Leaving the cold winter of New York City behind, Erik journeys across the equator to South America’s summer in the thin country of Chile, for a three-part adventure of varied landscapes during the holiday season. First, he tours the central and coastal cities of Santiago, Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, followed by a quick jaunt to the nearby wine region of Mendoza, Argentina. From there he travels to Torres del Paine National Park in southern Patagonia, a land of grand mountains, lakes, and glaciers. The two-and-a-half week trip concludes on the shores of Rapa Nui, more commonly known as Easter Island, where he rings in the New Year amongst the sacred moai. Along the way, he makes friends with strangers at airports, who lead him to a whole collective of other independent travelers—people who not only provide good company, but medical support, afro wigs, incessant witticism, and even a Christmas fruitcake.
Posted: December 01, 2010
IT HAS ONLY BEEN SEVEN MONTHS since The Global Trip’s jaunt through Asia, which might not seem long, but when you live in the hustle and bustle of New York City, seven months can seem like an eternity, just like how microwaving popcorn for four minutes seems like an eternity when you stare at it. As lively as the Big Apple can be, it certainly can drain you; such is the love/hate relationship with the self-proclaimed “Capital of the World”. Also, that last TGT adventure mainly focused on city life in Asia — and some of the unique (and squirming) culinary treats they offer — so it really feels like eternity since I’ve been out in the wild, wide world (for you, the long-time TGT reader as well I’m sure). Solution: this holiday season, it’s time to Chill Out in Chile, get outdoors and go au naturale in Patagonia and Easter Island. And by that I don’t mean without any clothes; it can get pretty cold on those glaciers I’m told, and not everyone out there is well-informed about “shrinkage” (if you know what I mean).
Posted: December 18, 2010
DAY 1:“The flight’s been canceled,” said the distraught voice on the other end of my cell phone, as I stood in line to board a flight at JFK International Airport in New York.
“What?! What happened?” I asked.
“There’s a plane malfunction.”
Posted: December 20, 2010
DAY 2: “Oh, it’s a little cold here,” Emily said, only wearing a sweater and a scarf when we went out for dinner in the evening around 10:45, merely an hour after she had finally arrived at the hostel (after being in transit for close to 40 hours). She had been sitting down for so long on the plane that all she wanted to do was go out and walk.
“It’s chilly in Chile,” I said with a smirk, acknowledging the pun.
“That was pretty bad,” said Jay, our welcomed third wheel of the night that we met at the hostel.
“That’s actually my Facebook status right now,” I said. “That I traveled all the way to Santiago to confirm that pun.”
Posted: December 21, 2010
DAY 3: “Take a picture of that one,” Emily requested as we strolled along a side street on a bright, sunny day in Santiago.
“I got it,” I replied, snapping a picture with my Cybershot TX-5, which we agreed was the better of our two point-and-shoots.
She was referring to a rundown corner building with graffiti on it that she found interesting — one of many interesting works of street art we found as we spent the first part of the day seeing things in the Chilean capital that she’d missed since she arrived a day late. Little did we know at the time that the street art in Santiago was pale in comparison to what we’d see later in Valparaíso.
Posted: December 23, 2010
DAY 4: After breakfast, Emily intended to ask Enrique, our host, how we could take the bus from Valparaíso to the resorty beach town of Viña del Mar (just a few miles north along the coast) to the best of her non-Spanish-speaking ability. However, the only thing that came out was, “Uh… autobus?”
I interjected and asked with the best of my I-only-know-the-present-tense-of-verbs Spanish, what was the best way to get to there.
“[The metro is the best way,]” Enrique told us in Spanish, giving me his electronic rechargable Metro card. “[Here, take my card. It’s one thousand pesos per person. One thousand for you, one thousand for you. Put two thousand on the card and then swipe in, then pass the card to her. It’s the best way. Just give me the card when you’re done.]” I translated to Emily.
”Vamos!“ Emily announced. “[You] like that?” We smiled.
Posted: December 23, 2010
DAY 5: “[When you go to Mendoza, go to this restaurant called ‘Petrona,’]” said this American college kid who had been studying abroad in Mendoza, Argentina. Emily and I had met him as he was on vacation with his Minnesotan mother and sister at the empanada place in Viña del Mar. “[Look for a bearded guy named Mathias and tell him you met a guy named Robert. They sort of adopted me as their son. They’ll be excited that you met me.]” Robert gave us an address and I said we’d look his adopted father up when we journeyed into a bonus country on this “Chill Out in Chile” travel blog: Argentina.
Not that it is a completely different country; without political borders, regions are regions, and Mendoza, Argentina isn’t too far from Santiago — Chile is a thin country after all. Emily had intended to go eastbound through Mendoza to meet her friend Ina and eventually work their way to Buenos Aires for New Year’s — while I headed south to Patagonia — but we had such a great rapport that me going with her to Mendoza for a quick jaunt into Argentina only made sense.
Posted: December 23, 2010
DAY 6: When the original Italian winemakers came to Argentina — a century before escaped Nazis from Germany made home in Argentina — they probably had no idea that in the future of the 21st century, tourists would flock to the Mendoza region to choose from several competitve bicycle rental companies so that visitors could be drunk on wine while attempting to ride from vineyard to vineyard without wiping out. The most known bicycle company is “Mr. Hugo” because everyone and their mothers recommended it — secretly because they were all getting a commission — in what a simple Google search result said was a shady racket.
“Apparently Mr. Hugo is the only thing that exists,” Emily said sarcastically after hearing Mr. Hugo’s name a sixth time that morning. “Fuck Mr. Hugo!” We were determined to give our business elsewhere, and thankfully a travel agent in town named Ana mentioned that there are several bike companies to choose from (after recommending Mr. Hugo of course, but admitting her commission).
Posted: December 25, 2010
DAY 7: “Excuse me, are you going to Puerto Natales by any chance?” I asked the lone gringo waiting by the curb at the small airport in Punta Arenas, Chile, around dusk. I reckoned he spoke English with his baseball cap and The North Face bag.
“Yeah,” he spoke in his American accent. We were both seemingly stranded, with the look of hopeful uncertainty in our eyes, wondering if there was in fact a bus to Puerto Natales, about three hours northwest of Puntas Arenas airport (the only major airport in the southern Patagonia region on the Chilean side). So far, all the taxi touts were asking us if we needed a ride into the city of Punta Arenas twenty minutes away, trying to psyche us into thinking we had missed the last bus to the other town.
“No gracias,” the new voice said in a semi-American-accented Spanish.
Posted: December 30, 2010
DAY 8 (CHRISTMAS EVE): “I’m Chris,” said a young, blonde outdoorsy North American guy at Base Camp, a combination tour office, information center, camping equipment rental store, and recycling center in Puerto Natales. “I’m the expedition guide here on the Base Camp side.” We were in the building next to Erratic Rock, the popular American-run hostel I’d moved to, across the street from the Plaza O’Higgins. Chris was leading the daily three o’clock information session for anyone in town wanting to learn about trekking in Torres del Paine National Park, which many believe conveys the quintessential southern Patagonian experience in a short period of time.
In the room with me were five Americans (including my new friend John), three Germans, one British guy, one Argentinian, one Indian, one Romanian guy (with a French passport), and about a dozen post-army-service Israelis who were planning to trek in the mountains of Patagonia instead of going out for Chinese food and a movie on Christmas.
Posted: December 30, 2010
DAY 9 (CHRISTMAS DAY): It’s funny how most of the Christian world embraces the snowy image of Christmas, regardless of the fact that that many Christians live in a tropical climate zone or in the southern hemisphere where it’s summer in December, and that Jesus Christ was born in the desert. In Santiago, I saw many images of Santa Claus and snowmen in the pedestrian malls, all on a 70°F day. Fortunately for Chile, there exists a region of ice and snow within the country — part of the second largest continuous ice sheet in the world (after Antarctica) — and I was determined to get there by day’s end for a truly unique “white Christmas.”
Posted: January 04, 2011
DAY 10: Everyone in camp was still asleep when I awoke around eight in the morning, which gave me a moment to myself. I walked down to the overlook of the Grey Glacier to admire it, alone with my camera, as a gentle Patagonian breeze passed through. This is nothing like I’ve ever seen before, I thought to myself.
What does this mean?
Posted: January 04, 2011
DAY 11: “Where’s Felix?” I asked the missing German’s other half, Simone.
“I don’t know,” she answered with a bit of worry in her eyes.
“FELIX!!!” the others called, looking for him in the Valle Frances, nestled in between the Cerro Paine Grande and the peaks famously known as Los Cuernos (The Horns). A small search team went out up and down the trail; we didn’t know if he was ahead or behind us after he had strayed off the trail to go rock scrambling towards a waterfall.
“[If he’s gone,] here’s his last picture,” Florin said to Simone, showing her a photo off his DSLR.
She chuckled with optimism. “[Felix trekking in Torres del Paine.]”
“No,” the wisecracking Romanian said. “He will be anonymous.”
We trekked on, hoping the German attorney from Stuttgart would turn up soon. We looked behind us down the French Valley, and asked trekkers coming from the opposite way if they’d seen him. The problem was, he was sort of hard to find, being in camouflage.
“Have you seen a German wearing all tan?”
Posted: January 05, 2011
DAY 12: “Shit, there’s a hole in my sleeping bag,” John said, waking up in our tent with literal cold feet that morning. “Well,” he said, clearing his mouth of morning grogginess, “that’s what duct tape is for.”
Not only did he tape his sleeping bag closed, but the plastic trash bag we kept stuff in, to waterproof our things within our backpacks. He was truly a Mountain Man out there in Patagonia to rough it — a Mountain Man without a shower I may add. Perhaps his stench was what denied him a hot breakfast from the mess hall in the refugio, even though he got there within breakfast hours.
Posted: January 05, 2011
DAYS 13-14: When the European explorers “discovered” three distinct rock formations in southern Patagonia in the late 19th-century, they were first known as “Cleopatra’s Needles.” The trio of rocks were so admirable, they inspired others to come down to gaze upon them, and over a century later, I had come to make the pilgrimmage myself. Over that century-plus period of time, the “needles” were renamed “Torres del Paine” — torres meaning “towers,” and paine meaning “blue” in the indigenous Indian language — and the park that surrounded them was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The designation of being “blue” was due to the fact that in certain weather and lighting conditions, the towers do in fact have a blue hue. However, they would change different colors depending on how the sun hit them — the most dramatic color shift at sunrise.
Posted: January 06, 2011
DAY 15 (NEW YEAR’S EVE): On the lonely day before Christmas Eve, I wondered if I would meet anyone to have a Feliz Navidad with, but I had totally lucked out in gradually assembling a motley crew with non-Die Hard-related John McClain. When I woke up alone in Santiago on that December 31st, 2010, I again wondered if I would meet anyone for the next red-letter day, someone to kiss and ring in the New Year with.
“Looks like the plane is full,” I said to the striking blonde sitting next to me on LAN Chile Flight 841, bound for airport designation “IPC.” I had noticed her by the gate in Santiago’s airport; she stood out from the crowd of what appeared to be mostly American, British, French, and Chilean family groups, plus one big middle-aged/senior tour group from high-priced luxury outfitter Lindblad Expeditions.
“I thought no one would be here,” she answered me. Both of us had wondered what type of people would fly to IPC on the morning of New Year’s Eve. With the ice broken, we hit it off in a conversation for the upcoming flight across the Pacific to Isla de Pascua — translated in English as “Easter Island” — as I sat comfortably in Seat 32L. ("L" is for “Lucky.")
Posted: January 07, 2011
DAY 16 (NEW YEAR’S DAY): The first day of the year is always a time to let go of the past and make resolutions that, let’s face it, usually go by the wayside by the end of January. It is also a time of renewal and new beginnings, and for some of us on Rapa Nui, there would be an exchanging of vows by day’s end.
“Alright, permiso to rock,” Renee requested as we made way to Rano Raraku near the other end of Rapa Nui from Hanga Roa. I had met my “harem” early that morning at Kaimana Inn for our first day of the car rental share that bound us together, although already bonded from New Year’s celebrations (and the social lubricant of alcohol), we hardly needed a contract to keep our group intact. The girls had packed up the SUV with parasols and beers — as well as Pattey’s bag of tricks — and soon we bid farewell to the Rapa Nui family who ran Kaimana, plus the little shy girl next door.
“Easter Island, twenty eleven baby… woo!” Leigh-Anne proclaimed as we started the first adventure of the new year.
Posted: January 08, 2011
DAY 17 (PART 1): “It’s like we’re in a vortex or something,” Leigh-Anne said at 8:30am, without referring to the odd time-warping things that happen on Lost (which I never really followed). She was referring to the fact that both of our iPhone 4’s alarm clocks mysteriously didn’t go off at 5:30am as planned, even though they were set and hadn’t failed us before. (Later we learned that it was due to a 2011 bug on Apple’s popular smartphone, and that there were many others in the world annoyed about the major wake-up malfunction.)
Our reasoning for getting up at 5:30 was like most reasons to get up at stupid o’clock: to see the sunrise. We all had planned to get up before dawn, drive over to Ahu Tongariki, site of the fifteen moai, just in time to see the famous stone sculptures backlit by a dramatic sky. I had woken around 4am when I heard a downpour, but went back to bed, confident I’d be awaken again in an hour and a half so that we could assess the situation — but it was Apple’s fault that I got an additional hour of unwanted shut-eye. (Goddamnit, Steve Jobs.)
Posted: January 08, 2011
DAY 17 (PART 2): “I’m amazed that this place hasn’t exploded with all of us here,” said newlywed Pattey, as we sat on the steps of Iglesia Hanga Roa, the island’s Catholic church that Sunday morning. Traveling with a lesbian couple shunned by archaic doctrine, one might not think we’d end up in such a place, but Pattey was keen on seeing what it was like from an anthropological perspective — a throwback to her Irish roots. Besides, Kati had mentioned to me that the guidebook recommended Sunday mass for its scene, with all its lively singing. Anyway, there was nowhere else to go because pretty much all of Hanga Roa was there at church, including all the tourists around it seemed — if not, they could hear it all on the loudspeaker throughout town. Perhaps attendance was high because the chisel-chested beefcake local surfer stud that all the girls swooned over was there, helping his grandmother.
Posted: January 09, 2011
DAYS 18-19: Fifteen moai. Six travelers. One stone platform. Take two.
“Our sheik is leaving us,” Pattey told the rest of the girls in my “harem.” It was true, it was my last day on Rapa Nui, but I still had all morning to wrap up loose ends, the main one being a photography session of the sunrise at Ahu Tongariki with them, since the plan had been botched the morning before. The colors of the sky were different this time when the sun rose just above the ahu, with more blues peering from behind the clouds — not that it didn’t make for another spectacular show. And if there wasn’t a good show, Pattey was prepared to make it one, this time bringing glow sticks from her bag of tricks.
PRAISE FOR THE GLOBAL TRIP BLOG
Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the “Top 100 Sites You Didn’t Know You Couldn’t Live Without” (in the travel category) in 2005.
- Colleen Clark and Megg Mueller Schulte, USATODAY.com
- letter to Erik R. Trinidad from Roger M. Brown, Senior Legislative Assistant, Office of U.S. Senator Wayne Allard
- Luke Kesterton, UK
- Jen Leo, travel writer (Condé Nast Traveler>, L.A. Times) and editor of travel anthologies Sand In My Bra, Whose Panties Are These? and The Thong Also Rises.