I had been to Chile several times before: my father is from Santiago, and I came to visit his family during my childhood a few times. I never travelled far, though, from the capital: all I knew was Santiago and its surroundings: from the mountain chain - Cordillera de los Andes - to the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean; quite a small strech of land. Travelling from east to west in Chile does not give you much terrain to cover, though the views are incredible nevertheless. This time, I decided I'd see more of it, and stayed after my parents returned from their vacation to Brasil. First stop: the Desert. I had seen the Gobi, fleetingly, on a train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, but never had I really experienced it.

What an amazing thing it is, the Desert! Beautiful despite its dry and unforgiving nature, warm and cold, bright and dark. I really fell in love with Atacama - from the village of San Pedro to the very last rock there - it's beauty itself, saying hello from a dry and high place. The rolling hills of Mongolia and the sinuous flow of the Norwegian fjords had inspired a similar feeling in me: keep the maiden's kisses, the mists of pleasant drinks and the temptations of the virtual worlds - give me the hills, fjords and the desert roads any day, and my pleasure will be infinitely more intense. While the baser, more common pleasures of the world fill one or two of our senses, the pleasure of being in nature oppresses us with beauty: I hear, see, smell, touch, think of and love nature until I can't take it anymore. It elevates us.

Anyway, here's what I did, though my words and other people's photos cannot express anything near to the feeling of BEING there:

I arrived late on a Wednesday, worked, ate and slept. The village is welcoming, cute and clean, though it is expensive. On Thursday I went around the whole place, taking notes of prices and tours offered by the agencies. At last, I decided on a plan for the rest of my days there, which went quite well.

Friday, exploration day 1: Piedras Rojas, Lagunas Altiplánicas and the Parque Natural Los Flamingos. I had never seen such colors in water - I had been impressed with the unique shade of Blue presented by a body of water or another before, but this light green-blue and the salt everywhere make for another unique shade in a body of water... it is quite mesmerizing. Taking a look at the Flamingos was not bad either, though I honestly don't think they're as majestic as people seem to think...

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On Saturday, a full day of work and rest, preparing for what was to come the following day: biking around the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). This place is just... "out of this world". It is, in fact, called Valley of the Moon because it seems like an unearthly landscape - something you'd see on the Moon itself. To make things more interesting, I rode a bike all the way there to see the sunset, and returned to the village at night - a moonless night, which added to the feeling of being on the moon! As it was not shining in the sky, it was easier for me to pretend I was actually there... On my way there, I consumed some psychedelic substances, which made it even more spectacular... I climbed the highest dunes and went to the best lookouts available, until the park guards kindly told me I had to start going back, as darkness descended. The trip back was an adventure of the kind I never experienced before: going downhill on a mountain bike, in the total darkness of the desert but for a light in my helmet, in a moonless night, in the Valley of the Moon. To make it all perfect, I arrived in town just in time for the astronomic tour. We went to a higher place, ideal for looking at the stars, and there we enjoyed the light of countless galaxies for about 1 hour and a half. Without the moon, in a high altitude place, which is also one of the driest places on Earth, visibility was optimal. For the first time I could really see the heavens, with its moving lights, and all the silly drawings people imagine: the scorpions, hunters, crosses and all the rest. I could clearly see were the skies were divided between North and South, I looked at stars that people from the northern hemispheres have no access to, and wondered about the northern stars I could not see then... By that time, the psychedelics were having a ball, and I'm pretty sure my awe-struck mind enlarged the tiny points of light seen in the telescope: others seemed impressed, but I was marvelled, nay, there are no words for it. I consider this one of the most amazing moments of my entire life: looking at the universe under those circumstances was a pleasure beyond that of the maiden's kiss, the mist of drink, the virtual worlds, the hills, the fjords and the desert roads together. It is unfair, I suppose, to compare these small things to seeing entire galaxies and clouds and worlds dancing brightly around each other... But comparison to other experiences is all I can do to try and explain what it felt like. How I understand you now, Astronomers and Stargazers...
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On Monday, to relax, I went for a swim: Laguna Cejar, the "Eyes" of the Salar and the Laguna Tebenquiche. Nothing like cold water on a hot desert day after such a heavy, filling, extraordinary Sunday.
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Finally, on Tuesday I went, early in the morning, to the Tatio Geysers, where, again, nature shows that it is beautiful even when it is dangerous and deadly - vocalnoes, hard to breath-altitude and boiling water mixed with all sorts of minerals being thrown upwards make for amazing views and feelings.
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A trip I recommend to anyone, adding that I have not seen all the "best of" places available - there are still many incredible spots that I have failed to see due to lack of time and money, with alluring names like "The Valley of Death", "The Rainbow Valley", etc. I am definitely coming back to Atacama sooner or later.


Back again!

So, long time no see! I remember once reading a tormented author complain about the fact that you can either live or write - if you're writing, you're not actually living, and if you're out there, living, time is short to write. So that is what happens since Irkutsk - with no card to draw money and a long way to go, I barely had time to understand what was going on, much less to write about it all. But here I am, finally living a quiet enough life again, which allows me to share with you, faithful readers, what I have been up to since that now far away November in Siberia. Last post was aboit Irkutsk, which I left to be in Olkhon Island, a place said to be one of the Shamanic centers of the world. I'm not sure about that, but I can tell you that the island is beautiful, the lake is breathtaking and my time there was very pleasant, made even better by the amazing owners of the guesthouse I stayed in and their dogs.

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After a while, I gave up on waiting for my card, borrowed money from a very generous lady and went back to travelling, hoping that when my card arrived at the Siberian address, it would be shipped off to Moscow, which was my next destination. I spent about two weeks there, and it sure was not enough to see everything one should: the cosmonaut museum, the victory museum, the magnificent squares, the live music, the great mix of races and nationalities converging in the most beautiful metro stations of the planet (just really really amazing, art in itself - the palace of the people, as some call it), the Lenin mausoleum, all of that jazz. 
Had a blast there, celebrated a small christmas (they celebrate it in January, but Couchsurfing people always take the opportunity to celebrate, so the 25th was quite enjoyable) got my new bank card and flew over to Leningrad (which for some reason people prefer to call Saint Petersburg).

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Again, two weeks was not enough - the museums, squares, the amazing people, the architecture, the parties, bars - it was all much prettier than I could possibly expect. People in Moscow did tell me I'd like it better there, but I found it hard to believe, as I was falling in love with Moscow, until I arrived there and was awe-struck. I can't forget to mention, also, that the ladies from Leningrad are generally prettier than most of the Russians I met in Moscow or Siberia (though, yeah, it's Russia, there are pretty ladies everywhere there...).
I spent a hell of a new year's eve there, drenched in Vodka and fun, visited submarines, had a good time and went back to Europe, after 10 months in Asia-Russia.

From Leningrad I flew to Stockholm, and headed straight to Vasteras (which in Swedish kinda means Westeros, nerd friends will know), to visit a good old friend and her fun-blasting son Levi(athan). After a few days there, I went back to Utrecht, spent a few weeks organizing myself and trying to pay back all the money I borrowed, then went to Moulins, France, to visit another friend I hadn't seen in many years. After that, another trip - this time for work. Aarhus (Denmark); Bergen, Flam, the SognFjord and Oslo (Norway), Stockholm again, Malmö (Sweden), Copenhagen (Denmark again) and back to Utrecht. Whew! That was all from November, in Irkutsk, to a final stop in Utrecht around the end of March. A lot of ground covered. One could say that's enough, since there were 5 preliminary years living in Italy and the Netherlands but travelling all around Europe, followed by 2013, going through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, China, Mongolia, Siberia, Moscow, Leningrad, Scandinavia and France... but no, not me! 
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 As soon as I managed to get everything together and breath for a while, I flew to Brasil, to visit friends and family - São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, Praia Grande, Santos... I watched the world cup (even went to the stadium to see the amazing match between Germany and Algeria), celebrated the 7x1, got the old rock bands together, played a few gigs, wrote a few songs and we even won a round in a battle of bands - only for me to... travel again! This time to Chile, to see my father's family, which I had last seen in 2001! I stayed a while in Santiago, with my father and mother, enjoying a 'standard vacation' with them, until they left, back to Brasil. That's when I... started travelling again!

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Just last week I was in the Atacama Desert, but this I will tell in greater detail, on a future post. I'll try to go back to posting regularly, with more photos and details of each place - I'm back to Santiago, and going to the south of Chile in a few days, and to Patagonia after that, so I should still have a lot of great photos to post and words to write to ye all!

As I say dozens of times each day - ENJOY YOUR TRAVELS! Don't be afraid to go and see new places, meet new people, eat things you never ate, drink things you never drank... I know in my case it may already be leaning towards an addiction, but it is the healthiest addiction one can have, by far.

Welcome back to my trip!


иркутск - листвянка

A few hours after having my bank card stolen, I boarded the train to Irkutsk - the end of my stay in Mongolia and the first step in exploring Siberia. I shared a cabin with a Buryat lady, pregnant, and a Russian man, drunk. Neither spoke English, but we tried to have a conversation anyway. The Russian man assured the Buryat lady she had nothing to fear from him, and that he would protect our cabin from any other drunken Russians that may try to bother her. Through signs and smiles, he offered his vodka and food to me (I accepted, of course), but at times he became quite frustrated that I could not speak Russian and I could see he regarded me as an idiot of some sort. He was well built and boisterous. One of his hands was all patched up and one of the fingers was useless, clear sign of fistfights, I imagined. I got drunk and fell asleep when the night came. We spent the whole day travelling again, and arrived in the middle of the following night in Irkutsk. There, an older relative of the Buryat lady came to our cabin to help her grab her bags and boxes and leave the train. He took the Russian man's bag and moved it to another bench. The Russian man grunted a challenge, grabbing his bag and moving to put it back where it was. The Buryat man just grabbed the bag from his hands and set it aside again, proceeding with his work. I was surprised to see how quickly the Russian accepted the situation, without further challenges. Not so rough after all.

We arrived at around 4am. I waited until around 9am for business to open up (dark, cold cities, as I learned, go to bed early and rise quite late). I had no money, no place to go and no friends to turn to. I found a coffeeshop which offered wifi and started tackling the problems one by one - good old internet is always there for us! I quickly found a Couchsurfing host for the first few days, borrowed money from my parents and checked out the city layout. I left my heavy bags at the bar and explored the city throughout the rest of the day, disappointed with the fact that I was in Siberia, in November, and I didn't need to wear a coat. The city itself is not as bad as many people make it sound. I struck conversation with a Buryat girl who was drinking in a square, and she showed me around the landmarks of the city, before night came and I went to a neighbouring town to Couchsurf for a few days, after which I returned to Irkutsk. I rather enjoyed my stay there, though it was longer than it should. From host to host, courtesy of Couchsurfing.org, I had a great time exploring the city and local food (which was not that impressive, I must admit). I really like it when cities have interesting statues, and Irkutsk had a lot of them.

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After a few days there, snow finally started to fall and the cold weather made an appearance, bringing up my hopes, just to go back to being the warmest November everyone had ever lived through. Sadly, even though as a place it surprised me positively, and the weather was far from being harsh, I learned that the Russian stereotype is not so far off the mark - the buses smelled of vodka, and drunken people (of all ages and genders - even old couples!) shouted at each other or started impossible conversations with me. At 15.00. On a Wednesday.

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After a few days in Shelikhov (a neighbouring town) and Irkutsk, I was hosted by a Russian couple who took me on a trip to Listvyanka, which is nothing special on its own, but all one needs is a good bakery and a walk around the Baikal lake to be happy, and both things are easy to have there.

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As I was quite short on money, I spent most of the time working or taking walks around the city. After a while, I was hosted by a Ukranian lady who helped me with what I needed the most: an address to have my new bank card sent to. The bank in the Netherlands had already sent it to my dutch address, all I needed now was to have it mailed to me in Siberia. After I had arranged it all with my dutch friends, she recommended me a great place to stay in Olkhon island, on the Baikal Lake, which was an amazing place if I was to believe all the people who urged me to go there. And there I went, to a beautiful place to wait for my card. 

As I mentioned before, my camera was stolen in Mongolia, which means I was left with my phone camera, which sucks. In Listvyanka I was lucky to be able to borrow a decent camera from one of my hosts. Unfortunately I was not so lucky in Olkhon, and the pictures of that trip (which I'll post next time) will be of a lower quality (as some in this post).