Tag: Chile

It’s a Small World After All

One of the many rewards of traveling for an extended period of time are the small world encounters. With over 6 billion people on the planet, it’s a wonder that any random encounter 3000 miles from home could result in a shared connection. But miraculously, it happens, and it’s not that uncommon. Our two most striking small world encounters:

We’re on the last day of our Northern Circuit Safari in Tanzania at Lake Manyara National Park, in a rare moment outside the Land Rover, standing at the hippo pool. Another Land Rover pulls up, and a couple hops out and comes to stand next to us. An exchange of greetings identifies that we’re both from the US, and after a couple “where are you from” rounds, we come to find that we’ve grown up in cities within 50 miles of each other. We keep digging deeper, learning that they went to the same high school of many of our college friends, so for the hell of it, we throw out a few names of people we know from their high school:

Sarah: Do you know Katie Waller?

Katie C: I love Katie Waller!!

Sarah: No, I love Katie Waller!! Wait, who are you?

Katie C: Jim and Katie Constantine

Ted: As in, the brother of Lori Constantine?

Katie C: Yes!!

Wow, small world. Standing in front of us is the younger brother of one of our best friend’s best friend. At the hippo pool in Tanzania.

Crazy encounter with Michiganders

Our next encounter happened here in Udaipur, on one of the fabulous rooftops overlooking the lake. I’m looking over at this couple sitting a few tables away, trying to place why they look familiar. And then it comes to me. I walk over to them, and ask if they are from Barcelona (the one fact I remembered from our previous encounter). Yup it’s them, only 1/2 a world away. We first Montserrat and Aleix back in Bolivia, 6 months earlier on our salt flat tour. It was a short encounter, but they stuck out to me because they were Spaniards who looked like they were Swedish. 2 months after the Bolivia meet, we saw them again in Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile. This 2nd encounter was already pretty crazy, but within South America, it’s not unheard of to see people who are on the same general path. But 4 months after Chile, we had chosen different directions around the globe (us to Africa, them to Australia and New Zealand), we find each other sitting on the same rooftop in Udaipur, India. That is a crazy small world.

Spaniards on the right, us on the left, and random Israeli guy in the middle

South America – The Numbers

Ok, so it’s been a while since we’ve left the South American continent, but here are some interesting numbers to tell the story of our time there.

  • 4 – Months we spent in South America
  • 68 – Number of beds we slept in
  • 5 – Countries Visited
  • 12 – Number of friends and family visited (Two of them in two different locations!)
  • 24 – Number of deeply discounted or comp’d hotel nights through Ted’s tourism connections
  • $6460 – Value of comp’d tourism industry activities through Ted’s tourism connections
  • 6 – Number of overnight buses (2 in Bolivia, 4 in Argentina)
  • 182.5 – Number of hours on a bus (that’s 7.6 full days on a bus)
  • 1 – Number of computers stolen
  • 2783 – Number of photos taken (and kept)
  • 7 – Number of flights
  • 1 – Number of big ships

South America well exceeded our expectations, and we’re on the hunt for ways we can get back for an extended period of time down the road.  Check out our Best Of pics from Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile for some highlights.


Matte and Bombilla

Argentines (and Chileans to a lesser extent) are obsessed with matte tea. There is an entire culture surrounding the consumption of matte. The most important part of drinking matte? Looking cool while you do it.

Here’s how it works. First, you have to get a cup and straw. The cup, made out of wood or a dried pumpkin or other type of gourd, is actually called the “matte”. The straw, generally made out of metal, is known as the bombilla, has a filter on the cup end to keep small tea leaves out of your mouth. Next, you need a portable thermos full of pretty hot water (but not boiling hot, as it will burn the tea). Finally, you need the yerba, or tea. You fill the matte cup with dry yerba about 2/3 full (no tea bag), and then soak the yerba with hot water from the thermos, filling the matte to the top. Then, you’re ready to imbibe, enjoying your tea through the straw.

Drinking matte is a social affair, with up to 4 people sharing the same cup. The yerba stays fresh for a good dozen refills. Each person drinks all of the liquid out of the cup for their turn, finishing up with a loud and proud sucking noise as the water runs out of the straw. Refill the matte cup from the thermos, and pass it along to your friend.

What did we think of matte? Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste.

This is a hot water machine, designed specifically for matte thermoses. We found this at Iguazu Falls National Park. Gotta look cool at the falls

Pretty Much the Most Beautiful National Park in the World

We’re talking about Torres del Paine National Park, just outside of Puerto Natales, Chile. Ted and I don’t have the gear for backpacking or even camping with us on our trip, but as we were staying and visiting friends before going to the park, Drew and Francisco hooked us up with everything we needed (thanks fellas!).

Beyond its stunning and rugged beauty, the most common thing we heard about the park was its unpredictable and rather horrendous weather. It is a very windy place always, but combine that with blowing rain and snow and throw in some super muddy trails and you are in for a long day of hiking.

Our friend Francisco is a guide in the park so he outlined what he called the best way to do it. Most people do the ‘W’ route, which is a reference to the shape of your walking path that allows you to see the park’s highlights. The path Francisco recommended was an abbreviated ‘W’ which allowed us to see nearly the same highlights without have to carry our packs long distances. Also, with the unpredictable weather, his plan allowed us to stay multiple nights in one place which would avoid setting up or putting down a tent in the rain. I liked the sound of his plan.

View from (near) our first campsite

So after all the negative weather build-up, on the morning we arrived at the park the weather was gorgeous. Blue skies, very little wind and no sign of it changing. We quickly selected our camping site and headed up to see the Park’s nomiker – the Towers of Paine. Though we were sweating when we arrived at the top, the cold biting wind quickly cooled us down. It was a beautiful view and we were thankful to have seen them at all because the clouds often hide the view.

The hike up to the Torres

The Torres del Paine

Amazing towers

The second day involved taking a ferry boat over to another camping area. We once again had an amazing weather day and we couldn’t believe our luck. The view from the ferry of Torres del Paine’s mountains and glaciers against the surreal blue color of the glacial lake was absolutely phenomenal.

View from the boat

The second day was a relaxed one and we did some exploring around the area and took bunches of pictures because the weather and views were just too good.

The VIEWS!!!

Glacial Lakes

Wicked peaks

The third was a 30 km (~18 mile) hike up into the French Valley and back. The weather this day was not the best but we got a bit of sunshine along with clouds, rain, wind as well. You spend half of the day hiking next to an enormous glacier that would thunder and calve every few minutes. The view from the top was a little cloudy but nonetheless a wide open bowl with 365 degree views. Needless to say we were EXHAUSTED at the end of this day because neither one of us hiked so much in a day in a very long time, if ever!

Big glaciers in the French Valley

Looking back down the French Valley

But no rest for the weary! The last day also involved another 30 km hike to a glacier. I just couldn’t do it. I could have hiked for 4-6 hours but I did not have another 8+ hour day in me so Ted set out alone. I had a relaxing morning reading and napping and cleaning up camp while Ted was on his feet for another long day. I was very impressed.

Glacier shots

Glacier Shots

When we got back to Puerto Natales that night we were pooped! A couple beers at Drew’s brewery with some friends we met from the Navimag ferry and then we were really ready for bed.

The park is incredible and worth every day you can spend in it. We were spoiled by two days of phenomenal weather but even those who get rained on love it and that includes us too!

Picture of the Week

So many amazing shots from Torres del Paine to choose from.  But this one stands out for its crazy halo cloud.

Torres del Paine

Extremo Sur

It was such a great feeling to get off the Navimag Ferry in Puerto Natales, Chile, and have friends to call. Puerto Natales is at the tip of Chile – Extremo Sur (south) as it is called – and Ted and I have not one, but two great friends living down south.

Drew is a Boulder connection who moved down here over a year ago and just fell in love with the place. He is now managing the one and only microbrewery in town and dabbling with many other smaller projects. He’d spent the previous cold, dark winter studying Spanish, and it showed – impressively. Chilean Spanish is particularly difficult to speak and understand not only because of the speed and pronunciation but due to the ridiculous amount of slang used between Chileans. Drew was speaking like a local by the time we caught up with him.

Drew, whipping up Thanksgiving dinner

Our other friend Francisco is Chilean, born and raised in Puerto Natales. He lived in Boulder for several years and now splits his time between the US for our summer months and Chile for their summer months. He does a lot of guiding in Patagonia both in Chile and Argentina which keeps him super busy during the tourist season.

Francisco, whipping up some fresh bread

Both Drew and Francisco were amazing and generous hosts, and we are so grateful for the time we got to spend down there. Ted and I stayed at Francisco’s house for nearly a week, but he was only there for a couple days of it (due to his guiding schedule). He has an amazing place just outside of town with a wicked view and the most adorable puppy, Poco, that we got to watch. We loved cooking food at his place, taking life easy and staying in one place for more than a couple days.

View from Francisco's back yard

Sarah and Poco

Drew also works entirely too much, but Ted and I visited his bar every night to say hello and enjoy some American-inspired food and delicious micro-brewed beer. We covertly planned our visit to coincide with Thanksgiving as Drew is an amazing cook and we knew our meal would only benefit from his culinary skills and company.

Thanksgiving Dinner - Chilean-Style

Drew and Francisco have a very good thing going on in Extremo Sur, and it was a treat to see such great friends on our trip, and to see them so happy was icing on the cake.

The Boulder Crew in Natales

A Backpacker’s Cruise Ship

Except it’s not a cruise and it’s not just for backpackers. The Navimag Ferry is a converted cargo ship that takes passengers (and cargo) from Puerto Montt, Chile (in the Lake District) all the way down to “Extremo Sur” – Puerto Natales, Chile. The journey takes 3 days and 3 nights and is quite a unique way to travel the long distance between the two places – with the alternative being a 36+ hour bus ride. Rooms range from ‘dorm’ beds in a public hallway to private rooms with private bathrooms. However, the Navimag Ferry is far from economical so the private rooms are not an option for most.

The Navimag Ferry

Ted and I shared a window-less four bed bunk room with a lovely couple from the U.K. Our only criteria was that our roommates were normal and trustworthy and preferably non-snorers. We lucked out on all accounts.

Oli and Jo, our roomies

The boat travels all day and all night with only one stop on the whole trip. During the day there would be various presentations about the flora and fauna of Patagonia but mostly you entertained yourself by reading, talking with people or taking in the views from the outdoor decks.

Though we had good weather every day, we also had rain every day and lots of wind. One minute it would be lovely (though cold!) and everyone would be outside and the next you knew, it was a torrential down pour. But regardless, the views from the ship as you wove in and out of the islands, channels, and fjords heading south was pretty unbeatable.

Cruisin the Fjords

Cruisin the Fjords

Passing the time onboard

There was one night on the boat that we were not protected from any nearby land and we were exposed to the Pacific Ocean and its waves. We were all advised to take sea sickness medication and avoid drinking alcohol that night. Neither Ted nor I get seasick normally, but we thought we’d take the pills on this occasion – and I’m glad we did. The giant boat was dipping and diving in the 6m waves. You could barely walk straight without holding onto anything and in fact, Ted and I were eating dinner and through no fault of our own, the whole table with our trays of food (and us) just tipped over from one of the swells! It was quite hilarious though slightly embarrassing at the same time. We looked around, and other tables lost trays of food, but we were the only ones that managed to tip all the way over!

Rough Seas!

One of our favorite sights from the boat was a little detour we did to see a gigantic glacier coming into the sea. It’s called the Perito XI Glacier and it measures 6 km across and 80 meters tall. You can only access it by boat and it was breath-taking.

Perito XI Glacier

Another great thing about the ship was that passengers were allowed to visit the captain’s bridge which is the ship’s control room. It was a great view and very interesting to be in there when they were steering through narrow passages.

The Bridge

The last night on the boat is one big party. We met and talked with more people on the last night than we had on the rest of the voyage. We continued to run into our new friends for the next week around Puerto Natales as we all disembarked into the small town together.

Overall, the ferry was quite an experience and we’re happy we did it. It didn’t do great things for our budget but we were learning that Chile and Argentina were gonna to make that difficult for us all around.

Gauchos and Gringos

Here’s a piece I wrote for World Nomads’ blog.  My take on our visit to Campo Aventura in the Cochamo valley.  Can you tell we both LOVED it there…

Original post can be found here, but I’ve pasted it below, as it’s one of my favorites.

Gauchos and Gringos – Keeping it Local in Chile’s Lake District

I’ve found some new travel role models.  I’m not talking road warriors on 2-year jaunts, or country counters that have topped 100.  No, I’m talking about a family that dropped everything and relocated their lives in an unfamiliar environment, doing unfamiliar work, and surrounded by an unfamiliar language.  Meet Kurt and Armin, American citizens who began their international careers in journalism and charities in South Africa.  After 10 years of the grind, they decided to quit their jobs, buy an eco-lodge and horse trek company, and move their family to the Chilean Lake District.  When they arrived 3 years ago, they spoke not a lick of Spanish, had never worked in tourism before, didn’t know anything about horses, and began homeschooling their two young sons just to add some extra challenge to the mix.  Many of their friends called them crazy.  I call them inspiring.

Campo Aventura is situated in one of the most beautiful valleys of Chile’s Lake District.  Known as the Yosemite of Chile, the Cochamo Valley is filled with a lush green rainforest below, surrounded by stunning granite walls above.  The valley carries with it a rich history of the gaucho (Patagonian cowboy) culture as a former cattle and trade route between Chile and Argentina.  Campo Aventura operates two lodges – one at the base of the valley, and one situated 16km up in the high country – as well as a horse and trekking tour connecting the lodges and surrounding regions.

View from the lower Cochamo

Kurt and Armin inherited Campo Aventura as a functioning business, but with some serious challenges.  First off, they purchased the business right before the travel industry’s bottom fell out with the global economic meltdown.  That same year, Chile experienced one of its worst earthquakes in history, causing a mass cancellation of most pleasure travel to the country.  But their biggest challenges were in their own backyard.  The previous owner had done very little to integrate, liaise with, and support the local community, and many people (employees first and foremost) harbored deep-seeded animosity towards the company and its management.

Gringos on Horses

Three years later, Campo Aventura has weathered the economic storm, but more importantly, they’ve revamped the company’s approach to responsible tourism with a primary focus on community support and development.  Before they had the money to do so, Kurt and Armin invested in their staff, building new homes for on-site workers.  They hired more gauchos to lead trips, tend horses, and maintain their 100+ acre properties.  They have invested in environmental rehabilitation and conservation projects up and down the valley, ensuring that materials and workforce are sourced throughout the community.  Campo Aventura is now the largest private employer in Cochamo, and aside from the owners and 1 guide, all staff was born and raised in the valley.

Cochamo Valley

River Crossing

Cochamo has been called one of Chile’s best kept natural secrets, and after visiting, I couldn’t agree more.  But beyond the spectacular scenery, Cochamo is also one of the country’s best kept cultural secrets.  The traditional gaucho culture is nearly extinct, and the laid-back, peaceful Chilean campo lifestyle is hard to find on the tourist path.  If you go visit my new role models, you can experience Chile at its finest, while helping to support the best kind of responsible travel – tourism focused on people.

About the Author: Ted Martens

Ted’s journey into the travel and tourism industry started the summer after a two-month backpacking trip throughout Europe ignited a life-long passion for international travel. With a master’s degree in Tourism Development, Ted has focused his efforts on helping non-profit Sustainable Travel International promote responsible tourism across the globe as their Director of Outreach & Development. After working too hard for the past 5 years, he is on the road again, escaping the office for some field research… is the responsible travel movement taking seed across the globe, or not?

People Are Fascinating

Want to hear a cool story? Ted and I got to stay at this great little spot just a couple hours down the road from Puerto Varas, Chile, that is run by an amazing couple named Kurt and Armin. Kurt is from California’s Bay Area and Armin is originally from India (though she’s spent a big chunk of her life in the US).  Together they moved to South Africa where they lived and worked for nearly 10 years – Kurt for the Boston Globe as their South African correspondent and Armin in the NGO world. They also have two sons that were born in South Africa.

One day they decided they wanted to do something completely different.  Like COMPLETELY different. They started researching places that they could buy and operate as a B&B or some kind of tourist operation. After a bit of searching and one site visit each, they found themselves with an amazingly beautiful plot of land along the Cochamo River AND another fabulous spot up in the Cochamo Valley. They are now the owners and operators of Campo Aventura which provides accommodation, meals, and horseback riding trips between their two properties and beyond.

View from the lower property

They have been in Chile for 3 years now and have never looked back. Though neither of them were ‘horse’ people or had experience in the tourism industry, you’d never know it. Every family member does a bit everything, including the little guys (who are 11 and 13, I believe) who help with the horses and assist the gauchos (Chilean cowboys) as needed. Though no one spoke Spanish when they arrived, Armin and Kurt have now mastered it enough to engage the local community and mend some broken bridges left from the previous owners. Their boys are fluent in Chilean cowboy slang.

Gringos on horses

Ted and I had the amazing opportunity to stay with Kurt and Armin in the Cochamo Valley and highly recommend that others do the same (Adventures Within Reach sends trips here)! We spent our first night on the property near the river and loved everything from exploring the area to eating a delicious home-cooked meal with other travelers.

The next day we headed up into the valley with Kurt leading the way on horseback. The trail was intense – lots of mud, rock, narrow passages, low branches and stream crossings. The horses were incredible. We rode for over 5 hours to a clearing surrounded by the most immense and impressive granite walls. In fact, the area is known as the Yosemite of Chile. Their other property is nestled against the big walls, and is a pretty idyllic place to spend time.

Riding up the Cochamo Valley

Cochamo Valley

Big Granite Walls

I could go on and on about how much we loved this place and our time here. We are so happy to have met Kurt and Armin and we can’t thank them enough for their hospitality and generosity. It is inspirational to know people who had a wild and crazy dream and just went for it. We told them that if they ever need someone to run the place for bit, to be sure to give us a call!

Heading West to Chile

From Bariloche, Argentina we headed west to Puerto Varas, Chile. The Chilean border crossing was quite intense and not recommended for drug smugglers. Checking out of Argentina was pretty routine, but getting into Chile is a pain. Everyone had to get off the bus and everyone’s luggage had to be sniffed by dogs AND put through an X-ray machine. They are very strict about all the normal stuff, but ridiculously strict about any food or beverage item. Ted and I had made some sandwiches for lunch to be cost-conscious but there was no way those sandwiches were going to be allowed over the border so we had to eat them on the spot at 10:30 a.m.!

Puerto Varas was luckily worth the hassle. As Bariloche is part of the Argentine Lake District, Puerto Varas is in Chile’s Lake District. However, while Bariloche is surrounded by mountain ranges, Puerto Varas is surrounded by volcanoes. Big ones.

Osorno Volcano

For a day trip we headed out to the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park for some walking around. We met a large group of Americans on the bus ride out there who were living in the area and volunteering at schools by helping the local English teachers with their classes. They invited us to hike with them and we happily accepted. While hiking you could look to your left at a beautiful, cone-shaped, snow-covered volcano or to your right at the fjords and the lake. It’s nice to have options!

Hiking in the Park

Hiking in the Park

Hiking in the Park

On the ride back to town we stopped to see some incredibly powerful waterfalls just down the road from the National Park – the Saltos de Petrohue. Though not impressive in height, the quantity and strength of them certainly was.

Saltos de Petrohue

Saltos de Petrohue

Thanks to our good friends at Adventures Within Reach (AWR), we were able to sit down and have drinks with a local and learn a bit about both Chile and tourism in the region. We met with a wonderfully great guy named Gerardo who owns a sea kayaking and rafting company called AlSur Expeditions. AWR uses AlSur for their trips in the Lake District, so naturally we had to test them out!

Rafting the Petrohue

Rafting the Petrohue

We celebrated Ted’s birthday in Puerto Varas, starting the day on one of Gerardo’s half-day rafting trips which was a blast. The weather didn’t invite too much more outdoor activity that day, but we managed to entertain ourselves with wine and a delicious seafood dinner. We later met Gerardo out for another round of drinks and then onto another bar where we met up with the Americans that we hiked with earlier that week. Considering we didn’t know anyone in the area when we arrived a couple days earlier, Ted was properly celebrated as he rang in the big 3-1.

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