Uruguay and Brazilian Visas

After spending a few restful days in Buenos Aires, James and I headed to Uruguay to explore another country and because if you are like us and haven’t done the proper leg work to secure a Brazilian visa (which can take weeks in most consulates) there is a nice town called Chuy on the Uruguay/Brazilian border that we had heard can whip you one up in a day.

Buenos Aires to the far west and Chuy to the far East

When we were making plans to head to Uruguay, we realized that we would be leaving on a Thursday and in order to avoid having to wait all weekend before we could get our visa, we decided to drive all day Thursday so we could arrive at the consulate on Friday before they close for the weekend. Chuy was the town we were headed for which was on the far side of Uruguay from where we were starting (Buenos Aires).

Chuy border town – one side of the street is Brazil and one side is Uruguay

We woke up early on Thursday, drove all day, and slept in our car on a beach an hour or so away from Chuy. We decided we would drive all the way to Chuy and then hit all the places we missed on our way back. I didn’t know what to expect Uruguay to be like, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was really green and very clean, and it seemed to have a similar culture to Argentina.

After driving until dark the previous day, we arrived bright and early to the consulate on Friday only to read a sign posted out front that it was “tourist week” and they were closed Thursday and Friday (the day we arrived). We didn’t see anything on the consulate sign to indicate that they weren’t open Saturdays so we came back the next day eager to get our visa and move on. Again, they were not open. Only then did we figure out what the “2°- 6°” on their
sign meant. 2°- 6° is how they write the days of the week in Brazil – I assume meaning they are only open the 2nd day of the week through the 6th day of the week. Who knew?

Brazilian consulate in Chuy

Oh well, there are much worse places to pass the time than lounging on the beaches of Uruguay soaking up some sun. We passed Friday, Saturday, and Sunday exploring Punta del Diablo, Santa Teresa National Park, and Barra del Chuy before finally getting our Brazilian visas ($150 USD each – yikes!!!) on Monday.

Passing time on the Uruguayan beaches waiting for the consulate to open

During all this back-and-forth from the nearby beaches to Chuy, we had to pass through customs because Chuy is a border town and half of the town is in Brazil and half of the town is in Uruguay. Only during our first pass through customs

Vehicle Importation Papers with the wrong dates!

did we realize that the wonderful border officials into Uruguay (14 hours of driving earlier) had stamped the wrong date on our importation papers for our car. Not only did they stamp the wrong date (5 April 2011 instead of 2012), they also hand wrote in the date as 5 April 2013. This caused quite a headache each of the 3 times we had to pass through customs (of course we got a different customs agent each time). We also have US plates which always raises a red flag so we were stopped every time. When they would realize the dates were wrong, we would explain to them what happened and show them our passport stamp for Uruguay was dated 2012. They have limits to how long you and your car can be in the country so if 2011 was indeed when we entered, we would have a problem; they seemed to be sure that we had broken some law. After tons of hassle, each time they would finally let us through.

We were so happy when we passed through the custom for the last time with our Brazilian visas in hand. Next stop was Montevideo. We only had a few days in Montevideo but we made the most of it. We spent our time walking the pedestrian streets, strolling along the Rambla, visiting the Mercado del Puerto, and feasting on asado and chivitos. One things that stood out about Montevideo was how much Mate Uruguayans drink. They all have the mate stance with the Thermos tucked under their arm and their mate in their hand whether they’re walking the streets, riding the bus, or riding their bikes.

Getting ready to dive in at one of the famous Parillas in Montevideo

Awesome painter we met in Montevideo in the typical Mate stance

Our next stop was a quick trip to Colonia del Sacramento, the oldest town in Uruguay, before taking a ferry back to Buenos Aires. The Brazilian visas hit our budget a little hard so we decided to sleep in our car for our last 2 days in Uruguay – we found a gas station parking lot just outside Colonia with a shopping mall nearby with free wifi (score!). We only had a day in Colonia (really all you need) which we spent walking the old cobble stone streets in the historic center and enjoying a long lunch.

Old streets of Colonia

We headed back to BA on the morning ferry and checked back into our home-away-from-home the San Telmo lofts where a nice comfortable room was waiting for us after a week of almost all camping. We were only in BA for a few days since we would soon be catching a flight to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil! Our few days in BA were fairly hectic since we needed to sell our car – at this point we already had a few potential buyers lined up, and on the day before our flight to Brazil we signed over the papers and freed ourselves from the car!

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Visit From Friends and Family

So, first I must admit that we are a bit behind on our blog since our friends and family actually visited in the month of March. I will try to crank a few more blog posts out as fast as I can so we can catch up.

After our amazing adventure to the end of the world and back, we were really looking forward to our visiting family who was set to arrive in Santiago. My father, brother, and sister-in-law made the long flight to visit us for about a week and a half and we wanted to make the most of their time here so we packed in a lot.

Breaking for pisco sours during our tour around Santiago

Group shot after some amazing Argentine beef at Don Mario’s in Mendoza

After visiting Cerro San Cristobal, Santia Lucia Hill, Plaza de Armas, and many other sights around Santiago, we headed to Valparaiso to see the colorful architecture perched on steep hills and connected by a maze of winding streets. We then headed over the Andes to Mendoza where we sampled wine, watched some tango, and admired the beautiful Andes.

Top of Cerro San Cristobal

Beautiful Valparaiso

The most amazing steak I’ve ever had was in Argentina. Look at those babies. PS – Konrad, are you taking photos during the prayer? tisk tisk

Our awesome friends, Chris and Sara

After a wonderful visit with our family, we were graced with even more visitors. As soon as we saw our family off to the Mendoza Airport, we rushed back to Santiago to pick up some of our best firends, Chris and Sara who came to visit for 2 weeks!

We had a little more time with them, so in addition to showing them around Santiago, Valpo/Vina, and Mendoza, we were also able to include several days of surfing in Pichilemu as well as spend some more quality time in the Andes mountains.

Chris and Sara ready to hit the surf

James and Chris’s view of the clouds on their early morning start hiking in the Andes as they try to see how high they can climb

Checking out some Mendoza Malbecs in Valle de Uco

We were so so so happy and grateful to have friends and family come visit us so far away. However, after they left I felt a bit more homesick than usual. It made me want to be back in the states just for a few weeks to hug my mom, see our other friends and family, eat our favorite foods, and just be in a place that feels easier to navigate.

Nice shot, Chris

After the whirlwind of family and friends for nearly a month, we headed back east across the continent to the city that we first arrived in, Buenos Aires, where we relaxed for a week before making our plans to see Uruguay.

Kirsten

 

The Navimag Ferry – Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt

The Navimag Evangelista

There are no roads in Chile connecting Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas

The Navimag ferry was a nice break from all the driving we had been doing over the last few months. In addition to having to drive less, you also get to see scenery that can only be seen from the water. There are no roads connecting far-southern Chile — the area including Torres del Paine and the cities of Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas — to the rest of the country. The land connects, but the terrain is so extreme and the distances so long that it just hasn’t been connected yet; and I can’t imagine it ever will, considering there are also several ice fields that stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Argentine border. So to get from the main part of Chile to the southern part by car, one must cross into Argentina, drive south, then cross back into Chile.

Doing that, as we did on our southward travels, may lead you to believe that Patagonia solely consists of vast empty windy grasslands and sharp granite spires of mountains. What you don’t realize is that on the other, Chilean, side of the Andes, stretching from Puerto Montt to the end of the continent, is a long skinny temperate rainforest. With no roads leading north from Torres del Paine, the only way to see this beautiful green landscape is from the water, and that is what the Navimag ferry offers. The Navimag ferry Evangelista is actually a cargo ship that brings goods to the southern part of Chile. Years after it was built, it was modified to have simple accomodations, a dining room, and a lounge area with outdoor decks.  The trip is made even more spectacular by the fact that the coast is made up of over 1,000  islands, so the vast majority of the route follows the patagonian fjords and not the open Pacific Ocean.

Navimag Ferry Route through the Fjords

Having a set budget that was to last us most of a year, meant we could only afford the cheapest accomodations possible. However, the cheapest beds are actually located in the hallways, with only a personal curtain to separate your bunk from anyone walking the hallway.  We decided to spend a little more on the next cheapest option, which was a 4 bunk room which would be shared with two other travelers.

The 4 Bed Berths

The idea is that this would help us sleep a little better and possibly get to know some other travelers. Looking back, I’m not sure if the $50 p/p was worth it or not. The clientele of Navimag’s ferries are decidedly – shall we say – more mature, and we can attest to the fact that the more mature Chileans have the same tendency to snore as do the more mature North Americans we know! So, did we sleep any better? Probably not…in addition to the snoring, our room was uncomfortably hot since the controls for the small radiant heater seemed to not be working properly. Recommendation: for the budget traveler, bring good ear plugs and stay in the hallway (by this time our ear plugs were getting worn out and losing their springiness).

We had done a ton of research by reading other travelers’ blogs and had heard that the food was edible but bland. I would say that it was actually pretty decent and better than we were anticipating. As budget travelers, only eating one real meal a day, and just doing something small for the other two, we went a little overboard the first day, taking advantage of the large meals served three times a day. Without much physical activity, three full meals a day was a little overkill and by day two and three, we found we weren’t all that hungry by the time the next meal came.

Playing Rummy in the Dining Room

Aside from eating and sleeping, the rest of the time we were enjoying the scenery through the windows, playing lots of rummy, and meeting other travelers. The weather on our first day was nice (i.e. not raining), but it rained most of the second and third days. In short, the scenery was beautiful!

Going through a narrow channel on our first day at sea

Enjoying the scenery off the deck

The ferry leaves in the middle of the night on night one, spends three full days heading north, then arrives in Puerto Montt in the middle of the fourth night (they let you sleep till 8 and still feed you breakfast, which is nice). When we received our car in the Puerto Montt port, I noticed the car next to ours had an audible leak from one of its tires, and I thought ‘that sucks’, thinking nothing more of it. Well it turns out they weren’t the only ones to get a flat that day – we got a little ways down the road and realized our tire was low. We filled it a gas station, and kept going to our destination for the night, which was beautiful Puerto Varas. By the time we reached Puerto Varas it was completely flat again, and it was raining, so we had the joy of figuring out how to get our flat fixed in the hardest downpour we’d seen in all our South American travels.  Luckily we found some very nice Chileans who let us pull into their garage so we weren’t out in the rain!

Bummer – flat tire in the rain!

We spent the next week or two exploring the Puerto Varas area and revisiting the family we met in Valdivia (You can read about these wonderful people here).  Ultimately our goal was to get back to Santiago, where we had family then friends arriving to travel with us for most of a month!

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Confessions of a Penny Pincher

We get asked a lot how we were able to finance our trip. Usually we’re asked in Spanish by Chileans and Argentines so our response is a simplified “we saved”. However, there’s obviously more to it than that.

First of all, I want to start by saying that we were blessed to have parents that generously paid our way through college so we both had a great education and were able to find good engineering jobs right out of college.

Aside from our parents’ generosity, James and I live extremely frugally. Every monetary decision is well thought out from what we order when we go out to eat to what house we buy. James cuts his own hair and I buy used clothes. Although we have been blessed with great jobs and educations, we consistently live well below our means in every aspect of our lives. This has given us the freedom to save our money resulting in this opportunity to take the trip of a lifetime. Our lifestyle played a huge part but the “icing on the cake” also known as the “worst 6 months of my life” was when James’ work sent him to Wyoming for 6 months.  This work opportunity allowed us to put our most frugal skills into practice. The other day James and I were reminiscing over dinner about this time in our lives which now we can look back on and laugh. I figured I would share part of that story.

About a year and a half ago, James’ company was struggling through a slow time. His company asked him if he would be willing to go to the-middle-of-nowhere Wyoming to work for 6-12 weeks on a gas-processing plant that he had done a lot of the preliminary work on in Denver. Even though they didn’t come out and say it, due to the lack of work in the Denver office, we had a pretty good idea that it was “go to Wyoming for a while or get laid off”. They proposed this to him at lunch one day and he had until the end of the day to give an answer. James immediately called me while I was at work, we discussed for a few minutes and then we decided he should probably say “yes”.  While the idea of him leaving me in our newly purchased, slightly dilapidated duplex in a low-income neighborhood didn’t exactly strike my fancy, the chance for him to make more money in a shorter amount of time sounded like a good opportunity.

James’ work location in Wyoming

We were originally told that it would only last for 6-12 weeks but we knew better that it could go on for much longer. James’ company explained to him that he would make $170 per day for per-diem (to cover his room, board and food) tax-free plus he would get paid his hourly rate for any overtime which was pretty much mandatory. We quickly learned that everything James didn’t spend on room and board, he could keep. We decided to make the best of this situation. The first thing was finding a cheap place for James to live. I did some extensive searching on craigslist (which was quite limited in Rock Spring, WY) and eventually found someone who was renting out rooms in a 4-bedroom house for $400 per month. After making James a list of recipes that he could cook at home to save money, I kissed him goodbye and sent him off to Wyoming.

As soon as he arrived, he was told that the bedrooms were no longer available and had just been rented out. We had already looked into booking a hotel or a month-to-month rent for an apartment but that would cut too deep into his per diem for it to be worth it. Out of desperation, James asked if there was any other place he could stay – a basement perhaps??? Reluctantly, the owner said there was a basement but it was pretty crowded with “storage”; however, there was a fold-up bed down there and for $250 a month he could use it if he really wanted it. He did the quick math and realized that this would only end up costing him $8.33 per day out of his per diem. James quickly said he would take it. I mean, it was only for 6-12 weeks right?

6 weeks eventually got extended to 6 months with a visit home every 4-6 weeks. When I look back on this time it was really, really hard. Here I was in a duplex that we bought with some friends to live in community (they live on one side, we live on the other) and I was the only one living there since they were remodeling their side before they moved in. I distinctly remember our heat being broken so that it would only come on for a few minutes before it would trip the breaker and I had to go outside (in January mind you) to flip it back. After flipping it 20 times, I would try to get the heat up as high as possible before going to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, it was usually 40-something degrees in the house. I also used to go bed scared to death. I don’t particularly like sleeping alone; I naturally get scared no matter where I am but it just so happened that our friend’s side of the duplex was broken into just days before James left. So, naturally, I went to the Navy Surplus store and picked up some bear spray and some mace. The bear spray could shoot something like 30’ and I left it unlocked on my bedside table ready to shoot an intruder if need be.

James on the other hand had his own difficulties in Wyoming. Not only was the house quite the pig-sty with all oil-field workers renting rooms and no regard for general cleanliness, but that was just the main floor. He was going to be living in the basement. James’ new home for 6 months would be on a fold-up bed surrounded by mountains of junk and right next to the furnace, which was constantly roaring on and off. I remember him saying that he wouldn’t walk around barefoot and after he had been there for a few months, he had found a dead mouse not far from his bed, which he was pretty sure had been there all along. As minimal as his situation was, it didn’t really matter. His company worked him outside in the Wyoming winter for about 12 hours each day for 6 days a week not including the hour long drive each way; all he really did was sleep when he got home. Just when we thought he was going to be done, his company kept extending his time there.  They extended it at least 5 times and finally after 6 months, he had said enough. By that time, the Denver office had picked up and there was work for him back in Denver.

James in his gear

We look back on it now and laugh at how ridiculous his living conditions were and the great lengths we went to in order to milk the situation for all it was worth. But after 6 months of sacrifice, it was probably the thing that put us over the edge financially to be able to afford a trip like this so we were thankful for the opportunity.

Here’s a poem I wrote James back when we was in the thick of his stint in Wyoming. If I remember right, I hadn’t seen him 5 or 6 weeks and he was coming home that night.

Dear James,

I miss you so much, yes I do!
Not just cause the house is broken but the car is too
It’s freezing out here, I wish it was hot
But the furnace doesn’t work and the sink leaks a lot
Besides all of that, I just want you here at home
So when the burglars break in, I won’t have to bear spray them alone
Can’t wait to see you tonight!

Another one of James in Wyoming

Soaking up Chilean Hospitality

We left Santiago a little over a week ago and have been making our way south. We opted to drive to the coast of Chile rather than make our way down the faster interstate that runs in the middle. We thought the coast would be prettier and not as hot since we’d be sleeping in our car for most of it. It was definitely worth it.

We spent a day in Pichilemu for some surfing, then headed to Concepcion which was the site of the recent huge earthquake in 2010 that caused a lot of destruction. Our third main stop was Pucon where we went on a beautiful hike in Parque Nacional Huerquehue and had yet another amazing camp spot on the lake. Next up was Valdivia. Earlier in our trip, we met an Argentine in Cordoba who had travelled to Peru the previous year. She met a guy from Valdivia named Joel while travelling in Peru and gave us his contact information if we were ever in the area. We wrote Joel asking if we could meet him for a drink when we passed through. We received an email back from his mother inviting us to come stay with their family.

Quite possibly the best "pirate" camping spot ever!

Same camping spot at sunset

View of Villarica Volcano outside of Pucon

We weren’t sure what to expect but as soon as we arrived and met his family, we knew it was going to be a warm experience. The family immediately sat us down and started feeding us some amazing clam chowder and a seafood pastry.  They shuffled people around so we could have our own bedroom and continued feeding us incessantly some of the most amazing food. They spoiled us rotten for the next two days and were so patient with our Spanish.  I helped Francisca in the kitchen where she taught me how to make Pan Amasado which is homemade bread with some intense kneading and Kuchen which is a German pastry kind of like cobbler. Of course with no recipe – just “a little bit of this” and “a little bit of that”.

Francisca showing me how to make Pan Amasado

Taking the Pan Amasado out of the oven

The guys cooking up an Asado

We had told them we were going to stay only 2 days but after the second day, they were begging us to stay longer citing all of the additional activities there were around the area. We would have stayed longer if we could but there was so much to do between Valdivia and Ushuaia. They made us agree that we would return on our way back to Santiago and before we could explain that we would if we had time, they started saying “cuando ustedes vuelven…” meaning “when you return…”

Francisca and Juan's House where we spent a few days in Valdivia

It was one of the most welcoming experiences we had and we left with our hearts and our stomachs bursting.

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Housesitting in Santiago

The last two months have been fairly low-key.  An opportunity to house sit for some friends-of-friends in Santiago, Chile came up and in order for the timing to work out, we needed to first kill a couple of weeks in Mendoza, Argentina before heading to Santiago.

Our time in Mendoza was nice because the apartment we rented was on San Martin Park, a beautifully treed 1,000-acre park in Mendoza.  We made daily runs through park and up to the top of Cerro de la Gloria, the hill overlooking town.

San Martin Park - Mendoza

Then in early December we made our way over the mountain pass surrounded by the beautiful Andes and headed to Santiago.  Despite the daunting hairpin turns, the drive to Santiago is absolutely breathtaking with nothing but sky and mountains not to mention a stunning view of Aconcagua – the highest mountain in the western hemisphere.

Hairpin turns on the pass to Chile

Base of Aconcagua - our 2nd time to see it but this time with clearer skies

Our friends-of-friends were heading to the states to spend the holidays with family and needed someone to watch over their house and take care of their weimaraner.   We were surprised by how modern of a city Santiago is. We enjoyed hiking up to the top of San Cristóbal Hill, going out and seeing the city, and enjoyed some good seafood and ‘completos’, a hot dog loaded up with a ton of toppings, including guacamole!  In addition, we enjoyed a day trip over to the picturesque coastal town of Valparaiso. We have thoroughly enjoyed the peacefulness of the last few weeks here as we prepare ourselves to head South for our next South American adventure.

View of Santiago from San Cristobal Hill

Enjoying a "Completo" in Santiago

This week we start our trek south to Patagonia!  Our plan is to spend the months of January and February down south (where it’s cooler!) and seeing beautiful places like Puerto Montt, Bariloche, Torres del Paine, and the list goes on. It’s been nice to have some downtime and live rent free for a month but we’re antsy for some more adventure.

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Thanksgiving Argentina Style!

James and I had planned on doing something this year to celebrate Thanksgiving in South America but we weren’t sure what. I was thinking of maybe making a dish or two of typical Thanksgiving food but when we found out our friends Caitlin and Phillip were going to be traveling through Mendoza during the holiday, we  all decided that we would make an honest attempt at a real Thanksgiving.

Caitlin is an American but her boyfriend is South African so he had never had a Thanksgiving since it’s not celebrated in SA. We were excited to show him what Thanksgiving is all about- food and football! (oh yeah, and giving thanks too 🙂 !). We made our shopping lists the day before and headed to the Mercado Central (a typical Argentine market) to see how much of it we could actually find. Caitlin was set on making a pumpkin pie but canned pumpkin is nowhere to be found here nor did we have a food processor. However, Caitlin found what resembled a pumpkin and we decided we’d figure out the rest later. I was set on making cornbread stuffing the way my mother in law Evelyn makes it with bacon, onions, and lots of poultry seasoning. Only problem is, there’s no “poultry seasoning” here. So I Googled the ingredients, translated them into Spanish, and surprisingly found most of them at the bulk spice section in the market.

With bags and bags of groceries, we headed back to the apartment we were renting and started brainstorming how we were going to make all this food with just a few pots and pans, and NO oven – oh yeah, didn’t I mention that? The apartment we’re staying in has an oven and stove but when we try to use the oven it lets out tons of fumes and exhaust into the kitchen – not to mention it leaves a grey soot all over whatever you’re cooking. Unfortunately, this meant a Turkey was out of the question.

Caitlin and I cooking in our tiny kitchen

We celebrated the first half of Thursday in traditional Thanksgiving style – cooking, cooking, cooking. Caitlin got creative with the pumpkin and by steaming it, mashing it, and then forcing all of it through a strainer, it closely resembled canned pumpkin. Through the help of Google, we found ways to cook everything on the stove (including the pumpkin pie!). We had to settle for fried chicken instead of turkey.

What is Thanksgiving without some football???

While we were cooking, James found some of the football games online and started explaining the rules to Phillip so he could have the whole Thanksgiving experience.

And then we ate!

…and then we watched the Aggies lose so we ate some more to drown our sorrows.

Our Thanksgiving feast!

This year we are so thankful for this opportunity to live in South America and experience a different place and people. We are thankful for our family who we miss so much. We are thankful for new friends. We are thankful for each other.

Kirsten