Exploring the desert – San Pedro de Atacama

I arrived in San Pedro late Sunday afternoon, after an amazing drive through the desert.  I didn’t really know what to expect to see going through the desert – I had no idea just how awesome it really is!!

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San Pedro de Atacama is a small town located close to the Argentina and Bolivia borders, high in the Andes – I checked the altitude and it is over 2000 metres!  No wonder I had a pressure headache for the first two days here!  It is a very unique town with many interesting laws and rules – one being that there is no dancing allowed!  They have bars here, but in order to order an alcoholic beverage, you must also order food.  Apparently the small police force enforces this !!  And I found out that the fire department is hardly ever busy with fires, but are quite busy rescuing visitors from the desert who thought they could handle being out in the desert on a hike alone.  Not too bright !!!

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I have been a witness to a weather pattern that is apparently quite unusual for here – strong winds for three days, resulting in sand tornadoes (? – is that a thing?).  My tour out to the Valle de la Luna had to be postponed until Friday evening – which is okay.  I do NOT want to be out in the valley with this much wind.  The forecast is calling for the wind to die down tonight – I am crossing my fingers!  I am tired of having so much sand in my hair and in my eyes!!

 

I have learned some of the modern facts of the town, and tomorrow I will be going on another free walking tour to learn about the history of the town.  I am going to explore just outside the town tomorrow morning.  I really am enjoying it here – I just want the wind to stop!!!

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My time is quickly coming to an end in Chile though – in two weeks I will be back in Canada.  Wow, it has really gone by fast.  I still have more to see though and am looking forward to my last two weeks in South America!!!

 

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​Discovering Chile ~ and myself

When I decided to travel through Chile, I did the basic research of the country, read information about each city I would see and looked at pictures.  I made myself a list of must~sees, but really I just wanted to discover what Chile was about. The people, the food, the way of life. What I didn’t expect was to discover so much about me.

Chile is a very long and narrow country.  The country has such a diverse nature to it.  From the glaciers in the south to the desert in the north, and the Andes creating a border with Argentina, Bolivia and Peru ~ there are so many unique qualities to this country it is staggering.  The natural beauty of this country is overwhelming. It has taken my breath away on more than one occasion.
There is also a great variety of food to be found. From Peruvian to sushi, from pizza to Chinese, you can find almost any kind of food here.  And the pastries!!  Its a good thing I walk at least three hours a day here!  I have yet to try Chilean wine or Pisco Sour but I will.
The people here struggle with English but are still anxious to help. They want to teach me Spanish and I have been trying ~ it is getting better.  I have met incredibly lovely people on my travels, and all ask where I am from, why am I in their city, have I tried Empanadas or the pescado, have I enjoyed a Pisco sour and, my favourite question ~ where is my husband? The older ladies seem genuinely concerned that I have no husband and am traveling solo! Their reaction amuses me.
The lifestyle here is similar to Europe ~ relaxed, easy going and very family oriented.  Siesta time is fascinating ~ stores close, families gather at a park, and they play, eat and rest. Such a difference from China where the children are so busy all the time that they are tired and not relaxed at all.
The thing that has struck me most is what I have discovered about myself.  I no longer care about materialistic things, I have all that I need.  I have discovered how strong I am, both physically and mentally. I have also discovered my limitations (Macchu Picchu is off my list).  But most of all, I have discovered that, regardless of what others think about me, I am very proud of what I have accomplished and how far I have come.
They say travel changes you. I don’t think it’s changed me. I think it has awakened me in how I view the world.  I have a different attitude now. I am more accepting. And I have said this many times but it bears repeating ~ I am so grateful for this amazing journey I am on.  I am grateful for the opportunities that have been give. And I know its not over ~ I have many years left.
So I am just going to keep on trekking and exploring!

Hidden Gems of Antofagasta

Most cities have their hidden gems – places that tourists aren’t likely to see but that the locals like to go to, probably to get away from the tourists!   I know a lot of tourists come to places to see the main sites, and then once they have seen them, hit a restaurant that has been recommended, and then they are done.  They start exploring elsewhere.

 

That’s what I love about the way I travel.  I don’t rush through cities.  I want to see what the locals do, so I explore down streets that you don’t see the tourists on.  I go into stores or markets that I see the locals going into, and not necessarily the tourists.  Today, I found some hidden gems in Antofagasta!!

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Shopping for the Fiesta!

One of the big tourist areas here is Arturo Prat Avenida.  I have heard the people I have met here simply call it Prat.  It is a big shopping street, pedestrian only, where you can see couples dancing to live music during the siesta, or people eating on the patios, or the dogs wandering around hoping for someone to drop some food.  I enjoyed walking down this street today – I took my time and even went into some of the stores to see what there was.  It is SO nice to be in a country where they have my actual size in clothes.  I cannot stress this fact enough!  I found an outfit that I think my son would look so handsome in!  HAHAHA

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Arturo Prat Square

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Awesome outfit!!

As I strolled around the area, as it was siesta time, it was quite busy and I was watching to see where the locals were walking to.  In a non- stalkerish way, I followed some of them into this building, where the aromas coming out of it were mouth-watering!!  It was the Mercado Municipalidad.  The scents of the numerous restaurants were delicious – meat cooking, chicken grilling, soups boiling – so many choices to make!!  After being gently (that’s a nice word – not really what she did lol) encouraged to enter this one restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised by the special of the day.  A chicken soup with vegetables and arroz and a chicken entrée, that came with arroz and sliced tomatoes.  Absolutely delicious!!  What a wonderful surprise for my lunch, and for only 3,000 pesos (under $6 Canadian).  It was just the right amount for me.

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This was soup!!

After my lunch (which because of the siestas everyone eats around 2pm and then has a late dinner at around 8pm – I cannot eat that late!), I went for a walk back to an area I have been several times already – the pier.  But I had noticed every time that I had been there that a lot of people walked down this road and I was curious.  So I walked down there today, and discovered a beautiful little alcove with a sandy beach and lots of families and teenagers there.  It’s an actual beach to swim in – and they were!  I don’t know if I’d be brave enough to swim in it (although it is shallow and, as you can see, protected from the big waves of the ocean).

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It is always so much fun to get out of the usual touristy areas and discover where the locals go to eat and relax!!

Antofagasta

I have been in Antofagasta now for a few days, and while I spent the first few days in a hostel in the north end of town, it was just a temporary place.  I am now in the place I wanted to be in, close to the city centre and walking to the pier.  This hostel is pretty awesome – huge common room with a TV.  They serve breakfast in the morning.  And they clean your rooms on a daily basis!!  Not a normal thing for hostels – so a nice pleasant surprise.  Oh – and they have a laundry service here too (thank goodness – I desperately needed to wash my clothes!)

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My initial opinion of Antofagasta was a wary one.  I was quite far from the city centre at first, almost an hour’s walk away.  It was a nice walk but to get there, look around, and then have to walk back (I could have figured out the bus I am sure but never bothered), it made for sore legs and long days.  I am not one for being out at night alone in strange countries, so I made sure I was back in plenty of daylight.  The new place is in a busy area and I don’t mind being out later than I normally would be (like 8pm haha).

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loved this hat!!

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part of a family park beside the ocean

I have chosen to stay for 10 days in Antofagasta – the longest time I’ll be in any city in South America.  If I had known that I would have loved La Serena as much as I did, I would have stayed longer there.  However, I can’t change it now.  I like the vibe of Antofagasta, and I love being down by the pier.  So much to see – the boats, sometimes you can see the head of a sea-lion playing in the ocean, the food stands, the families all going down there to buy fresh fish (but a reminder – they do not fish on Mondays so no fresh fish – don’t buy fish on Mondays!).  It’s a lovely feel to this town and I really like it.

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a rocky day at sea!

The street art and graffiti seen in South America is fascinating and Antofagasta is no different.  They have paintings on the walls that are life-like.  The graffiti is interesting.  And I feel quite safe here, despite the reputation that some port towns here have.

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life-like paintings (and real statues)

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more life-like paintings

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tiled mosaics

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tiled mosaics

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tiled mosaics

I am taking it easy this week, leisurely wandering around, and I will make it out to see the Portada (but must take a cab there, there is no bus and too far to walk!).  There are restaurants I want to try.  I am enjoying the relaxing week I have here.  After this, my time will be shorter in each place I go – so I am taking advantage of the rest.

 

 

 

 

The “unglamorous” life of travelling

I read a lot of blogs.   My favourite are the travel blogs.  I recently read a blog that talked about “quitting your job and traveling” and was slightly surprised at the negative comments the blog received.  Comments like, you have to be an upper middle class person to be able to do. Or, if I had a relative leave me a big inheritance then I too could do that.  So much negative thinking!!

 

But what really struck me was the one comment that was made about how these blogs glamourize the idea – that the only blogs people are interested in are the ones that talk about the glamour of travel and not working.  I hope to prove that wrong.

 

Traveling is not cheap- but it doesn’t have to be expensive either.  I am NOT one of these people who inherited money, or am an upper middle class resident who can afford to be traveling and seeing everything that I am.  I am neither of these people.  I was (and still am) a very hard working person, who worked long long hours in order to save up enough to move to Europe, take a course to be a TEFL teacher, and set up home in Prague.  I was lucky to have found some great roommates along the way that helped with the expenses.  But I did it all – with absolutely NO credit cards.  I saved in Canada before I left.  When I started teaching in Prague, I worked every single day – Sunday to Saturday  – for at least the first six to seven months.  There were cancellations that enabled me to have a day off here and there –but it was hard work.  I finally managed to get a good working schedule going that I was able to take some weekends off.

 

After being in Europe for over a year, I finally managed to save enough money to actually go somewhere for a long weekend – London England.  And again – my entire trip was done with no credit.  All cash.   I followed that with trips to Berlin, Paris, back to Canada for five weeks, and then moved to China.  Was it easy? No!  Was it worth it?  Absolutely.  Every single minute of teaching so many days was worth it because of what I was able to manage to do.

 

Traveling is not always glamorous.  As I sit in my room here in Chile, writing this blog, I think about the hours of teaching I have done since getting here (when WiFi cooperates).  I get up most mornings between 5:30 and 6, teach for about 4 hours and am done at 10am. And then I can start my touristy stuff.  And I am okay with it.  Because I know that if I didn’t have the students that I do, I would NOT be able to be out here traveling through South America.

 

There are days that I would love to just shut off my phone, get up and just go – not worrying about the students and the work.  But I know that I need to do it because that’s part of my life.

 

I love my job, I love that I can teach from abroad, and I love traveling.  So long as I am able to do this, I will do this.  I have gone through a lot and will continue to go through more – life is a learning journey after all.  But I KNOW that if I can do this, then anyone can.  You simply need to have the drive.

 

So for those people with the negative comments about not being able to do this without an inheritance or a lot of savings – you are right – you won’t ever be able to do it.  Because that is what YOU have told yourself.

Observations of Chile

I have now been in Chile for two and a half weeks (seems like it’s been a lot longer!), and there are many things I have discovered about this beautiful country I am visiting.

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One is the stray dog situation.  Every city, town and village has them.  I don’t really understand this but these dogs are not starving by any means.  The people feed them, leave out water for them, and pet them when the dogs come up to them.  The dogs are not vicious by any means, at least not to people.  However, these dogs bark ALL THE TIME.  Constantly. Day and night.  I understand that this is the way they communicate with each other, but man it’s annoying at night.

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The food here is out of this world.  While I do miss the food in China (dumplings, noodles… I need to find a Chinese restaurant!), I just cannot get enough of the food here.  Empanadas, churrascos, posteles, and their own soda, BIlz (I am sadly becoming addicted to this – it’s like cherry soda – not cherry coke!).  Cheese is quite expensive so I only have things with cheese while I am out.  The soups are delicious, the “carne” is amazing – it’s time for me to get back into cooking I think.  Food is life!!!

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The amazing scenery here.  I am writing this blog today, sitting on my terrace in La Serena, watching the Pacific in front of me, and the Andes are behind me.  Sadly, this is my last full day in La Serena.  I really enjoyed Santiago, loved Valparaiso, but I think my heart is here in La Serena.  I don’t know how anything will top this city, but I am excited to find out!!  Tomorrow night, I head for Antofagasta, and the desert, and ocean.  I can’t wait.

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I love Chile!!!!

 

The dangers of (solo) travel

 

You learn when you travel.  I have read many articles and blogs about the things we have learned while venturing out of our comfort zone to experience the world around us.  Some lessons that we learn are educational – like the history of a city or country that we didn’t know that much about.  Some lessons are hard, real life lessons, lessons we don’t necessarily want to learn, but lessons learned in any event.

 

I learned a valuable lesson this week about safety.  One lesson that I will take with me forever on this journey I am on.

 

I have been travelling now for three years, in Europe and Asia, and of course just recently I made it to South America.  I have always been vigilant in the cities I lived in when I first got there.  This week, I was not.  I had an air of confidence in me as I stepped out of my hostel, thinking I know where I’m going, I have made it this far, and I can do anything.  My over-confidence almost got the best of me.

 

As I went in search of the supermarket, I came to a beautiful church.  And I did something that I have read countless times NOT to do.  I went up to it by myself, with no other people around, got out my cell phone to take some pictures, and did not pay attention to my surroundings.  As I turned to go back down the stairs, I put my phone back into my backpack purse (which I ALWAYS carry in front) and saw two young men come up the stairs.  Again, not really paying attention to what was going on, I casually walked towards the stairs, and that’s when they ran at me, and tried to grab my purse.  They pulled at me, and pulled at my bag, managing to break the one strap and continued to try to take the bag.  I fought back, held on to my purse with every bit of strength I could muster up, and tried to pull away.  Thankfully a store owner saw what was happening and came running and yelling.  The young men took off, without my bag.

 

Was I scared?  Terrified is a better word.  Was I proud of myself?  Yes and no.   I was proud that I managed to keep my wits about me while fending off TWO would be muggers.  I was not proud of myself for having put myself into such a vulnerable situation, when I know better.  Is this something I want to happen again?  Absolutely not.  Did I learn a lesson from this?  YES!

 

The lessons I learned were that  1) ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings; 2) if you sense trouble, then walk away immediately; 3) do NOT carry too much with you – strictly cash and a copy of your passport; 4) get a money belt; and 5) NEVER fight out a mugger – simply give them your bag and leave safely.  I am ever so grateful for that man who came and helped me.  I don’t even want to imagine what could have happened if he hadn’t.  I am so very thankful that I managed to keep my bag, and I am very thankful for the friends on the internet who consoled me later and helped me calm down.

 

I am not in Europe or Asia anymoe, and I have very quickly learned that I need to be much more aware of what is going on.  Will this stop me from travelling?  Absolutely not.  I will continue to travel and enjoy myself and see all the sights that I want to see.  I will definitely be more careful and be more aware of where I am.  And I will continue to see this amazing world.

 

Despite this eye-opening event, I love Valparaiso and its grittiness.  I feel comfortable here, walking around and taking in the everyday life of the Chilean people and their culture.  Santiago was beautiful, but Valparaiso, in my opinion, feels like a real Chilean city.  Santiago is a city for tourism.  Valparaiso is a city that makes me feel like I am experiencing the real ways of life that Chileans work in.  It’s a gritty, graffiti filled city with its own uniqueness to it.  I really enjoyed Santiago, but Valparaiso has a certain draw for me.  Despite the incidents of the week, I would love to stay for a while here.  I love this city!!

 

I also learned just how strong I am.  While not the smartest thing to have done, I am very glad that I did and managed to keep all my belongings with me.