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Sightseeing and Shopping in Istanbul

I had a bit of a sleep-in this morning. Even my three roommates getting up early didn’t disturb me from sleeping until 10:30am. After a shower I had a chat with the hostel staff where to go best for sightseeing, money exchange and shopping. While doing so the leader of my trip from Istanbul to Beijing appeared. His name is Jason and he is supposed to be the leader who works for Dragoman the longest which is six years. The co-driver / mechanic will be Sam, a guy I have met previously in Manaus. At this time Sam had just finished a trip in South America and since then had some time off.

Since I missed the pre-departure meeting last night Jason gave me a talk on what to expect the following weeks. I actually missed the pre-departure meeting on purpose since I wanted to have two days back home (instead of one) and I have been to Istanbul before. Jason seems to be a very detail loving guy. When I arrived last night in the hostel I already saw his “Welcome to your Dragoman trip” sheet of paper but in addition to it there was another sheet full of rules on how he expects us to behave on the truck, e.g. daily seat rotation or sleeping bags shouldn’t be part of the main luggage but separate. I found it a bit weird to make all these rules in writing even before you have joint a trip and have met your leader but everybody has his own style.

Talking to Jason over a delicious Turkish apple tea was kind of fun. He’s a very positive, enthusiastic, straight talking person and really seems to care how the people on his trip are feeling to give them the best possible experience. Probably these are all characteristics which make a good tour leader.

When going back to my room to get ready for the city I ran into Emilie who will travel with me over the next months. While I will be leaving the trip in Beijing, she will continue even further to Ulan Bator. Emilie is from Australia and roughly in my age. While I arrived in Istanbul last night, Emilie is already here since four days because she is obtaining some of her visas in Istanbul.

Around lunch time I went for a walk around the city to visit the main sites of Istanbul. The Orient Hostel, where we are staying in, is right in the heart of Istanbul which made it the perfect starting point for a walking tour. My first stop was the Hagia Sophia which used to be a mosque and is nowadays a museum. Especially impressive are the dome, the mosaics and the candelabra lightening the room.

Next I wanted to visit the Blue Mosque but it was prayer time so I wasn’t allowed to go in. Therefore, I decided to visit the Grand Bazaar and return at a later point in time. On the way to the bazaar I met a Turkish guy owning an antique shop. He didn’t try to sell me anything but was just interested in me and wanted to talk to me. I spend maybe 20-30min chilling-out and talking to him before I continued for the Grand Bazaar.

I actually went to the bazaar not just to have a look around but also to buy a manteaux and a headscarf which all women are required to wear in Iran. A manteaux is a loose-fitting trench coat and there were a number of shops selling them. I just went into one of the shops and asked for an outfit which makes me adjust to the locals and the lady in the shop showed me a number of different manteaux and helped me to try them on. I ended-up buying two of them and then I continued to a shop across the street selling headscarves. Here I didn’t chose the ones with the most beautiful pattern but two simple ones which can easily be put on without the help of needles. Two outfits should do it for a roughly two weeks stay in Iran.

I’m really looking forward to experience how it is to be covered up at all times while being in Iran. I have visited many Muslim countries before (Egypt, Sudan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Oman, etc.) but in all these countries wearing loose-fitting clothes was fully sufficient. But with Iran it’s different because they make you actually wear a headscarf and you will be refused entry into the country if not doing so. I even needed to submit a picture of me wearing a headscarf when I applied for the Iranian visa.

After I finished shopping I had a look around on the Grand Bazaar which is supposed to be one of the largest covered markets in the world. The market also attracts lots of tourist and therefore the prices aren’t the cheapest when they identify you being a foreigner. And of course you are more or less expected to negotiate which I also did when buying the two manteaux. But what actually was very good here were the exchange rates so if you need to change some money the Grand Bazaar is the place to go to.

On the way back to the Blue Mosque I walked by a number of stalls selling Kebab and fruit juices which is what I had for a late lunch. When trying to get into the Blue Mosque I was required to cover my arms and wear a headscarf. So my new manteaux outfit became handy and I quickly put it on before entering the mosque. In comparison to the Hagia Sophia the Blue Mosque isn’t a museum and still used as a mosque. Therefore, you are requested to dress respectfully and take off your shoes which isn’t the case in the Hagia Sophia. There are also certain areas in the mosque which you aren’t allowed to enter probably because they are used for praying. On the other side you aren’t required to pay an entrance fee. So if you are short on time and budget come here. From the inside the Blue Mosque locks comparable to the Hagia Sophia. The main differences are the blue mosaics which give the mosque its name and the red carpet covering the ground.

After being back at the hostel I spent the evening chilling out in the bar attached to it. Here I met some local guys I had a chat with. Everybody here in Istanbul seems to be very friendly and I really enjoyed my time here even when it was very short. At 11pm people started to celebrate a birthday and I noticed I have forgotten to adjust the time on my watch and it’s actually midnight.

Stocking-up on US Dollar Cash and Flight to Istanbul

When packing the backpack for my next trip to Central Asia I discovered that my first-aid kit disappeared. I remembered I have packed it in Santiago so probably it got lost somewhere on the way to Germany. While most stuff in the kit can be replaced easily by visiting a pharmacy the Malaria tablets require a prescription. I don’t need Malaria tablets for my next trip to Central Asia but later on this year when returning to Africa and South America. As I only will be home for another two days by the end of August and one of these days is a weekend day I thought I’ll better go today and see a doctor to get the required prescription. It basically took me all morning to get it but in the same step I’ll got my Hepatitis B refreshment injection as well.

I spent the late morning in the largest outdoor shop in town stocking-up on equipment such as a fixing kit for my ripped rain-trousers, a fast drying towel, a water bottle, a waterproof bag for my camping equipment etc.

On the way back I stopped at Deutsche Bank to get US Dollar cash for my trip. The bank refused to provide any cash to me and all other customers in the bank since the computer system of the bank was down in all of Germany. They only said I can use the ATM to withdraw the daily maximum amount of 1,000 EUR but I will definitely not receive any US Dollar cash. It was already 2pm and I will need to leave for the airport in two hours. Somehow everything went wrong today.

Luckily I have another checking account with comdirect Bank, a direct bank of the Commerzbank Group. So I went next door to get the US Dollar cash from Commerzbank. Since I’m a customer with comdirect Bank and not directly with Commerzbank it wasn’t enough to show my identity card but they needed my comdirect Bank account number as well which I didn’t had with me. So I reserved the US Dollar cash I needed for one hour and went home to get the account number. In the end everything went well and I got my supply in US Dollar cash.

Back home I quickly packed my stuff and went to the airport. Since my apartment is located between the city center of Duesseldorf and the airport it took me only seven minutes by interurban train to go there. When checking-in I noticed my flight is delayed by 1-2 hours and I used the time to have some dinner at the airport.

The next thing which went wrong today was the security check. While taking my camping gear (tent, mattress, sleeping bag) as hand luggage to the plane wasn’t an issue on my flight from Germany to South America and back the inspector at the Duesseldorf airport refused me taking the tiny picks for my tent to the cabin. Unfortunately the check-in time was already over so I couldn’t check my tent in and I also wasn’t keen to leave my picks behind since they are special lightweight picks and probably not too easy to replace. However, I went back to the check-in counter hoping to find a solution. The staff from Turkish Airlines was friendly enough to make an exception and took my picks in order to give them to one of the stewards who will hand them back to me when leaving the plane in Istanbul. After successfully passing the security check I boarded the plane. While boarding the staff member, who had taken my picks, came to hand them back to me. He said I should better take them myself so they don’t get lost. I promised him in return to not harm anybody with them.

During the flight to Istanbul I met a friendly Turkish business man and had a chat with him about Turkey and my planned travel in Central Asia. We exchanged business cards when leaving the plane and maybe we’ll meet again one day. My flight arrived with a two hour delay. After seeing immigrations I quickly changed some money and took a taxi to the Orient Hostel which is my home for tonight and the meeting point of the Dragoman group traveling to Beijing.

It was already after midnight and the people in the dorm I was put in by the receptionist were sleeping. So I searched my luggage for my flashlight to not disturb anybody when entering the room. While doing so I heard somebody locking the door from the inside and I knocked on it. This made the same person to get up again to open the door for me. However, there was an issue with the lock and whoever opened the door for me needed to try it for 3-4 minutes until it finally opened. When I entered the room everybody was in their beds and I didn’t even saw the person opened the door for me. So I quickly found a space for my luggage and went to bed.

Fixing my Notebook and Dinner with Michael

I woke up from my phone ringing around 9am. It was the technical support of my company offering help to fix my notebook. I don’t know what happened to it since I haven’t used it during the last 3.5 months. But for some reason it’s not booting anymore and I hope the data on my hard drive aren’t lost. In order to go to the office I needed to dress up. The issue was I have thrown all my business clothes away after my last working day since I thought I won’t wear these clothes when I will re-start working one and a half year later and rather buy new ones. However, I was able to find a smart looking skirt, a white blouse and some high heels which I consider a sufficient outfit to see technical support in the office.

What I expected to be a short visit to the office turned out to be a full day activity. The support guy removed the hard drive from my notebook and inserted it into another one. Luckily the hard drive was booting now as there was no issue with the hard drive itself but probably an issue with a part of the notebook responsible for booting. The problem seemed to be solved within five minutes but unfortunately this wasn’t the case. I wanted to stay in the office for a few more minutes to read my emails and to allow my notebook to update its virus protection files and the Microsoft Windows system. While doing so the screen was freezing and when re-booting the notebook an installation of Windows updates was running. For whatever reason the Windows updates couldn’t be installed successfully. This resulted in the operating system on the hard drive screwing up completely. The only solution was to manually transfer the data of my old hard drive to a completely new one which kept me busy until 4pm.

In the late afternoon my friend Michael finally had time to see me. He had worked until 8am this morning, slept over lunch and is now going for an early dinner with me. We went to one of the restaurants in the neighborhood and had some traditional German food. I had potato soup with truffles as a starter and calf’s liver with mashed potatoes as a main. It was very delicious. I also really much enjoyed the conversation with Michael since he’s one of my closest friends and the both of us know each other so well that we really understand each other. Unfortunately, Michael needed to leave after a couple of hours since he was very tired and exhausted from the heavy work and nearly no sleep during the last days.

I spent the later evening to wash my clothes and getting stuff arranged for my next trip to Central Asia. It felt good to have a washing machine and dryer available for washing my clothes. It’s so convenient and quick compared to the hand washing I usually do when travelling. Only after having experienced how things are done in a basic manner you really appreciate the comfort and luxury you have in the western civilization.

Back Home

My plane from São Paulo to Frankfurt landed around 11am. It took a while until I picked up my backpack from the baggage carousel but everything else went pretty quickly. I walked over to the train station for long distance trains and while buying a ticket to go to my home town Duesseldorf I noticed the next train will be leaving in 5min and jumped onto it. I really like the train system in Germany since you can easily travel from one big city to another one. Especially the connection between Frankfurt Airport and Duesseldorf is excellent since you have a high speed track covering the distance of approx. 250km in only 1h and 15min or so. Also the ICE (intercity-express) trains run very frequent which make them convenient and the preferred type of travel compared to flying or going by car.

I arrived at home no later than 2pm. On the table in my living room was my second passport with all the Central Asia visas which I will need for my next trip. My friend Michael did me the favor and got them for me while I was travelling in South America. Right next to it was a piece of paper saying “Welcome Home!”. One of my first actions was to call my friend Michael and my parents but I couldn’t reach both of them and left a message.

When you travel for a long time there are a few things you miss after a while since you cannot easily buy them abroad. In my case these were gummy bears and other types of fruit gum. So I went to the supermarket around the corner to buy some of them. When I checked out there were some thin healthy looking ladies behind me buying all sorts of vegetables and fruits. When they saw me buying all this junk food they might have thought I’m only living on this stuff.

In the late afternoon my friend Michael called me back apologizing he won’t be able to meet me for dinner since he was assigned to a time critical deal and will need to continue working all night. This is how crazy his job is and how crazy my job was. Even when your best friend is only in town for two days you have rarely time seeing her because your job is demanding it. With time I have understood no job and no money you making with it are actually more worth than the close relationships you have with certain people.

I spent the evening talking to my parents. Since they live 500km away from my house I have no time to see them within two days but I at least try to stay in touch with them via phone and email. I also looked into the visa situation for my upcoming trips and prepared the necessary visa applications. Lastly, I discovered my business notebook back home isn’t booting anymore and I called the technical support in India. Unfortunately they couldn’t help me but promised the local support in our Duesseldorf office will call me back tomorrow.

Day above the Clouds

My flight from Santiago to São Paulo was around 8am. I left the hotel at 5:30am and it was only a short 20min drive to the airport. When trying to check in with TAM Airlines I was told I can only check in one bag and in case I have two bags I need to pay an extra 150 USD or so. I wasn’t keen on doing so especially because the overall weight of my two bags wasn’t more than 18kg and the maximum weight allowed is 23kg. The guy at the check in proposed I tape my two bags together so they are considered as one bag which was the weirdest advice I’ve ever heard regarding “overweight” luggage. Instead I went into a quite area next to the check-in, emptied one of my bags and stuffed everything into my big backpack. Back at the check-in they wanted me to line up again but I didn’t want to wait another 20 to 30min. After a hot tempered discussion with one of the staff members I pushed myself to the front of the line and finally managed to check in.

Due to the extended check-in procedure there wasn’t much time left until the boarding of the airplane. I tried to spend my last Chilean money but couldn’t find anything I fancied buying. So I just spent the coins on some snacks and kept the notes hoping I will be able to change them later on this year when I will be travelling to Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

The flight to São Paulo was rather short and I arrived at lunch time. In São Paulo I had to spend five hours in transit waiting for the departure of my flight to Frankfurt. I first was confused because I didn’t see the flight on the departure screen but then I noticed the plane will take off from another terminal. I killed the waiting time in São Paulo by using the free Wi-Fi and talking to people. When logging into the free Wi-Fi I needed to fill in an extensive form with twenty fields or so. I made up most of it since I don’t want to give my private information to any random Brazilian telecommunication company. While waiting, I also met a German guy who was on his way to Paraguay. For whatever reason he had a residence permit and wanted to stay in the country for a while in order for the permit not to expire and for him to validate if he would like to spend the rest of his live in Paraguay.

The flight back home was with the German airline Lufthansa. It’s strange but when I enter an airplane for an international flight I have the feeling I’m already entering the territory of this country. Probably it’s the case because the stewards speaking to you in their mother tongue and the food on board has a taste of the local cuisine. While having dinner I watched the movie Tower Heist and fell into a deep sleep afterwards.

Last Day in South America

It’s my last day in South America. I really enjoyed the last three months on this continent and look forward to come back in October for my travel between Lima and Cartagena. Brazil, Argentina and Chile are much more developed than the African countries I visited on my last trip from Cairo to Nairobi. Travelling was certainly much easier and convenient but more expensive too. However, for whatever reason I managed to stay under the travel budget I calculated for this trip. I’m on the road now for six months and still enjoying being out there in the world. There isn’t much I miss about home: #1 is the personal contact with my family & friends, #2 the inability to establish a close relationship to someone since I’m usually not more than 1-3 days in the same place, #3 the craziness of some Germans, #4 reliable access to internet and hot showers, #5 specific foods on a regular basis such as excellent Sushi, #6 frequent visits to the gym and sauna.

I’m already looking forward to my Central Asian experience, especially to visit Iran and Tibet. I haven’t been to this part of the world and I have little idea about how life is in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan and Kazakhstan. Even being a big fan of the Kazakh journalist Borat didn’t help much to increase my knowledge about his country. If someone would ask me what I imagine I would probably answer: lots of Vodka, steppe type of landscape and rare access to the internet. Let’s see how it actually will be.

I started the day with a hotel breakfast with some of the traveler who left the truck in Santiago. There was Anki and a new Dragoman trainee who will be working on the truck “Yana” left behind in Santiago while two different groups of travelers are now on “Mamacita” until the next stop in Mendoza. There were also Stuart and Sarah who will leave the trip for a while for a little side trip to the Easter Island. This island belongs to Chile and the shortest way to get there is a six hour flight from Santiago. Therefore, the island is claimed to be the most remote inhabitant island in the world. The island is actually quite small (25km long and 12km wide) and many people fly there just to see the islands main attraction which are 887 statues called Moai. Since it takes quite some time to travel there I haven’t included it in my schedule but I’m sure one day I will go there.

Interesting about the hotel I’m staying in is the differentiated service experience. While in German hotels they come and clean your room in the morning (in business hotels even at 8am) here they don’t show up before 6pm. They also take cleaning that literally that they actually touch your belongings and throw away the stuff they think you might not need anymore. So a piece of lava I took from my climb of the Villarrica Volcano, some paper on my desk and my nearly empty shower gel got removed.

I spent the majority of the day with chilling out in the streets of Santiago, enjoying the sunshine on my skin and following up on this blog.

To conclude my South America trip with numbers, these are the kilometers we have covered and the liters of diesel we used for it:
Manaus to Salvador: 2,928 km / 907 liters
Salvador to Rio de Janeiro: 2,812 km / 1,297 liters
Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires: 4,476 km / 1,198 liters
Buenos Aires to Santiago: 8,664 km / 2,550 liters
Total: 18,880 km / 5,952 liters

Santiago City Tour

Today I went to discover what Santiago has actually to offer. In the past I was very much excited about cities and visited more or less all sights listed in the guide book in the shortest amount of time possible. This drove my friend Michael, who did many city tours with me, crazy since he likes to sit in little cafés or restaurants and simply enjoying the atmosphere of the surrounding area. Nowadays, I’m less excited about cities since in the end a city is just a city and many big cities are kind of the same. Santiago is such a city where you have nothing to regret if you haven’t seen it. After reading about it the Lonely Planet I was really wondering what is actually to see there. Stuart and Jeremy even decided to split from the group and spent one more day with outdoor activities in Pucón. Also talking to the people who went sightseeing yesterday while Jurie and I were in Viña del Mar and Valparaíso didn’t made me enthusiastic about the city.

I purchased a ticket for the hop on hop off tourist bus driving a two hour loop around the city. The ticket was with 19,000 Pesos (42 USD) not really worth the money since most of the stops are not sufficiently marked which makes it impossible to walk between them and also some of the loudspeakers are very quiet making it hard to listen to the explanations. My hotel (Hotel España) was situated right next to the Plaza de Armas where the bus was supposed to stop. However, since the stop wasn’t marked in any way I was unable to find it and needed to walk to the next stop at the Mercado Central where one of the tourist information centers is situated.

Before hopping on the bus I had a look around the market which is mainly known for Chilean seafood. There was a large amount of market stalls where you could buy fresh fish from the Pacific Ocean. You could also sample them at the heart of the market where typical Chilean seafood dishes such as Conger eel were prepared. Next I got off at the Sanhatten area which is the new financial and hotel district of Santiago featuring a number of skyscrapers. As you might have guessed the name is a mix of Manhattan and Santiago. Right next to Sanhatten is the large private golf club Los Leones where probably most of the business is made.

At lunch time I stopped at the Parque Arauco shopping mall where I had a brief look around in the shops and some delicious pizza. Next was the exclusive residential area around the Alonso de Cordova Avenue where you can find the more expensive shops such as Louis Vuitton and Armani. There are also a number of good restaurant, cafés and art galleries. Here I even spotted a German beer garden called “Starnberg”.

In the afternoon I took a funicular to the peak of the San Cristóbal Hill situated in the Metropolitan Park. From there I had a view on the smoggy city and the statue of Virgin Mary. To get some exercise I decided to walk down which wasn’t as steep as expected but 6km long and took me an hour. While walking down I noticed the park is very popular among mountainbikers as I saw a countless number of them. Down from the hill I landed in the Bellavista neighborhood which offers a colorful mix of handicraft and clothing shops, cafés, bars and restaurants. I ended my sightseeing tour in the city center with a look around at the National Fine Arts Museum and the Plaza de la Constitucion.

Since I was born in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) whose head of state Erich Honecker spent the last year of his life in Chile I tried to find any kind of sight or his graveyard in the city. I found out there is actually nothing to see since according to internet sources his body was never buried, neither in Chile nor Germany.

At the evening our group met in the lobby of the hotel. Anki gave us a read of the trip diary she kept during the last three weeks which was very much entertaining. We also celebrated Ross’s 40th birthday which was actually yesterday when he and Anki disappeared into the luxury of a five star hotel. It was also time for me to say good-bye to everyone since tomorrow morning the trip will continue to travel to the Argentinean wine region of Mendoza while I will connect over Germany to Istanbul for my Central Asia adventure.

Organic Winery Emiliana, Viña del Mar and Valparaíso

Jurie, my fellow traveler from Japan, and I went on a day trip leading us to the organic winery Emiliana as well as to the cities of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. We chose a tour which was a bit more expensive than the other ones offered, promising personalized service and the tasting of more exclusive wines. Around 9am our guide Juan picked us up in our hotel. We were his only customers and so we enjoyed a full day private tour with him.

Our first stop was the winery Emiliana which is a certified organic winery. During a tour through the vineyard we received interesting information on how they actually produce organic wine. One component is they are growing other plants next to the vineyard which attract specific insects eating worms. Therefore, the use of pesticides can be avoided. Since the vineyard is situated in a valley between the Pacific Ocean and the mountains of the Andes, they have also chosen to create a special climate by using large wind wheels to mix the air from the mountains with the air from the sea.

After the tour though the vineyard and some gardens, where they grow organic vegetables, we tasted four of their premium wines, two white ones and two red ones. I liked #1 und #3 while everybody else liked #2 and #4. It somehow happens often that I like what nobody else prefers. Wondering what’s wrong with my brain :-) Since I drink alcohol very seldom sipping on four wines was already enough to make me a bit tipsy. It was the same for Jurie. I guess it’s their strategy to make people tipsy to sell them wine afterwards. Jurie bought a bottle of wine for Ross’s birthday and I bought a bottle of “G”, the best wine available at this winery, as a gift for a friend who is very much into wine.

We continued our tour to Viña del Mar where we stopped at the Fonck Museum specialized in archeology and the Easter Island. In front of the museum you can find a Moai statue from the Easter Island. While there are 887 statues on the island there are six outside of it and the one we saw is one of them. The statue is supposed to be one of the smaller statues and I was surprised how slim it actually is.

At lunch time we stopped at a restaurant close to the beach where we had a nice view at the sea. Jurie and I shared a portion of fresh white fish which was excellent. To digest the food we went for a walk on the beach. The waves were very strong and Jurie took her shoes off to put her feet into the Pacific Ocean. She also jumped to get a fancy photo but when landing there was a wave underneath her feet causing her to fall. I didn’t see it since I was looking into another direction but our guide jumped into the water to rescue her since the waves were about to pull her out to the sea. Jurie was completely wet from head to toe and bought a shirt from a street hawker to have something dry to wear. We finished our visit to Viña del Mar by seeing a big rock with a sea lion colony. I wasn’t too excited about it since the colony was quite small and I saw already many of them. But I found it interesting to see that the rock was only 100m away from the beach, very much close to the street and houses.

It was only a short drive over to Valparaíso also lying on the sea right next to Viña del Mar. There we went on a walking tour seeing many of the old houses making the city a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately most of the houses were in not so good condition or currently under restoration. What’s interesting about the city is the Chilean congress is situated here and not in the capital Santiago. Due to historic reasons there is also a stock exchange in this small city with only 276 inhabitants which is actually the very first one in South America. We walked by the court where there was the most interesting statue of Lady Justice I have seen so far. While she is usually shown blindfolded and balancing the scales this one was very much different. She wasn’t blindfolded, holding the scales loosely in her hand without balancing it and had a very arrogant look. I’m really wondering why she was made this way.

We continued our tour by going up a mountain using a funicular which is a small cable railway going up a steep slope. The ride was maybe only 100m long, but very steep and with 100 Pesos (0.22 USD) quite cheap. Up on the mountain we had a wonderful view over the city and saw many graffiti while walking. It somehow reminded me of the street art documentary “Exit through the Gift Shop” I watched recently giving you some good insights into the street art culture. We also met an architect student making sketches of the old town of Valparaíso and had a chat with him.

We finished our tour in the harbor area where we invited our guide to join us for a coffee. Back in Santiago I was desperate to have some Sushi for dinner. Jurie wasn’t too excited about it since she doesn’t really like to eat Sushi outside of Japan since it’s often not very good. However, our guide recommended us to eat in the best Japanese restaurant in town featuring a real Japanese chef what made her come. Our guide also did us the favor by driving us there. The restaurant is named “Japon” and seems to be associated with the Nippon Hotel. It’s situated at the Baron Pierre de Coubertin Street #39 very close to the Argentinean embassy. Jurie and I had some Gyoza for starter and shared a platter of Sushi for main. We also wanted to try the Udon noodle soup but we were stuffed from the Sushi so we needed to cancel our order. All in all I can say it was certainly the best Japanese food I had in South America and strongly recommend going there when you are in Santiago. Not just the food is nice but also the atmosphere which is very much Japanese including a tatami room.

Arrival in Santiago

We had to leave Pucón early since it’s an approx. 800km drive to Santiago. Jurie, my fellow traveler from Japan, had reserved a taxi since she didn’t want to walk in the dark from our hostel back to the campsite where the others are staying and from where our truck is leaving. Unfortunately, the taxi didn’t show up and so she joined me walking.

We started driving at 7am and again had our breakfast in the truck while moving. I spent the majority of the morning sleeping while Jurie watched a movie on my iPod. Later on I looked up in the Lonely Planet what there is actually to see and do in Santiago but couldn’t find much. There seems to be no major sights and the book recommends spending your time in museums, restaurants and the streets of the city. I also read the city has a serious smog problem since it’s situated in a valley. Especially during winter time when there is less wind the air pollution will not be blown away and simply stay in the city. Therefore, Santiago was named the #9 polluted city worldwide. All in all it doesn’t sound too inviting for a three day stay.

The main activity to do in Santiago is actually to leave the city and go to Valparaíso, a city situated at the Pacific Ocean approx. 170 km to the west of Santiago. Another activity is to visit the vineyards of the region. When we arrived at the hotel right in the city center, Julie and I had a look at the different tours available and booked one for tomorrow going to both Valparaíso and to a vineyard for wine tasting.

When checking into the hotel I noticed the group dynamics again since two people refused to share a room with one or two specific other people. I don’t know what the reasons are, probably because some people snore or getting up much earlier than others. Maybe there is also a personal conflict, who knows. I don’t have a problem with anyone and don’t mind sharing a room with anybody in the group. The next two nights I will be sharing with Ann, a fellow traveler from Canada. This will be the official end of my South America trip and after two extra nights on my own in Santiago I will fly back to Germany for two days to get ready for my Central Asia trip. I also took the opportunity to say thank you to the Dragoman crew members Anki and Ross who are with me since the beginning of the trip in Manaus. Besides a monetary tip I also gave them a USB stick containing all sneaky pictures I took of them during the last weeks. I hope they will enjoy looking at them.

In the evening Jurie and I went to an Argentinean restaurant recommended to us by the manager of our hotel. We both enjoyed some good steak and a nice women type of conversation.

Relaxing Day at the Huife Spa and Thermal Bath

After all the activities in the last days (kayaking, mountain biking, volcano climbing) I wasn’t up for more action today and decided to have a relaxing day instead. It started with a sleep in and a nice breakfast. Then I went to the bank which according to the owner of the hostel I’m staying in has the best exchange rate. Jurie had given me some of her USD to change since she is taking a private lesson in horseback riding today and therefore has no time to go to the bank. Unfortunately I didn’t have my passport with me since it’s stored in the safe of the truck. Therefore, the bank refused to change my and Juries money and I needed to go to a foreign exchange with a less favorable rate instead. There I only changed a bit of my money to pay my hostel bill and kept the rest for an exchange in Santiago where we will be going tomorrow. The foreign exchange gave me a shitty rate of 550 Pesos for one Euro. The current rate I looked up in the internet is 635 Pesos and the last time I changed I got a rate of 625 Pesos. So with a change of 100 EUR I lost 12 EUR just because of the bad exchange rate. The exchange rate for USD was with 450 Pesos (internet rate is 480) slightly better so I should have changed USD instead of EUR.

At 11am I left for the Huife Spa & Thermal Bath a bit outside of Pucón. I have booked the transport and entry fee, a total of 18,000 Pesos (40 USD) with the same adventure tour provider we did yesterday’s climb with. I was picked up by a van belonging to the Spa and afterwards it picked up a couple of more people. The drive took us approx. 45min and once we arrived we had six hours’ time to soak our limbs in the hot water of the thermal bath.

There were three pools containing water of different temperatures from lukewarm to hot and very hot. In the very hot one I couldn’t stay longer than 3-4min and when coming out of the water I was red like a crab. So I spend some time in the medium temperature one where I could stay approx. 10min in the water before it got too hot. For cooling down you had the possibility to jump into a river with ice-cold water. The rest of the time I spent lying in my bikini at the pool which felt great after the cold and windy weather of the last days. The air was still a bit chilly, especially when being in the shadow, but I desperately needed the feeling of sunshine on my skin. I really much enjoyed this lazy and relaxing day. It felt a bit like a vacation from the vacation.

I was back in Pucón around 6:30pm and there wasn’t going on much. Pucón is really a small sleepy town and so I just chilled a bit at the terrace of my hostel where you have a wonderful view on the town and the Villarrica Volcano in the background.