¡Chi-Chi-Chi Le-Le-Le!

In an attempt to get the best fare, we had booked a flight from New Zealand to South America months ago.   As our trip to South America was approaching, we began doing research into details in Chile and Argentina.   As it turns out, we got super lucky – Valparaiso, Chile, just two hours from Santiago, apparently has the biggest New Year’s celebration in South America – perfect!   Unfortunately, we did not get off to a good start with our flight from Auckland, NZ to Santiago, Chile, as it was delayed 17 hours.   After finally arriving in Santiago in the middle of the night, we spent a day or so recovering and applying for our Brazilian Visa at the Brazilian Embassy in Chile.

We quickly headed for New Years in Valparaiso, a town with tons of character on the coast of Chile.  We spent some time wandering the cobblestone streets and enjoying the amazing street art on brightly painted homes and shops in the hills.  We scoped out some spots to watch the several fireworks displays that light up the bay along the coast of Valparaiso and its neighboring towns.  Finally, we decided to head to the beach, for views of as many of the fireworks displays as possible.  We collected some supplies in the form of a wig, a mask, silly string, and yellow underwear (a Chilean New Years tradition for good luck).  We hung out with the families on the beach, and watched all of the fireworks explode above the water, on all sides of us, while the crowd chanted “Chi-chi-chi-le-le-le!  Viva Chi-le!”  Afterwards, we headed downtown to see the band play in the square.  The streets were packed, young Chileans were out in full force, and we did our best to keep up – staying out until 4am (the parties go until 10am in some parts, we were told).

After New Years, we headed for Valpo’s cleaner and quieter suburb, Vina del Mar, to hang out for a few days.  We loved biking along the ocean on the bike paths to little beach towns.  We stayed at a wonderful hostel with incredibly kind hosts, and enjoyed practicing our Spanish with the Latin-American guests we met.

Next, we took an overnight bus to Pucon, in the Lakes District.  Pucon is nestled against a lake with a beach, with a gorgeous snow-capped volcano in the background.  We wasted no time booking a tour to climb the volcano the next day.  It took about 4 hours to climb the  volcano with crampons, and less than an hour to slide down it on sleds!  It was certainly a highlight of the trip.   The other days there we spent biking to water falls, hiking to three lakes in a beautiful National Park with a lovely French-speaking couple from Corsica who had been living in Tahiti.   It was great getting to know them and adding another destination to our desired travel list (Corsica sounds amazing!).  It was also fun, yet confusing at times, to speak French and Spanish interchangeably during the day.

We were sad to leave Pucon, but excited for a few days in Santiago before having to head to Argentina and Mendoza to meet up with Jon’s high school friend, Owen, and his wife, Sara.   The highlight of Santiago for us was our hostel, one of the best we’ve stayed at during our entire trip, and the well done museum about Chile’s Pinochet military dictatorship from 1973 to 1989.

We loved our time in Chile and happy to know that we’d be back with our adventures into Patagonia in the beginning of February.

Goodbye for now, New Zealand

After our big walk, we headed for Milford Sound on a bus & boat tour.   It was truly incredible; the photos don’t do it justice.  I’ll let them speak for the beauty themselves.

We stopped in Dunedin for  a night to check out some Blue Penguins.  They are the smallest penguins on earth (approximately 1 kg), so they’re extra adorable.  They rushed to shore in packs and ran up the hill to their nests at dusk, around 11 pm – midnight!

We spent Christmas in Kaikoura, a cute town on the coast, known for it’s wildlife.  We spent a gorgeous and sunny Christmas Eve kayaking to a seal hangout, and made lamb for Christmas dinner.  We also visited some baby seals on the coast.   During the winter they apparently hang out in a waterfall pool, in a kind of baby-seal daycare, while the female seals are out hunting.  We saw them while they were still on the rocky coast with their Mamas.  They were ridiculously cute!

We stopped in a pretty French-style town on a peninsula off of Christchurch on our way out of town.   We even got to catch up with some friends that we met in Thailand during a stop in Auckland in between flights!  We loved NZ and can’t wait to visit the  South Island again!