Browsing Category South America

How I Survived the Villarrica Volcano Hike

The alarm rang at 3:30 at night. I peeked out of my blanket into the dark dorm room and wondered why I had decided to hike the 2,800-meter high volcano. Just then Alison, my Canadian friend, who was sleeping on the lowest bunk bed opposite me, snoozed the alarm on her iPhone, mumbled something, opened her eyes for a second, and then pulled the blanket over her head again. She was the one who made me signup for the Villarrica Volcano hike, the active volcano that had erupted a year ago.

I shut the alarm and got out of bed. Alison followed me. Though November is a summer month in Chile, Pucon, a city in the lake region, wasn’t that warm, especially at that early hour of the day. After barely washing our faces with the cold water, we walked to the cherry tree in the hostel where ten other hikers were following the directions of the Volcan Villarrica tour guides. We wore a pair of waterproof trousers over our track pants and strapped our rucksack in which we carried the rest of the gear on our backs. Then the twelve of us walked to the minivan that was to drive us to Villarrica 30 kilometers out of town.

I don’t know if I felt secured or alarmed when Alejandro, one of our three tour guides, told us that after the eruption in 2015 the government had mandated that there should be a guide accompanying every four trekkers.

After driving for an hour, we reached the base of Villarrica. Even at that wee hour, the area was flooded with minivans and travelers who wanted to climb the volcano. Until then I didn’t know that climbing volcano Villarrica is the sole reason for some of the tourists to visit Pucon, the city which Lonely Planet refers to as the mecca for adventure sports. And why wouldn’t it be? You can do river rafting, kayaking, hiking, skiing, horseback riding, and so much more in the bustling lake town of Pucon.

Recommended Read: My experiential travel guide to Chile

I craned my neck to look up to the summit. The twilight was dissolving away the darkness of the night. A rotund moon watched us from above. From its base, Rucapillán, or the house of the Pillán, (the Mapuche name of Volcano Villarrica) indeed looked like a superpower, an undefeatable giant.

Read More

Samaipata – A Bolivian Village You Must Experience

Samaipata is easily one of my favorite places in Bolivia. Why? Maybe this quaint village in east Bolivia showed me how to slow down. Or perhaps the Bohemian attitude of Samaipata made me think about life differently. Or maybe the German and the Dutch and the Arabs who have settled down in Samaipata taught me that home is where the heart is.

I cannot pinpoint any one reason, but Samaipata, a lush town in the foothills of Andes, calmed me down. It is after all the resting place in the mountains (the meaning of Samaipata in Quechua).

Read More

Why You Must Visit Santa Cruz –The City of the Rich in Bolivia

When I had stuffed myself with enough streetside potato empanadas, I flew from La Paz to Santa Cruz. My dream was to see the wild jaguars in the forests near Santa Cruz, amongst the many other things to do in Santa Cruz Bolivia.

Drifting off through a one-hour flight and waking up to chew upon the dry fruits that the Boliviana de Aviación attendant served, I landed at the Viru Viru international airport and hopped onto the airport shuttle to go to the central plaza. My travel friend was staying in a fancy hostel there.

As always, I had not read much about Santa Cruz. But my curiosity to talk to the local people makes up for my lethargic online research, mostly. In a casual conversation, the manager of the Santa Cruz airport shuttle told me that Bolivia was still furious about losing the Pacific coast to Chile. He added that the elite businessman and politicians of that wealthy city we were in had stopped caring as they were busy securing their bank balances.

And that is how I was introduced to Santa Cruz, a city where you would forget that you are in Bolivia, if not for the cholitas selling sinful salteñas on the roadside.

Read More

Bolivia Visa for Indians – Getting the Visa from India and South America and the Extension Process in Bolivia

Bolivia gives a visa on arrival to most of the western countries (excluding the USA), to other South-American countries such as Chile and Peru, and India. But you can only get the Bolivia visa on arrival if you land at Santa Cruz or La Paz airports, and this visa costs USD 55. As I was crossing into Bolivia via land, I decided to get a visa before the visit, and so I went to the Bolivian consulate in Cusco. The visa application process was fast; the visa was free; I had the visa in an hour.

If you are planning to get a Bolivia visa on arrival, then please confirm by calling the Bolivian consulate in Delhi, as I have heard mixed reviews of Indians who tried getting a visa on arrival in Bolivia.

Read More

My Essential Bolivia Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know About Bolivia

When I think of Bolivia, I remember stout, brick-red mountains.

Women adorning traditional Bolivian clothes mending potatoes in fluorescent open fields.

Bolivian men with wrinkled faces driving taxi up the steep streets and roads.

Potato and cheese empanadas being sold in kiosks on the streets in Bolivia.

Bolivian soaps running on the TV in local food courts.

People marching against the democratic government and Chile.

Golden sunshine beaming in through the blue sky.

Enormous graffitis watching us from the walls of the big city of La Paz.

The charismatic Uyuni salt flats and the blue lagoons sprinkled with pink flamingoes spread in the midst of the driest desert of the world.

Tiny villages bustling with international tourists who went there looking for a simpler life from around the world.

The gorgeous high lake of Titicaca where the indigenous Bolivian people first established themselves but now only a couple of thousand Bolivians live on the legendary islands on the lake.

Sky trolleys flying people from their homes to run their chores in the administrative capital of La Paz.

And the clingy high altitude that never leaves you oxygenated while you are traveling in Bolivia.

Read More

My Chilean Host Mother Took Her Broken Heart and Said to Life Vamos (Let’s Go).

We were in September, and the sun had been hiding away for many days from Chiloé, a southern island of petite Chile. Rain thudded the brick-tiled roof unabashedly. I shivered after a shower on a cold evening in Castro. To avoid getting scolded by my host mother for not drying my hair well, I walked down to warm my head near the kitchen fire.

My host mother, who was already sitting at the round, wooden dining and sipping mate from her cup, called me to join her while patting the thick sofa cushion on her left. Perched on her right, the British volunteer, who was also teaching English to Chilean students with English Open Doors, rolled his eyes as he saw me accepting her invitation and approaching them. Respecting our usual friendly banter and rekindling the Indo-British feud, I threw some bad words in his direction. 

Then as the three of us huddled at the dining and sipped tea in the cozy kitchen of our uninsulated home, my host mother told us that her brother had just come home to request some wine, and then she warned us not to trust him as he was an alcoholic. 

Though I had seen her brother visit us every day, eat bread and cheese at the dining, drink wine, of which she kept a big bottle in her kitchen especially for him, I never realized that he was an alcoholic. Maybe I was focusing on cracking the heavy Spanish that darted to and fro between the siblings.

But his alcoholism was not the devastating part of the story. 

Read More

Most Common Spanish Phrases For Travelers – Survive South America

Unlike the US schools, we do not have a Spanish course or learn any foreign language at schools in India, especially in the small town where I studied. I grew up studying Hindi, English, and Sanskrit. I took a French language course during college, but a few classes and a French certificate was the farthest my foreign language aptitude took me to. 

 When I landed in Chile to teach English, I couldn’t even speak a few simple Spanish words coherently. I started living with a Chilean host mother who took upon herself to teach me the common Spanish phrases and words so that we could communicate. Thus began my struggle of learning Spanish in Chile.

I didn’t know then that the Spanish language would become one of my favorites, and also my third language.

Without trying to be melodramatic, I promise that if you start speaking even the most basic Spanish travel phrases when you are backpacking in South America, you would fall in love with this language; for Spanish is a passionate dialect. Spanish words and phrases cover almost every emotion; some of the feelings that can be described eloquently in Spanish are strangled by the lack of words in other languages that I speak.

Read More

Teach English in Chile – All About English Open Doors Volunteer Program

What does this Teach English in Chile guide contain?

  1. What is the English Open Doors Program?
  2. What is the duration of the English Open Doors program?
  3. Who can apply to the English Open Doors program?
  4. What is the application process?
  5. But English Open Doors is a volunteer program. How well-organized would it be?
  6. Do I have to pay to volunteer for the English Open Doors program?
  7. Does the program pay the volunteers to teach English in Chile?
  8. What all does the English Open doors program provide?
  9. Which visa do I have to take to teach English in Chile?
  10. Do I need to know any Spanish if I travel to Chile?
  11. Which grades does a volunteer teach?
  12. Would the program train me to teach English in Chile?
  13. What is the English level of the students whom the volunteers would teach in Chile?
  14. How did a regular week of teaching English in Chile look like?
  15. Is teaching English to Latin-American students hard? How was your teaching experience in Chile?
  16. How was your living experience in Chile?
  17. Do you think your classes helped the students or made any impact?
  18. What do I do when the English Open Doors program finishes?
  19. Would you recommend the English Open Doors program and teaching English in Chile?
  20. I am still not convinced if the English Open Doors program is good?
  21. How do I contact the English Open Doors program?

 

Read More

When Spanish Hit Me – My Heartfelt Tale of Learning Spanish in South America

I went to Chile in July 2016 to teach English in a state school. All my friends, family, relatives, acquaintances, and social connections asked what made me go to Chile; I said I didn’t think much. They asked me if I could speak Spanish; I replied that I would learn Spanish in South America.

My family concluded that traveling to South America was an immature escape as in the end I would be alone and financially unstable. I was sucked down into a whirlpool of emotional hurdles that my close ones stirred in my career and personal life while being assertive that they cared.

I was fired. I had just ended a two-year relationship which I believed would turn into the long-lasting love of my life. The Titanic sank. I was going to be twenty-nine soon. Friends were getting married. Babies were being born. I did not know anyone in Chile. I did not speak Spanish.

Before I left, an uneasy feeling of forgetting something lingered. Like the one that makes you shuffle through your pockets every time you walk out of your home. I understood later that I was scared: of being alone, of unknowns, and of not knowing Spanish.

I did not know then that in a couple of months I would be able to speak the language fluently.

Read More

How to Score Chile Visa on an Indian Passport – From India and South America

Chile gives free ninety-day entry to most of the countries. But, of course, India doesn’t get free access, and we have to apply for a Chile visa. I was once stuck on the Chile-Bolivia border because I didn’t have any tourist visa for Chile as I had thought that India was also in the list of those fortunate countries. How wrong I was! 

Having paid more than what I should have for this mistake, I decided I would be more sincere while doing visa research and would also help other travelers by updating them with my knowledge on the world visas.

A Really Helpful Read: My experiential and well-researched guide to world visas for Indians

 

[Update 2019] : Since April 1 2019, Chile allows all Indians holding a valid US visa into Chile. So if you have a valid US visa, you don’t have to apply for a tourist visa. 

Please read the official message of the Consulate of Chile:

***

Please note that the below message was an old notification on a page of Chile website that doesn’t even work anymore.

The Consular Section of the Embassy of Chile in India states that henceforth all Indian travelers holding B1/B2 Visa or Residence Permit (Green Card) from the USA, with current validity of six months, do not require a Chilean tourist visa (either Simple Tourism or Multiple Tourism or Multiple-Business). This came into effect from the 1st April 2019.

This is the new information that Chile provides-

The Consular Section of the Embassy of Chile in India states that henceforth all Indian travelers holding a valid US Visa, with current validity of six months, do not require a Chilean tourist visa (either Simple Tourism or Multiple Tourism or Multiple-Business). This came into effect from the 1st April 2019.

NOTE

– All travellers to Chile need to have a valid passport for at least six months from the date of entrance into the country.

– Tourist travellers should have enough financial support for their stay in Chile.

– The period of stay in Chile for tourists is up to 90 days.

– Not applicable to USA Transit Visa (Visa C).

***

You can read more about the change here on the official website of the Chilean government.

Now as I read this message I understand that all the travelers having a valid US visa can travel to Chile without applying for a separate Chilean tourist visa. The only exemption seems to be where the Indian travelers have a USA transit visa. But if you are in doubt, please email the Chilean Consulate in New Delhi @[email protected] and confirm.

 

If you do not have a valid US visa, please keep reading for the Chile visa application process.

Read More

Chile Travel Guide: Tips From My 6-Month Solo Chile Trip

What does this Chile Travel Guide contain?

  1.  Where is Chile?
  2. How did I decide to travel to Chile? What inspired me to visit Chile?
  3. What is English Open Doors program? – Volunteering in Chile.
  4. But why should you travel to Chile or South America? What is so special about Chile?
  5. How is the landscape of Chile?
  6. What are the natural disasters of Chile that you should be worried about while traveling in Chile?
  7. The Geography of Chile (Along with the things to do in Chile).
    1. The North of Chile.
    2. The Central Valley of Chile.
    3.  The Lake region of Chile.
    4.  The South of Chile
  8. Chile is far. What about the long flights and the insane timezone shifts?
  9. How to stay connected with family?
  10. Didn’t I feel homesick or lonely that far away from my home country and friends?
  11. What about the rough Latin American Spanish? What language do Chileans speak?
  12. Why do I say that Chile people are the nicest?
  13. Is Chile expensive on a traveler’s budget? What is the cost of travel in Chile?
  14. How much did the tickets cost for the flight to Chile?
  15. What about the tourist visa for Chile?
  16. What is the best time to travel to Chile?
  17. What to pack for Chile?
  18. How to move around in Chile?
  19. How should you carry money when you travel to Chile?
  20. Is Chile Safe? This Backpacking Chile guide is updated for the current uproar in Chile. 
  21. How is Chilean food?
  22. Now let’s get real – the drinking scene of Chile.
  23. Some closing FAQs and tips.

Read More

Chilean Culture– 13 Chilean Conventions To Know Before You Visit Chile

While we strolled through the artistic arcades of the magnificent Angkor Wat temple, my Chilean friend Valentina, whom I had run into on a train from Bangkok to Siem Reap a month before my trip to Chile, asked me if I knew how Chileans greeted each other. I shook my head expressing my ignorance of the question and the Chilean culture.

I didn’t know anything about South America or Chile in that hot month of June, even though I was flying to Chile in July, if my visa went through, which I hadn’t applied for by then. Without noticing my obliviousness, Valentina went on telling me about Chilean traditions, greetings, and other customs I should have known before going to her country.

While traveling in Chile, her insights on the Chile culture helped me throughout my six-month-long solo adventure through the passionate land. Returning the kindness, I am aggregating all those unique conventions that left an impression on me so that you are prepared to visit this beautiful land of some even more beautiful people.

Read More