Sunday, March 15, 2015

Viva Chile - Part 2

My second trip to Chile commenced with some confusion. The visa stamp said:

Duration: 180 days
To be used within 90 days

I was on the 100th day since the visa was issued, and I had used the visa once within 90 days. My assumption was that the visa was valid for 180 days since my first entry, and since it was a multiple entry visa, I could travel to Chile. The airlines attendants at the gate had to get an expert officer to verify my visa and let me in. The confusion surfaced once again at the immigration counter at Santiago International Airport. However, an expert officer came to the counter, verified my visa and let me in. For a brief moment, I was preparing myself to take the next flight and fly back. I am so grateful to my starts that it did not happen.

Waiting on the tarmac at San Francisco International Airport for the flight to depart

I wanted to climb Cerro San Cristobal, the hill that's in the middle of Santiago city, by foot. However, at the foot of the hill I learned that I did not have enough time to walk up as it was already evening. I found a taxi that took me up for 4000 Chilean Pesos. The view of the city from the top was fabulous. The statue of Virgin Mary at the top of the hill was magnificent. People in Chile say that you should drink "mote con huesillo" that they sell on the hill. My taste buds weren't acquainted enough with the Chilean taste to appreciate the drink. There was no short cut to come down the hill; had to walk down via the 6 kilometer motorway.

 Statue of Virgin Mary at Cerro San Cristobal

Devotees light candles for Virgin Mary to make a wish 

A view of Santiago city from the hill 

Costenara Center, the tallest building in South America. Also notice ice cap on Andes Mountains 

Parque Forestal, Santiago

During my last trip, I took a guided tour to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. This time I wanted go to Valparaiso on my own, and I did, and I am so glad I did so. Guided tours do no justice to the beauty of the city. I recommend every tourist to explore the place on their own. I shot many pictures on my iPhone. I truly missed my SLR gear.

Valparaiso Market 

Valparaiso Market 

Valparaiso Market 

An ascensor at Valparaiso - you need to ride one if you visit this place

Colorful Steps 

Murals at Valparaiso 

Murals at Valparaiso 

Colorful homes. Long ago, sailors identified houses by their colors. So every house on a street was painted with distinct color. That remained a tradition.

 Murals at Valparaiso

 Murals at Valparaiso

Murals at Valparaiso 

 Murals at Valparaiso

Colorful Clothes 

Murals at Valparaiso 

An old tin house. There are many such houses. It's surprising that they stand 9.0 earthquakes 

 Murals at Valparaiso

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Winter Vacation at Death Valley National Park

Visiting Death Valley National Park is never boring. You discover something new every time you go there. It’s also a great destination to carry your camera gear. However, if you go with your family and kids, as I did two weeks ago, do not expect to spend too much time on photography.  

Day 1 was cold and windy (ironically, Death Valley National Park is the hottest place in North America). Kids had great fun in the sand dunes. We spent about half a day in the dunes. Kids were reluctant to get out of the dunes. They had left behind their sandals on the sand while playing. By the time we returned, one pair was buried somewhere deep in the sand not to be found. Hard lessons learned!

Death Valley is a vast place. We spent a lot of time just driving to the vista points. For example, it is about 30 miles from the sand dunes to the next main vista point, Devil’s Golf Course. Our next hops were Devil’s Cornfield, Devil’s Golf Course, and Bad Water Basin. Because of the tall mountains all around, the sun set very early - around 4:30. It got dark by 4:45. 

One good thing about early sunset was, it gave us more time to see the stars in the clear sky. It is impossible to see so many stars from anywhere near a city. I excused myself from my family to perform some night shot experiments. Night shots require long exposure. Unfortunately family members of photography enthusiasts do not have the same level of patience as the latter do.

Day 2: We started our day with a trek on the Mosaic Canyon. Mosaic Canyon gets a lot of visitors. Yet, the 2 mile road from the main road to the entrance of the canyon is a gravel road. I wonder if there is a reason why they have left it so. The walk inside the canyon was nice. I carried my little one on my backpack carrier. The canyon got narrow and slippery at places. It wasn’t extremely hard, but I had to be a little more careful at such points. 

We had missed the Artist’s Palette the previous day because of the early sunset. I haven’t seen any hill or mountain as colorful as this one. Artist’s Palette pictures look great. However, it is impossible to capture the real look and elegance of the place.

Zabriskie’s point was closed due to road construction. That was a disappointment. We drove to Dante’s Point by 4 PM - just around the time for sunset. The view of the valley from the top was awesome. It was a punishment to get out of the car. The temperature was below freezing. Wind chill contributed more to the misery. I started shivering as soon as I stepped out of the car. I held my camera to shoot a picture. I could barely feel my fingers and could not press the shutter button however hard I tried. I decided to hell with the picture and rushed back to the car immediately. 

 Panamint Mountains on the west rim of the national park

 Sand dunes in the foreground, Black Mountain in the background

Panoramic view of the sand dunes 

Sand Dunes

 Kids having a blast

 A windy day at the sand dunes

Sand dust provide a hazy view of the mountains 

Devil's Cornfield 

Devil's Golf Course 

Son at Bad Water Basin 

Night sky 

Light Painting experiment - applied the lessons learned from here  

 Son at Mosaic Canyon

Artist's Palette

Friday, November 28, 2014

Viva Chile!

Central Chile is at the same latitude as California’s, but on the other side of the equator. One overnight trip transformed my world from winter to summer. The sun was already shining bright early in the morning when I landed in Santiago. I purchased a prepaid taxicab to go to my hotel. I was so glad I did that; all signs at the airport were in Spanish, and hardly anybody spoke English. The taxi driver was quite friendly. He smiled and nodded his head for whatever I asked him. I settled my score with him very soon. For anything he asked me in Spanish, I did the same too. That was my first public encounter in Santiago, and it gave me an idea on how I would have to depend on voice intonations and sign language for communication in the coming days.

At Parque Arauco Shopping Mall

Las Condes, Santiago

Santiago was much bigger than I had imagined before. There were tall mountains in all directions. The mountains on the Andes range seemed to reach the sky. My hotel was in the posh Vitacura neighborhood of the city. I was surprised to see so many multistory buildings given how seismically active this part of the world was. No sooner I lay down on the bed in my room on the 8th floor than I felt a sudden shake of the ground. It was an earthquake - 4.8 on the Richter.

I got a chance to go around Santiago and experience a few things during my one week stay. The highlight was the soccer match between Chile and Uruguay. Watching an international soccer match in the soccer frenzy nation was an unbelievable experience. I went to see the game along with my friend, Pablo. The game was at Estadio Monumental, a soccer stadium with the beautiful Andes mountains in the backdrop. The game started at 9 in the evening. La Roja fans filled the stadium an hour in advance. They shouted “Chi chi chi he he he viva Chile” all the time - before and during the game, and that echoed in my ears even after the game and all through the night. Chile played better, but Uruguay won the game 2-1.

Chile vs Uruguay at Estadio Monumental

I roamed around the city center for a couple of days during evenings. The city had a festive look all the time. The street vendors sold clothes, toys, sun glasses, caps, electronics, and many more things. I tried bargaining for some stuff a couple of times, but the language barrier did not let the sellers and I understand each other. Understanding the conversion factor Chilean Peso was tricky. I solved the conversion problem in my own way: 1000 Pesos ~ 100 Indian Rupees. The most economical place to shop I found was just outside Patio Bellavista (not inside Patio Bellavista). I found Los Dominicos handicraft village the best place to window shop. The prices here were outrageous. Chilean Pesos were already multiples of 1000s. The sellers in this village had added a few more 0s to the right.

Near Patio Bellavista

Being a vegetarian, eating out was always challenging. I learned the basic Spanish phrases - “Vegitariano, no carne, no pollo, no piscado” - and repeated them a few times in every time I ordered the food. Some restaurants had one person who would know little bit of English, and that helped a lot. I found soon that they served sparkling water if you did not ask for water with no gas - “sin gas.” At one of the restaurants, I explained my food restrictions to the waiter. He seemed to have understood my requirements very well. He suggested me a dish that was on the menu. I wanted to know what one of the ingredients meant. He tried explaining it in Spanish. I asked him what was the “nombre in Ingles?” He went in, asked somebody, returned, and said, “Octopus”. Had I not insisted on understanding what the dish was made of, I would have probably ended up tasting an Octopus.

 Papas Duquesa

Vegetarian Platter

On the last day of my stay, I took a tour bus to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. The two cities are on the Pacific coast, about an hour and a half from Santiago. Vina del Mar was good; Valparaiso was better. I wish there was a tour bus just for Valparaiso. The roads running up and down the hills, colorful houses, picturesque scenery with Pacific Ocean in the backdrop, beautiful murals on the buildings, etc. makes this place an artist’s paradise.

The streets of Valparaiso