We went to South America and had a great time. Flew into Buenos Aries, stayed at the chic "Art Hotel" for 2 days, then hopped over to Santiago, Chile. We stayed there for 2 more days, then rented a car and drove south, and south, and south. Chile is a tall country, but there's quite a bit of interesting stuff along the way. We rock climbed, camped, met lots of interesting people, including the grandaughter of a mapuchi indian chief, and spoke a lot of hilariously bad spanish. We drove back to Santiago, flew to BA for another day, then headed home. Overall it was a 3 week vacation.
First, while in Buenos Aries outward, the hotel was incredible. The Art Hotel is a renovated building along a tightly-packed block (like most) in a nice section of Buenos Aries. Use cabs in BA, since the subway is old. It's the oldest in the southern hemisphere. There are little lamps on sconces along the interior, and the windows are full-open. Kinda fun, but so stinky and slow that a cab ride it worth it. You don't have to tip the cabbies much. It's just accepted as a way to get around.
Buenos Aries has all the mix of a city's nice, standard and poor areas. Depending on your frame of reference, the poverty may be worse or equal to places here in the US. The tourist areas are typically interesting from a cultural perspective, and we managed to see 3 or 4 musuems, a famed cemetary, several city parks and monuments, and lots of shops and cafes. We talked about living there. It's that nice. Our perspective was severely limited though, since we didn't get outside the city proper. Next time.
Chile - now this was the majority of our trip. Chile appears as a bit poorer as a country, but it's undergoing a noticeable amount of change. Santiago is a bowl of smog, but the metro is brand new. Prices are slightly more expensive than the US, which surprised us a bit. Folks there were very friendly, from those we met and spoke to.
We took the metro to a downtown neighborood in Santigo, visited a local guiding service, and reserved a guide for a day of climbing outside the city. It was very fun, and we ended up spending the day with our guide for both the scheduled climbing, but also for lunch, and talking with her friends. The crag was similar to Smith Rock, OR, so we were comfortable. THe routes spanned the range, but we managed to keep up with anywhere she dropped the rope.
Other friends in Santiago held a BBQ, and the house was just spectacular. The cabbies in Santiago, from our experience are a bit more sneaky, taking you on winding routes or other tricks. We didn't use them as much, since the Metro was so easy, and the buses are very easy to take. The buses pick you up and drop you off wherever you want along the route! That was nice.
The car was a pugeot 207, which is a great little rally car. After Santiago, we headed to Picalemu, on the coast. This town was nice, but now outside the city, the typical level of poverty of towns hit us. Industrialization of most businesses is there, but the majority of the population doesn't live on that level. Instead, the family farm, shop or business is typical. This is quaint and appealing for a tour, but don't expect and flat line of quality across the areas, it's hit or miss.
After our jaunt along the coast, we found two hitchikers along Rt 5 heading South, like us. After picking them up and learning they were native Chileans also on an unplanned "trek", we agreed to link up and travel together. This was a great turn of events, since it made the trip much more colorful.
They translated spanish for us, and taught us all along car trips, which was awesome. We learned spanish faster than we expected (still at the level of about a 5 year-old). Especially nice was the ability to get some cheaper rates on places to stay by sending the native into the lobby first to negotiate the prices. We usually spent the difference by treating them to dinner. Everything worked out great.
Camping in the foothills of national park for Mt. Villarica, we found hot springs and great little hikes. The vistas were outstanding, but the roads were terrible. Several initial trips to somewhere make us all think "we are never getting back out on this road", but the little car managed to keep bumping along. The noises were scary, and i'm sure there's a few pieces still back on the road, but it ran and ran.
Look for more details in Part II