My photo
Comprising Spagus (derived from Asparagus), or Cam. Previously rural banker and farmer that has decided to ditch his tie and gumboots in exchange for a backpack and shaved head. Partnered with Shroom (derived from Mushroom), or Cat. Formally a country/city/country girl that has left behind the world of policy consulting and has ditched her high heels for some comfortable (yet stylish) footwear to support a wee bit of globetrotting through 2010 and 2011. We hope you enjoy following the travels of SpaguShroom through Europe, North America and South America!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

La Serena, CHILE (November 27 - November 30)

On Saturday morning we left Ventana Sur Hostel - our home away from home, and owners now friends Ivan and Ivan, for the bus station. The first time in a long while with the packs on we negotiated through the crowded metro to catch our bus. The buses in Chile are fantastic; relatively cheap, efficient and always on time. Unfortunately our bus broke down half way through our 7 hour journey, but within an hour we were picked up by another and somehow arrived at our destination on time.
La Serena has a lovely feel to it, quite different to the other cities in Chile we have visited, we noticed more than ever that the locals took their time walking down the street. We very much enjoyed the peaceful small-town vibe after the chaos of Santiago. With its colonial architecture, large leafy streets, 29 churches and expansive beach it was a great place to spend a few days unwinding and getting our health back on track.

We had intended to stay in La Serena for two nights but due to a full bus on to our next destination, we were forced to stay a third. Although there are a few popular activities that you can do from La Serena, such as star gazing and pisco-making tours we decided to sit back and enjoy the seaside town at our own pace.

We enjoyed an afternoon at the windy but still rather pleasant nearby beach. Sadly a few new and out of place high-rises stand along its’ shores. Apparently La Serena turns into quite the seaside resort during the Summer break, but quickly quietens when the vacationers leave.

We also spent many hours on the roof top terrace of our hostel reading our books to the background cacophony of life on the streets below. The sounds of trucks unloading, buskers playing and Chilean tunes drifting from the neighbours below, combined with smells from the nearby fish market mingled with freshly baked bread ensured a constant reminder that we were somewhere very far from home.

With all the relaxing we took a much needed morning jog through the city streets as business was beginning for the day. A stray dog greeted us upon leaving the hostel and proceeded to follow us for our entire 45 minute jog returning us back to our door. Two gringos running attracts enough attention let alone with the escort of a street dog, we made a lot of people laugh.
Feeling relaxed and very ready for adventure we board our 26 hour bus journey continuing north (but still not even near the most northern point- how long is this country?) to San Pedro de Atacama.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Week 5 in Santiago, CHILE

Friday night was the all too familiar and fantastic hostel BBQ. We know how this works now - a mini meal at about 6pm ensures that we aren’t raging ravenous when dinner is served around midnight. Getting amongst the delicious Chilean drop known as the ‘Pisco Sour’ we had a great night with our UK hostel buddies. We tucked into some fabulous meaty meat and the boys continued into the wee small hours playing poker.
With Saturday and Sunday reaching 29 degrees we remained pool-side for the entire weekend, only leaving to top up the food and beverages. Between swimming and sunbathing sessions Cam and I revised for our written and oral exams in our last week at school. We had covered a lot of material over the previous 4 weeks and having the exams was a good reason to push us that much further and cement what we had learnt. The verbs just kill us!

Monday night we headed to the Sterophonics concert with the Scotts’ Adam and Jen whom we had meet a month earlier at the hostel and had since returned to Snatiago. We cooked up our own BBQ and Cam felt rather proud to have mastered the unique charcoal cooking technique. The carne de vaca was cooked to perfection! With full bellies of pisco and meat we headed to the concert which was awesome. They played for a solid two hours, saving the classic ‘dakota’ for last. As we left I was interviewed by the Chilean music TV channel, reverting to English I proclaimed my excitement at “travelling from NZ to see the concert,” a slight exaggeration.

Our last week of school whizzed by, our exams were difficult but we managed to pass with flying colours. I got top of the class with 83% which was not difficult given there were 3 of us and Cam was a close second with 80%. Bonafasious from Indonesia was our fellow class mate and it just wouldn’t be right to talk of our school experience without his mention. He provided us with many many humorous occasions during our class discussions. However leading a sheltered life at the mission ensured the flow of conversation on topical issues was often brought to a stop. A lovely man but someone who impacted incredibly on our experience of learning as a whole- perhaps for the good, in-part as we now know a lot about life in a catholic mission. Over the 5 weeks when describing any given example as part of speaking practice we heard arroz (rice), pollo (chicken) and coca cola at least three times per day. No imagination involved.

Friday we had our final day of school which included a delicious shared lunch and presentation of our ‘diploma’ for completing our course. We have found our time at ICHIL to be very rewarding. At times it has been very daunting and difficult but the teachers managed to help us get through. We now feel that we have enough Spanish to get by and to at least show some respect to the locals by making an effort while travelling in their country.

We have each made posts on ICHIL’s blog that can be viewed at For those of you not familiar with Spanish; Cam writes about the comparisons between Chile and NZ in diary farming and wine, and mine is about the native flora and fauna of NZ. Cam’s suggestion of naming the blog ‘Yo no se Espanol’ (I don’t know Spanish - the first line we memorised), flew well and is now the official title. Check it out.

On Friday afternoon we left school with a mixture of sadness at leaving the people, but coupled with excitement at the prospect of travelling again. We headed home to pack up our life and have one final BBQ, yep 3 in one week.
We travel northwards to La Serena on Saturday morning. We have a rough idea of where we will head but it will be dependent on weather - as it is the beginning of the rainy season, and of course the travel fund is decreasing. Five weeks in Santiago has cut into our budget fairly steeply so we are very much looking forward travelling to the cheaper countries in less than a week. We have four months remaining in South America and during that time we hope to cover part of northern Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Uruguay, and possibly some of Patagonia.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Week 4 in Santiago, CHILE

Friday afternoon we left school, jumped on the bus and made the 1.5 hour journey to the very popular tourist destination of Valparaiso. No backpacker makes a visit to Chile without heading to this character drenched and very unique South American city.
Valpo is a major port city, the national congress of Chile is based there (although Santiago is the official capital) and has been named a Unesco World Heritage site. The layout is similar to Wellington’s – it sits alongside a curved port and waterfront and mushrooms into the incredibly steep surrounding hills. But any similarities with Wellington or some even say San Fran, stop there.

Valpo is a myriad of cobbled one way streets and alleys leading to the crumbling hillside homes. The hazardously hanging bundles of electrical wires and grand displays of graffiti art along with the faded colonial buildings and the obvious poverty of the area makes for a unique place to visit.

After settling into our little yellow B&B on the hillside we walked into town to check out the local craft markets and grab some dinner. We had been advised to try ‘chorillana’, a local special of fries topped with a combination of eggs, onion, sasuage, chicken and cheese. Something you could imagine cooking in your flat as a student - but always eager to try new dishes we ordered and enjoyed!

However, the highlight of the evening was that we managed to order our entire meal in Spanish! It went surprisingly smoothly and as soon as we explained to our waiter that we spoke little Spanish he was very patient and encouraging. We left the restaurant feeling rather proud of our small achievement - with super full bellies we trekked up the hill home for an early night. This city is a bit dodgy at night and we were warned not to hang around when it wasn’t necessary.
Saturday we woke to a pleasant sunny day with a fresh seaside breeze. Our room had an amazing view over the city – showing the complete kaleidoscope of the brightly painted homes.

We headed into town to check out the open air museum - a group of buildings painted with decorative murals and charming extracts of poetry. We stumbled across a man who was painting a stunning mural of Valpo that flowed alongside a building and down a steep staircase. Very cool - we can only imagine the years of work that had gone into this particular piece. We spent hours wondering the streets not only admiring the art but also marvelling at the ramshackle homes (many made of corrugated iron) precariously perched on the hill side.

After a lunch of empanadas we strolled along the port and stumbled across a free photo exhibition located in the train station (this is the third exhibition in a train station that we have come across on our trip).The exhibition portrayed life in South and Central American countries and particularly the violence and poverty that many people face in their daily lives. It was very moving and certainly got us thinking about how different an experience of a country is from the ‘tourist’ eye.
The preceding week at school was another mixed bag of highs and lows. We felt as though we made some significant progress one day to then struggle through the next. But our vocabulary and confidence is certainly building. Hopefully during our final week of school we will cement what we have learnt and boost our knowledge even further for the purposes of travel. We have both an oral and written exam next week so are forced to do some study over the weekend. Not such a chore when it is likely to be poolside.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Week 3 in Santiago, CHILE

Leaving school on Friday afternoon we truly felt wrecked and for the first time on our trip the weekend really meant something, and this was after only a four day week at school! On the way home from school we visited the very large fruit and vegetable markets located near our house. Chileans do markets well; full of bright colours, incredibly fresh and reasonably priced produce, these are hard to beat. Especially as we are finding the produce in the supermarkets very expensive and terrible quality.
Friday night at the hostel was again BBQ night. We enjoyed the low key affair but struggled through to the midnight time of eating. As with Argentina the locals here eat incredibly late and when you aren’t cooking for yourself it is hard to get used to. We usually consume two meals as a result.
The weekend presented itself with the usual mixed bag of Chilean weather. Saturday was just glorious and reached over 30 degrees so we clambered up to Cerro San Cristobal again for some much needed exercise and enjoyed an afternoon of sunbathing by the pool. Sunday, however, bought torrential rain and a temperatures around 8 degrees, so along with the rest of the hostel we kept warm inside and watched Spanish-dubbed movies all day. A very restful and quiet weekend good for the soul and the pocket.

Our first full week of classes went really well. We feel that our vocab has grown remarkably and we can now discuss our daily routine in Spanish. Never mind how helpful this may be in real life but still small steps are great! On Thursday afternoon we had a school excursion to Cerro Santa Lucia. A lovely tree covered hill in the middle of the city centre that provided more excellent views of the sprawling city and the Andes. With water fountains, lookouts and rubble of an old fort this peaceful spot is well utilised by locales and tourists as respite from the intense city surroundings.

We also tried the very popular mote con huesillo - a traditional summer time beverage in Chile. It consists of a very sweet nectar-like liquid similar to iced tea and includes cooked wheat and a floating peach. An unusual drink but one of substance and very refreshing.

Friday after class we head straight to the bus to travel to the port city of Valparaiso. Another mini break from the city and an excuse to practice our Spanish in a new environment.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Week 2 in Santiago, CHILE

Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead is a day in Chile where family and friends gather to remember and pray for loved ones that have passed away - a celebration in connection with the Catholic All Saints’ Day. Quite a nice idea really and from what we observed it was not so commercially based but truly about visiting graves and gathering with family and friends.
With the Monday off school we decided to escape from the city to the beach in search of some warmer weather - Friday reached a measly 10 degrees which is tough going when you only own jandals and other light summer attire.
Ritoque is a gorgeous secluded beach located about 2.5 hours north west of Santiago. It is a small beach off the gringo trail where locals frequent to surf, fish and ride horses. With no shops, a short row of houses and many stray dogs this secluded spot was the ideal contrast from the smog filled Santiago.

With the long weekend traffic we arrived on the beach in the dark and after some scrambling along the sand found our hostel located literally on the beach front. Once settled we headed to the small shack-like restaurant next door and ordered crab pie - the only option on the menu, but it was delicious and fresh.

The next morning we woke to the sun streaming through our curtain-less room that looks directly onto the beach. Breakfast of home-made organic bread and strawberry jam was served outside in the morning sun. The hostel was a collection of 3 colourful bachs each with its’ own kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms with beach views.

Later that morning we ventured into nearby Quintera to visit the supermarket and vegie market for some fresh produce to consume over the weekend. There was a great small group of us that were staying at the hostel for the weekend so we cooked our meals together. This included a roast chicken served with freshly baked bread from the next door neighbour’s clay oven and homemade traditional Chillan desert of dulce de leche, flaky pastry and cream.

Our days were spent reading on the hammocks in the sun and enjoying the company of the loveable dogs that have no homes but seem to be very fat! The sun felt even more intense than at home - the ozone hole stretches to this part of the world also. Feeling like we had had a weekend of relaxation we headed back to the big smoke on Monday for a short week of school.

We now have our routine well sorted and we are actually enjoying having a bit of structure to our days. It takes 45 minutes to walk through the centre of the city to our school located in Barrio Brasil. Class is from 9 am until 1.30 pm, with a 10 am break at the cafe next to the school so all the students can mingle and speak Spanish together. By the time we have visited the supermarket we arrive home by 3pm for a bit of a siesta, a couple of hours of homework followed by dinner and bed. It is certainly a different mindset from others in the hostel and is difficult at times to stay motivated but it is all good.
We still manage to enjoy a lot of the fantastic vino that Chile produces and have met some fantastic people this week staying at the hostel. As most people seem to be ending their travels in Santiago we have been provided with loads of advice about the good and the bad through various parts of South America. This will help us formulate our plans when we leave here at the end of November. The Spanish lessons are going well though we definitely have our ups and downs. One day we felt so frustrated that we wanted to walk out of class yet the next lesson we were elated at how far we had come. Needless to say our teacher is incredibly patient and committed. We will see.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Week 1 in Santiago, CHILE

We flew from Dallas to LA via Memphis (opposite direction - but the cheapest option) where we stayed the night in a cheap airport hotel. The next day we were subjected to the true madness of LAX. The chaos of massive lines, not enough staff and people scrambling to meet their flights created a rather stressful environment that need not have been. Never the less we made our flight - and arrived 8 hours later in Bogotá, Columbia. After one hour transit we flew 5 hours to Santiago and arrived safely to our hostel at 6 am. Having to wait until 1pm to check in we were grateful for a warm shower (hot water doesn’t seem to exist in Chile) and a gorgeous room to ourselves complete with balcony and a view of the Andes.
Feeling pretty jaded we spent our first couple of days catching up on sleep and checking out the local neighbourhood. On Saturday we ventured into the city to have a look around and discovered the elevator shaft that was used to rescue the Chilean miners on display in the city square.

Our first impressions of Santiago are that it is a large dirty city with many stray dogs and street stalls combined with a few nice colonial government buildings and loads of trees. Nice enough but still just a big city that does not really cater for the tourist. That evening at our hostel we enjoyed tucking into some decent beef steak cooked Chile-style on a charcoal BBQ. On Sunday we woke to a stunning Summer day so hiked one hour up the hill to Cerro San Cristóbal for an excellent 360 degree view over the city. Although we were aware that over a third of Chile’s 16.8 million population live in Santiago - we had no idea how sprawling it was. Crammed high rise buildings boarded by the beautiful Andes and blanketed in smog; the vista was strangely beautiful.

With intentions of staying in Santiago for one month while we attend Spanish language school, we booked our hostel for one week hoping to find other student-type accommodation once in the city. However after checking out several different types of accommodation we decided to stay with our original choice and booked the remainder of our 5 week stay with Vantana Sur Hostel.
Our new home is pretty sweet for a hostel in a big city, it is located in the very leafy and beautiful suburb of Providencia. It sleeps a maximum of 20 people, has a great vine covered outdoor area and pool, but most of all a relaxed environment amongst the chaos of Santiago. The owner and staff are extremely helpful, Evan in particular assists us with our Spanish homework and gave us a salsa lesson during the week.
Although we will be changing between the dorm and a private room, this is a compromise we chose over paying top dollar for one tiny room in the other rather terrible options we had seen. Turns out Chile is one of the most expensive countries in South America, something we had not been prepared for, but we have committed to being here for school. After travelling through Europe and the US we are used to expensive destinations and can look forward to finally reaching the cheaper places soon enough!
Monday morning we turned up to school to be told that the beginner classes would start the following week at the start of the month. Feeling none too happy about this we expressed our concern and the school provided us with an additional week of tutoring free of charge. So week one of class was a steep learning curve for us - just the two of us and one other student. The teacher speaks only Spanish and with English banned in class, this makes it rather challenging and frustrating at times.
The school is a great and positive learning environment - the teachers are encouraging and very patient. At the time we arrived the school had about 15 students from around the world all at different levels of Spanish. Friday was the last day of the month so several students graduated and we all celebrated with a potluck lunch at the school. We brought asparagus rolls and were introduced to the delicious goodness of empanadas. They are hot meaty filled pastry pie-like creations. Friggen awesome. After some great local wine and compulsory participation in the Spanish Karaoke we headed home; proud that we had survived one week of school but ready for our mini break on the coast for the long weekend.
And for those of you wondering we, or rather David’s ‘Lewis’ negotiating skills, sold Daisy the car for $200 less than what we bought her for – pretty sweet deal. (Thanks David you are a LEGEND!)