Valparaiso I Love Your Colours!

Rivers of colours flow down the hills, through every street and side alleyway. The port makes loud noises and the back alleys smell of piss, but the overall presence of the town is original and attention grabbing, like a precocious hippy movement. Peace and love, and lots of street dogs (this is Chile remember).

Street dogs

How cool is it that almost all houses can be seen from the sea (with a telescope, it’s a big old town) due to the way they are built lining the hills like tiers in a cinema. And the range of colours mean you can pick out your house among thousands like a real life Where’s Wally picture. In fact that’s the original idea behind the mass painting of brazen colours so that Wally can be found.

Housing

It’s photo walk heaven, if you’re not distracted by the many artisanal shops, bars and cafes, and if the presence of other inhabitants of Gringolandia and their camera one-upmanship doesn´t get up your nose (I know, I´m part of the problem). I recommend you stay the night and get up early, when nobody else is around and a soft golden light bathes the hills.

Alleyway 2

And so far I’ve said nothing of the graffiti, which would take a year to document in its entirety, by when a whole new set of images would have replaced the old ones. This is a place where refreshingly the ratio of thought provoking murals to mindless bubble writing (vandelism pure and simple), is favourable.

Alleyway 1

There are so many ideas crawling the cobbled streets and hidden alleyways; poems written on walls, history in the architecture, a story behind every place name, music in the air and street performers. It’s made me feel artistic, imaginative and creative; and writing from my hotel room I couldn’t help but lava this blog post with metaphors.

House

I hope you’ve enjoyed this inspired photo collection, why not print out a photo or two, or better still go there and take your own. Make an album, make a photo portfolio, publish your photos somewhere and check the response. Learn how to use your camera’s manual settings, learn how to edit your photos in post-production software (and have fun with the “boost saturation” button). I have been doing, and I’m interested to hear your comments!

Why you should go on “Pub Crawl Santiago”

Night outThere are in fact two pub crawls in Santiago! And to confuse the hell out of you one is called Pub Crawl Santiago and the other is The Santiago Pub Crawl.

So they sound identical, but I assure you I have found a difference! Ladies and gentlemen, over the last two Saturdays I have been out on both pub crawls armed with my pipette and clipboard to determine a victor! (Ok so my pipette was more of a glass and the clipboard is entirely fictional).

Maybe you’re travelling to Santiago and want to sample the best of the bars and clubs all in one action packed ceremonious night out, or maybe you live here and want to meet up with other outgoing expats. Whichever the case, here I’ll spell out why Pub Crawl Santiago is the night to go on:

Disclaimer: This is written from an independent point of view, by someone who’s looking for serious fun.

Similar on paper

Both charge 10,000 pesos (20 dollars) for free drinks and food between 10-11pm, a free shot in each of the three bars and club entrance. So far so good!

How the ‘crawls fulfill the promise

Free drinks and food was moreover copious amounts of Pisco and beer (with a slice of pizza) on Pubcrawl Santiago and a fine helping of great pizza (with a can or two of beer) on The Santiago Pub Crawl. You have to decide for yourself what’s more important at the beginning of the pub crawl, food or drink. I personally ended up spending more money later on drinks on The Santiago Pub Crawl because of the slowish start.

I can’t say either pub crawl had clearly a better line-up of bars or clubs, but there was a big difference in atmosphere at these places due to the number of crawlers there were in the group. On Pub Crawl Santiago there were 50 or so (and all quite giddily trolleyed), whereas on The Santiago Pub Crawl there were only five. Yes five. Now this is important because one of the places we went to on both of the crawls was entirely rented out for the hour. Which means on one crawl there were five of us upstairs in a hostel bar chatting away, and on the other there were 50 people meeting and greeting and dancing and drinking and shouting and generally going wild! (watch out for the Brazilians.)

How good of a night I had

Well, Pub Crawl Santiago promised “original fun” and The Santiago Pub Crawl promised “an unforgettable night”. All I know is that everything was more exciting on the former, the main reason being because of the animators. On Pub Crawl Santiago the leaders were off-the-wall energetic and very approachable too. Whereas two of the three people running The Santiago Pub Crawl weren’t drinking and the third was sipping (a sin I tell you! I know you don’t have to have drink to have fun, but come on’, it is a pub crawl). At least then you would hope for some naturally crazy leaders that will guide you to new frontiers of enjoyment, but I didn’t find this to be the case. This to me made the whole world of difference; good animators make the pub crawl. There I’ve said it. And animators that stick around as well, on Pub Crawl Santiago it was the animators who were the last ones standing (and inviting people to after parties!) whereas on The Santiago Pub Crawl the staff went home the minute we set foot in the club. Poor show I’m afraid.

Verdict:

I had a nice time on The Santiago Pub Crawl, but it was more like going out with a guide and a few acquaintances from a hostel, rather than a specially organized event. Pub Crawl Santiago on the other hand is The Santiago Public Crawl on acid, and the staff made it that way. If you’re looking for a wild and unforgettable night go on Pub Crawl Santiago, it quite literally drinks the other pub crawl under the table!

 

For more information see:

https://www.facebook.com/pubcrawlsantiagochile

https://www.facebook.com/TheSantiagoPubCrawl

10 Truths of Travelling

I find travelling THE most rewarding experience out there. So much so that I don’t consider stopping anytime soon. In fact I’m just packing my rucksack for a trip to Bolivia for two months.

Four years being an adventure-seeking expat has led me ponder a list of commonalities in every great trip. Allow me though, before we get to the list, to start by sharing one of my favourite photos with you from my travels.

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Why this photo is special to me

This photo was taken by I don’t know who at the beginning of 2012. At that moment I was travelling the southernmost tip of South America with the sweetest and most caring travel partner there is. It was a trip that we had been planning for three years and there we were with the perfect backdrop as seen in the best of coffee table books: Torres Del Paine, Chile. In a different post I talk about another dream we had and ended up fulfilling, but this was the original adventure we talked about sharing, long before the other one.

However I’m sure you’ll agree that *BEST* moments can’t be compared; they’re all special in their own way. There have been hundreds of truly great moments like this one in different locations over the past few years. And they all have a certain few things in common that I have tried to distill into these truths about travel. Maybe you would agree with some of these truths more than others, or perhaps would add some different ones.  So if you are as passionate about travelling as I am, then please comment below and let me know your own feelings that are true about every great trip that you have had.

February 2014. THIS MUCH I KNOW.

1)      Your trip will cost more than you expect. It always does. Hidden costs, losing money (accidentally hidden!), trips to hospitals, tour temptations etc.

2)      It will be the best money you’ve ever spent. That is if you really are travelling, and not just sitting on some beach somewhere. If you are, wear sun cream.

3)      There will be ups and downs. The ups and downs will appear like a beating heart on an ECG monitor, and you’ll feel more alive than ever. Ups don’t exist without the downs, so you’ll learn to not worry too much about the downs.

4)      The memories will last a lifetime. The experiences are unique and cannot be wiped from your mind. Cameras are only needed to share your memories with others.

5)      Happiness is only real when shared. Chris McCandless said it and he was right. If you can’t go (or prefer not to go) with somebody, make sure you meet people there.

6)      You will find out that the world is a small place, and where you grew up is in fact minuscule. Upon realization of this it will open your mind and transform your belief sets. No traveller ever came home a prejudice. FACT.

 In the words of Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness”.

7)      You will know yourself just a square inch more. Whether it is about what makes you happy, your personality strengths or your fitness limits, you’ll grow in self-confidence because of it. You will also find yourself quite the adept socialite as well!

8)      You will be anxious to come home. And you’ll be more appreciative of those around you, and less appreciative of the material things around you. Then you will book your next trip.

9)      You will lose/forget something. And then you’ll realize that you don’t need it.

10)   You will find whatever you’re looking for, be it new experiences, adventure or something else.  You’ll find it because you will have searched for it.

Amen brother.

Learn a Foreign Language – An Unconventional Tip

Not only is it a myth that you need to spend a lot of money to learn a foreign language, but I would argue that in fact the opposite is true: 

Spend less money, and you’re more likely to succeed in learning a language.

Reason 1: Skills aren’t commodities

People think of language learning is a commodity that can be  bought from institutes (which is a myth that institutes actively encourage). Treat language learning (or any skill) like a commodity and you will lack the necessary ingredients that are required to learn. Improvement comes from being focused and determined to do something, both of which aren’t things that institutes can sell. Of course, weekly lessons are important because there’s nothing better than guidance and feedback from a qualified professional. Note however, that I said “guidance and feedback”, which is all that you should hope for from a lesson.

Reason 2: What you are sold isn’t necessarily what you need

People think that investing money is the first step towards learning a language by buying the books/course that X says they need. Don’t listen to the person who is selling you something about how you should learn, they don’t know you, and I guarantee that even if they did they would still only recommend what is convenient for them to sell. Find out what learning method works best for you through independent research and by making an honest evaluation of yourself. Just so we’re clear, spending money is not part of the learning process.

Reason 3: Money alone isn’t motivational enough

People invest money in order to guilt-trip themselves into learning a language. Money (as a positive or negative balance) can be highly motivating I’m sure, to run an errand, walk a dog etc. The problem with using money as motivation to learn a language is that language learning requires you to fully apply your mind, which requires passion. Also your money driven motivation will only last as long as the money does. Find your true motivation today for learning a foreign language, and update your list over the coming months/years. 

Do things my way and at best you will spend little and learn the language thoroughly, at worst you will give up quickly and you can buy a trip to Polynesia with the money saved.

Here are a few basic tips to help you spend as little money as possible:

-          Stick to a ratio of around 1 hour instruction to 5 hours of private study (10 hours if you are advanced level). For extra conversation practice, find people to do a language exchange with you (i.e. you help them with English, they help you with Spanish) or join groups, both of which will guarantee you a greater variety of topics, accents and experiences.

-          Don’t buy a vocabulary book, they are rubbish because they were compiled by another person. Compile your own. Words need to be important for you to remember them, which is why you must be the editor of said book. Use a telephone agenda/directory to list your words in alphabetical order.

-          Use the internet for resources. This includes online dictionaries (faster than paper versions and often include pronunciation), language learning websites (Memrise, Duolingo About.com, BBC Learning etc.), Youtube videos and online newspapers.

Rural Adventure

On the centre left is the cabin we rented. To the right the track leads to the school where Meli worked.

On the centre left is the cabin we rented. To the right the track leads to the school where Meli worked.

It started with a cutting from a magazine supplement to the newspaper I was reading. We put it on the wall to remind us of the life we were going to create together. The title of that special cutting was “Aventura Rural” and it detailed the lives of young couples who had moved to the countryside to start a different life.

I had recently moved in with my girlfriend Meli to a basement one bedroom flat in the centre of Santiago. She decorated the place while I was away for a month and called it the love nest. However we both knew that we were going to stay there for a short time only and there was no other reason to be there apart from the fact that it was cheap. We had become infatuated with the idea of moving to the countryside; it was a romantic notion that stirred within us both, a longing for the slow life, of being surrounded by beauty, of finding immutable truth. And with the shared dream grew a strong bond between us, I dare say we were in love.

It was Meli who found a job through the internet in a rural school, eight hours to the south of Santiago and 45 minutes from the nearest town, Pucón. We bought a car a few days before Meli had to start work, packed it up hastily and with such excitement drove it down south. The area is an idyllic setting; the rivers, forests and hot springs make the region popular with tourists. We used to joke that if you live in Pucón, it’s nigh on impossible to not have a decent view from your house. We could have lived in the town centre and been happy, but it wouldn’t have really resembled our dream. So we decided to live as close to Meli’s school as possible and found a small cabin (pictured) halfway up a valley. This was to be our new nest. It was more of a shack than a nest, but a shack is what we wanted.

For nine months we lived peaceful lives together here. We grew our own vegetables in our backyard, swam in the rivers on weekends, and walked along nearby trails in the evening. Unfortunately I couldn’t find consistent work, which is what brought our stay in the south to an end eventually. Not all was rosy either; we had given up the city life where job opportunities and social life lie, which is quite a compromise when you are 25 years old. Melisa was also having problems at her work; the nanny at the boarding school was being accused of mistreating the kids. We were more than ready to leave by the end, Meli wanted to try again but further south, whereas I felt I had to come back to the city, which is what we ended up doing. Due to the difficulties we were facing, our relationship suffered greatly, something from which we never completely recovered.

I don’t regret going, what’s important I feel is that we tried, that we dreamt up something together and carried out the dream, even if it eventually turned into somewhat of a nightmare.

Where vultures come to die

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This is where vultures come to die. It must have been one of the most extreme and hostile places I have been to; dry, windy, remote. “La Isla Damas” or Lady Island. If I ever have treasure to bury I will bury it here. Nobody will touch it. Nobody spends more than a few hours on the island, of course it’s uninhabited.

But how to explain the name, “Lady Island” I can’t work out; to me it is a complete misnomer for a place that is void of what is normally associated with ladies. “Black Island”, I’d call it, “Skull Island”, or “Desolate island”. 

Cacti with nail like spikes grow between the rocks. I was climbing up the middle part of the island, watching the population of vultures when I spiked myself in the leg. It hurt more than it bled, so I added another curse to the place and continued my exploration.

The cacti made me wary, the jagged rocks made me more so, and then I came across this dead vulture with it’s wicked grimace. Another vulture (alive) very close by was looking on, guarding the corpse, and it was only when I was 2 metres away did the vulture leave its companion. It was interesting to see comradeship/partnership among such ugly and vile creatures.

To get here you need to arrange a tour from La Serena, a colonial city about five hours to the north of Santiago. Once you are there, a two hour bus journey will bring you to the coast, and then it’s a 30 minute boat ride to get the island.