difference in altitude and heavy city traffic.

Earlier during the week when we tried getting up to Valle Nevado we had been stopped at the police check-point since we hadn’t got any snow chains with us. But today we weren’t even pulled over at the check-point, I don’t know why but maybe we didn’t because we had another car with 4WD today? It shouldn’t matter though… The road meandered more and more and the poor cactuses beside the road looked a little frozen underneath the snow. It was a little odd to see snow and cactuses… in my mind it doesn’t belong together.

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The higher we got the more narrow the road became and the curves turned into hairpins. At two different occasion car queue occurred since other cars got stuck in the snow. While sitting there in the car in the queue it wasn’t much you could do but being cool and keep calm and not get stressed. And during the second stop we were so close to the ski resort that we could actually see it.

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After buying lift passes (43000 CLP = 43 Euros) the moment had finally arrived. Put on the skis and have fun :) I would like to add, however, that coming from a family of strong cross country skiing traditions and learned how to ski cross country before you could walk, makes those skills deeply fixed inside your brain about how to ski. So now my friend Michelangelo, professional skiing instructor, had a little bit of a challenge to teach me downhill skiing.

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So after the first turns and some falls on the butt I felt exhausted. Not only because I just used new muscles I normally don’t use that much but also because of the thin air at 3000 meters above sea level… and why start small when you can start up in the Andes?! ;) So we took a break in the snow and rested for a while and just enjoyed the great weather we had. A clear blue sky basically cloud free which made the sun get to you pretty well. Sun protection factor 50 was absolutely necessarily I’ll tell you. But still I managed to get a sun burn on top of my head since I have my hair parted in the middle (and who remembers to put sun block up there?).

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The last two turns for the day I went by myself since Michelangelo wanted to ski more advanced slopes. I’m a little proud to say I managed to get down from the slope on my own without falling on my butt :D We gathered at the car and started the ride down 2500 meters to Santiago and got into the heavy city traffic again. I don’t know why but I get really stressed by heavy traffic and getting stuck in car queues. Most likely because I’m not use to that kind of traffic back home…

After picking up my baggage back in the apartment, my friend drove me to Hotel Orly where I would be staying for the next few days. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay longer in my friend’s apartment since all the guided tours I had booked only had pick-ups from hotels. I checked in at the hotel and got surprised over how well English the hotel staff spoke, but it felt great since my Spanish isn’t so good. The reception left me the message that my pick-up was going to be later than agreed for my Chilean Folklore Dinner Show I had booked in the evening. So now I had time to shower without stress. A full sized bus picked me up for the dinner show and there were many people on board. We were welcomed by 5 big moai at the entrance of Bali Hai Restaurant. It was kind of cool to see the moai… but since I was going to see real moai on Easter Island in just a few days from now I wasn’t that impressed. The restaurant wasn’t that big yet many guests were allowed inside, maybe because the tables weren’t that big or they wanted to accomplish a cozy atmosphere by placing the guests as tight as possible? For the menu you had many options for starter, main dish and dessert that were Chilean, Polynesian and international courses. To drink you chose one appetizer and one drink for the dinner. Haha, I toughened up and chose a Pisco Sour as appetizer and then white wine with the food. And damned what that Pisco Sour was strong… later when I googled about the Pisco Sour drink I realized it contained between 35-40% alcohol. No wonder I started to feel a little dizzy :P
The highlight for the evening had to be the dance show. Dances from several regions in Chile were performed, from Polynesia, Easter Island, Arauco Mapuche, Chiloé and traditional Cueca dances among others. A professional performance with a lot of talented dancers, no doubt, but the real question is how much of that is original dancing and how much is made up to make it a show? And I don’t get how the dancers can keep up their fixed smiling for so long… it must really be hurting to smile like that after 5 minutes. As soon as the show was over we met outside of the restaurant and got onto the bus back to our hotels again.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged cities skiing shows Comments (0)

Viña del Mar and Valparaíso


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The reception desk had phoned up to my room in the middle of the night (!) to inform that my pick-up for today’s tour to Viña del Mar and Valparaíso was delayed by 15 minutes, so new time for pick-up was 8.45am. I woke up in time for breakfast and then waited by the reception desk. I waited and waited and even the academic quarter passed and finally at 9.10am the guide Samuel (“Sam”) showed up. I embarked the bus and the bus drove to a meeting point where even more people from other hotels embarked. The full sized bus was more than half full of people participating in this tour when we started the 1 hour and 30 minute drive to Viña del Mar. Sam, the guide, translated everything he said into 3 languages; Spanish, Portuguese and English. I honestly don’t know if I would be able to keep track of three different languages if I would be a guide. But Sam was great at it and also very fast changing between the languages so you really had to be focused and alert so you didn’t missed anything he said in your language.

The bus drove west onto Route 68 and passed two long tunnels through the Chilean Coastal Mountain Range. According to Sam 90% of Chile’s total land area consists of mountains and about 80 active volcanoes. Every 30 years Chile is affected by very strong earthquakes and Sam made a joke that today was exactly 30 years ago since the last big earthquake. Sam also spoke warmly about Chile having the biggest natural reserves of copper and constitute totally 40% of the copper in the entire world. According to Sam the copper mining also constitute up to 50% of Chiles entire economy. And may I surprise you by telling that Chile is considered the second largest exporting country of Kiwis in the world? At least according to Sam. The climate makes it optimal for viticulture and great production of wine. Viña del Mar and Valparaíso I situated in Casablanca Valley known for its white wine, especially Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Despite that Sam claimed the Chileans drinks more beer than wine.

The first stop for today was Viña del Mar, a city founded in 1874 and due to its geographical location by the ocean it was often plundered by pirates. Viña del Mar is a coastal city and municipality in central Chile, in the beginning situated north of the neighborhood city Valparaíso but nowadays the two cities have grown together and Viña del Mar is now included in the Valparaíso Metropolitan Region called Greater Valparaíso (Gran Valparaíso).

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Viña del Mar, often called only Viña, means “the oceans vineyard” since the city is always surrounded by the ocean and the wine. The city also goes by the name “the Garden City” due to all the green areas and big green parks. As Chiles 4th biggest city, Viña del Mar offers El Festival Internacional de la Canción de Viña del Mar (a very popular music festival), a casino, some of the longest sand beaches in the country and the famous bell made out of flowers “Viña Cuidad Bella”. The bus made a stop at Quinta Vergara Park, where you can see the palace Palacio Vergara where the city founder once lived. The palace was badly damaged in the last big earthquake and is now closed for visitors. In the same park you can also visit the Anfiteatro Quinta Vergara with its big stage where world famous artists like Roxette, Robbie Williams and A-Teens have performed.

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After a while we gathered onboard the bus again and went to the second stop - the Flower Bell (Viña Cuidad Bella). The traditional story about the bell says if you photograph together with the Flower Bell you will revisit the Bell at least once more in your life. Sam, as the funny man he was, joked and said he had been in so many photograph with the bell and that’s why he keeps coming back time after time (and not because of his profession as a guide). Then it was finally time for lunch. We were driven to an Italian restaurant (don’t remember the name) where the tour company had a special menu for us guests to choose from. I ordered salad as starter, Spaghetti Bolognese as main dish and ice cream for dessert. And together with a drink it cost only 12000 CLP (12 Euros). Tip not included.

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Then it was time to start heading for Valparaíso, a city built on top of 45 hills according to Sam. The city is one of Chile's most important harbor cities and even though Valparaíso technically counts as Chile’s 6th biggest city, Greater Valparaíso counts as the second biggest city in Chile. Thanks to its geographical location the city had a very significant role during the late 19th Century since ships could make stopovers here during their cruise between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by passing through the Magellan Strait. The city was also a big attraction for European immigrants and was called “Little San Francisco” and “the Jewel of the Pacific” during its blooming days. But when the Panama Canal opened the ship traffic abandoned Valparaíso and ceased the economy totally for the inhabitants. The wealthy families fled the city, but the city has since regained its status and tourists starts to find their way back to explore the narrow cobblestoned alleys and the colorful houses. During 2003 Valparaíso was declared as World Heritage by UNESCO and then got the name “Chile’s Cultural Capital”.

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But I guess everyone thinks about the colorful houses when they hear the name Valparaíso. The bus drove by lively colorful parts of the city and the narrow road meandered itself uphill on one of all hills the city is built on.

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One thing that caught my attention was all the doodles or graffiti if you like. Though many paintings were very well made and obviously had a message behind. As a true artist I took a lot of photos of just the graffiti since they got me thinking about all the different statements they were telling.

Pictures taken in Valparaíso often portray the clean and colorful houses which build up an impression of a clean and colorful city in general. But behind the most pleasant and well-photographed houses is a dirty filthy city hidden with abandoned broken-downed houses, street dogs running around and polluted air blowing in over the city from the harbor. I got very disappointed since I had painted up huge expectations of Valparaíso as a city but discovered a totally different reality behind the beautiful portraying pictures. When the bus reached the top of one hill we disembarked and walked for a while to one of Valparaíso’s many funicular railways. In the beginning a total of 30 funicular railways were built all over the city but during the years most of them have been taken out of service or destroyed so only 10 remains which only 5 are still operating today.

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In Valparaíso we got one hour to wander around on our own. We had agreed to a meeting point at Sotomayor Plaza where a shopping mall was situated where you could buy souvenirs and food. Just outside the mall was a small marketplace and about 30 meters away from the harbor. A huge American aircraft carrier had just arrived in the harbor and was obviously the big subject in the city. I went to see aircraft carrier for myself and it was huge I can tell you. They do not only look huge in movies… they are huge in real life as well. I’m sorry to say but it wasn’t a pleasure to walk around downtown in Valparaíso since the air was so polluted and smelled bad from all the carriers and ships in the harbor. You really got a headache.

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So with an ease sigh you embarked the bus again and started the return trip back to Santiago. I arrived at the hotel in Santiago at 7pm in the evening.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged cities traveling Comments (0)

Wine tasting at Viña Santa Cruz


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The transfer picked me up at 8.30am and since none of the other transfers during the week had showed up time I wasn’t stressed about this transfer to be in time and had a calm and relaxed morning. BUT then the receptionist phoned up to my room at 8.20am and said my transfer was already here waiting for me! WTF?!? And that didn’t make me stressed or what??? Aaaaah, shit! But then I told myself to take it easy… if they had said 8.30am I then had 10 more minutes to get ready. So without stress I went down to the entrance at 8.30am. The guide, Angelica, welcomed me and we walked out to the transfer that was waiting for me. Obviously I was the only one doing the tour today. We started driving on Carretera Panamericana (Pan American Highway 5) and it would take us 3 hours before we got to the actual vineyard Viña Santa Cruz in Colchagua Valley. Pan American Highway is a network of roads that all together is about 48000 km. The Highway links North and South America together and reaches from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska (USA) to Ushuaia in Argentina except for an 87 km long section between Panama and Colombia where the rainforest is to prevent cut back of rainforest, drug smuggling and spreading contagious diseases.

We drove on Pan American Highway for a while and passed agriculture of peaches (blooming), cherries, grapes, alpha-alpha and wheat among others. We also passed two main rivers; Maipo River and Cachapoal River. The Maipo River is the largest source in the region for irrigation and drinking water while Cachapoal River has an important role for the O’Higgins Region. And suddenly a high security prison showed up in the middle of agriculture and blooming fields. It just didn’t fit in the surroundings. An area with Adobe houses showed up beside the road and Angelica told me that those “clay-houses” were common back in the days in Chile, but are nowadays being replaced with modern houses since Adobe houses can’t stand against earthquakes that well. We also passed haciendas that were introduced in Chile by the Spanish conquerors that built enormous haciendas to mark their status. When we drove by the village Lajuela she told me about the local straw hats that are handmade here that can cost up to 100000 CLP (100 Euros).

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Eventually we arrived in Valle de Colchagua (Colchagua Valley) and this region has been prized for its world class produced red wines and the wineries are lining up, one by one, along the roads in the valley. In Colchagua Valley it’s typical to grow the red grapes in the central parts while the white grapes are grown closer to the coast. Ruta del Vino (Wine Highway) is very popular to drive in the valley since it is meandering from vineyard to vineyard. Back in the days guests and tourists could ride onboard a train along a railroad starting in Nancagua and passing through the vineyards, but since the last strong earthquake in 2010 the railroad was destroyed and no reparation has started yet to rebuild the railroad again. Best time to visit vineyards in this region is considered being from late September to May, and the harvest months are Mars, April and May. Chile was the only country to avoid the Phylloxera epidemic during the late 19th Century that was ravaging in the rest of the world (especially in Europe) and therefore the vineyards in Colchagua Valley are hundreds of years old. This could very well be one reason to why the wine from this region has been rewarded worldwide.

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When we came onto Viña Santa Cruz land it felt like getting into another world. The road leading up to the main building was lined by vineyards like Petit Verdot, Malbec, Marlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère. From the main building the visitors can take a funicular up to Cerro Chamán (Chamán Hill) with historical flashbacks where they celebrated Chile’s native people’s heritage and cultures like Mapuche, Aymara and Rapa nui cultures. Like a moai within the Rapa nui culture they believe that a piece of Viña Santa Cruz’s soul is mediated through the wine produced on the vineyard. The Aymara culture is being celebrated on the vineyard because of their faith and ideologies while the Mapuche culture (Mapuche – people of the land) celebrates because of their heritage and knowledge about the land.

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There are more than 140 hectares of land planted with grapes and the yard has 46 full time employees whereof 30 work only out on the yard. During the harvesting which takes place during the autumn (Mars-May) hundreds of workers are temporarily employed helping out harvesting the grapes. All the grapes harvests by hand early in the morning to preserve the characteristic aroma in each grape.

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The tour on the vineyard ended with a wine tasting: Rosé, Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon.

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After lunch in the city Santa Cruz it was time to pay a visit at Colchagua Museum that was just on the other side of the wall from the restaurant where we ate. A museum to preserve, cherish and spread knowledge about the Chilean cultural heritage. Unfortunately I didn’t get much time to spend in the museum and it felt like I almost ran through it but one of the most interesting objects in the entire museum was the Fénix 2 - the capsule that rescued the 33 trapped mining workers deep down at 700 meters after the strong earthquake in 2010. The dramatic rescue operation was followed by media over the entire world and got known as “the Big Rescue”.

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Then, after a long day it was time to return to Santiago and after another 3 hour drive I was back in the hotel. Now it was time to start packing the bags again for tomorrows travel to Easter Island and the mythical moai.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged traveling wine_tasting Comments (0)

Easter Island


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I got up early as hell to be in time for the transfer leaving at 5am. Though I couldn’t find the new batteries I just bought here in Santiago for my portable baggage scale why I had to pack my baggage with my gut feeling and with a little anxiety for having to pay for over-weight on the flight. When time was 4.45am the receptionist phoned up to my room and announced that my transfer had arrived. Since I was already half stressed to death (over not finding the batteries) this announcement didn’t ease my stress at all! I pressed down the last stuff in my baggage and more or less forced the zipper closed. “Shit! I’ll never make the weight limit”, I thought to myself and shrugged… there was nothing I could do now. I wanted to bring everything with me back home and not leave anything behind. Took the elevator down to the reception and checked out, loaded the baggage into the transfer and sank down on the seat in the car. Boo so early in the morning it was!

I arrived well in time at Santiago Arturo Benítez International Airport. The flight to Easter Island (Isla de Pascua) was originally departing at 8am but was later changed to departure at 9.05am. I guess my travel agency forgot to delay my transfer to the airport with one hour as well… well, it’s better to be too early than late! I got in line to LAN Airlines check-in desks and nervously waited. Now for it! Not more than 23 kg was allowed for the baggage. And if someone wonders – yes, flights to Easter Island counts as international flights (even though the island belongs to Chile) so that’s why the weight limit for checked-in baggage is 23 kg. I was super nervous when they called me up to a desk and I told the man behind the desk that I had no idea what my bag would weigh in at before I it up on the scale. I saw how the digital numbers on the scale just went higher and higher to finally end up at 22,9 kg! Wow! I made it with a hairbreadth! Sometimes you need a little luck too ;) I got my boarding card and walked away to the security check with light steps and since it was so early in the morning there was no line. Nice! I bought myself a sandwich and some water that had to do as breakfast. Then I had some to kill and I barely could stay awake.

When it was finally time for boarding I was just as tired and slow-witted as any. The airplane was quite big though, a sort of Dream Liner model but with 2+3+2 seats per row and my travel agency had pre-booked window seats for me just as I wanted. Between Santiago de Chile and Easter Island the flight took about 5 hours and 45 minutes and therefore food was included onboard. I made a few attempts to get some sleep but as always it’s hard to get any quality sleep during flights. Finally when the plane started to descend for landing I couldn’t see any island in sight but that’s not so strange since Easter Island is a very small island with an area of only 164 km2. Easter Island is more or less shaped like a triangle and the islands only airport Mataveri International Airport is situated in the south corner. Since it’s a small island means practically that the runway starts at the southeast coast and stretches 3,3 km east and stops at the northeast coast. So the pilots can’t afford any mistakes during landing or take-off or they will end up in the ocean! So with delight mingled with terror I could only watch through the window and hope for the best when the ocean got more and more close underneath the airplane.

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Eventually I could spot the coastline of Easter Island and reinsure myself that the island was within reach when the plane took ground and braked. Luckily the passengers cannot see the end of the runway (that ends with cliffs into the ocean) getting closer and how much or little marginal the pilot actually has.

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I disembarked the airplane with tired legs when an intense moisture heat hit me and since I just had left a chilly and cold Santiago I had quite warm clothes on me. But here on Easter Island it was +25 °C, nice and sunny and freshly but warm winds. Mataveri International Airport may be the vastest airport in the world but I want to state one of the smallest ones too, since we had to walk from the airplane on the ground and in to a small wooden building that represented the actual terminal building. I was in a real hurry to get inside since I really needed to use the restroom, but I noticed people stood in line at a small booth just by the entrance to the airport. But I had to walk them by to find a restroom. Even though the airport is small they did have a baggage belt where all the bags arrived on but the space around the belt was too small so people almost stood on top of each other to get their baggage. When I finally spotted my bag I literally had to push myself through the crowd to get it. It was really hot inside the arrival area, just as hot as the outside temperature.

Now all tired in both body and mind I had to find my transfer and I started to glance through all the signs one by one and found a sign with my name on it. It was a relatively tall man that I assume was a native rapa nui, he gave me a flower-necklace and welcomed me and for a short moment I thought I had arrived to Hawaii instead. He loaded my baggage into his transfer bus and asked me if I had bought my ticket to the national park. “Uuuhm, what ticket?” I said and felt totally confused. Then I remembered that it was probably that ticket all the people in line was waiting for to buy, when I had just walked by in search for a restroom. Except from the airport you can only buy the ticket to Orongo National Park (Orongo Parque Nacional) in one other place on the entire island, so remember to buy the ticket on the airport if you plan to visit Easter Island. So I had to go back to that booth to buy the ticket (30000 CLP = 30 Euro) and then back to the transfer. I sat down in the transfer next to another passenger named Emily. While the driver was waiting for a third person Emily and I started to chat a little. Emily was originally from London and been travelling around the world for 3 months and now just arrived with the same flight as I had. When the driver had gathered all three of us he drove off the airport and towards Hanga Roa and our hotels. First stop was Hotel O’Tai, my hotel where I was staying. The driver thought that Emily was the one staying there so when I said “That’s also my hotel” he got confused. So he had to look in his papers and realized that yes, this was my hotel and Emily was staying at another hotel… I’m lucky I was alert and noticed it was my hotel. Who knows where else he could have dropped me off at?

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I checked in and got the key to my room. Hotel O’Tai is beautifully situated in a blooming garden decorated with native flowers, palm trees and small replicas of moai. The hotel’s 40 rooms are embedded in the lushly garden divided in separate buildings and my room was in a corner of one of the buildings – perfect! My room was in a clay-house-building so it was nice and cool inside and from my room you could hear the ocean but in order to see it you had to walk further away. There was no TV in the room and in order to get WiFi you had pay an extra fee. I quickly changed into more suitable clothes before heading out to grab something to eat. I found a restaurant on the main street Atamu Tekena. If you visit Easter Island it’s a must to try out one of all the local fish dishes they have to offer. I dared a tuna fish with rice and a tasty orange/pineapple juice. Then I walked down to the beach and walked along the coastline to Hanga Roa and photographed some moai.

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Unfortunately the sun shined from behind so I decided to get back another day for pictures when the sun shined from another angle. It was really windy along the coast, almost chilly, in the late afternoon but as soon as you got in lee it got hot again. I got to experience a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean later that evening and soon thereafter it got really cold outside. The few street lights that do exist in Hanga Roa were lighted up and it was time to get back to the hotel again. If you plan to visit Easter Island, do remember to bring some kind of flashlight or your cell phone to light up the way in front of you after sunset. Because there aren’t many street lights in Hanga Roa and it gets dark really fast and on top of that the sidewalks are of insufficient quality, rough and edgy and along many sidewalks runs deep slots… so you really need to watch out where you’re walking in the dark.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged traveling easter_island moai Comments (0)

Easter Island on horseback


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I woke up to an intense bird warbling outside my room during sunrise so I obviously didn’t need an alarm-clock at this time of year anyway. Breakfast was served between 7.15am to 9am and during my short walk over to the breakfast I could see, hear and smell the ocean. It was pretty chilly outside before the sun had a chance to warm up the air. My transfer to the stable picked me up at 9.30am… or was supposed to anyway. But somehow a misunderstanding had occurred (I think my hotel forgot to confirm or something like that) so I wasn’t picked up until 10.20am. Sigh! Anyway, it took only a few minutes to drive over to the stable so if I had known where it was I could have walked… well, well. The horses were already tacked when I arrived (since I was arriving so late) and I was able to borrow short chaps and a helmet if I wanted (voluntarily though – I chose to wear my cap instead to protect my face from the intense sun). Since I was participating in a 7 hour trail ride today I had prepared a pick-nick that was packed down in a saddle bag. Except from the guide I was the only rider today and we rode off along the islands west coast. Even though it was windy the wind was warm and the intense sunshine demanded wearing long-sleeves.

Even though Easter Island nowadays has a barren landscape research shows that has not always been the case. When the first Polynesian settlers discovered the island the landscape was covered in subtropical forests but after 400 years of colonizing the tree-devastation was substantial and after another 300 years all forests were gone. The causes for the extensive devastation have many theories and are complex, but everyone agrees to climate changes in association with the Little Ice age together with human itself had significant influences. The human devastated the forests in order to cultivate the land, construct canoes and tools and also a large amount of firewood was necessarily to cremate cadavers. But when the forests eventually were gone and the broken boats couldn’t be repaired or replaced with new ones anymore Easter Island got isolated since the inhabitants couldn’t leave the island. Fishing out at the ocean was replaced with chicken farming which together with rats became the primarily food, and the lack of firewood forced the human to use sugar beets, grass and such which instead depleted the land. This substantially increased the population during the next 200 years. The Polynesian people were primarily farmers (and not fisher men) cultivating sweet potatoes, bananas, cassava and yam, but without the trees protecting the crops from the salty ocean winds remnants shows that the people started to plant the crops in underground holes and covered the soil with rocks to prevent dehydration. During rough periods of time cannibalism existed on Easter Island which is supported by bone findings in and around cooking areas (especially in caves) and by oral stories. The island has also been severely afflicted by soil erosion during the last centuries probably directly caused to the extensive forest devastation that took place. The sheep farming during the 20th Century is also believed to have hastened the erosion.

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As soon as we had left the settlement in Hanga Roa and rode out on more secluded roads we sped up the pace. After long distances of trotting and galloping the green meadow landscape changed into a more dramatic, barren and rocky nature, but you could tell the horses were steady on their “feet” and knew how to zigzag their way through the volcanic rock landscape. There were not many moai along the trail we rode but more of ancient remains like houses, hide-out places, caves and archeological findings like rock engravings and paintings.

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In one place we dismounted the horses and walked up to a hide-out place and you could only enter through a narrow hole in the ground (not wider than my shoulder width). The guide crawled down easily through the hole and waited for me down there. You really shouldn’t have claustrophobia if you want to crawl down into one of those hide-out places! The guide told me that this was a place used by her ancestors to hide out during times when conquerors came to take over Easter Island and enslave the population, but when the hide-out places were discovered the conquerors captured and killed everyone in it. The people on Easter Island have not only suffered from conquering but also civil wars, colonization, and epidemics of diseases like tuberculosis (brought by explorers) have also affected and decreased the islands population through times. When it was time to get up from the hide-out place and back to the horses I turned around and looked at the little hole. Had I just crawled down through that? I’m never going to get up again… The guide climbed up first and then it was my turn. After many ifs and buts I had made it half-way through and not only was it muddy, narrow, cold and wet, I was starting to get the feeling I might not get out of there. But I couldn’t start to freak out now! I just had to suck it up and be clever and after additional juggling I managed to get out of there. Now afterwards thinking about it, the guide wasn’t that much thinner than me… but she was shorter, perhaps 15 centimeters and that probably helped her passing through that 90 degree bend since she was shorter.

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Well back mounted on the horseback we kept on riding along the coastline and passed pastures with livestock and horses, and right out in the middle of nowhere we passed the most secluded houses that perhaps where abundant already. After about 4 hours of riding we arrived to the volcano Terevaka, also the highest peak on Easter Island with its 507 meters above sea level. Easter Island is the result of volcano activities and constitutes of peaks out of the underwater mountain range that rises 300 meters from the ocean bottom. About 3 million years ago the volcano Pua Katiki roughly began to shape and posed alone an island for hundreds of years before the volcanoes Rano Kau and Manga Terevaka were formed and together shaped the island we now know as Easter Island.

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After another hour of horseback riding we arrived at Anakena Beach where we stopped for a break and ate our pick nick. Anakena has a beach of white coral sand and is one out of two sand beaches on Easter Island in an otherwise rocky coastline. According to legends Anakena was the place where Hotu Matu’a (a Polynesian chief and the first settler on this island) chose to stay and settled. And sure it felt a little odd after 5 hours of riding in a barren landscape to suddenly arrive to a white sand beach with palm trees and tourists. After the pick nick we headed back towards Hanga Roa again and rode for a long time along the road that links Anakena Beach and Hanga Roa. Since it wasn’t high season for tourists now on the island there was no heavy traffic… but horses are still animals that can get scared and flee no matter how safe in traffic the owners says they are.

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Then we took off into a forest of Eucalyptus trees. Except from the characteristic smell I recognized how the trees looked from my journey to Portugal a couple of years earlier. It began to cloud up and the warm winds switched to chilly ones. But we made it back to the stable without any raindrops. During the way back we also saw packs of horses curiously following us at a distance. I would describe the typical Easter Island horse as an Icelandic horse in size XL but only with the paces walk, trot and gallop. When we arrived at the stable and I had gotten my 7 hours in the saddle (and even more) I felt pretty tired.

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I got transferred back to my Hotel O’Tai and after a quick shower I went down to Hanga Piko to behold yet another magnificent sunset over the Pacific Ocean. On the way back to the hotel I stopped by at a restaurant for a late dinner. I loved their fantastic pineapple/orange juice so I ended up ordering one more before leaving. Fell asleep pretty un-rocked that night.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged easter_island moai horseback_riding Comments (0)

Getting to know the moai


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Woke up again to the intense bird-warbling outside the window as a sign that sunrise had began. I ate breakfast in time to make today’s first guided tour to Orongo. The clouds were hanging low and the fog had a steady grip around Hanga Roa and the rain was about to start so the air was completely different this morning from all other days. Pick-up at 9am outside my hotel and the guide, Pablo, spoke well English. Emily, whom I met two days ago, was also on the tour bus and I soon discovered that almost all other passengers spoke English as well. It’s always nice to communicate with people having English as their native language. They drove us 10 minutes to Ahu Vinapu where we made our first stop. Ahu is Rapa nui and translates as shrine. Vinapu is a part of Rapa Nui National Park that in turn has declared as world heritage by UNESCO, and as a tourist you are informed about that several times and that you really need to respect and honor the boundaries around the statues. You are also strongly forbidden to climb or even touch the statues and by the most popular moai are posted guards (sometimes even police officers) that can give you a fine if you violate the restrictions. I don’t remember exactly how large amount you could get but it was noticeable.

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Decapitated moai

Vinapu is a historical important archeological place and represent the exchange between the Incas and Polynesians. The platforms that all moai – once raised here – stood at witness about incredible skilled stonework consisting of big strictly fitted stones cut out of basalt and as spirit level they used the ocean to horizontally build the platform after. As all the other moai on Easter Island, the moai at Ahu Vinapu were destroyed during civil wars between the 18th and 19th Centuries when they put big stones in front of each statue and tipped the statues over so their necks fell right on the stones to decapitate the moai. That’s why you nowadays see all these repairs in the neck areas in almost every moai on Easter Island that has been chosen to be raised up again. Moai were placed on top of platforms (like those in Ahu Vinapu) in belief they represented spirits from dead ancestors or relatives that had been buried inside the platforms.

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A female moai

Almost all moai are men but 10 female statues have been identified and characterizes by two heads, breasts and vagina. Pablo pointed at one statue here in Ahu Vinapu and said that was one of the 10 recovered female moai. It was not easy though to distinguish the female features due to external influences like human and nature, but using your imagination you could anticipate them.

Next stop during this tour was Orongo. We rode the bus for a while and when we arrived the weather had changed into raw and chilly. Strong winds and heavy rain made you almost want to stay inside the transfer bus but we all made an attempt to continue the tour. In order to visit Orongo I needed to show up that ticket (I bought at the airport) to clear the entrance to Rapa Nui National Park. But as soon as we entered the park the weather got even worse and the wind made the rain falling almost horizontally and due to the strong wind we couldn’t hear what Pablo said. So we gave up and went back to the entrance building where Pablo continued to tell us all about the traditions that were performed here in Orongo. Tangata-manu (the Birdman): was an annual ceremony celebrating Make-Make (God) and fertility that started during a period of time when the tribal chiefs lost their status and competed in keeping the title Birdman. The purpose of the ceremony was for the contesters to climb down the rocks at the south cape of Easter Island, swim out to the island Motu Nui (south of Easter Island). The ones who did survive the downhill climbing and the swimming out to the island then had to wait for days, sometimes weeks, for the arrival of the sea bird Manutara that was breeding on the island during the springs. The first contester to find an egg and returned it to the village was designated Tangata-manu - the Birdman - for one year. The designated Birdman was sacred and was honored during the year. It should be mentioned that the only moai found here in Orongo named Hoa Hakananaia (The Stolen Friend) was removed from the island during a Poki-Manu ceremony to Great Britain in 1868 and was introduced to Queen Victoria. The statue never came back to Easter Island and can nowadays be seen in a British museum.

Totally soaked, cold and frozen we walked back to the bus and Pablo told us we could re-use our tickets another day to visit the park (without a guide) when the weather was much better. The staff in the park takes notice of the weather and allows visitors to return another day, but unfortunately this was my last 24-hour-day here on Easter Island so I wouldn’t be able to utilize that deal anyway. Such a pity!

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On the way back to Hanga Roa we made a shorter stop at a cave just down by the ocean called Ana Kai Tangata, the most accessible and available cave on the island. Probably due to its name (Ana = cave;Kai = to eat; Tangata = man) stories and rumors occurred about cannibalism on Easter Island. But the name can be translated in two ways; “cave where men ate” or “cave where men was eaten”. Also the word Kai in old Rapa nui means; “to gather”, “to count” or “to teach”. And there are no certain archeological findings that proof cannibalism were practiced according to Pablo. There are several cave paintings to be seen but they are in very bad condition due to the high humidity and constant influence by the salt from the ocean water. The cave is just down by the water's edge but as a visitor you never have to worry about tide water since the difference is so low that the ocean water never reaches into the cave. But you can see the mighty power from the ocean waves hit against the rocks a few meters outside the cave.

Back in the hotel I took a warm shower and changed into dry clothe before heading out for lunch. An Empanada with chicken had to do and now the weather had changed into bright sunshine and warm winds again so I went down to the little harbor Hanga Piko and just rested for a while. It was soothing just sitting there listening to the ocean waves. By 3pm it was time for Half day Akivi, in other words the second guided tour for the day. It was the same tour bus that picked me up as earlier this day, the same guide (Pablo) and the same passengers were in it (except two people that had booked a private guided tour in the afternoon).

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First stop during this afternoon tour was Ahu Akivi and the moai here are sacred and have a special historical meaning since they are the only moai on the entire island that are facing the ocean. All other moai are looking away from the ocean towards villages to guard and protect the people. But these seven moai at Ahu Akivi were, according to Pablo, facing the ocean to greet the arrival of the seven explorers but the explorers died here on Easter Island and never returned home. You can’t stop wondering if it was bad luck to face the moai towards the ocean then? All moai had white/bright eyes made out of corals but all eyes were destroyed during the civil wars except from one eye that has been found in one piece. The moai that today have been re-raised and restored have no eyes but only hollow outs where the eyes once were attached. According to the Rapa nui belief, a moai without eyes has no soul. That’s why it was so important for moai to have eyes and especially being raised on a platform representing the spirits of ancestors or relatives.

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Next stop was at Puna Pao where all the moai hair (Pukaos) was carved out in stone for the statues, and yes all moai had hair - not hats. The hair was carved round so they could be rolled away to the statues all over the island and was later painted red to mark their dominance. 95% of all moai were carved out of stone from the slopes of the volcanic crater Rano Raraku and where then transported out to the rest of the island. The theories conflicts about how the Rapa nui-people managed to move around all the enormous statues but the most logical theory is that the moai were moved standing up and wobbled sideways forward with ropes. The separate manufactured hair was put on top of the moai by building a temporary ramp and rolled the hair up on the head. In and on and around Rano Raraku are 397 unfinished moai still standing left. You can tell by the partially buried statues so the people could easier access and sculpture at the very top of the moai.

Third and last stop for the tour was at Huri A Urenga which displays a lonely moai who was thought to have astronomical meaning and protected the winter crops since the statue was/is turned so it faces the sun during the winter solstice. This moai is also interesting since it has four arms and four hands and according to Pablo those represented the four clans once living here. According to researchers the phenomena with four hands and arms may be a result of the original two arms and hands being damaged during transportation that two new arms and hands were carved in on top of the old ones.

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Next to this moai you can find one of all crematories around the island where the islanders burned bodies. The remaining bones where used as tools within the family but that tradition ended when all the trees once were gone on Easter Island (so the bodies couldn’t be cremated anymore).

During the bus ride back to the hotels Emily told all of us about a restaurant she had visited and ordered a sandwich. The restaurant was called Club Sandwich and she recommended all of us to visit and try out one of their gigantic sandwiches. So I just had to walk over there and try one. And just as I walked into Club Sandwich (situated along the main street) I noticed four other people from the guided tour were already there and had ordered sandwiches. Since they had already eaten, I never saw how big the sandwiches really were. But I ordered one anyway and damned how big it was! My first thought was… “How do you even eat something like this???” It was enormous and all over the plate. Of course you had a fork and knife to eat with so you just could dig in. Ha ha, at least you didn’t have to leave the place hungry, that’s for sure. Once back at the hotel I started to pack down everything in my bags since I was going back to Chile and Santiago again tomorrow. Unfortunately all clothes felt a little damped due to the high humidity here on Easter Island so I was a little afraid that my clothes were going to be ruined if I packed them down like that, but what was I supposed to do?

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged easter_island moai Comments (0)

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