Winter Vacation – parts 2 and 3: Buenos Aires/Montevideo and Monte Patria, Chile!

Now, for parts two and three of my South American winter vacation adventure…!!!

Part 2: Montevideo and Buenos Aires!

As I was teaching my last few weeks of school, I was desperately trying to throw some plans together for an amazing vacation to make use of my proximity to all that is awesome in South America. My gringo friends were all headed to Machu Picchu and as I’m doing that with my mom in December(yay!), I decided to pave my own little path and found a cheap ticket to Montevideo, Uruguay. For those of you who don’t know, a lot of countries in S.A. charge a reciprocity fee to enter their country, as the U.S. charges most foreigners high prices to enter, as well. To fly directly into Buenos Aires, which was my original goal, would mean paying $170 just to land in addition to the flight! So, I decided to skip that, enter Uruguay, who has no fee, and I got to add another stamp to my passport! This was also to be my first time traveling solo internationally(if you don’t count my Chile program), which made me nervous and excited and my parents a bit worried about me… sorry guys, but I did survive!

I had to head to Santiago from my town bright and early, at about 6:30 am to catch my flight in Santiago at 11 am. As I mentioned in my last blog, I had started getting a wicked cold in the South of Chile, which was by then in full effect. Anywho, with some tissues in my pockets, I hopped on the plane and flew the 2 hours to Montevideo. I had heard that taxis from the airport to the center of town were outrageous($30+ for 10ish miles), so after exchanging my money, I headed to the tourist information counter where a very helpful Uruguayan instructed me to take a very safe $2 bus to the center of town. I caught the bus pretty quickly and was on my way to my first hostel!

After a bit of wandering, I found my hostel, checked in, chatted a bit in Spanish and was off to explore the city. At first glance, I didn’t think too much of Montevideo. I immediately went to check out the waterfront, which is definitely not a selling point for Montevideo. The water is pretty dirty and the entirety of the city seemed to be surrounded by concrete… which doesn’t make for very picturesque photos. I found a few cute buildings around town and started to get into the hustle and bustle that is the main street in Montevideo, 18 de Julio. After I was tired of walking, I found a little pizza shop where I read The Witches by Roald Dahl in Spanish and drank some of my newly purchased cough medicine. I headed to bed super early that night, after chatting with a few Uruguayans in the hostel, and hoped to sleep off my cold.

The next day, I had to catch a bus to a ferry to Buenos Aires, but had the morning to explore Montevideo. I walked to the port, took photos of some of the beautiful, old architecture, saw a politician being interviewed, watched a protest demanding more jobs and developed a slight crush on Montevideo. The people of Montevideo are friendly and calm, drinking their yerba mate from cups and canteens on the streets(literally).

After my adventure around town, I walked a long way down the main, busy street, taking it all in, until I found the bus terminal. I then took a bus about 3 hours, through some beautiful countryside to a town called Colonia(which I decided to skip, due to lack of time), and then from there, took a ferry to Buenos Aires(about 1 hour)! I got into Buenos Aires a little after dark and immediately asked a local how to get to my hostel. He kindly directed me to a bus, which unfortunately only took me about halfway there, and then I hopped in a taxi the rest of the way. The hostel, Americas del Sur – was amazing! It was like a hotel where you had to share rooms with super friendly, like-minded individuals. It’s super modern, has about 6 floors, complete with an entertainment room, a patio, and free breakfast! Likely one of my favorite hostels in Latin America.

The next few days were filled with countless adventures and exploring. I luckily and crazily enough ended up running into the group of Aussies from the hostel in Valdivia and spent much of my 4+ days in B.A. hanging with them! On Tuesday, I headed out to explore B.A., taking pictures of some seriously beautiful architecture and sights. I also somehow managed to walk all the way from my hostel to La Recoleta Cemetery, where Evita is buried(about 3.5 miles there and 3.5 miles back – woo!). The cemetery was amazing, nestled right in the middle of the city, next to high rises and apartment buildings. Buenos Aires is a very active city, with thousands of people out and about, walking to wherever it is that they’re going. That night I found a cute little empanada place for dinner, then went and watched my Australian friends eat steak, while I ate ice cream and drank wine. 🙂

On Wednesday, I headed to the neighborhood, La Boca, to check out the brightly colored street, Caminito. La Boca isn’t the prettiest of neighborhoods, but it’s always good to see a different side of a big city, apart from the rich, very developed areas. I wandered around the very touristy, but pretty colorful neighborhood, and got a chance to see some live tango and saw wild, bright green parrots in the park! Wednesday night I headed out with my Australian friends to a few bars in B.A. We apparently didn’t know where the action was, as the bars we went to weren’t too busy, but we succeeded in having a few cocktails and having a fun time.

On Thursday, we all headed out to a street called La Defensa, which is known for it’s many antique shops. We walked around shopping, drinking coffee, and also took a tour of a beautiful disaster of a house turned amazing architectural mansion, that had underground tunnels where the river used to run – very cool. That night, we went out to a crazy club in Buenos Aires called Niceto, where there was a stage show, dancers, and very good people watching. We danced the night away until about 4:00 am, as that’s how they do it in B.A. and sleepily took a taxi back to the hostel.

The next day, I slept in a bit and then headed out solo to see the famous building, Manzana de las Luces, took a ride on the subway just for fun and took in the city a bit more. That night, I ate more empanadas for dinner, and then we played drinking games at the hostel with a big group of traveler’s – very fun!

The next morning I said goodbye to Buenos Aires and my new friends and headed back to Montevideo, bright and early, again on a ferry to a bus. I arrived back in Montevideo in time to check out a cute little antique ferry near the port and managed to find a restaurant that made burritos! I hadn’t had a burrito in months(it’s the little things)!!! I did a bit more wandering around, but definitely noticed that Montevideo was considerably less happening than Buenos Aires. I still liked it, but both days I went(a Saturday and a Sunday), pretty much everything was closed. I still had a lovely time wandering, though, and had some pizza and wine before heading back to my hostel.

After a crazy few days in Buenos Aires, I managed to find a hostel/almost house where I was literally the only guest there as it’s low season. I ended up chatting with the hostel owner though, who happened to be from Boston and had set up shop in Montevideo for the last few years. The next morning, I packed my things and headed again by my favorite $2 bus to the airport. The flight was fairly uneventful, but I did manage to take some awesome pictures of the Andes outside the window as we flew over them from Argentina into Chile!

A few things about myself I’ve learned from traveling alone:

– Eating is somewhat of an inconvenience for me while traveling. I’m not, by any means a foodie and I would rather go all day exploring and wandering about without having to stop for sustenance or relax.

– There is a slight battle between my love for my hair and my love for traveling/exploring. When I travel with others, I put aside my obsession with my hair for the greater good, but when I’m alone I can and will spend way too much time on it…

– My shyness comes out a bit. In groups or with friends, I’m a talkative, bossy lady, but alone I am a bit timid to start a conversation with someone or ask a question when I don’t know something.

– I like to walk EVERYWHERE. It doesn’t matter if I see a million taxis or buses headed in the same direction, I want to walk there, even if it takes me 2 hours. This combined with the not wanting to stop to eat can make for a very sluggish, hungry traveling Ashley.

However, I can also, sleep in, take a ferry ride at the crack of dawn, and can wear the same pants 3 days in a row. I can sit in the hostel and curl up with a good book or can go out with a group of fun Australians. I also think I have a pretty good travel sense, so I immediately get a map and ask how to get somewhere when I get to a new place.

In the end, I think that I probably prefer traveling with others, as sharing the experience with someone opens up your mind to more viewpoints and allows for extra “oohs” and “ahhs” when you see something truly beautiful. It’s also nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of when you’re tired or to have someone to eat with so people don’t think you’re a weird gringa girl drinking and eating alone. I definitely think it’s something that most people should try. In the end, I discovered that I’m pretty damn good at getting myself around(knowing the language helps) and that traveling can still be a beautiful thing, by yourself. Next time, I’ll just have to remember to stop and eat every now and then…

Part 3: Santiago, Monte Patria, and La Serena

When I landed again in Santiago, my plan was to find a bus that would take me back to QuilpuĂ© that day and then back to Santiago the next morning, to catch my bus to La Serena(to head to a winter camp for kids)… By that point, I was exhausted and wanted to go home and recharge. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards as the following day was a holiday and the buses didn’t leave from QuilpuĂ© until later… I then headed to a hostel and then proceeded to run around Santiago to find a sleeping bag, snacks and a few other items that I needed for my next adventure. I made it back to the hostel when it was starting to get dark and was thoroughly exhausted!

I woke up the next day and took a taxi to the bus station, where I was immediately greeted by a group of Chilean English-speaking fellow volunteers that were also headed the same way, some to the same camp as me! We all rode the bus together, speaking a mixture of English and Spanish. We arrived in La Serena about 5 hours later, after a pretty but hot bus ride and were welcomed at the bus station by my lovely gringo friends that live in La Serena, Ren and Eric. They kindly walked us to our meeting for the winter camps where we met other fellow volunteers, ate cake, and waited around for quite a while, before we had to take our next bus(es)!

At about 6 or 7 pm, we headed off on a pretty disorganized excursion to find our bus to a town called Ovalle, and then another bus to a town called Monte Patria, where the camp actually was. The 14 of us, gringos and Chileans, must have been a funny sight, wandering around North/Central Chile, trying to find the right buses… We finally arrived at the boarding school in Monte Patria around 11:30 pm at night and were greeted by cold showers, dirty beds(all 8 girls in one dorm room) and a midnight meeting, before we had to start the camp the next day around 9 – what an adventure!

However, after all was said and done – the week was an absolute blast! We were working with high school kids who actually had to apply to come to the camps and most had a definite motivation and eagerness to learn English. The other volunteers, both gringos and Chileans were also beyond awesome and we bonded over the lackluster amenities, ban of alcohol, and we ended up having a great time with the kids… and hopefully they learned something, too! We did everything from holding soccer tournaments with the kids(and taught them English soccer vocab. – of course!), made a lip synching video in one take with all the kids in the camp participating, and had a talent show on the last day. The whole experience really motivated me to get back in the classroom and to hopefully try to spark a bit of enthusiasm to learn from my own students! I’ll let you know how that goes… 🙂 There aren’t too many pics of the winter camps on here, but there are a million on my Facebook, as well as the video we made!

When the camp was over, we gave a million hugs and Chilean kisses to the students and then headed back to La Serena(Monte Patria was pretty, but a tiny town with not much going on), where I drank wine with two of the amazing gringa volunteers I met, and then went to a get-together with more volunteers, both Americans and Chileans! I headed back on a night bus to Santiago, then an early morning bus to QuilpuĂ©. When I got back yesterday, I didn’t leave my house ALL DAY! Haha! But now I’m back to school tomorrow, and am revitalized, excited and so stoked to be back in QuilpuĂ© after an amazing few weeks of adventures!!!

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