We'll it has been quite a while since my last post. Time for a lengthy update. In my last update we had just left Moi and Rose in Iguazu. Lots has happened since then.
After we left Puerto Iguazu we flew to Cordoba. We stayed in Cordoba for a couple of days. We met some fun people in Cordoba at the hostel. We went to an all you can eat buffet one night. It was about $8 and it had some amazing meats and a great crepe bar. It was amazing. It was St. Patrick's Day and after the buffet we went to an Irish pub with a group of people from the hostel. We had green beer but I think it was beer with lime cordial. It didn't taste good. One of the most entertaining people we met was an Irish guy staying at our hostel. He said everything was muy rico.
On the day we left on a night bus, a group of us went for a “day of fun” organized by the Irish guy. He led us on a long walk and none of us knew where we were going. Ultimately, we ended up at a mall with an amusement area. First we played glow bowling and then some pool, basketball, and air hockey. After we had our fun we stopped for a drink and then returned to the hostel. A group of us went for dinner but we were very rushed to make our bus to Mendoza. As it turned out we barely did any sightseeing in Cordoba but we had some good fun.
We made our night bus to Mendoza just in time. We met a couple from the US as we got on the bus and as it turned out they were staying at the same hostel as us. Mendoza is an area known for red wine. We are not wine drinkers though. After arriving that morning and checking in, we went out walking the city. We explored the main plaza area and walked to a park.
On the second day we went on a horseback riding tour. We were picked up the hostel and driven to where the horses are. We told our guide that we don't drink wine and he stopped to buy us some beer. We rode horses for about three hours. It was up and down hills in a desert area. There were about sixteen of us on the tour. After the horseback riding there was a barbecue… with our beer and everyone else drank wine. The tour guide was quite entertaining. He had people up dancing in the van and everyone was drinking wine and beer. Quite a good tour… it all cost about $45 per person.
The next day we signed up for the asado at the hostel. All you can eat barbecue and all you can drink wine. We actually drank about three glasses of red wine each. A bottle of red wine can cost about 11 pesos (a little more than a dollar) but some better bottles might be as much as $3. It was pretty good actually but we were drinking it a little cold. They put out a better bottle at one point but it was not as good to us.
After a couple of days in Mendoza, we took a day bus to Chile. While we often take night busses on long rides to save the cost of a night accommodation, we took a day bus this time. For two reasons really… First, we crossed the border and it felt much better in our minds to do so in the day. Second, the bus route is through the Andes Mountains and the scenery is amazing. The switchbacks up and down the mountains are quite amazing. As we traversed the Andes, I thought about the mountain ranges we were in this year. The Himalayas, Kilimanjaro, the Andes, the Rockies, the Alps, Atlas Mountains, and as I write this now on a bus between Vegas and LA I think these are the Sierra Nevadas (not totally sure). I feel like I should add a section to the blog with checklists of where we have been and where have not.
Canadians flying into Santiago are required to pay a reciprocity fee for Chile. By crossing into Chile by land however you avoid this. It is something lie $136 per person. This is a fee that Chile imposes because Canada charges Chileans entering Canada. It is a tit for tat fee. There used to be one for Americans however the US removed it so Chile removed it as well. There is a similar fee in Argentina that we did have to pay. I think our government needs to get their head out of the sand and remove this fee. Why are we charging people to come and visit Canada anyway. Let them spend their money in our stores, restaurants, hotels, etc. As it is now we are just making it hard just to get in. And, I cannot imagine we have a problem with illegal Chilean immigrants.
Our first of two stops in Chile was Valparaiso. We only had six days in Chile but everyone we had talked to said you only need a couple of days in Santiago. Valparaiso is a much better place to visit. Valpo is only a couple of hours from Santiago. We stayed at a hostel in Valpo in an area that seems very artsy. Valparaiso is known for its hills and for its graffiti art. We had a hard time getting any Chilean pesos. No ATMs would give us money from our bank cards. We tried several and it was Sunday and we could not find any currency exchange places that were open. We ended up taking a cash advance on our Visa card.
We went for dinner close to the hostel where we shared something called chorillano. This is a famous dish in Valparaiso. It is a large tray of French fries with beef, sausage and two fried eggs on top. On the bottom was an apple wine reduction. It was tasty but I felt my arteries clogging up with every bite. After dinner, as we were walking home, we came upon a street celebration. Valparaiso is a port city and this celebration was a kind of musical play. It was very fun and people seemed to be having a great time. The costumes were very carnival-like and the music was very festive.
On our first day we went on a free walking tour. It was pretty good. I have never seen a free walking tour like this one. They paid for us to take a funicular at one point and a bus at another point. We knocked on a man's door and they bought us each an alfejre. This is a chocolate treat with dolce de leche in it. They also gave us each a shot of pisco sour at the end. This is a sweet lemony alcohol famous in Chile. It is actually from Peru but the Chileans have made it there own.
On the tour we met a couple from Regina. They were very interested in our world travels. They plan to do it themselves in a couple of years. At the end of the walking tour we went for lunch together. We almost completely retraced the entire walking tour. It would be very easy to get lost in Valparaiso as the hills have many little alleys and walkways. The hills actually create separate neighbourhoods. We tried to buy some empanadas from the alfejole man but he did not have any unfortunately. We found one of the restaurants that our guides had pointed out.
On the day we left for Santiago, Nicola did a class in tiling. All over Valparaiso there are artistically tiled walls and floors. Our hostel had some very neat walls. Nic would like to do some of this when we are back home so she took a class advertised at our hostel. It was 3 hours for $20. Now she has lots of ideas for home. While she did that I wandered around Valpo. I thought about doing a boat tour but did not see any that were ready to leave when I was there. I again retraced a lot of the walking tour.
We took a late afternoon bus to Santiago. The hostel was in a good area of Santiago. Very central. The hostel was okay but the room was very small with cardboard thin walls. We were woken up one night by a couple in the next room. She was quite loud with her sex noises. The doorway was so narrow Nicola had to push my backpack from behind to help me squeeze through.
We did two different free walking tours on two separate days. The first one was off the beaten track Santiago. It took us to some of the less touristy places like the seafood market, the produce market, and the cemetery. The cemetery is very neat. There are large walls with cubby holes that each hold a single casket. After a few years, they take the bones out and put them in a small box at the back. This makes room for other family members to use the same grave spot. Your spot might be four levels off the ground… maybe fifteen feet in the air. Wealthier families have their own buildings. Some are mausoleums but others are much different. We saw some that were replicas of an Egyptian pyramid, Notre Dame Cathedral, and a Mayan pyramid.
At the end of this tour we had a “terra moto.” No, we did not feel a real earthquake. This was a drink that was white wine, grenadine and pineapple ice cream. It makes you feel like there is an earthquake… so they say. Speaking of earthquakes, Chile has almost one earthquake per day. Many you cannot feel and in different places in a very long and skinny country. They were expecting a big one the day we left Chile. At least the guys who predict earthquakes predicted a big one with a tsunami on March 28th. We never heard that there was one.
The other tour we did was a more traditional type. It went to the more major tourist spots. As always, the free tour is a good way to do it. We had the same guide on both days. To be honest, he was maybe one of the worst we have ever had. He was knowledgeable but he was rather boring. On free tours you often get very entertaining guides. This is because they are working for the tips. The better they are the more likely you will be to tip. We gave a basic tip only on these tours.
We flew out of Santiago at 2am on March 28th. A terrible time for a flight but we got it on points with only $50 in fees. We flew from Santiago to Las Vegas through Panama City, Panama. We had a 12 hour layover in Santiago. To kill the time I booked a tour online. We got picked up at the airport by our guide, Oscar from My Friend Mario, and driven around to different sites in Panama City. The drive into the city took a long time because of traffic. We first went to the seafood market. We tried some lobster ceviche. It was unbelievably good.
Next, we went to the Panama Canal. I grew up in Welland, Ontario home of the Welland Canal. I have seen boats pass through locks before. But, this was different. I think that because the locks in Panama are so narrow, seeing the locomotives guide them through was different. I took a time lapse photo of a boat passing through. There was a lot of people watching from an elevated lookout. We were watching from behind. The average cost per ship to go through the locks is $100,000. It can save them millions of dollars though in fuel and time. It was built by the US back in 1914. The Panama Canal is 100 years old this year.
Oscar talked a lot about the Americans in Panama. Huge areas of Panama City were leased to the Americans as a military base. This only ended a few years ago. There was a big curfuffle when the Americans placed their flag on an important hill. All the proceeds of the Canal have always gone to Panama despite the fact that it was built by the Americans. The Americans paid rent for a hundred years almost. Panama did alright by the Americans.
After the canal, we drove the causeway. It connects three islands. We stopped for lunch at a nice restaurant on the waterfront. I had a tasty sea bass. Nicola had langostina shrimps. A nice meal. I was pretty exhausted though. I only slept for an hour or two on the flight.
After lunch we drove up to the top of the hill where the Americans had planted their flag. There is a great view of the city from up here. Construction workers blocked the highway as part of a protest. This prevented us from seeing the old city. It almost prevented us from getting to the airport. That would have been a disaster. Oscar dropped us back at the airport at 2:30pm, 4 hours before our flight.
We arrived in Las Vegas shortly after 11pm… about 28 hours after we left Santiago. We took a taxi from the airport but again we got screwed over by the cab driver. Why did I not remember that this happened to me the last time? If the cab driver goes on the highway it will cost almost double. And so it did. Somebody remind me next time I go to Vegas not to let the taxi driver take advantage of us.
When we arrived at our hotel, my parents were waiting at the bar near the front desk. It was great to see them. They arrived at 8pm. We sat catching up at the bar playing poker machines to get free drinks. By the time we went to bed it was 7am Santiago time.
We spent six nights in Las Vegas with my parents. We found different ways to do Vegas inexpensively. For example, Nicola learned that the Westin on Flamingo Road has free beer and wine and snacks from 5:30-6:30pm each evening. We stayed there our first two nights but we went back on other nights. We had a groupon for a comedy show, appetizers, and beer. We bought a coupon for a buffet at tix4tonight. All the deals were about food apparently. It was good spending a fun week with my parents in Vegas.
One night we went to a comedy show at the Riviera. We had a groupon for $12 each we got one beer each, 6 appetizers to share, and admission to the comedy club. I figure that it was worth about $50 each so quite a deal. The comedians were very funny. My mother said she saw the one girl on Jimmy Fallon a few weeks ago. The headliner's name was Willy Farrell. Not Will Farrell but Willy. He spent the entire time just talking to people in the audience. He was quite hilarious. We really enjoyed our evening.
We went there after we had gone shopping at the outlet shopping area. All 4 of us bought running shoes that day. We bought a few other things each. My parents brought an extra bag to take some stuff home for us. We have been getting tired of our clothes. I sent a bunch of things home with them not because there was anything wrong with them but more for the change.
On another night, we walked around for a while and then returned to the Quad to play the slots. We were amazed at how often they came around to give you drinks. We put $20 into the machine and Nicola slowed played it. She cannot handle wasting money. Whenever the waitress came around she would spin the machine. Me on the other hand, spent both our share to pay for the many drinks we had. We would pay for it the next morning. Hank was doing pretty well. He put in $5 and was up quite a bit for a while. In the end his $5 was gone and he had several beers for free. Co spent a bit as well but all in all we had a cheap night of drinking. It was fun.
We had a really good buffet at the Mirage. We bought a discount coupon at tix4tonight for $2 per person. This gave us the brunch buffet for $11.99. We went at 2pm and lunch ended at 3pm and dinner started. We got the best of both lunch and dinner dishes. So, for $14 each we had an all you can eat buffet which included unlimited beer and wine. What a meal and what a deal. It is normally $27 per person for lunch. For the most part we ate one big meal per day and then something smaller at another time.
We went to Ellis Island Casino a couple of times to eat. On Sunday we went for brunch. $6.99 steak and eggs which was pretty amazing. We went to Bally's for nachos and $2 margaritas and $3 beer. On another night, we went to Fremont Street. We bought a 24 hour bus pass which we were able to use the next day to go shopping and to the Riviera for the comedy show. We went to the Main Street Casino for wings and beer. As you can see we went to several places that were new to us.
It was sad to say good-bye to my parents this morning. We will see them again in a couple of months. We are now off to Long Beach, California. We will spend a couple of days there before we fly to New Zealand. My next blog will be from the land of the kiwis.