South America In Comfort On A BudgetIf you are fortunate, as we are, and own a home in a resort town,
you can travel well at very low cost. Through a combination of home exchanges
and renting our house for one month (rent paid in advance through Airbnb). Our three month+ trip cost only the airfare
when compared to the cost of staying at home during the same period. And it was a lot more fun!
We left Florida from MIA on March 7, 2012 for Buenos Aires
(BsAs). There we stayed one night. Actually, the layover in BsAs was about six
hours, so I booked a room at a hotel near the International Airport where we
could get some sleep. As members of Airbnb we got a discount on our room. Early the next morning we caught our
connecting flight for Neuquen, AR where we planned to take the bus to Pucon, Chile,
our first home exchange destination. Arriving in Neuquen exhausted, we checked into
the airport hotel, decided to rest, look around a while, and make the next leg
to Pucon the following evening.
The bus trip was uneventful except that where we crossed the
border into Chile they check your papers and
your bags for anything organic. This took several hours. Once in Pucon we checked our email, but had
not yet heard from our home exchange partner about the exact address where we
were to stay. All we had was a photo of the condominium building. "Si
senor, lo conozco" (Yes, I know it), said the cabbie. Thirty minutes and
fourty dollars later we arrived at our accommodation, about two miles away. We
had booked the condo through homeforhome.com and were glad at least to be off
the street. We spent about three weeks
in Pucon where we hiked in the nearby park, bathed in the hot springs, and took
a side trip to Valdivia and a small coastal town, Corral. Pucon rests lakeside
under the shadow of the smoking, snow capped
Volcan Villa Rica. Pucon is a
winter resort which does a fair job masquerading as a summer resort from March
to June. If you like to eat out, this place is for you as there are many
upscale restaurants there.
Ready for our next stop, we caught our night bus to Santiago,
stayed overnight, and headed (again by bus)
for La Serena our Chilean seaside resort. Our hosts, Joanna and Carlos,
of Homeforhome, greeted us at the bus station and took us straight to their
condo on the beach. They showed us around and invited us to have dinner with
their family in a few days. We had just learned where the food, mall, laundry, internet
etc. were when we received a call from Joanna inviting us to dinner the next
day. This was the beginning of a great friendship with local people. The whole
family showed up to meet the Americans and to practice their English. There
were generous portions of everything. We took some pictures together and, on
the way back to the beach, they offered to let us use one of their cars for a
couple of weeks. Needless to say, with the added mobility we saw a lot of the
rocky Chilean shoreline north and south of La Serena. Coquimbo to the north is
a fishing port. Sea birds, sea mammals, fin- and shellfish were abundant beyond
watching the sun set over the Pacific. Sometime we ate razor clams or clam
fettuccini made from those I caught in the surf just across the beach and coastal
road in front of our building. Every night we slept to the sound of the waves
and were caressed by the sea breeze. After three weeks it was time to move on. World awaits discovery.
Back in Santiago, we found a great deal on a flight to BsAs. We'd
been in touch by email with our Couchsurfer host, Pat, and our next two home
exchange partners. We stayed with Pat in
the Belgrano barrio for three days. During
that time we rested, saw a Tango show with our next home exchanger partners,
and had dinner with our other home exchange hosts. Both own homes are in
seaside towns south of BsAs. We became
instant friends with both couples: Amando and Graciela, Daniel and Monica, and
their families. Having exchanged house
keys and not being big-city-folk, we left our friends behind and headed for Mar
Azul, six hours south by bus. There we stayed a little more than two weeks. One
noteworthy thing about Mar Azul was that our BsAs couch surfing hostess’ (Pat's)
mother lived nearby and showed us all around the area. She took us to a goucho asado where whole
pigs, sheep, and one whole cow were cooked by being stretched on racks near a
huge open pit fire. From our North
American point of view, we thought this was unbelievable hospitality. Better yet, the home owner, Armando and his
family came to visit us over a three day weekend. They stayed in a small apartment, which they
also own, adjacent to their spacious home.
The first day they cooked asado for us and the second we treated
them to lunch in Mar del Plata, about an
hour farther south. Mar del Plata has a
large fishing port where I bought about 20 lbs. of cobia and mora fish for the
next day’s cookout. The fresh fish was
$6 per lb.! To say we felt welcome is an
understatement. We felt like part of the
family and we were sorry to see them
leave. We recently exchanged
Christmas greetings with their family and look forward to being with them again
when they come to stay at our house in Florida.
Okay, north to Carilo chauffeured by Pat’s mother (can you believe it?) who refused any compensation for
her gas and time. Over all, the coast
south of BsAs is pretty uninteresting.
The surfing looked pretty good
from the beach at Carilo’ but the main attraction is the shops. There are many, many shops of international
fame where you can part with your money.
I am not a shopper but enjoyed some of the fine restaurants in among the
shops. Two weeks may have been a little
long too long to stay in Carilo’, but we were well rested and ready return to
BsAs when the time came. And we were now
confident that we were in the excellent care of all of our hosts/friends and
the remainder of the trip was bound to a continuation of excellence in
Again we stayed with Pat. She had
arranged, while we were gone, for some of the local members of Coughsurfing to
hold an asado, in part in our honor and in part to celebrate another member’s
birthday. The asado was also attended by
Daniel and Monica, the owner’s of the home in Carilo’ who were now curious
about couchsurfing. The photo, if I am
able to upload it is of the group that day.
The following day we took a walking tour of downtown BsAs which was very
interesting. The large number of parks
in and around the city give is more comfortable, warmer feel.
Now, more than two months into our trip it
was time to head for Uruguay. It’s quite
a long way from BsAs to Punta del Diablo (PdD) on the northern coast of Uruguay,
especially since you have to fly or take a ferry across the Rio de la Plata to
Montevideo, then catch a bus in Montevideo to go the rest of the way. So we had prearranged another stay with some
couch surfers, Lionel and Sylvia. We
arrived at their house from the airport at about 11:00 PM and Sylvia said she
had to work so she couldn’t stay up long.
We chatted over snacks and said good night at about 3:00 AM. It was and engaging conversation. We’d , met two more fast friends. The next day we took a walking tour of the
city, cooked fish for Lionel and Sylvia.
On the third day Lionel drove us to the bus station but not without
first being invited to visit us in PdD.
It was a five-and-a-half hour trip to PdD and, arriving after dark had
to find our way to the house we’d rented through airbnb. Being the off season we got a one-bedroom
cabin with ocean view, fire place, full kitchen, asado with patio, and Wifi for
less than U$ 600. After our busy
socializing in BsAs and Montevideo we were ready for a rest and rest is what we
got: two weeks of strolling around the
quite fishing village, picnicking on grassy knolls among the boulders
overlooking the Atlantic, reading, tide pooling, cooking out on the patio. Then Lionel called to say they would be there
for the weekend and we were ready for them.
This was the highlight of our stay in PdD and one of the magical moments of the entire
trip. Of course we visited , ate and
drank Malbec the evening of their arrival.
But the next day Lionel suggested we visit Cabo Polonio, a marine
reserve just north of us. Here is what I
wrote to our family in the States about this outing:
“Lionel and Silvia were so fun and helpful, we decided to invite
them to spend a weekend with us in PdD. They were even better guests than they
were hosts. They took us to Santa Teresa Park where there is a very large fort
which was begun by the Portuguese, then captured and completed by the Spanish.
It's a crazy world, isn't it? Afterward, we went to Cabo Polonio, a rocky spit
of land with a large light house. You can only get there if you are an
accomplished off-road driver or if you buy a ticket to ride on one of their 4 x
4 trucks. The air was very cool and it did not help that there was a
30-mile-per-hour wind. Cabo Polonio is home to a large colony of sea lions. We
climbed around the rocks to take some pictures of them, then found a grassy
spot behind the rocks out of the wind and gave the sun a chance to warm us up,
all while we had our delicious lunch provided by Lionel and Silvia. After this
rejuvenating break, we climbed the 200 or 300 steps to the top of the
lighthouse and walked around the outside. The guide suggested taking off any
hats or scarves that might blow off in the 90 - 100 m.p.h. winds!!! He even
told Sharron to take off her glasses, it was that windy. Holding on to each
other and the railing, we inched our way around and took in the view, without
being blown off. Whew!! This would never occurred in the US, it's too
dangerous. Chuck had to go back out and take some pictures from this height as
you will see in our photo album.
Because of the high winds, back in PdD we had the chance
to take pictures of some spectacular waves breaking against the rocky shore
line. In one picture we. managed to capture a rainbow in the spray. Do you see
it? This cold windy spell became very cold and very windy and it's starting to
feel like it's time to come home. We will head back to Montevideo, BsAs and
Miami on June 22, arriving on the 23rd.”
I spent much of
the next two weeks collecting firewood and trying to keep warm. We had stayed
just about two weeks too long. Although
the weather was unusually cold for that time of year. One night it froze; it was the coldest
temperature for that date on record. On the way back we stopped in Montevideo and spent the night with Lionel and Sylvia. We had a long layover in BsAs the next day and spent most of it going to lunch and visiting with Monica and Daniel. So the trip back was part of the fun as well.
Truly it was the end a fantastic trip to the south of South America.