14 Hours in Los Angeles

As (unlike Esteffen) I did not have a direct flight from Santiago to Auckland but had to transit via LA, I at least took the advantage of having more than 12 hours free time there to visit this city. The first and most important thing here was that English is definitely NOT necessary since everyone understands Spanish and many people speak it even better. So no need to change everything, just continue talking as always (btw, the first ad I saw was about a concert from Ricardo Arjona) :-) Although I did not expect anything, I must admit that I quite enjoyed the city: it is of course much more modern than every town in South-America, has a nice sunny weather during the winter, many green places and palms and is super bike-friendly – there is an incredible amount of persons from every social class who are using racing bikes or stylish fixed single-speed bikes, the streets have large bike paths, buses transport bicycle on ingenious stands and there is a lot of space for the cyclists in the metros.

Thanks to the fast and wide metro infrastructure I was able to visit almost every interesting part of Los Angeles, also because the different sites are not that big such that you have plenty of time to enjoy the places while walking around. First I went to the most superficial area I have ever seen in my life, namely the Hollywood Boulevard. To be honest, the two blocks next to the metro station are very horrible. A few film museums, lots of tourist-trap tours to the houses of some famous VIPs in the Beverly Hills, and MANY fake Jack Sparrows and Darth Vaders trying to get your money for making fancy moves or letting you take a picture of them. But the funny thing is that if you walk only one block more, you are almost alone (at least all cliché tourists are gone) and are feeling to be in a normal nice avenue, except that there are all the red stars from every known musician or actor on the ground. Continue reading

Santiago de Chile

Finally, after a scenic journey through South-America, we arrived at our last city: Santiago de Chile. Actually we had a bit more time than previously planned, but fortunately we met Nico, our couchsurfing host. A BIG thank you for your hospitality and your energy! Not only that he allowed us to live in his flat for a week, he is the main reason why we had a pleasant and fascinating stay here. His creativity in finding a wide variety of activities is amazing. Of course, he gave us tips for visiting the city and going to Valparaiso (nearby harbour and artist city). Santiago appeared to us extremely European, cleaner than the other cities with a working metro system, new and huge parks, museums and a modern architecture (including the same “beautiful” 70′s-like constructions). Further, the pedestrians are walking faster and it is more difficult to get into contact with them. It is clearly perceptible that the Chilean capital is a booming metropolis. On the contrary, Valparaiso has already seen its richest times past. Once one of the most important harbours at the Pacific, it is now famous for its atmosphere and its cultural life. The houses in all rainbow colours which are spread over dozens of hills, as well as the morbid fascination of the demi-monde has attracted lots of artists of which the most famous was Pablo Neruda. Today not only sailors but also many tourists contribute to the international flair.

On another day, also recommended by Nico, we went to Baños Morales in the Cajón del Maipo. There you can see another different part of the Andes which is similar to the Alps and so again reminded us of Europe. We trekked a whole day along a lovely mountain river, passing a “lagunita” towards a glacier but did not exceed 2500m – lowland trekking! However, we also experienced that we actually were not in Europe: we wanted to go to a football game of the most important club “U de Chile” but unfortunately realized that it is almost impossible to get tickets. Not because the stadium is full (lots of places were still empty), but because you can only buy them on the internet, on a super complex and not working webpage. So we ended up with hundreds of supporters, desperately trying to get their entry in an internet café, all in vain. Maybe this is the reason why thousands of fans came 15 minutes too late, and another thousands watched the game on TV in nearby bars. So we did the best we could to save the evening and watched the match together with them (“U de Chile” won 7-1 …. but the opponent was even worse than the Darmstädter Lilien, although it is hard to imagine). Continue reading

Mendoza – World’s Greenest City

After leaving San Pedro de Atacama and crossing the frontier to Argentina (no comment about the 3 hours of “siesta” on the border station), we headed once again to Salta, the city where I spent a few days around Christmas. As I had already seen a few sites there (mainly canyons), we decided to do only one excursion and went to Cachi, a small and lovely village in the Andes. For the first time since ages, we did some jogging and especially at the beginning it felt horrible! The town is not as spectacular as the previous places we had been to, but it was a nice and relaxed day, with delicious Argentine empanadas and ice cream. For Esteffen three other Argentine specialties were of interest: the daily bank run in the morning (you should start worrying if there is NO huge queue in front of every bank), the obligation to pay everything in cash (e.g. the “rapipagos” where you can clear off your monthly rent, electricity and internet bills), and the fact that there is almost never “cambio”: if you pay with 100 AR$ (more or less 12 €) it is not possible to give you the remaining change of converted 1.50 € without going to a bank – which can last! As an economist seeing a non-working system was very motivating to him ….

Next we had a looong but comfortable night and day bus ride to Mendoza, where we stayed at the “Casa Pueblo Hostel“. We were really surprised to find such a green city: every, and we mean EVERY street is lined with trees on both sides, creating a green roof over the road, and there are lots of parks – one of them is large enough to spend a whole day there. To me it seems that Mendoza is one of the cities with the highest quality of life in Argentina. Since the whole region is especially famous for its wine, we also did a winery tour by bike (thanks to Mr Hugo for his warm hospitality). Compared to the others, we probably hold the record in bike kilometers and the negative record in wine tasting. We visited only one vineyard (second oldest in that region, Bodega Familia Di Tommaso), but this one we enjoyed, just as the olive farm we stayed at afterwards. Continue reading

Bolivia Review

After we crossed the border in a small, lonely border station and went from Bolivia to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, we left already the second country on our journey, so again it is time for a country review. In Peru we were really surprised how well everything worked. Not always as planned, but after all, travelling is predictable and comfortable.

Nothing is like that in Bolivia. Here nearly nothing goes the way it was planned, most things do not work at all and people have learnt to accept that: Roads and city centers are blocked, people are later than expected, when You would like to buy what is advertised outside it won’t be available, if You want to open a box of biscuits You need a PhD in engineering …. Most often a strike causes problems, but there are also technical problems (which of course never have occurred before …. ) or carnival. And in the end Bolivians are more concerned about the fact that they do not have an open access to the sea, after having lost yet another war against Chile in 1904. This unbearable situation, comparable to the well-known third-world country of Switzerland, is still seen as the one and only reason for all problems and plays an important role in everyday life: we had the dubious pleasure to see a ceremony of the Bolivian Navy (no joke!), where Marines showed an uttermost pathetic movie named “El Mar de Bolivia” ….

However, there are two things that enable You to forgive all this hassle to the country. The first is that Bolivia is extremely cheap. You can easily travel with 10 Euro per day and if You only pay prices on that level, You do not expect perfect service. Moreover, You do not need everything to work at once, if You have time.

The second thing which makes it easy to endure all problems are the people. In fact, they are not friendly in that sense. Bolivia is very poor, in La Paz there are no westernized, comfortable neighbourhoods like in Lima (but on the other hand there are no really poor areas like in the Peruvian capital). In the country, especially on the Altiplano, people live in very simple mud houses without any heating systems in very harsh climatic conditions. This hard life creates hard people: In the country, the Bolivians were rather introverted, smiling not too often, especially the woman look old even when young, but most people are ready to help. So although people are not too enthusiastic, You feel welcome. And again, what is really amazing is a certain kind of naivety, which is widespread, very appealing and it explains why things seldom work. It is hard to describe this naivety in detail, but we will demonstrate it with an example:

When we were at the bus terminal searching for tickets to Potosí, which is one of the most important cities of the country, we heard some answers uniquely found in Bolivia. First of all, not even one half of the companies who put “Potosí” with huge letters on their counter actually offered passages. From the rest we heard responses like:
“Is there a bus from Your company to Potosí tomorrow night?” – “I do not know, but I do not think so”.
“What would be the price?” – “70 or 80 Bolivianos” – “Ok, but which of the prices do we have to pay?” – “I don’t know, I have to ask my boss”
“How much is it?¨ – “110 Bolivianos” – “Ok, accepted, we buy two tickets” – And to further promote his company he gives it to us for 100 without saying anything ….
And our personal favourite:
“Is the bus comfortable and can one sleep? What is the angle You can put the seats back? How many degrees?” In probably every other country You would get an answer like “150 degrees, but that is very comfortable”. Not so in Bolivia. On the question how many degrees are possible” they answer very sincere with “Oh, not very much”. And if You hesitate to book then they are very helpful: “But just look at the company over there. They have similar prices but much more comfort.”

You see, with that attitude a country cannot work – but what a lovely way not to work!

From Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama

Sometimes one picture says more than 1000 words …. América del Sur cada día te quiero más!

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