It has been almost four and a half months for Matt and I since we started our year long travel through South America. We have backpacked through four countries and have been constantly moving since we first started on March 11, 2017. It has been one hell of an adventure but we were ready to take a break from the road and find a place to call home for a few weeks. Through the website Workaway where we previously found one job before in Valpariso, Chile we were ready to find another one anywhere in Argentina or Uruguay. After applying to over twenty different postings we finally got accepted to work at a hostel 25 hours a week, 5 hour shifts 5 days per weeks at a place called Buenas Vibras in Montevideo, Uruguay. If you translate the hostel name to english it means Good Vibes and that place lived up to its name.
Arriving to Montevideo from Buenos Aires it is quite easy and only takes a few hours! I would recommend using the website Colonia Express and it cost around $40 USD one way. To get there with this company it will take you by ferry to Uruguay and then you will transfer onto a bus that will take you all the way to Montevideo. You will get dropped off at the main bus station called Tres Cruces which is also a shopping center and then it was an easy twenty five minute walk to our hostel. As soon as we arrived and dropped our bags off into the staff room we knew we made the right decision to come. The two owners Matias and Andres made us feel at home and there were already three other staff working there as well (two of them found the job from Workaway also). In total we stayed for seven weeks and in the end it was a bit hard to even leave.
Uruguay is a very small country. The population is only around six million people and half that population lives in Montevideo. There are twice as many cows than people and you can see that reflected by all the meat sold everywhere and all of the famous asados (or barbeques) that happen at every family home. As a girl that has been slowly trying to eat less meat that was almost impossible by all the amazing meat dishes served here. But fortunately there are also a lot of ferias or ``street markets`` here found in different locations multiple times a week to get all of the fruit and vegetables you need to have a balanced diet. Ask your hostel receptionist to help point you out where the ferias are but we were able to go to a different feria about three to four times a week to stock up on food and just to enjoy a nice walk around. In these markets you can not barter prices for food as it is a sign of disrespect so don't even bother. The Saturday market is located at Parque Punta Carretas and the hours are around 10am to 3pm and they have fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat and all types of clothing sold there. Now if you think the Saturday market is huge get ready for triple the amount of vendors at the Sunday market called Feria De Tristan Narvaja. The Sunday Feria has the best street food and the most random things you could think of sold there. I think out of the seven weeks of living here I only missed one time of going to it.
Montevideo and Uruguay in general is a much better place to visit in the summer. With most of the highlighted places to visit being beach towns including Montevideo it was quite a different atmosphere in the winter. I liked it because it meant less tourists around but still a great place to visit especially if you are already in Brazil or Argentina. I would spend almost everyday walking up and down the beach since it was a ten minute walk from the hostel and if you walk down far enough you can find the famous huge Montevideo sign that is a perfect place to be during sunset. If it isn't raining you will see locals all along the beach sharing the traditional mate tea between friends and smoking weed. Oh yeah, weed is completely legal in this country. It is common to walk down any street and smell fresh bread from the many bakeries around and the distinct smell of marijuana. The drawback though is that it isn't legal for foreigners but I have met many travelers that have still been able to get weed by going to one of the many grow shops to buy some. Not only is weed legal here but so is abortion and they have an extremely high atheist population. This country is progressive and the way of life here is slow and non stressful and you can see that reflected by all the smiles on locals faces and how kind people are. Another bonus for traveling here is that credit cards and debit cards are widely accepted! Not only accepted but encouraged and most restaurants will give you 20% off your bill for using it. WHAT A SCORE!
This city is a walking town since it isn't that big. You can spend your day walking downtown on the main street of Bulevar Espana that turns into Ave 18 de Julio. From there you need to stop at the town hall where you can take the elevator to the top and get a free panoramic view of the city! When you walk down the main road you will see two small plazas before ending up at Plaza Independencia. At the plaza twice a day in the morning and afternoon you can find a free walking tour to do and afterwards get a coffee at the oldest coffee shop in Montevideo called Cafe Brasilero. You will notice next to the Plaza that on the opposite side of where you arrived is the old city where you can find tons of shops and museums to explore. When you are done exploring downtown walk back up on the rambla (that is the stretch of road along the beach) and end up at the biggest park in the city called Parque Rodo. I know it might not seem like there is a ton to do in this city but trust me once you arrive here your two day visit will turn into five days without even realizing it. We were only meant to stay four weeks and ended up staying three weeks longer because of how comfortable we were there. We couldn't have been happier with our workaway and our time at Buenas Vibras. I got to practice my spanish and learn what it takes to run a successful hostel. Make sure when you visit to stay at this hostel and tell them Maria recommended you!
After traveling the last two weeks in Northern Argentina enjoying the slow pace lifestyle with a warm climate, it was time to put on our winter hat and visit the biggest city in this country, Buenos Aires. It was a 19 hour bus ride for 1200 pesos ($70 USD) from Puerto Iguazu and as we arrived we had two friends, Paula and Peter meet us at the bus station! We spent a total of nine days in this city surrounded by the three millions residents and with all the different neighborhoods there was never a dull day. Luckily, with this city the public transportation is incredible so any tourist can easily get around. If you have the app called Moovit, it can take you anywhere you need to be and it incorporates all of the buses and metro/subway systems. We used it every single day and it never failed us once. All you have to make sure is to get the app going while you are on wifi and then works perfectly once you start walking around and lose signal.
One of the first things we experienced was the San Telmo Sunday Market on Carlos Calvo street where the whole area was blocked off from cars with endless amounts of street vendors selling everything and anything. We walked around for hours and ate random street food throughout the whole market since we weren't going to buy any souvenirs (Backpacking for one year with a stuffed bag really holds you back from buying any trinkets). Not only is San Telmo a great area to be in on Sundays but that was my favorite neighborhood in all of Buenos Aires for any day of the week. We stayed for two nights at a hostel in this location and you really get the city feeling here. We ate at two amazing restaurants that I would recommend there and the first one is called Saigon. In Seattle, Matt and I would go out to eat for pho at least twice a week so being deprived of it for four months we were eager to eat here and it definitely was delicious to the last bite. The owner was very humble about our compliments and he was a pretty new restaurant so I admire him bringing international cuisines to the city full of the same foods. If you are looking for a great burger, especially a great vegetarian burger with fries hit up The Red Bench where the service is fast and you will leave the restaurant full and satisfied!
If you don't know, soccer or futball is the people of Buenos Aires main religion. So if you want to see where the stadium is head over to the district of La Boca and if you can try and buy a ticket to the next game! That was one thing we wished we could have done there was to see a game just to see the crowds of fan and to be apart of that. Not sure on how to buy a ticket or if it is possible for a traveler to since I heard that you need to be apart of a club but maybe with some research or by knowing someone you can get invited to a game! There is much more than the La Bombonera Stadium in this district, if you walk around you will find your way to the very touristy but beautiful street called El Caminito. You will see tango dancers on the street, vendors and buskers playing music all around the brightly colored buildings. All the restaurants in this area are very overpriced but on the outskirts you will find bakeries to get your empanada or pizza for lunch at.
This might sound weird but I love visiting different cemeteries around the world and La Recoleta Cemetery is the most beautiful one I have ever seen. it hosts graves of some of the most notable people in Argentina's history. There are not just stoneheads here, there are stone mini houses where the coffins are in. Each one unique in their own way and some are more upkept than others. After walking around Recoleta get on the metro and head towards Palermo for the best nightlife in all of the city. With endless bars, cafes, restaurants and tango lessons you can easily spend a day or two walking around. We spent two nights in this neighborhood and fell in love with it. We took a tango class that was $11 USD and even though I was awful at it it was so fun to learn a new dance. Advice to anyone that wants to take a tango class here, don't wear trekking shoes like I did. Not the best footwear and my poor boyfriend got stepped on multiple times. I even danced with a stranger to get more practice and I stepped on his feet multiple times and he left me after a few minutes.
This city was an easy place to spend a week and if you think you will get sick of the constant traffic and people head to one of the many parks like Bosques De Palermo, Parque Lezama and Centenario Park. Everyday we probably walked over ten miles so get on your walking shoes and get ready to see why this is such a destination for travelers worldwide.
What was the longest bus ride of your life? From Vietnam to Laos used to be mine with a total of 23 hours but I now surpassed that number with a total of 24.5 hours from Salta to Puerto Iguazu. We left around 3:30 pm and had two bus changes at 5am and 11am the following day. To pass the time we downloaded 12 hours of netflix shows and movies on our phone and tried to sleep as much as we could. It cost around 1900 pesos ($110 USD) for the semi cama seated bus that included a few meals throughout the trip but would recommend anybody to bring healthy snacks between all the sandwiches and sweets you will be given. After we arrived to the small tropical weather town we headed to our hostel called Travelers Garden ($8 USD a night) where we spent a total of two nights. This hostel was once a small house where there is one big room with ten bunk beds and then one private room and the owner sleeps in his tent in the backyard. It was a good place to meet people and chat about life but after two nights we headed to a little nicer of a hostel since there are so many options everywhere in the small town.
That night we decided to go see a place in this town that is supposed to be completely magical. It is called the Hito de Las Tres Fronteras and it is so incredible because when you get to the view point you will see across the river Paraguay to the left and Brazil to the right as you are standing in Argentina. The water from the river comes off the Iquazu Falls and it was hard to keep realizing those were entirely different countries swimming distances away. At night time is the best to be here because there are fountains that play halographic traditional dancers with music on in the background and a great water show. There are street vendors selling art and food and it is a family affair so you will people of all ages and backgrounds there. Definitely a must in this small city to visit.
Before we arrived to Puerto Iquazu, we arranged to meet with our friend Wes, whom we spent a lot of time with in Cordoba and he was there at the hostel waiting for us! We all decided to go to Iguazu Falls together the following morning to catch the first bus that left at 7am. As we stood in the longline to enter the Argentinian side of this enormous park that is home to the biggest waterfall system in the world, we had to pay an entrance of around 500 pesos ($30 USD). We got in and the excitement of finally arriving to a place my grandparents visited twenty years prior was just a surreal feeling. It is one of the natural wonders of the world and when you finally set your eyes on it you will understand why. As we grabbed the map of the park we met a man that spoke english that worked there who told us to to go to the little falls of San Martín Falls and Bossetti Falls and skip out on going to the famous Devil's Throat until later in the evening. We took his advice and headed to the smaller falls but still when I say smaller they were the best waterfalls I have ever seen in my life. You could see multiple rainbows from the powerfall water flow and the mist that was over a story high. The best part was for almost an hour there was nobody else around and we just sat there enjoying the serenity of the place.
We found out that we could take a ten minutes boat ride for $35 USD to go under the falls and get soaking wet and see everything extremely up close. We thought, we came all the way here we are going to take full advantage of this! We got our lifejackets on and luckily I was only in a tshirt and shorts because they took us into the midst of the waterfalls. We got completely soaking wet and I felt like I could hardly breathe or close my eyes because I wanted to take in every second. I know it was a bit out of our price range for such a short boat ride but we couldn't have been more thrilled that we did it.
Around 11am the park started filling up fast with people and you constantly heard at least four different languages spoken all around you throughout the park. After experiencing the small falls and walking around that area until 1 we headed to the area where tables were so we could eat our packed lunch of empanadas, crackers and fruit while a bunch of animals called Coati were everywhere! They were like a mix between ant eaters and racoons and it appalled me seeing all of the tourists feed them when there are signs there that direct people not to. As we were eating the Coatis would surround us and try and get any of the food they could and I got nervous and would always run away from them! After lunch it was time to take the free train to get us to see the biggest waterfall at the park… THE DEVIL'S THROAT. The train line was extremely long to get through and then the line itself to see the waterfall but as soon as you got into the front and center and ignored all the people around you you will lose your ability to speak besides the constant whisper of wow. It was absolutely beautiful with the endless row of waterfalls and rainbows. I have seen hundreds of photos of the devil's throat before arriving and none of them did the falls justice. We spent around 30 minutes just staring and smiling before heading back out of the park. If somebody is traveling to Argentina on a time crunch I would say put this place as your number one place to go before anywhere else. You will not be disappointed.
As we were on the four hour bus ride on Route 68 from Salta to Cafayate for $12 USD, our eyes were wide open the entire trip. From desert valleys to ginormous red rocks to beautiful vineyards, this was one of the most scenic bus rides between cities we have seen. As we got off the Fletcha Bus we walked a little less than a mile to our hostel called Hostal del Suri. This was a very small hostel but had a lot of heart as it was owned and run by a very modest, kind man. It was $10 each per night and we spent a total of three nights there. After dropping off our backpacks we were excited to head out to find somewhere for lunch. We found one of the last few restaurants open as it was almost siesta time (nap time) for the city and we ordered a typical dish of rice, meat and salad for a few dollars.
This place is best described as a little town in a big desert. After 20 minutes of walking around the little plaza and the outskirts we realized we already saw the town. This place is known for all the wineries and bodegas and the many wine tour options that are fairly inexpensive. As the afternoon was fading we headed over to a bodega called Nanni’s and did a tour (all in Spanish) that concluded with four wine tastings for 50 pesos each. (less than $4 USD). Later, that evening in the hostel we met this girl that did a tour that she booked through our hostel that stops at all the little landmarks along the way from Cafayate to Salta. It was 370 pesos per person ($21 USD) for the tour but she said it was stunning and five hours long so that was good enough to convince us to do it! We woke up the following day and had a slow morning of reading and soaking in the sun until 2pm when the tour was to begin. We got picked up by one guy with another couple doing the tour in a white pickup truck and we were ready to see all the different locations up close! We went to all of these amazing desert locations that we saw on the drive to Cafayate but we got to walk around the surroundings of them and really explore up close. We did an estimated 8 stops in total to all to see the different landscapes of red rocks and cacti and of course the famous amphitheater between the canyons. When we were in the rock shaped amphitheater there was a man playing the guitar strumming away that sounded like we were at a private concert in there. Everything about the tour was incredible including the sunset that seemed to have lasted the whole drive back.
As we arrived back into the hostel that evening the same girl that recommended the tour we did today gave us another recommendation on what to do tomorrow. A few miles outside the town there is this great trekking area that takes you to seven different waterfalls! It is called Cascadas del rio colorado and along the hike the waterfalls will get bigger and better until the end. As we arrived there, many men were waiting to give us a tour to the falls. We wanted to attempt to do it ourselves but were told that some of them are impossible to get to without a guide since there are no maps. We decided to get a guide that charged us 40 pesos per waterfall and he couldn't reach the seventh waterfall which is the biggest because of the difficulty to get there during this time of year so we went to six that cost $13 USD total. Out of everything we did in Cafayate this by far was my favorite activity. Fernando our tour guide didn't speak any english but we were able to practice our spanish and he helped us so much around some of the slippery rocks around the falls. I had to keep pausing to look around at the canyons full of goats, cactus and streams running along by our feet. I felt the magic of this place the entire two and a half hours we were there.
Our next destination was to the incredible Iguazu Falls but unforunately, we couldn't get there from Cafayate. It was back up to Salta we went for one night until the following morning when it was time for our day long adventure to see the biggest waterfall system in the world.
After a 13 hour bus ride from Cordoba and a whopping $71 spent to get there, we have finally made it to tiny little Salta. Immediately when we got off the bus and were walking to find a hostel we found a woman selling four empanadas for 20 pesos which is a little over $1 USD. I mean what a score to have after arriving to a new city. We found a hostel to stay in called Sol Hausi that has two different properties and I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the hostel. The breakfast was of course plain bread rolls with coffee but we are so used to the bare minimum it doesn't even phase us, especially for $7 USD per night. Funny thing though was that it was $12 per night for the hostel if we booked online so we were glad we did not! Every time we visit a new city we get our walking shoes ready to explore what the town has to offer. We walked all around the streets that were all very similar but enjoyed the two small plazas called Plaza 9 De Julio & Plaza Gurruchaga that were only a five minute walk from one another. They are very tiny plazas but always a great place to buy some street food and enjoy the people watching all around.
Matt did some research on Salta before we arrived and he read loads about this special thing called Penas that happen only in northern Argentina during the night so of course we had to check it out! Most are located on a street called Balcarce and that night we left the hostel around 11pm and walked for twenty minutes and found the nightlife! They are basically restaurants/bars that have bands playing the local music with dancing and food and drinks galore! We got a table in the side corner at one of the more packed restaurants and ordered two large beers and just watched as kids, grandmas, grandpas and all ages in between were dancing, laughing and enjoying the night. A Pena can be for dates, friends or even families. We were at the restaurant until a little past 1am and there were still kids up with their families dancing the night away. We don’t do too much nightlife in our travels but we were so happy we got to experience a pena here, definitely unlike any other nightlife I have seen! We were the only foreigners at the restaurant and got a shout out from the singer as he could tell and everyone cheered for us!
During our travels we haven't run into too many people that we met in previous cities prior but in this town we met a girl named Esther that we previously briefly met in Iquique, Chile! We all decided to spend the day together and trek up to the biggest hill in the middle of the flat city to see the views called Teleférico hasta el mirador. You can take a cable car to the top but we are all about getting those steps in as empanadas and bread have become apart of our daily diet in Argentina. The hike up was all stairs and took about an hour to get to the top. It was more beautiful than I thought when we arrived to the top with man made waterfalls and streams that had many different types and sizes of waterfalls to stare at while listening to the fast pace water. We brought some snacks and ate at the top and chatted about life and our travel journeys before heading back down all the stairs to the bottom. Since we are in the land of asados we decided to have our own at the hostel with heaps of vegetables and meat. Most Argentians like to do asados with just wood and sometimes coal and after my travels I hope to never turn back to electric grills. It may take some time to get the grill actually lit and going but almost all food tastes better when grilled and the social aspect about it is probably my favorite part. We ate big that night with boxes of wine by our side and good conversations flowing as we chatted about politics in one another country's before ending the night in a light way by playing some foosball.
The following day we took the public bus called San Lorenzo to the San Lorenzo National Park that only took an hour to get to and cost 7 pesos each (.50 cents)! That is so incredibly cheap for such an expensive country. We got into the park and hiked up a little over an hour to the viewpoint that was just breathtaking. We went slow up the way to take pictures and look at the strange fruits none of us have seen before. At the top Matt finished his book and I wrote in my journal and just took some time to take in our surroundings. I find writing the most fun and desirable to do when I am in inspirational places so the creativity can just flow. We walked back down and walked along the little river for a while before heading back into town and just relaxing for the night. The following day it was time to head on to Cafayate to explore the desert life of Argentina.
An eleven hour overnight bus and $40 USD later we arrived in the second largest city in Argentina, Cordoba. We arrived early in the morning and used our offline GPS app Maps.me to take us to a hostel we booked called Aldea. As soon as we arrived and met some of the staff we realized we were going to be sticking around for a while. We spent a total of six nights here, two in the dorms and four nights in a private. Everything you need from a great hangout rooftop terrace to a huge kitchen is offered here that makes you want to hang out at the hostel all day. Everything in this city is walking distance, not once did we take a bus in the city. We spent our first full day exploring the city and taking the free walking tour that started in the main plaza as most free walking tours do in South America. The area around Plaza San Martin had a mixture of old architecture and modern shops that lined up the streets. The tour took us around to some of the main areas downtown and ended close to Sarmiento Park where we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon. You can walk around here, bring a book and just people watch around the tiny dirty lake that is in the middle of it. There are orange trees covered around the park so we may have thrown some rocks at them to get them down and enjoy.
The following day it was time for a little visit to a German themed down where Oktoberfest is held every year called Villa General Belgrano. It is an easy two hour bus ride away from Cordoba and we met another girl staying at the same hostel named Leah that was waiting for the same bus! Of course we all decided to explore the town together and just going to be upfront now, when it is low season this place is not a hot spot to be. This place reminds me so much of Leavenworth, Washington that it is aimed all for tourists but many of the shops were closed except a few chocolate places which the city is known for and restaurants. We settled on buying tons of chocolate and ice cream and just exploring the outskirts of the town. We wandered for a few hours and came across a creek where this incredible stray dog found us and we ended up playing fetch with him for over an hour straight. Across the little creek were three old ladies all in one color jumpers (of course all wearing different colors) and one spoke english that we chatted with for a while! They were all retired teachers from Buenos Aires just taking a girl's trip together. If I could see into the future I would hope my best friends and I would be exactly like them. I would say visit this town only during the summer months to see this place light up.
Friday and Saturdays in Cordoba are when things really come alive. For instance, my favorite neighborhood is where Paseo de las Artes weekend craft market is located. Street vendors from all over arrive here to sell any type of artwork they have created. I saw many paintings, ceramics and trinkets I wish I could have bought but just got to admire and be inspired from up close. After the craft market you could head to one of the many bars surrounding the area. For us, we were informed of a street party going on two streets down and we couldn't believe what we stumbled into. A whole street was shut down with people selling wine and coke mix drinks, selling barbeque and there were music from live drums to DJs and a huge fire in the middle of the street. We were on that street for hours dancing away and seeing the liveliness of the city just glow. I love when I get to leave the touristy route of traveling and find local community celebrations. It is the main reason for me to want to stay a while in each town to come across events like this.
The best part here were the nights in the hostel. On the rooftop they have an amazing barbeque/asado area that we used twice and both times it led to other people coming to join us. There were christmas lights strung around and with wine and good conversations in English and Spanish flowing it made the place feel so homey. Our spanish is still not as good as I would hope but slowly overtime I can comprehend more and more. Since Winter is in July and August here we are trying to go slow in our travels for the next two months before heading down to Patagonia. We wanted to head down faster since we were so eager for the beauty that awaits but with the below freezing constant temperature we are going to wait a little bit. So we decided to head up north where we can find some heat and pull out our shorts in Salta.
Going from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina it is a beautiful seven hour bus ride that you will want to enjoy during the day to view the surrounding snowy views of the Andes Mountains. Unfortunately, in the winter this path can be closed quite frequently which led Matt and I into buying our first flight while being in South America. It was $150 USD for a one hour flight and looking back on it now we completely regret just not waiting until the path opened up again a few days later since bus tickets were only $30. But, all travelers have regrets they make it is just how they get over them and move on. When we arrived into the Mendoza airport and took a taxi into the middle of the city we realized that we arrived into a very quiet place compared to Valaparaiso and Santiago. We stayed at Hostel International for an incredible $6 USD per night for a four person shared room with a private bath and it was a perfect place to crash for five nights.
Mendoza itself doesn't offer much to do in the city itself but on the outskirts of this town is where all the beauty lies. On our first full day we booked a tour with our hostel for $55 USD for a night of horseback riding for two hours during the sunset followed by an all you can eat asado with wine. We were picked up in a shuttle van and there were only 10 people total that were on this tour and we were all taken to a little ranch where the fun was about to begin. I have ridden a donkey and a horse so far on this trip and have rode a few horses in the past so they gave me a fast horse! Poor Matt has never rode a horse before so they gave him a very slow old one. The scenery around is completely flat with mountains in the background and just empty land as far the eye can see. I was able to gallop and be in the front of the pack the whole time and just enjoy a completely quiet environment besides the sound of the horses with the sunsetting in the backdrop. I felt like a little girl again riding a horse with a big smile on the entire time. After the incredible two hours we got to watch the few people that worked there prepare the big outside grill and we saw all the meat and vegetables start slow cooking. Argentina is known for having some of the best meat in the world and this asado did its justice where it was endless amount of meat. Just so you can believe me, two vegetarians were in our group and they even decided to try the meat and were embracing every bite. Mendoza is known for being a huge wine capital especially with the Malbec wine which is now my favorite (especially since I only really drank box wine before our travels). After drinking a bottle to myself and good conversations with the group for a few hours Matt and I were so happy with our choice of doing this tour and thought it was worth every penny.
The following day with a bit of a hangover we decided to head to the bus terminal to go to the famous Parque de Agua Termas Cacheuta. You just need to look for the bus company Buttini and tell them you want to head to Cacheuta and for a few dollars and an hour and a half later you are there! Buses leave all throughout the day so no need to prebook a bus in advance. To say it was an incredible experience I feel like is giving this place not enough credit. The town itself is very small with only a few cafe shops and souvenir places but the prime time is when you get to the hot springs and you see what awaits. After checking in our bags to the lockers provided so we wouldn't have to worry about getting anything stolen it was time to enjoy the many different hot springs. There were at least 10 different thermal baths that ranged in size, temperature and some were inside and some were outside. The outside ones I enjoyed more just because of the beauty of the backdrop of the hills surrounding the area. We spent three hours soaking and our only regret is not bringing any food to munch on in between baths. Please visit this incredible place if you come to a Mendoza and rank it high on your to do list.
For less than $8 roundtrip and only an hour bus ride make your way from the bus terminal in Mendoza to Potrerillos. This little town's best feature is the crystal blue lake that makes you just want to spend your day around it. We brought a lunch and stayed there for a total of six hours just walking around the lake. We found people ziplining, rock climbing and fly fishing and just relaxing by their own fires taking in the fresh air. It was such a nice day even for it being the middle of winter that we decided to take a walk down the beach.. bad call. After walking a bit down the muddy beach next thing Matt and I know we are thigh deep stuck in mud! I felt like I was in quicksand that I have seen in a lot of movies and shows growing up! The harder we tried to get out of the mud the farther we both got stuck until we pulled ourselves up with a bush and had mud in all the wrong places. Matt was pretty mad about it but I couldn't help but to laugh. The worst part was it was getting dark and cold fast and we had to wait an hour at the bus station for the hour ride back and by that time the mud just hardened completely. Luckily we were heading to the laundromat the following day anyway but I think next hike we do I am going to bring at least extra socks.
For our first taste of Argentina life, Mendoza sure did make us feel welcomed. The city itself is a bit of a bore I will say but make sure to just take as many day outings as you can and don't feel rushed during any of it. There are also many wineries to visit here as well that you can rent a bike and visit each one yourself with or without a tour guide. Enjoy every bite and drink this town has to offer and you will leave feeling way relaxed and refreshed and ready for the next adventure.
From Santiago it was an hour and a half bus ride to Valparaiso through a company called Turbus for 3,000 pesos ($4.80). After almost three months on the road we were working our way fast down South America so it was time to slow things down a little bit. Matts parents were going to be arriving in Santiago in two weeks and we knew we needed to find a place to settle and save money before they arrived. We signed up for a website called Workaway that is a directory to finding work at different hostels, houses, farm, etc in exchange for free accommodation and sometimes free food. When we checked out the city of Valparaiso there were many options for places to work at but unfortunately most did not respond or wanted us to stay at least one month. After much researching we settled on a hostel where we would work 28 hours per week in exchange for a private room.
Our job for two weeks was at Hostel Mariposas and it located on one of the many hills that make up this city. For 9 months of the year it is a communal house for 20 people who were mostly all university students. Every corner of this hostel was unique. All of the nightstands, desks, dressers and decor all were recycled furniture and covered with character. The owners daughter made almost all of the paintings that covered all three living room areas and there was nothing minimal looking about this place. It was exactly my style of home. We were not provided any free food for the work but we had a private loft room that had a skylight and we decorated it with all of the fabrics we bought in Bolivia and Peru. Everyday we would have to work from 10am to 2pm and we thought it was a bit unfair we didn't get any days off but it was only a two week stint. Anyone that wants to do a workaway, some advice is to make sure to request only to work 4-5 days a week to work.
The daily routine went as followed. I would wake up around 8am every day and go in the living room to make the fire to heat up the house in the morning. From there I would make a cup of coffee and stretch and do some computer work and have some alone time before 9am when others would start waking up. Matt would wake up around 9:15 and we would make a huge breakfast to start off our day that would usually be a vegetable scramble with some potatoes or bread. One of my favorite parts about the hostel was going to the rooftop deck, eat our breakfast and wake up to the city view, it was complete bliss. At 10am we would meet with Kent, Allen and Karen (the owner and two long term volunteers) and we would discuss what tasks we would do that day. It ranged from painting, cleaning, roof work, gardening and sometimes hard manual labor that I couldn't do because of my back. There were always projects that needed to be done around the house and around the neighboring buildings Kent owned. After the work day ended at 2ish we would shower and head down all of the stairs into the city to explore the different boroughs. There are so many different areas that are all found by just walking either up a lot of stairs or going down a lot of stairs and all had the most beautiful street art I have ever seen in my life. Literally every corner on every street had beautiful murals and you can walk down the same street 50 times and still see something new or that you never noticed before.
Two of the tourists neighborhoods/cerros are called Cerro Concepción and Cerro Alegre that I would recommend to anyone that is visiting here. There are coffee shops, restaurants and the most famous street art in these neighborhoods including the piano step stairs. I strolled through this neighborhood many times looking at all the different stores full of art, decor, knick knacks and clothing. If you are looking for the best empanadas in town find where the place called Delicias Express is located. They have 80 different types of empanadas that are all prepared on the spot by two woman and we ate there at least four times. Want to end the day with something sweet? The best ice cream shop we found was called Emporio La Rosa that would make you want to savor every bite. A unique feature about this city is that there are antique funiculars or trams that take you up up into the hill sides. They are located all over in almost every cerro and cost 100-200 pesos for a ride. (That is less than $.20 cents USD). I would recommend to ride any that you see, because it will always take you to a good view point. We have learned to embrace the street food all over South America and in this city you will find some of the best. From pizza, empanadas, sweets, nuts and mystery meat. The best part is all the sauces that some of the street food vendors have. We would just order meat and stand by the cart and put a different sauce on every single bite to fully enjoy it.
After a week and a half working at the hostel we met another volunteer that turned out to become a great friend. His name is Finn and he showed us many tips to backpacking on a budget and his spirit on living a good life. One of the first nights we all hung out he took us out to the Saturday market (also on Wednesdays) that is located on Ave. Argentina. When all the stalls close at 9pm they will throw away a bunch of vegetables and fruit that are about to go bad that they can't sell. Finn taught us about “recycled” food where we just go to the vendors and ask if they have anything to recycle that is about to go bad and they just give it to you! Oh man it was an amazing concept and saved us money! You could tell the vendors were used to it because some saved the scraps of food in a box for us to just rummage through. We just took one of the many wooden crates that are all over the market and filled it up the two times we did it. It also made us become more creative with our cooking since we would just cook with anything we received free from the markets. Don't feel awkward or ashamed if you want to try this yourself. Basic spanish and a smile will get you far.
On Sunday Finn took us to this little gem of a bar at the end of some residential road that was actually someone's backyard! Finn knew all of the workers since they all were apart of one family and we sat there for hours drinking Sangria and just chatting and eating. Finn has this way with people that I have never seen from anybody else. He can have a conversation in Spanish, English and French and can turn a stranger into a friend in ten minutes. There were little firepits lit around the yard once it got colder and a band came out to play music and the little dance floor came alive! I just kept thinking I was at a friends celebration party or something and truly was just so content with life in that moment. Finn also did me a favor that night and forced me to speak Spanish to locals even though my Spanish is still basic, I had to try. That really woke me up and made me realize that I need to speak more even if I am scared and nervous if I sound dumb.
As our time at work was ending and it was time to meet Matts parents the following day in Santiago we had one last barbeque on the roof of the hostel where we grilled all of our vegetables we had leftover. We watched the sunset on one of the hammocks on the roof and just reflected about how grateful we were for our time in this city. This city is my favorite in all of Chile so far and would recommend any traveler to spend a few days here.
Oh, Santiago. A place you need to really stay just for 3-4 nights but we ended up staying a week. We arrived at one of the few bus terminals around 7pm and walked a little over a mile to an area where we saw a lot of hostels downtown on hostelworld. We decided to scope out a few different places and pick the cheapest hostel but my phone died after we arrived to the first one that cost $12 USD per night with no breakfast and just stayed there. Easy to make a decision when you are tired and too lazy to go anywhere else.
Being in the center of the city there was nothing vibrant about it. We walked around for maybe 3 hours after getting settled in the hostel and it was just another downtown in a major city to me. Matt was a big fan of the street food on the main street of Av Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins where we ate questionable meat served on a stick for $2 USD. We decided with our first night there we would go out for a traditional Chilean dinner called Chorrillana for $10 dinner split between the both of us. It is basically a pile of fries with different sausages, meat and chicken with 1-2 fried eggs on top and when we were finished eating it I instantly wanted to fall asleep from being so full. After just one night in this area I knew it was time to go explore a suburb outside the city center. The place was called Parron de Colores Hostel ($25 USD a night for a private room) that was in the suburb of Ñuñoa which was easy to get to from the subway/metro which reminded me of the subway system in New York City, just way cleaner! We ended up having to take one bus and metro ride from downtown to get there but luckily I have the best public transportation app called Moovit that saved us on getting around. This app is an GPS that directs where the bus and metro stations are and when exactly when to get on and off of them, it works perfectly every time we have used it. It took 50 minutes from downtown but once we arrived to the area we knew we made the right choice.
We spent our second day walking around our new neighborhood and checking out the garages in people's homes that were converted into fruit stalls that we bought some goods from and of course had to try one of the many sushi restaurants around the Ñuñoa area. The only question I have about the sushi here is, why is there so much cream cheese in every roll? I mean they are good none the less but still that was new for me. I have been having a sweet tooth badly lately and this city is full of bakeries. I have learned many of the pastries look better than they taste but still always seem to find my way into buying something.
Since we started to figure out the metro system pretty fast we decided that evening to head to the district of Bella Vista to have a drink and see some of the street art the neighborhood is known for. We went to the first bar for the sole reason that we saw alot of people there and had a liter of beer each for around $6 total. After an hour we wanted to see what another bar in this area would be like and man the bar scene here is insane! We wandered into one bar that had two levels and 100’s of young 20 year olds all dressed up to the nine.. We sat down right in the middle of the room with tables and chairs full of people surrounding us and had another 2 liters of beer each. With the loud music and beer I was a bit thrown back by everyone smoking cigarettes around me. I was even more surprised when I realized people were also smoking a ton of weed all around because it is illegal in this country! The scene was wild and if you are wanting to come to this city to party definitely check the Bella Vista neighborhood. Make sure while in this borough to make your way up to the huge park called Cerro San Cristóbal where I took the tram up and Matt walked up the steep hill and we met at the top. You can buy some knick knacks and snacks to enjoy while embracing the city life below. There are roads for walkers, runners, bikers and dogs galore all around this park that you can spend hours of the day walking around.
The next day it was off to see another part of the town and usually our favorite in every city, the Mercado Central. We were ready for the fruit and vegetable stands and cheap eats but instead this Mercado was full of expensive restaurants! Obviously out of our budget we wandered two blocks away to the Vega Central and we finally found lunch! Everything from fruit to vegetables to smoothies to snacks were all served downstairs of this huge warehouse and restaurants all lined up upstairs. But, instead of eating at a proper restaurant, we ate in front of the building from a man cooking rice and chicken out of a grocery cart for 1,500 pesos ($2.50 USD). Street food is always something we sought out for to try real authentic (And cheap) cooking and this meal was the best street food we have had in all of Chile. Afterwards, we strolled around the market and outside vendors and bought some groceries to cook back at our hostel that evening. Take your time in this city and really take advantage of the public transportation this city offers. There are many different boroughs including the main Plaza De Armas that will fill up your days. Make sure to bring the best walking shoes, they will be used a lot here. After a week it was time to start our first workaway in Valparaiso, Chile!
This town was the perfect place to relax after four days of sleeping in cars and buses. What I really liked about this place was not the beach (maybe because it was overcast and winter so nobody was there) but the main plaza and town itself. We stayed at a hostel called Hostal El Arbol that we found off the app iOverlander and we were lucky there were a few beds in the cheapest room available for around $13 USD per night! This hostel reminded me of what it would be like staying at a friend’s grandma’s house because of how small and quaint it was. In the morning one of the older women that worked there would want us to sit down right away so she could make our breakfast. We had oatmeal, cereal, coffee, fresh juice, bread all served with a smile.
The plaza was less than 10 minute away and we spent our days strolling around the cobblestone streets. On the first day we went to a grocery store close by called Liders that is actually Walmart! Let’s just say Matt was not pleased and even if the groceries were maybe a little bit cheaper we decided to never go to one while traveling again. We made a pact of no Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King or Walmarts because we want to give back to the communities we are staying in and not the big corporations taking over towns globally. Going around to the different shops and stores around the city and just sitting at the plaza people watching we just let the hours slip on before ending the night with a great home cooked meal by Matt. I will give it to Matt because neither of us realized how much cooking we were going to be do on these travels but luckily Matt loves experimenting with food and I love eating food so we are a good team.
The next day we hit the town again and just explored the endless blocks before making our way to the huge fruit and vegetable market! It happens a few times per week and we were happy to be there on one of those day. So many stalls all serve the same items so just got to look out for the prices to make sure you are getting the cheapest and freshest vegetables as possible. That same day we walked down to the beach where it is a ghost town since it had been overcast the whole day. We walked for miles along the water just to get some cardio in and we made it to the neighboring town of Coquimbo to visit their fish market. There were tons of ceviche stalls and restaurants and we ate at one of the restaurants that many locals were eating at as well and we just asked for El Menu Del Dia (the menu of the day, which was fish, rice and soap).
I wish we could have said we did the some of the tours but we decided to skip out on any offered in this area. Traveling in countries where it costs more to do everything we are learning to say no to more things and yes to things we really want to do and can afford. Traveling on a budget means learning to be smart about your money to make it last as long as possible especially if our goal is to travel at least 1 year. I was happy to be pretty lazy and relaxed in this town for three nights because we knew next 6 hours away was the biggest city in Chile we were visiting for 7000 pesos ($11 USD)… Santiago!
5) Rainbow Mountain, Cusco, Sacred Valley
6) Machu Pichu
1) Copacabana and Isla Del Sol
2) La Paz
1) San Pedro De Atacama
4) La Serena
5) Puerto Iquazu
6) Buenos Aires