Monthly Archives: September 2014

Surfing and Snowboarding in Chile

Currently Donna and I are back in SF, with our respective South America and Shanghai journeys completed.  We spent this past weekend staying at the Hayes Mansion in San Jose attending the traditional Indian wedding of Donna’s friend Jessica to her now-husband Ganesh. It was fantastic!

 

I owe everyone a post about my last week and a half in Chile, which I spent searching for good surfing and snowboarding.  I was fortunate to find both!

 

Immediately upon renting the “Chevrolet” Trooper* I contacted a friend-of-a-friend who lives in Santiago with his wife and 2 young children.  Sebastian used to live in San Francisco and while in SF he met my good friend Haroldo, with whom I used to work with at Blackrock, while the two of them were surfing at Sloat Street at Ocean Beach.  When Haroldo found out I was heading to Chile, he graciously offered to put me in touch with Sebastian, who is an avid surfer and snowboarder, but who also works in Chile as a Financial Advisor, which meant we had a bit more in common than just being “surf bros”.  One thing I learned early about travelling is that a local connection can be a huge boon for getting dialed into the information one needs to know to find success adventuring in a new location or country.  Therefore I took Haroldo up on his offer and got in touch with Sebastian and, as expected, he proved immensely helpful and more importantly I made new lifelong friends with him and his family!

* Car people might know that Isuzu makes the Trooper, not Chevrolet, but for some reason the vehicle I rented for the low price of $23 per day had Chevrolet branding all over it.  This was a first clue there was something funky and untrustworthy about this car, but at this point in time I was mostly stoked to have some wheels!

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The “Chevrolet” Trooper

 

Upon calling Sebastian on a Saturday and letting him know I’d like to meet up with him, he suggested that the following day I drive to meet him at a town about 2 hours north of Renaca called Pichiquy, where he was staying for the weekend with his family to surf.  Without hesitation I got up early the next day and headed to Pichiquy.  By Sunday the beautiful, sunny weather I’d experienced in Renaca for the past two days became gloomy and the weather forecast called for on-and-off precipitation over the next week and higher than normal winds.  Fortunately there was still plenty of swell on tap (there’s hardly ever a shortage of swell in Chile!), which meant finding good waves would require being in the the right locations given stormy conditions.   On the coastal drive north that Sunday morning I passed many beaches and rounded many headlands, but didn’t see any appetizing surf and saw no surfers anywhere in the water.  However, as I came down the hill towards Pichiquy, I saw a sea that was smoother and lightly groomed by offshore winds with a small pack of surfers enjoying some excellent looking beachbreak.  I watched the surfers for awhile and then met up with Sebastian at the house he was staying at.  He explained to me that in Chile the incoming weather caused north winds and that north winds generally wreck most of the good surf breaks in Chile, especially the copious left points south of Santiago.  However, he told me that this particular location, Pichiquy, is a swell magnet and that north winds are good for the waves, which is why he was spending the weekend here with his family.  Local knowledge at its best!  Pichiquy also is home to two big waves: La Marmola breaks in the middle of the long beach and Punta Docas is at the north end.  The area that was good while I was there was the break in the middle of the beach, just north of a few exposed rocks.

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Great waves when I first saw Pichiquy

 

That morning I ate a light breakfast with Sebastian and met his family.  His wife, Magdalena, speaks great English, is also loves to surf and snowboard.  The two of them had two young sons, aged 2 and 7 months, named Andres and Beltran.  During typical weekend they would head either to the mountains or the beach with the family to enjoy board sports and the Chilean countryside.

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Sebastian and his 7-month old son, Beltran

That day I surfed 2 sessions, the first with Magdalena and Sebastian’s brother, and the second with Sebastian.  Afterward we ate a spaghetti meal together and Sebastian gave me a 6’6” rounded pin surfboard to use for my time in Chile!  I was super stoked to get the board because I didn’t have one and there didn’t seem to be any easy place to rent a good board.   Further, buying a good board would cost at least a couple hundred bucks and would be difficult to sell when it was time to go and impractical and expensive to bring back with me as airlines generally charge at least $150 each way for travelling with a surfboard.  Thanks Sebastian!

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The 6’6″ pintail rocket ship Sebastian lent me

 

The next day was Monday so Sebastian was back in Santiago for work, but I drove back to Pichiquy and surfed all day.  I got up early, packed a bunch of food and drove out, waiting to surf my sessions in between when the few packs of locals would paddle out.   It was off-and-on again raining and putting on that wet wetsuit over and over again was most unpleasant, but the waves were good and plentiful.   At the end of the day the clouds parted and I was treated to a brilliant sunset.

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Very nice A-frame

 

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Good barrels were out there!

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The waves got better and better throughout the day

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Panorama sunset pic, Pichiquy

 

On Tuesday the swell picked up a bit and I was pretty tired from the previous two days of being in the water for 5+ hours each day, so I slept in and decided to explore closer to Renaca.  I discovered a good plan for learning about where to surf when in a new place is to go to the local surf shop and hang out and I figured it would also be a fun place to practice some Spanish.  Right in front of the beachbreak at Renaca there is a surf shop and the owner and his friend were cool and they took me along with them to check the wave called Cap Ducal at the estero of the Vina del Mar river.  The wave looked like it had potential and there was even one guy surfing but they call this river “crap river” for a reason and things only seemed presently much worse due to the recent rain.  There was no way I was going to surf this wave because the water was greenish brown and I could smell the poo 50 feet away from the water.  I really couldn’t believe that one surfer, who was pretty good, would risk hepatitis surfing it.  The two locals from the surf shop didn’t want to surf it either and they took off to do a gym workout instead and said I might find waves somewhere to the north of Renaca.  I saw a few people surfing at a few spots in the Con Con area, but none of the waves looked very good and I ended up just driving around and taking photos.

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Cap Ducal, the rivermouth wave in Vina that can be very polluted after a rain

 

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Random wave shot, a few bodyboarders were here having some fun

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The locals were out surfing this wave in Con Con, not good but a place to get some bumpy rides.

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At the northern part of Con Con there were two bodyboarders tackling this closeout whomper

Wednesday the swell dropped and Renaca started to look pretty good.  I surfed two sessions one in the morning and one in the evening.  The craziest part about when I surfed Renaca were the overly friendly, borderline hostile sea lions.  There was a huge colony and they did not seem at all concerned with surfers as they swam all around me, getting very close and a few times even touching my board or booties.  It was actually pretty creepy — if one of these guys bit it would hurt like hell and give me who-knows-what diseases!  As far as the surf went, for most of my stay the wave was not really that good, most rides consisting of a quick, steep drop where you’d hope for a section to hit or if you were really lucky maybe a short barrel.  But I caught a lot of waves and had fun and I can see the potential for epic waves at Renaca under the right swell and sandbar conditions.

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Best waves I saw at Renaca were mid afternoon on Wednesday.

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The weather was rainy and there was no good place to dry my wetsuit; I ended up putting on a cold, wet wetsuit before every session, so miserable!

 

Wednesday night was the 3-year anniversary party at Delirio and I had a lot of fun with Matti and Berner, but staying up late was not conducive to an early rise the next day.   Matti, Berner and I ended up not even leaving the house until after 3pm.   This was the day were drove down to Quintay and later had a nice Thai dinner in Valparaiso, which I wrote about in my previous post.

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The Delirio 3-year anniversary party

 

On Friday I put into effect my plan for a Chilean roadtrip.  My rough idea was to spend the next 10 days or so chasing surf and snow in the region of Chile that starts just below Santiago and extends another 300 miles to the south to Picon.  After the downpour over the previous few days the weateher was forecast to revert back to the normal pattern for at least a few days, meaning generally south winds and clear skies.  The wave forecast called for a few medium sized pulses of swell, so I decided my first destination would be Pichilemu, the surf capital of Chile.  I was on the road from Renaca by about noon and drove south, purposely taking a more coastal route rather than jetting south via the main highway.  Google had me taking some seriously back roads, some of which weren’t even paved, and there were points where I certainly would have gotten lost if it weren’t for real-time GPS on my Samsung S5 phone overlaid on the cached map, which would quickly reveal if I made a wrong turn.  I wound my way through a few coastal towns, the largest of which is called San Antonio and made it to Pichilemu by about 6pm.  I had time to search for the ideal place to stay and found a hostel called La Sirena Insolente that was very close to Pichilemu’s headline surf point: Punta Lobos.  At the hostel I met Nick, a young surfer and computer programmer who had been traveling through Chile and South America for the last few months.  He’d been staying at this hostel and surfing for several weeks and seemed to have the place well understood.  There were also a bunch of other young foreign travelers from Santiago staying at the hostel just for the weekend and we all went to dinner at a nice, cliffside restaurant.   Staying at a hostel for the first time in awhile reminded me of how easy it is to meet other travelers at hostels.

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After a week of rain and clouds, there was nice weather on Friday when I left Renaca.

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Overlooking Valparaiso

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Looking north towards San Antonio

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Chile can be beautiful and green in the winter. This is a shot from the car during my drive.

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Me plus the random hostelers. Nick is the guy closest to me. The rest were a mix of Germans, English, and Americans who were from a Spanish language school in Santiago and were visiting Pichilemu for the weekend. Average age was probably 23.

 

The next morning Nick and I checked Lobos early but it wasn’t looking too good so we decided to take the Trooper and explore an area to the north of Pichilemu near a small town called Navidad that was rumored to have a really good left point break.  This is one of my most favorite things to do: searching for good waves.  We wound up at a small beach pueblo called Matanzas and we felt like we were definitely on the right track to find the wave.  Then when I employed my strategy of befriending the local surf shop owner.  The owner was gregarious surfer dude and he invited us to come surf it with him later when the tide was lower.  Nick and I found this surprisingly amazing; most surfers are super protective of the “secret” spots but this particular local gingerly invited us along with him.  It is risky business to invite traveling foreigners to experience your local good waves because in these days of the Internet and easy communication a secret spot could easily be exposed and overrun with surfers.  Obviously though, Nick and I were stoked on the invitation and went along and we were treated to the best waves of my trip at this fast and hollow left point.  I caught a handful of good ones and found two barrels, but not all was good.  First the current at the spot was ripping and so constant paddling was required to clamor back up the point after catching a wave.  But worse for me was that about 2 hours into surfing, on one wave I successfully got a first barrel and then was greedy and went for a second barrel but ended up wearing the lip of the tubing wave on my shoulders.  This compressed me into my board and minorly re-injured my right ankle which I had sprained a month before.  I had to stop surfing and realized I would need to take it easier; my fragile ankle was not yet healed enough to surf intense waves requiring late drops or or intense curls.  I swam slowly to shore and after about 20 minutes I felt strong enough for the 45-minute walk back to the town where our car was parked.  Along the way I began thinking that it might be prudent to end the surfing portion of my Chile road trip.  I felt good after the day’s discovery and my surf session despite the ankle injury I was stoked.  Plus, I figured the silver lining was that instead of surfing I could go snowboarding, which is much safer for my ankle because my boots provide firm support.  It felt great to be in Chile!

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Nick looking at a set wave breaking just beyond the famous Punta Lobos rocks

 

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The left point at Matanzas showed some potential.

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Nick knows the perfect fuel to power a long session is ceviche from the shack on the beach!

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So much potential for waves in Chile

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secret spot

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secret spot

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I saw some amazing homes built on the cliffs overlooking the beach on my walk back to the car

 

That evening there was an amazing sunset.  Back at the hostel I enjoyed an amazing dinner cooked by a Chilean/Italian guy named Dino who was friends with Juani, the hostel owner.  Dino cooked a seafood risotto using a large disco over an open campfire flame.  Besides Matti’s chiken mole this was the best meal I’d had in Chile thus far.  In fact, upon reflection I realize that all the best meals I had in Chile were home cooked.

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Sunset on Saturday evening on the way to Pichilemu

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Dino making seafood risotto on a disco over an open camp flame. It was DELICIOUS

 

The next day was Sunday and I took it easy and took some photos of the inside part of Punta Lobos in the morning.   The swell had dropped and there was nothing happening outside the rocks, but the morning saw clean conditions and a relatively light crowd.  I should’ve paddled out then, but instead I went for a surf in the afternoon.  Punta Lobos gets crowded on the weekend as all the Santiago people head west to the beaches for some surfing.   Most of them don’t get up early, which I think is why the morning is less crowded.  During my afternoon session my ankle was still feeling weak and I found it difficult to get in the right position to avoid a late takeoff given the crowds, but I caught a few waves nonethless and enjoyed the pleasant day and being in the water.

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Smaller swell results in only a few mutant waves breaking right on the rock shelf at Punta Lobos

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Ripping the inside wave at Punta Lobos.

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Punta Lobos

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Club de Surf, every great spot needs a surf club

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Dog chewing on a bone at the shack I was taking photos at.

 

On Monday I decided I would head to the mountains.  Based on many conversations I had with various people the place I wanted to check out was Nevados de Chillan.  This mountain is the Mount Baker of South America as it consistently receives more snowfall than pretty much anyplace else.  Furthermore, the backcountry access is amazing and there is a 10,000 foot volcano to ascend.  I was stoked to check this place out as Monday and Tuesday were forecast to have some snow followed by low wind and sunny skies for the rest of the week, perfect spring skiing conditions.  And so I hit the road on the Trooper and quickly again Google had me in the backwoods and I followed plenty of sketchy dirt roads, the whole time hoping that the Trooper wouldn’t fail me.  But the car was a 1996 and had well over 180,000 miles, so I was concerned…

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The drive from Pichilemu south was very scenic

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One of the many dirt roads I found myself on thanks to Google Maps

 

 

Fortunately I made it to the main highway, Chile’s Ruta 5, before disaster struck.  The first thing I noticed was the temp gauge had crept up from about ⅓ to just over ½ between the “C” and the “H”.  I was concerned, stopped to check the oil and add water to the overfill tank, and then I kept going.  Shortly later I started feeling the engine lose power and the temperature hadn’t back down to normal, so I decided I stop and call the owner.  I stopped near an exit and the engine wouldn’t start again.  Crud, most definitely NOT GOOD.  I called the owner and he told me to stay put, that he’d send a mechanic, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen as I was solidly 5 or 6 hours away from Santiago.  With the sun going down, grabbed all my stuff from the car and began walking down the highway, off the first exit and into a town called Parral.  The strange looks I got as people saw this gringo with 2 backpacks and a snowboard bag with a surfboard strapped to the top were pretty classic.  I asked around for directions to the bus terminal, where I knew I could find taxis and hopefully a hotel, or worst case just take a bus to Chillan, which was only about 90km to the south and would certainly have everything.  A taxi driver pointed me to Residencia La Igualdad, which is run by a nice family.  It was like a 2nd and unplanned homestay.

 

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I was heading towards Chillan when I broke down. I’m the blue dot.

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After breaking down, this is the view from the car out the window looking toward the town of Parral. The sun was setting and it was shortly after taking this photo that I decided to carry all my stuff into the town and abandone the Trooper. I was lucky it was a big town!

 

Over the next 48 hours I dealt with the bad situation I’d been dealt and what made the experience so pleasant was the family I was staying with, especially the owner Rene.   I had to speak entirely in Spanish, nobody here spoke English, and I explained to Rene what happened.  Upon hearing the car was still on the highway, he grabbed his truck and was able to tow it back to his house where I was staying.  He also went to work fixing the engine and discovered the car had no water in the radiator.  WOW that was clearly my problem; I had been adding water to the water tank but I should’ve been adding it directly to the radiator.  The battery was also dead (2nd time this happened; previously I’d found someone to jump me), so Rene got an extra battery and we were able to get the car started.  The root of the problem was revealed when we say the water we’d just added to the radiator leaking profusely out of the motor; clearly there was a coolant leak that caused the engine to overheat.  I conveyed all of this information to the owner and had confidence that we’d get the motor fixed in Parral and perhaps I’d even be on my way the next day.

I spent all day Tuesday hanging out with Rene and working to get the motor fixed.  That morning we drove the car a mechanic the knew both Rene and the owner.  Within an hour he found the root of the problem: a pipe from the water pump which had already been patched once had broke again causing the coolant leak.  So Rene and I drove around town until we found a welder who could fix the problem.  By 4pm the mechanic had the car fixed, but there was still a problem: lots of white smoke never stopped pouring from the tailpipe indicated a head gasket leak was likely allowing coolant to enter the cylinders.  The mechanic did a pressure test and confirmed this was the case; this engine was murio: dead.  Really not good.  The original problem being that the water pump pipe broke clearly wasn’t my fault, but I did feel just a little responsible for driving the car that extra few kilometers when there was a heat problem.  I called the owner and we talked.  He seemed understanding and said that he’d drive down tomorrow AM and we could tow the car back to Vina del Mar together, as he’d need me to steer the dead Trooper.  I agreed, but told him I wanted my rental deposit of 100,000 pesos (~$180) back before I’d go on the journey with him.  He agreed.  I stayed another night at the Rene’s house and had a nice meal with the family, where I watched Chile defeat Haiti in a soccer match.  Also I listened to Rene’s young son play the harpsichord, one of the most unique instruments I’ve seen played before me.

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At the auto shop. This is the mechanic who figured out a faulty water pipe was the cause.

 

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Rene fond this guy at a welding shop to fix the broken pipe

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This is the broken pipe after being fixed. The guy cleverly used dry ice to cool down the aluminum peace and fit the steel piece into it. Welding was not possible since the pipe was made from aluminum. You can see the rubber hose that was the original repair that broke.

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In Parral you could buy a bunch of different types of dog food.

The next morning I woke up to an e-mail from the owner stating that he changed his mind and he actually wanted me to pay him $1000 for a tow truck to take the dead Tropper back to Vina, plus another $1000 for the engine repair.  Welp, no doubt I wasn’t going to do that: besides being lied to by the owner the previous day, I really didn’t feel completely responsible for what happened.  Plus I didn’t like the way he changed his mind so suddenly and was demanding money after I had spent so much effort making sure the car was taken car of.  So I decided to just leave back to Santiago on a bus and ignore his requests for money.  The broken Trooper was the owner’s problem, afterall, and Rene and myself even spoke with a police officer who confirmed the same.  I had no responsibility to bring it back so Rene and I took it to a safe place, the gas station near the higway.  This was a bummer for the Trooper, but I really didn’t want to deal with the unreasonable owner it made sense to leave.  My goodbye to Rene and his family was heartfelt and I can reflect with sincere gratitude how nice they were to me and how much they helped me navigate this thorny situation.  I will always be thankful to them.

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In Chile stray dogs are not quiet as stray as they look. Chileans like to put sweaters on dogs to keep them warm through winter and generally people make sure no dogs suffer unnecessarily.

 

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Rene’s son Francisco playing the harpsichord

Back in Santiago I stayed at a hostel owned by the same guy, Juani, who owned the surf hostel at Punta Lobos.  He told me that there was a shuttle organized a couple times a week which would take people from the hostel early in the morning to Valle Nevado, which is in the Farallones mountain range, which is the range that is only about 1.5 hours from Santiago.  So I signed up and on Thursday was up in the mountains getting run after run at the uncrowded resort.  The snow was not very good, nothing fresh, and very icy in the morning but softened up by the early afternoon.  I found some awesome, long groomer runs.  Just after midday I skinned over to El Colorado resort and to the peak for a good view and a fun run back to Valle Nevado.  All in all it was a good day.

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The Valle Express chair leading me to the top of Valle Nevado. Coverage and conditions weren’t great, but improved as the snow baked in the sun and softened.

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Selfie at the top of El Colorado after skinning up.

 

On Friday I went back to Renaca to hang out and say goodbye to Matti, Berner and Matias.  It was a relaxing day and I had dinner with Matti at Delirio.  That Saturday morning we were lazy, had a nice breakfast and we said our goodbyes.  I headed back to Santiago and checked back into the hotel.  My flight was on Monday morning so my plan was to take advantage of what was likely the last powder day of the season the next day snowboarding with Sebastian.  He picked me up at the subway station and we went to his house in Santiago and then we drove up to Magdalena’s parent’s cabin at La Parva.  It was ski in / ski out!

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One of the few photos I took while back in Renaca to say goodbye to Matti and Berner

 

Sunday was an awesome powder day in the Farallones and at La Parva.  Sebastian’s kids were being watched by Maria, the nanny, and so the 3 of hit us it hard all morning and into the early afternoon.   Magdalena and Sebastian knew La Parva like the back of their hands and led me immediately to a long powder run on the south facing part of the mountain.  We lapped the route 3 times and carved out many fresh tracks.  For one run I took out my GoPro and captured a few sweet surf-inspired carves Magdalena laid down on the snow banks.  Such great style!  Also I saw a few people in the backcountry and some amazing places to ski just off-piste, most notably The Chimney – a long couloir that is the most prominent feature on the north side of the resort.  The snow warmed up by 2:30ish and I was tired so headed back, but first having one beer in the sun with a few of the mountain and Santiago in the background.  A very nice day!

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Andres and Beltran watching their parents get ready to shred the mountain.

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Magdalena, Sebastian and myself heading up for a powder descent

 

A fantastic day of snowboarding fresh snow ended my trip in Chile.  That evening was my last in Chile and I left my hostel early on Monday morning and commenced a 24-hour journey back to San Francisco.

The month and a half I spent in South America confirmed what I thought I knew already: this is a place that I could live; a kind of California in reverse.  While here I formed so many fond memories, learned, meet new family members and made new friends.  All of this will serves to build a strong desire to return and explore more!

Below are some more pictures from the mountain.  It was really great to see Magdalena lay down some sweet surf inspired carves!

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La Parva has the best Poma lifts I’ve ever used

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Magdalena’s boss Scott at the end of the Chimney couloir. Next time I return I definitely want to descend this couloir!

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GoPro stick action

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This run was awesome!

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Having fun!

 

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Sequence 1

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Sequence 2

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Dropping a small snow berm

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Such style!

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Chile, Farallones, Parral, Pichilemu | 2 Comments

A Taste of Shanghai

I decided the most efficient and guaranteed way to brush up on my Mandarin speaking, writing and reading skills was to leave South America early and move straight to the heart of China’s largest commercial city.   I flew back to SF for 42 hours to pack my bags for Shanghai. Although it wasn’t my first choice to skip out on exploring Chile with Brandon, in the end, the impromptu visit to China paid off. Shanghai is an incredibly vibrant, international and vivacious city where you can get just about anything you want at your fingertips. I was fortunate enough to explore a small fraction of the city over the past 3+ weeks.

Cityscape - The Bund

Cityscape – The Bund

The greenest street I saw in Shanghai happened to be just down the street from my apartment!

The greenest street I saw in Shanghai happened to be just down the street from my apartment!

To be honest, I thought these were going to be a rather mundane and tedious few weeks of re-learning how to read and write Chinese. It turned out to be everything but dull and redundant! A few days before arriving in Shanghai, I had reached out to Jacqueline, a future INSEAD classmate living in Shanghai, on Facebook to see if we could meet up during my visit. Ironically, she would be traveling to Argentina at that time, but she so generously offered for me to stay in her room in Jing’An, Shanghai – essentially as central as it gets in Shanghai! Her roommate, Monnie, was the first person I met in Shanghai, and she couldn’t have been more welcoming or well connected in Shanghai, having moved there two years ago from Hong Kong. Monnie also had one of her good friends, Melissa, staying at the apartment for two out of three of the weeks that I was in Shanghai which was a treat for me. Melissa and I would spend hours chatting in Mandarin and exploring Shanghai – mainly she was correcting my poor grammar and laowai enunciation – through her, I learned a lot about life in Shanghai and China. And finally, our last roommate, Tanaka-San, was always excited when we decided to have a low key night at home.

My roommate, Monnie, and me enjoying a Hong Kong styled desert on our way home!

My roommate, Monnie, and me enjoying a Hong Kong styled desert on our way home!

 

Tanaka-san, doing what she does best in her comfortable Jing'an apartment - lounging.

Tanaka-san, doing what she does best in her comfortable Jing’an apartment – lounging.

After taking one day to settle into Shanghai, intensive Chinese classes began. I spent the first four hours of each weekday in a Mandarin school called Miracle Mandarin, which I found through a simple Google search online. The 30 minute walk to and from class was a daily battle between the endless cars, scooters, bicycles and flexible traffic laws, which I’m happy to report I won simply by surviving! In addition to learning Chinese reading/writing at a rapid pace, I met a few new friends at the school from Germany, England, Venezuela, Indonesia, Brazil and Spain who were fun sidekicks to explore the touristy aspects of Shanghai. We visited the Bund to execute an ice-bucket challenge, and also to visit Shanghai’s fake markets to have custom jackets made  and bars to get a taste of the ex-pat culture in Shanghai. You’ll see from the two photos below of The Bund.   Although I’m told the pollution in Shanghai is significantly better than Beijing, there is no hiding the fact that the city does struggle with some pollution particularly during the hot and humid summer months. In one of the photos below I had to increase contrast because the smog was dampening the colors!  By the end of my stay in Shanghai, I had two days of blue skies and even saw stars on my last night in the city! 

Executing the ice-bucket challenge along the Bund!

Executing the ice-bucket challenge along the Bund!

The Bund looking beautiful at night!

The Bund looking beautiful at night!

Enjoying a nice meal along the Bund with a light show across the river

Enjoying a nice meal along the Bund with a light show across the river

Through Monnie, I met many of her friends who grew up either in Shanghai or another large city in China. This was by far one of the coolest parts of the trip. I would spend hours talking to them in Mandarin, learning about their life and culture in Shanghai over a steaming bowl of hotpot (similar to shabu-shabu, but way better!) or a traditional Shanghai styled restaurant. Shanghai’s culture is centered around the enjoyment of good food, drinks, company and of course, KARAOKE! On my last day in Shanghai, Monnie and her friends threw me a surprise farewell party at a swanky Karaoke (pronounced Ka-La-OK in Chinese) Bar so that I could experience one of their favorite outings with friends. We sang, we ate and we drank Tsingtao beers – I had to sit out during the Chinese songs this time, but I look forward to the time when I can also participate!

Chinese styled hot pot (i.e. shabu shabu, but better!) with one side spicy, one side mild.

Chinese styled hot pot (i.e. shabu shabu, but better!) with one side spicy, one side mild.

Hong Shao Rou - Slow cooked pork belly

Hong Shao Rou – Slow cooked pork belly

Making peanut brittle in the most authentic way possible!

Making peanut brittle in the most authentic way possible!

Sampling Crazy Chinese Fruits for Desert. (Edible part of the Lotus Flower)

Sampling crazy Chinese fruits for. (It’s the edible part of the Lotus Flower)

Swanky Karaoke Club Entrance. When it comes to Karaoke, China ain't horsin' around!!

Swanky karaoke club entrance. When it comes to Karaoke, China ain’t horsin’ around!!

Another highlight was a weekend “getaway” to Hangzhou Melissa (Monnie’s friend), who is originally from Fujian province in the South of China. I was hoping to escape city-life for a weekend, but it turned out that “getting away” got me to a city that had more people than NYC and all of it’s surrounding boroughs combined. Hangzhou is a city about 100 miles outside of Shanghai, though it only took us about an hour to get there by train. At one point on the train, I looked up and a saw a sign that displayed our current speed: 296km/hr. Impressive! China has something like 16-18 high-speed trains; the U.S. has some work to do to catch up! With 1.4 billion people, 24 million in Shanghai alone, I understand China’s commitment to building efficient modes of public transportation from their subways to high-speed trains that run like arteries throughout China. Once we arrived in Hangzhou, we explored around their famous Xi Hu (West Lake) and their historic temples dating back thousands of years (though many have been restored in the last decade).

 

Melissa and me exploring West Lake in Hangzhou during our weekend getaway

Melissa and me exploring West Lake in Hangzhou during our weekend getaway

stone buddah and me

Medicine Buddha in Hangzhou

Medicine Buddha in Hangzhou

Practicing my kungfu moves with the ancient stone statue. Statue 1, Donna 0.

Practicing my kungfu moves with the ancient stone statue. Statue 1, Donna 0.

Stone Lion from Hangzhou

Stone Lion from Hangzhou

My time in Shanghai flew by and I felt that I had hardly scratched the surface. The good news is that I’ll be heading back there with Brandon, my mom and his mom in a few short weeks to show them a few highlights in the city before we take a local airline to Zhangjiajie for a week long tour. Shanghai has changed significantly since my mom lived there nearly 30 years ago, so I am looking forward to showing her, Brandon and his mom the new Shanghai that I so fortunately had the chance to explore with the amazing friends that I met here over the past three weeks!

 

 

 

Categories: China, Shanghai | 1 Comment

Welcome to Chile

Have some down time (read: surf isn’t good today) and thought I’d share a post about my leaving Bariloche and heading to Chile.

 

After hiking back to reality from Frey everyone was down for what Argentina does best: a big steak cooked at a Parilla.  If you are in Bariloche then the go-to spot for a charred hunk of meat is El Boliche “de Alberto”.  The entire crew ate dinner there and followed it up with a few beers.

 

A must stop in Parilla experience in Bariloche

A must stop in Parilla experience in Bariloche

The complete crew together at Alberto's.  Tsungsu, myself, Luke, Kevi, Tom, Barbara and Vincenz

The complete crew together at Alberto’s. Tsungsu, myself, Luke, Kevi, Tom, Barbara and Vincenz

 

The next day I had just one goal, to buy a bus ticket.  My plan was to head to Osorno, Chile and along the journey decide if I wanted to head to Nevados de Chillán for more snow chasing at the mountain in South America that consistently receives the most snowfall (it’s like the Mount Baker of the Andes) or if I should head to Reñaca where my cousin Matti lives.  The economic turmoil in Argentina leads to frequent strikes one of which was scheduled by bus drivers for the next 2 days, but the Chilean companies were still operating, so I was good to go.  That evening I relaxed at my hotel, La Luna, and reflected on what an awesome time I had in Bariloche, meeting amazing people and taking in the sights at such a gorgeous place.  I have no doubt that I will one day return to Bariloche!

The hosteleria & cervezeria La Luna, where I stayed for over a week

The hosteleria & cervezeria La Luna, where I stayed for over a week

The view from the hotel room after returning from Frey

The view from the hotel room after returning from Frey

Lake Nahuel Huapi

A serene view of Lake Nahuel Huapi from the bus stop by La Luna

 

One thing I have to say about buses in Argentina & Chile: they are awesome.  Obviously buses are slower than flying, which for an American spending their 2 weeks-a-year vacation in South America makes them a poor choice, but the plus side is they are cheap and really comfortable and perfect for someone where time is less of the essence.  I spent just over $20 to get to Osorno and during the ride made the decision to head to Viña and meet up with Matti instead of journeying to Chillán via 3 more bus rides.  This seemed to me a more simple and relaxing plan, plus I’d get to spend more time with Matti.  My subsequent bus ticket to Viña de Mar was a whooping $37 for a cama seat (cama means bed and implies the seat fully reclines).  Of course the entire journey took about 24 hours including a 8 hour “layover” in Osorno, but the price was right!

 

welcome to chile-8

Monster buses are comfortable and cheap for getting around South America

 

 

One other tidbit about travelling internationally that is a relatively new development and worth mentioning is how easy modern cell phones enable connecting with people and finding your way around a foreign nation.  Before leaving on my trip I bought a Samsung Galaxy S5 unlocked phone.  That it is unlocked is key because it enables me to go to new countries and just plug in inexpensive pre-paid SIM cards, which gives me a local cell phone number and data access!  Having a local number is more convenient and way, way cheaper than dealing with international roaming.  Firstly, people in the country you’re visiting can text and call you with no problem whereas they won’t make an international call to your US number.  Secondly, its much, much cheaper: in Argentina I spent a total of about $20 for the entire month and with no problems was able to use 10MB per day of data.  I made calls to hotels and sent texts to people I’d met.  The first stop Donna and I made in Argentina was to the cell phone store and once I got to Osorno I ditched my Argentina SIM card and bought a Chilean SIM and plan for $10 so now I had a Chilean number and 200MB of data to use for the next 15 days!  The convenience is amazing — I’ve been using Google Maps to get directions and pinpoint my location while on the road, I’ve sent texts with locals to meet up at surf destinations, and I’ve been in constant communication via WhatsApp with Donna (in Shanghai) and Matti.  Also the coverage, especially for data, has been surprisingly good and speedy throughout all the places I’ve been so far.  Furthermore, international calling is no problem anyplace with halfway decent Wi-Fi, just use Skype and pay nothing to call other Skypers and about like $0.02/minute to call normal phone numbers anywhere in the world. All of this would have not been easily possible 8 years ago when I was last backpacking around the world and it is a development I really like!

 

The journey was uneventful.  I spent my layover in Osorno getting my Chilean phone number and then in typical digital nomad style: relaxing at a coffee shop with Wi-Fi and outlets.  Before I knew it 24 hours had past and I was getting picked up at the bus station on Friday morning in Viña del Mar by Matti and Berner.

 

Matti, Berner and myself

Matti, Berner and myself

 

This was my first time meeting Berner, Matti’s husband of ~3 months, and my first time seeing her new life in Chile.  For those of you who don’t know, Matti is my first cousin on my dad’s side (daughter of my dad’s sister Anneleis) and she is Dutch, having lived in Utrecht for most of her life.  Matti met Berner about a year and a half ago because they both worked at the same restaurant in Holland as chefs.  Yes, they both cook awesomely well and I’ve been eating like a king since arriving here!  Berner is culturally Dutch and has lived in Holland his entire life, but both of his parents are from Chile and much of his extended family lives here in Reñaca.  Shortly before starting to date Matti, Berner and his brother Mattías, who like Berner had lived in Holland his entire life, took the opportunity to buy into a family-owned restaurant in Reñaca called Delirio.  Reñaca is an upscale, beachside, tourist town just adjacent to Viña del Mar, which is just adjacent to the larger port city of Valparaíso, which is about an hour or so from Santiago.  The landscape in Reñaca reminds me of southern California, with green hills dotted with condos and homes and a nice whitesand beach with good surf.   Upon buying into the restaurant, Berner first moved to Chile and then Matti followed him about 3 months later and within a year and after some visa issues, they got married.

 

Renaca has the look and feel of a SoCal town like Laguna Beach.

Renaca has the look and feel of a SoCal town like Laguna Beach.

The view from Matti's apartment balcony.

The view from Matti’s apartment balcony.

There is a good surf spot at the north end of La Playa Renaca.

There is a good surf spot at the north end of La Playa Renaca.

This is the restaurant that Berner and his brother Mattias bought into and are now running.

This is the restaurant that Berner and his brother Mattias bought into and are now running.

Matti has adjusted quickly to Chile within the 7 months she’s been and here and her Spanish is already way better than mine.  Since getting a job seemed out of the question (restaurant worker jobs pay very little in Chile), Matti and Berner decided to open a to-go sandwicheria right next door to Delirio.  They are calling the place “Matti”, which I think is a good name as it lends personality shop and is easy for Chileans to pronounce.  The plan is to sell sell a variety of high-quality lunch items and dessert items to the affluent and increasingly health conscious local populace.  Matti noted to me that these kinds of establishments are already sprouting up in Santiago, so she is extrapolating the trend to the Reñaca and expecting that there will be demand for high quality foods amongst the tourist, well-to-do residents, and blue collar workers of Reñaca.  The sandwicheria is not ready for business yet and both Matti and Berner have been working everyday to finish the remodel and they plan to open the doors by mid-September (right around when I leave, bummer!)  I’ve had the tasty job of helping Matti test some of the new dulces (desserts) that she is going to sell at the new restaurant.  Luckily I’ve been completely able to self-entertain while they work, exploring the coast for good waves!  I find it very admirable what they are doing; I hope to one day be an entrepreneur and build something from scratch, and here is my younger cousin, taking a huge risk moving to a foreign country where she doesn’t even speak the language and starting her own business.  I wish her and Berner the best of success and from what I can tell they will find it!

 

The new spot

Matti showing me the inside of her sandwicheria, Matti

 

They used salvaged wood for one wall in there shop and here Matti is cleaning it before applying a finish.

They used salvaged wood for one wall in there shop and here Matti is cleaning it before applying a finish.

Berner painting the outside of Matti

Berner painting the outside of Matti

Matti whipping up desserts for testing purposes. I was stoked to be a taster!

Matti whipping up desserts for testing purposes. I was stoked to be a taster!

Chile is a long country, measuring about 2,600 miles from north to south but averaging only about 110 miles wide.  The Andes rip through the entirety of the eastern portion of the country so skiing is good and of course that long coastline is rife with surf opportunities.  The buses are great, but if you want to surf a variety of waves you pretty much have to have car.  Thus I knew I needed to rent something and obtaining a suitable vehicle for surf & snow strikes was priority #1 for me upon getting settled in Reñaca.  Luckily for me, Berner was able to dial in a local rental company which offered up a 4×4 for the great price of $23 per day.  The downside is lowsey gas mileage of about 17 mpg and with gas prices ~$8 per gallon, it will be expensive to keep her going.  You win some, you lose some.  At any rate, I’m glad to have the 4×4, you know, just-in-case…

 

This is my whip in Chile.  Not bad for $23 per day!

This is my whip in Chile. Not bad for $23 per day!

A view towards the north and Renaca from central Vina del Mar.

A view towards the north and Renaca from central Vina del Mar.

 

One evening Matti and I headed to Valparaíso to get a have a nice dinner.  I knew nothing about the city, but we landed in a pretty cool neighborhood called Cerro Alegro.  Valparaíso is a city of hills and this particular hill had a very Bohemian feel to it, a destination for artists with many shops selling artwork and a number of cute restaurants all connected via a maze of cobblestone streets.  Matti and I got lost for a bit walking around in the labyrinth of cobbled alleys decorated with colorful murals.  The food was only so-so; Chile is simply does not compare to neighbor Argentina in the culinary arts.

 

Cerro Alegro

Valparaiso is a city of hills. This is the view north from Cerro Alegro.

Valparaiso

This was a particularly cool alleyway staircase in the labyrinth of Valparaiso

 

I’ve spent the last week or so driving around in the Jeep and getting familiar with the coast surrounding Reñaca.  The weather has been pretty poor since I’ve arrived, with only the first two days I was here being sunny and the rest being cloudy with off and on rain showers.  It has rained at some point everyday for the past 5 days but still the surfing has been fun.  I’ve found some good waves and I am learning what wind and swell conditions mean for the different spots, all good information that enters the surf database I maintain in my head that will come in handy every time I come to Reñaca.  I’ll save the pics and details of what I’ve found surf-wise for another post…

 

The more typical weather during the bulk of my stay in Renaca thus far.

The more typical weather during the bulk of my stay in Renaca thus far.

We took a roadtrip to a small seaside village called Quintay south of Vina del Mar where scuba diving is a common activity.

We took a roadtrip to a small seaside village called Quintay south of Vina del Mar where scuba diving is a common activity.

Two nights ago (as I write this on the morning of Friday, September 5) was the 3-year party for Delirio.  What was noteworthy for me was the many compliments I received on my functional Spanish.  I’m definitely very gringo when I speak, but as I was meeting many friends of the family of Berner I was completely able to having meaningful conversations.  It felt good!  Also it was great to meet the many new people who make up my new extended family, I already feel very connected here in Chile, which is a great country rich in opportunities for both adventure and business!

 

Finally, last night Berner, Matti and I went back to Cerro Alegro in Valparaíso to eat at Samsara, the Thai restaurant Matti and I meant to try the previous time but couldn’t because they had no tables for us.  The food was pretty good, although surprisingly Chile doesn’t like spicy food, so the curry sauces were overly sweet compared for my liking, but it was still very good.  I’ll finish with the below picture of Matti and I.  Today I take off on a Chilean road trip to look for surf and snow.

 

We had a nice Thai dinner at Samsara in Cerro Alegro.

We had a nice Thai dinner at Samsara in Cerro Alegro.

 

Categories: Argentina, Bariloche, Chile, Reñaca | 1 Comment

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