Patagonia, Part one: Santiago

~By:  Marco

The 1st of December, a date that will never be the same for me again. A date which was the beginning of something new. Exactly one year ago, I had my first flight as an international flight attendant. It shaped me into who I am, and changed my perspective of life. On how we travel. Of what is out there.

Since then I have traveled to over 60 different airports – all around the world. To celebrate this one year anniversary, I wanted to explore a missing continent on my list: South America. Add a Spanish-speaking backpacking friend in the equation, and off I went. First stop: Santiago, Chile.


At the gate I do a quick search of where I am actually going. Since this was a rather spontaneous decision, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I just booked the flight and that was it. I will see where it takes me. I find out that the area is called ‘Patagonia’ and after a quick image search, I start to smile. I always hate it when people smile at their phones, but now I am as guilty as everyone else.

Travel does funny things to me. I get a funny feeling in my stomach. The excitement of new places with new people is hard to match. As I walk towards the plane, I hear the oh-so-familiar final boarding call in the background. At the door I got assigned my seat–business class; hello job perks! I consider myself incredibly lucky, sitting there with a glass of champagne in my hand. The excitement in my stomach. Nothing booked, nothing planned. Just two weeks of adventures ahead. Why do people go to all-inclusive resorts again? I’ve never really understood.

After a smooth flight with actually a decent amount of sleep (probably due to the overflow of champagne), I meet my friend at arrivals. We have been friends since we went to school together in the Netherlands, where we both grew up. After school, he went traveling and I moved to the United Kingdom to work for my current airline. We hadn’t seen each other since, making the reunion even better.

My friend had met a family during his travels and without asking, an invitation was extended to stay in their guestroom. We were treated like family. The whole family lives close to each other. This resulted in breakfast at mum’s, lunch at a cousin’s and dinner at grandma’s. Even with me speaking zero Spanish, and them speaking zero English, you would be surprised how much fun you can have. Especially if you add in a few Pisco Sours (the local spirit). This particular family is possibly the most hospitable people I have ever met. Hearing the stories from my friend, it seems to be part of their culture. I wish we had a bit more of this in Northern Europe.

After being fed and watered, it was time to hit the road. We started with San Cristóbal Hill, one of the three hills of Santiago. I had just arrived from London where it was the start of winter and temperatures are just above zero. Here, with a clear blue sky and very little shade, the 25 degrees is quite a bit of change. A welcomed change. With one small bottle of water between the two of us (and the remnants of the Pisco Sour from last night still lingering) we definitely underestimated the 45 minute climb in the middle of the day. Luckily, we met a gardener on our way who happily brought us to a garden hose to fill up our bottle. Muchas gracias, señor! At the top, we enjoyed the incredible views over Santiago and some well deserved rest.


On our way down we agreed on booking a night bus towards Pucón. As a backpacker, I can highly recommend night buses. It saves you a night in a hostel plus you cover the necessary miles. If you’re lucky, you can even manage to get some sleep. However I must admit, it is not the most comfortable way to spend the night but hey, we all know traveling is not always how it looks on Instagram, right? Plus it makes you appreciate the little things in life again.

After an 8 hour bus ride we arrive in Pucón. The further we go south, the quieter it becomes. The villages get smaller, the food becomes more expensive (as do the beers), and the tops of the mountains are covered in more and more snow. I remind myself of the fact that I only packed one pair of jeans and one sweater/hoody/jumper. Travel light they said. After we gathered some information from our hostel we decided to hike volcano Villarrica (pronounced Billarrica). One of the most active volcanoes in Chile, I find out later. At 6:30 the next morning we get picked up from our hostel to be kitted up, as it is freezing at the top. This being my first ever volcano hike, I must say I was pretty excited. Imagine a kid-in-a-candy-store smile.

On the way to the volcano my friend is speaking crazy-fast Spanish with the local guides. I am enjoying the time ‘on my own’. Carefully listening to what they say, to see if I can pick up any words I might understand. All the while enjoying the incredible views and mentally preparing myself.

The whole group takes the cable car up to the base of the volcano. But not us! If you do it, you have to do it right. As confident as we are, we decide to hike from the start. With an additional 30 minutes of hiking, the guide is taking the lead at a pretty speedy pace. And I find myself regretting our decision already. Luckily, it isn’t all too bad and we join the rest of the group at the base of the mountain. The pace changed. As fast as we initially hiked, we are slowly climbing now. Everyone climbs the mountain in one big chain. And you know, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

As we get higher and higher, the temperature gets colder. Heavy winds start to blow into my face which forces me to continuously look down. Step by step, meter for meter. Focused on the two feet in front of me. We slowly make our way up until suddenly, we stop. Used to the pace, I fail to react quickly and bump hard into the backpack in front of me. How exciting is hiking again?

As we slowly reach the top, I quickly put on my gas mask as the smell is now unbearable. The weird sulfur smell makes people gag. I am glad to finally be released of my heavy backpack. Curious by nature, I detrimentally walk to the edge of the crater. Within seconds I see lava squirting out of the crater below us. This is what I came for; this is what I wanted to see. I look around, taking it all in– snow is everywhere, mountains as far as you can see. Smoke is billowing out of the crater now. It’s crazy knowing boiling lava is right below me. I sit down and appreciate the view. It was all worth it: every meter, every step. Even hitting the backpack in front of me over and over again.

Then the guide brings me back to reality. We have to make ourselves ready for the trek down. Or at least that is what I thought……..

Check parts two and three of Marco’s South American backpacking saga and our other blogs about Chile

Follow Marco’s adventures on Instagram:  Marcookunst

Marco’s Travel Itinerary and Hostel Information

Flights: London Heathrow (LHR) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez, Santiago (SCL)

Bus: Santiago > Pucón > San Carlos de Bariloche > El Calafate > El Chaltén > El Calafate

Flights: Comandante Armando Tola International Airport, El Calafate (FTE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > London Heathrow (LHR)

Pucon:  I love Pucon Hostel

Bariloche:  Universal Travelers Lodge Hostel

El Calafate:  Hostel de las manos

El Chalten:  La Comarca Hostel

El Chalten:  Racho Grande Hostel

Buenos Aires: Rock Hostel & Brewery

Flight El Calafate – Buenos Aires – Aerolineas Argentinas

Bus company – Andesmar



The Fourth Region of Chile

~By:  Julie


“Where are you from?” That has been the hardest question to answer since I was a little girl. I’ve never felt like I was “from” anywhere. My parents were Californians that moved to Tennessee for just long enough to make it my birthplace and we picked up our nomadic lifestyles again shortly after. I hated that question when I was a kid as there was no quick response and I didn’t like the attention. When I was 12 years old, I moved to Chile. I stayed in Santiago with my mother and siblings for 6 months while my father branched out to find the perfect home for us up north.

By the time I was 13, we moved to the coolest house I’d ever lived, which was a block from the beach, directly between the twin cities of La Serena and Coquimbo. This was the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere. Maybe it was that adolescent time when you’re finding yourself or it was what I learned from the people I met that made me feel like this was my true “home.” I always say that my passport is from the United States but my heart beats for Chile.

I’ve never met a person traveling through that didn’t fall in love with the 4th region. We have everything you could need. We are safely nestled between the glorious Andes mountains and the sea that Pablo Neruda so often referenced. It’s just directly on the bottom of the Atacama Desert, known as the driest desert in the world, but not dry enough that you don’t have interesting wildlife and nature. It’s kind of a secret oasis on its own. Being between two smaller cities instead of one big city is a plus because it keeps the feeling more quaint.

The fourth region is home to so many famous wineries, pisquerias, the Valle de Elqui, the home of Nobel peace price winner Gabriela Mistral and at even at one point in history a landing spot for the infamous pirate Blackbeard. There are a few reasons you should either hop on the 45 min flight to La Serena (LSC) or book your 8 hour lay flat bus seat:


1. First things first— food! Order la reineta frita for lunch at El Mar Adentro in Peñuelas. Peñuelas is a quaint little fisherman village located between the main cities. You can watch the fishermen make their nets with their hands and feet. Take a minute to watch the colorful boats also being handcrafted. It’s incredible and humbling.

2. After lunch, head down town La Serena for shopping in the main square. Here you can find beautiful silver jewelry and lapislázuli stones, alpaca sweaters and even out of the ordinary gifts for the person who has it all. Make sure to grab some homemade manjar sweets and catch some live Andean folk music on the streets.


3. At night stroll the Avenida Del Mar and hop in the various restaurants and pubs serving traditional pisco sours, a South American classic cocktail that Chile specializes in making with pica lime juice. Eat as many french fries as you can. This is my favorite country for French fries, especially a lo pobre which comes with a fried egg on top!

4. If you work your way from the lighthouse all the way down the Avenida Del Mar and you still have space for dinner, I highly recommend Gladys’. She’s a dear friend of my family and makes incredible empanadas and just about anything you can think of.

5. Take a whole day in Coquimbo and start at the Fisherman’s Warf. There, not only can you buy fun trinkets, coca tea and jewelry but it’s also a fully functioning and very active fresh seafood market. There you’ll find the freshest ceviche and incredibly huge empanadas stuffed with literally every meat of your choice.

6. Take a boat tour from the fisherman market in Coquimbo out to Isla de Lobos and yell at seals and penguins sunning on the rocks. It’s a short 2 hour tour but absolutely worth the price. When we did it, the Captain loved us so much he invited us into the wheelhouse to steer the boat!

7. You can walk to Coquimbo’s main square from here to see some interesting art sculptures, and more trinkets and jewelry stores around Plaza Prat. There is a pretty cool interactive museum called the Centro Cultural Palace Coquimbo where you can learn about the history and culture of the region, and where they showcase some of the best local photography and art. You can also see where the US Navy docks for fleet week once or twice a year.

8. Take some time to check out Blackbeard’s Point. There are some fun history facts on placards, a giant old canon, a cute cafe and lots of places to go hiking out on the huge rocks. (My sister got engaged here!)

9. There are so many day trips you can do from La Serena, for instance, if you want a nice beach day, grab a boogie board and head down to our white sand beach named Totoralillo! It’s absolutely beautiful! If that’s too crowded, head to Tongoy. Either way you choose, the water will be freezing, so suit up or just enjoy a day of tanning and eating more empanadas!

10. For a good hiking day trip, head north past all the wineries, and stop at El Puntoclaro for a photo opportunity and take in the expansive scenery. When I first moved to Chile this dam didn’t even exist! It’s incredible to see the change. Make sure to stop and get a scoop of Lucuma or chirimoya ice cream or get both, you’re going to burn it all off anyways!

11. Head east inland on route CH-41 to the famous Valle de Elqui to explore the beautiful valleys and mountain sides covered in vineyards, and along the way, stop in the little town of Vicuña where Gabriela Mistral was born. There is so much history and so many sites to see. Look closely because you can see houses built of mud that look like they are held up by nothing but sticks. You can see locked doorways leading into the mountain. Take as many fresh juice stops as you can, because nothing beats fresh watermelon juice on a hot day. Across the street you can see one of my favorite colorful cemeteries with the most priceless view of the mountains and fruit and vegetable filled lush hills.

12. You can do the Valle de Elqui as a day trip, but what I really recommend is camping over night. This valley is famous for being clear 360 days out of the year, which is why there are quite a few international observatories tucked away into the mountains. Surrounded by the peaks of the Andes, at night in the pitch black with no light pollution you can spot satellites and planets with crystal clear clarity and the shooting stars just never seem to end. My friends and I just laid flat on the ground all bundled up in a circle and took it all in with complete silence.

13. If you’re fortunate enough to have locals for friends, see if you can get together an authentic Chilean asado (barbecue). Chileans are very easygoing and hospitable; it’s quite easy to make fast friends with whole families. Grill an assortment of chorizo and steak over an open flame while drinking maté and watching a beautiful sunset. And get ready to bundle up, because once the sun sets… its freezing! It warms up pretty quick in the morning and make sure to try and take a dip in the glacier melted river. There is no way water could possibly be cleaner.

Chile is as long as the United States is wide, making it so diverse, there is literally something for everyone! Every time I go back it feels like home, buildings change, streets get bigger but the vibe never changes. The bread is always hot and fresh, the fruit is always grown to perfection, the people are always welcoming. Two years ago I was able to bring my close friends and they all fell in love with the fourth region just like I did so many years ago. Two of my best friends even fell in love with each other on that trip, which makes my home town even more special.

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