Valparaíso: Streets of Art

“Valparaíso, how absurd you are…you haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you.” – Pablo Neruda

These words from Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda perfectly sum up the port city of Valparaíso. Rambling, chaotic, polychromatic Valpo has a way of rubbing its bohemian spirit off onto you. The streets are replete with all manner of graffiti and murals; some pieces of art are the size of entire buildings, while others are minuscule gems hidden in nooks and alleyways that only the observant pedestrian would notice. Some are incredibly intricate and others are rather simple. They can be absurd, obscene, whimsical, or genuinely thought-provoking. The following pictures are just a tiny sampling of the city’s many artistic treasures.

It's sad when there is a piano around but no one to play it...

It’s sad when there is a piano but no one around to play it…

Problem solved!

Problem solved!

Very van Gogh-esque

Very van Gogh-esque

Covering up graffiti

Covering up graffiti

This garage showcases the old ascensors that are so prevalent in this hilly city

This garage showcases the old ascensors that are so prevalent in this hilly city.

Lots of detail

Lots of detail

Well this is a fresh take on Little Red Riding Hood

Well this is a fresh take on Little Red Riding Hood.

What a fascinating flight of stairs

What a fascinating flight of stairs.

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Such intricacy!

Never stop exploring

Never stop exploring

This mural, "Solsticio de Invierno," painted by a duo of Sammy and Cynthia who go by the name Un Kolor Distinto, gives new life to a 10-story apartment building.

This mural, “Solsticio de Invierno,” painted by Sammy and Cynthia, a duo that goes by the name Un Kolor Distinto, gives new life to a 10-story apartment building.

If you aren't observant, you may miss something wonderful. "Even in the smallest places, can a garden grow." - Noah Gundersen

If you aren’t attentive, you may miss something wonderful. “Even in the smallest places, can a garden grow.” – Noah Gundersen

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Daniel Marceli is famous for painting fish with human characteristics. The eyes are always shaped like a human's, and this particular painting shows a half fish-half man subject

Daniel Marceli is famous for painting fish with human characteristics (note the eyes) to make statements on society and politics. This particular painting shows a half fish-half man subject.

More Marceli

More Marceli

There is no shortage of strangeness on these streets.

There is no shortage of strangeness on these streets.

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A waterless reef

A waterless reef

This one is on the corner of the street where I lived for six months. It is a collaboration between three artists. Sadly, someone graffitied a mustache on this work after they finished it.

This one is on the corner of the street where I lived for six months. It is a collaboration between three artists. Sadly, someone graffitied a mustache on this work after they finished it.

This is also on the street where I lived.

This is farther down the same street.

This one depicts a porteño resting by the port. I lived in the yellow house in the left of this picture.

This mural depicting a porteño wasn’t here until a couple months ago! Art is always being born in this seaside city. I lived in the yellow house in the left of this picture.

"We are not hippies; we are happies." This is one of the most iconic pieces of art on Cerro Alegre.

“We are not hippies; we are happies.” This is one of the most iconic pieces of art on Cerro Alegre.

Believe in love.

Believe in love.

Is it a door, or something more?

Is it a door, or something more?

Love the expression on this old woman’s face. You can almost feel her fingers thrumming on the sidewalk as you walk by.

I love the expression on this old woman’s face. You can almost feel her fingers thrumming on the sidewalk as you walk by.

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A colorful life

A colorful life

This one spans the 2,700 mile length of Chile in terms of its indigenous culture, all the way from the northern Atacama Desert, through the Lake District, down to the icy mountains of Patagonia. I have been to all three regions.

This one spans the length of Chile in terms of its indigenous culture, all the way from the northern Atacama Desert, through the Lake District, down to the icy mountains of Patagonia. I have been to all three regions.

Patty cake in a pill

Patty cake in a pill.

Moving and disturbing

Moving and disturbing.

Makes you think

Makes you think.

Third eye wide open

Third eye open.

Love this one! Never stop making music, world.

Love this one! Never stop making music, world.

And this one! We could always use more books.

And this one! We could always use more books.

Due to the closeness of the buildings, this enormous "hidden" mural can only be seen from this overlook. It was painted by Inti Castro, a native of Valparaíso and one of the most well-known  street artists in the world.

Due to the closeness of the surrounding buildings, this enormous “hidden” mural can only be seen from this overlook in Cerro Concepción. It was painted by Inti Castro, a native of Valparaíso and one of the most well-known street artists in the world.

Dreaming of superpowers

Dreaming of superpowers

This one is clearly inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupery's beloved novella The Little Prince.

This one is clearly inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s beloved novella The Little Prince.

I was lucky enough to catch this one in progress. Any guesses how it turned out?

I was lucky enough to catch this one in progress. Any guesses how it turned out?

I was doubly fortunate to catch the artist here again when I returned a few days later to see the finished piece!

I was doubly fortunate to catch the artist here again when I returned a few days later to see the finished piece!

This brightly colored road on Cerro Alegre leads up to where I lived.

This brightly colored road on Cerro Alegre leads up to where I lived.

Back when the city was a thriving port, extra paint from the boats would be slathered on the houses, giving the city its distinctive tones.

Back when the city was a thriving port, extra paint used for boats would be slathered on the houses, giving the city its distinctive hues.

Even the sky plays with color.

Even the Valpo sky plays with color.

 

Valparaíso, my home for the last half year, is a gem on Chile’s coast that is bursting with music, culture, and art. It is worth visiting Chile for the rugged southern reaches of Patagonia and the glittering night skies of the northern Atacama Desert, but if you find yourself in the middle of the 2,700 mile long country, do yourself a favor and relax in Valpo for a few days. Enjoy the sounds of gulls and church bells, breathe in the scents of fresh seafood and golden-brown empanadas, and keep your eyes wide open. For the very streets are art.

-Ben

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Salt, Sand, and Stars

A couple weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert and Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni. Both places gifted me with otherworldly landscapes, new friendships, and the renewed sense of freedom and possibility that travel so often provides. Below are some pictures from my adventures!

First, I arrived in the tourist oasis of San Pedro de Atacama. The Atacama Desert happens to be the driest non-polar desert in the world, receiving an average rainfall of .004 inches per year. Some parts of the desert have not seen rain in over 400 years.

The Licancabur volcano watches over mellow San Pedro at sunset

The Licancabur volcano watches over mellow San Pedro at sunset

If you ever wander here, I highly recommend La Ruca hostel. It's just down from the main road, quiet, and owned by a friendly Bolivian man!

La Ruca hostal, while just down from the main road, was a quiet, relaxing place to recharge.

Taking in the alien beauty of the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon)

Taking in the alien beauty of the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley)

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In front of the Tres Marias, a rock formation that (sort of) resembles three women praying. I'm filling in for the one which was unfortunately broken by a tourist in 1996.

In front of the Tres Marias, a rock formation that (sort of) resembles three women praying. I’m filling in for the one which was unfortunately broken by a tourist in 1996.

Mars or Earth? This valley was originally named "Valle de la Marte" (Mars Valley) by Belgian priest Gustavo Le Paige, but the locals thought he was mispronouncing "Valle de la Muerte." It has been known as Valley de la Muerte (Death Valley) ever since.

Mars or Earth? This valley was originally named “Valle de la Marte” (Mars Valley) by Belgian priest Gustavo Le Paige, but the locals thought he was mispronouncing “Valle de la Muerte.” It has been known as Valley de la Muerte (Death Valley) ever since.

This one's for you, Mom!

This one’s for you, Mom!

Sunset at Valle de la Luna's Piedra del Coyote. The rock formations here are gorgeous. Not long after this moment, the mountains in the distance were bathed softly in pink and purple light.

Sunset at Valle de la Luna’s Piedra del Coyote. The rock formations here are gorgeous. Not long after this moment, the mountains in the distance were softly bathed in pink and purple light.

This same night, I went stargazing. Due to San Pedro de Atacama’s high altitude (~8000 feet), aridity, lack of clouds (330 cloudless days a year), and lack of radio and light pollution, it is one of best places in the world to observe the night sky. I highly recommend booking a tour with Jorge Corante: he is infectiously passionate about astronomy, does tours with small groups, and has six different telescopes through which to observe such phenomena as star clusters, galaxies, nebulae, and planets (I saw the gorgeous rings of Saturn as if they were mere feet away!).

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I have never seen the moon in this much detail. I can also now confirm it is, sadly, not made of cheese.

I had never seen the moon in this much detail. I can also now confirm it is, sadly, not made of cheese.

I believe everyone should gaze up at the stars as often as possible.

I believe everyone should gaze up at the stars as often as possible.

The next morning I visited the Geyser del Tatio, the world’s third-largest geyser field with more than 80 active geysers.

Dawn.

Rosy-fingered Dawn.

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Just trying to get warm! The pre-dawn hours were utterly frigid.

Just trying to get warm! The pre-dawn hours were utterly frigid.

Being pensive on the open road.

Being pensive on the open road.

On the way back to San Pedro, we stopped at the tiny village of Machuca, home to only a dozen or so people.

The village's rustic church

The village’s rustic church.

The main action: a friendly soccer game and skewers of llama meat sizzling on a grill.

The main action: a friendly soccer game and skewers of llama meat sizzling on the grill.

In case you were wondering, grilled llama is delicious.

In case you were wondering, grilled llama is delicious.

 

After a few days exploring the surroundings of San Pedro, it was time to pile into an SUV and make the three day journey through Bolivia’s stunning altiplano to the Salar de Uyuni – the largest salt flat in the world with more than 4,000 square miles of salt.

Word to the wise: try to have exact change for the tourist visa at immigration checkpoints such as this one.

Word to the wise: try to have exact change for the tourist visa at border checkpoints such as this one.

This image sums up Bolivia quite nicely.

This image sums up Bolivia quite nicely.

The Bolivian altiplano is strewn with jaw-dropping scenery, including a plethora of lagoons. Some are misty:

Laguna Blanca

Laguna Blanca

Others are red:

Laguna Colorada

Laguna Colorada

I almost fell in. Whew, that was close!

I almost fell in. Whew, that was close!

And still others are…frozen?

Laguna Honda makes skipping rocks more like sliding rocks.

At Laguna Honda, skipping stones is more like sliding stones.

The night skies continued to leave me speechless.

The night skies continued to leave me speechless.

As did the inexplicable realization that - out of the whole universe - we are God's masterpieces.

As did the unfathomable realization that – out of the whole universe – it is we who are God’s masterpieces.

I'm not sure why, but I felt like surfing in front of the Arbol de Piedra ("Stone Tree") which has received its unique shape from millions of years of erosion from wind and sand.

I’m not sure why, but I felt like surfing in front of the Arbol de Piedra (“Stone Tree”) which has received its unique shape from millions of years of wind and sand erosion.

Flamingoes are the silliest.

Flamingoes are the silliest.

If you want to go, just go.

Keep going, farther and further.

We spend a night in the iconic Hotel de Sal ("Salt Hotel"). The walls are made of salt blocks and the floor is covered in a layer of fine salt, like a flavorful sandbox.

We spent a night in the iconic Hotel de Sal (“Salt Hotel”). The walls are made of salt blocks and the floor is covered in a layer of fine salt, like a flavorful sandbox.

In the morning, it was finally time for the surreal Salar de Uyuni.

Sunrise at the Incahuasi cacti "island" near the salt flat's center.

Sunrise at the Incahuasi cacti “island” near the salt flat’s center.

Endless scales of salt. How is this real?

Endless scales of salt. How is this real?

Leaping for joy.

Leaping for joy.

Salar de Uyuni happens to be a fantastic place for photographers to play with perspective, so I couldn’t resist having a bit of fun myself.

Having a pair of Brits for breakfast. Such a shame too; they were a delightful couple!

Having a pair of Brits for breakfast. Such a shame too; they were a delightful couple!

I'm a monster!!

I’m a monster!!

What a fun crew. Gig 'em!

What a fun crew!

After the salar, it was time to work out in a railroad graveyard.

After the salar, it was time to get some exercise in a railroad graveyard.

And swing!

And swing!

'Murica forever! 🇺🇸

‘Murica forever! 🇺🇸

 

I returned to Chile with a few more days to enjoy San Pedro and its surrounding sights. My first stop was the Laguna Cejar, a lagoon with a salinity of 30% and a buoyancy comparable to the Dead Sea’s!

Look mom, no hands!

Look mom, no hands!

Twisting into the Ojos del Salar. If I had known how cold the water was beforehand, I may not have jumped. It made the Frio River in Texas feel like a warm bath.

Twisting into the Ojos del Salar. If I had known beforehand how cold the water was, I may not have jumped at all. It made the Frio River in Texas feel like a warm bath.

New friends are the best!

New friends are the best!

Laguna Tebinquinche

Laguna Tebinquinche providing a decent view.

Sunset is always a good time to reflect.

Sunset is always a good time to reflect.

I was lucky enough to be in San Pedro for the festivities honoring both its namesake and San Pablo (Saint Peter and Saint Paul.) The celebrations culminate in the parading of Saint Peter’s image through the streets.

Somehow the ceremonies involve a man acting like bucking bull, which came within inches of my face. This was never fully explained to me.

Somehow the ceremonies involve a man acting like a bucking bull, which came within inches of my face. This was never fully explained to me.

The kid in the window had the most important job of the night.

The kid in the window had the most important job of the night.

Quinoa and rica-rica ice cream; now those are exotic flavors!

Quinoa and rica-rica ice cream; now those are exotic flavors!

Next stop, Valle Arcoiris (Rainbow Valley)

Speaking of rica-rica, shrubs of it speckle the Atacama Desert and is used in all sorts of recipes

Speaking of rica-rica, shrubs of it speckle the Atacama Desert and the plant is used in all sorts of recipes.

The fresh, minty flavor adds a tasty dimension to pisco sour, a typical Chilean cocktail...so I've been told.

The fresh, minty flavor adds a tasty dimension to pisco sour, a typical Chilean cocktail…so I’ve been told.

One angle of Valle Arcoiris. The colors are caused by the presence of different minerals. The green, for instance, is due to high levels of copper.

One angle of Valle Arcoiris. The colors are caused by the presence of different minerals. The green, for instance, is due to high levels of copper.

We also stopped at Hierbas Buenas, a site of well-preserved petroglyphs. Some of them are more than 10,000 years old!

What does the fox say?

What does the fox say?

Can you find the flamingo?

Can you find the flamingo?

Just a couple gamboling vicuñas.

Just a couple gamboling vicuñas.

The Atacama Desert: a place of wild and barren beauty.

The Atacama Desert: a place of wild and barren beauty.

My time in sleepy San Pedro came to a close all too quickly.

My time in sleepy San Pedro came to a close all too quickly.

But before I left, I was lucky enough to witness a rare conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, even though a rare thick blanket of clouds had rolled over San Pedro. My new friend Jorge picked me up, and we raced down the winding highway, hoping for a break in the clouds. As we were nearing Calama, a neighboring town, we saw it: the brightest planet and the king planet only .3 degrees apart. This was the closest highly visible conjunction since 6/17/2 BC, when they may have formed the “Star of Bethlehem.” As Rick Larson explains in the documentary “The Star of Bethlehem,” back then they were so close together they would have looked like one object, in the constellation of Leo (interesting when one thinks about the Lion of Judah), and crowning Regulus (the king star). Using modern technology, it has been verified they behaved exactly as the Bible describes the star, even stopping over Bethlehem due to full retrograde motion. In the picture below, the bright star above the conjunction is Regulus.

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I will hold the beauty, culture, and friendships I experienced while exploring Chile’s Atacama Desert and Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni in my memories with gratitude. This world is a marvel, and we are given eyes, ears, hands with which to gaze up, lean in, and reach out–to the unknown, to our dreams, to each other, to home.

– Ben Groner III

 

Brother, Let’s Go To Peru

A couple weeks ago, I had the singular joy of seeing my twin brother for the first time in five months. We went to the picturesque city of Cusco, Peru, the starting off point for a trek in the Peruvian Andes, our ultimate destination being the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu. First, we spent a few days adjusting to the 11,000 ft altitude and enjoying the sights of the city.

Cusco nestled in rumpled mountains. The layout of the city retains the original puma shape designed by the Incans.

Cusco nestled in rumpled mountains. The layout of the city retains the original puma shape designed by the Incans.

Near the main plazas, balconies and doorways compete with the sky for the prettiest shade of blue.

Near the main plazas, balconies and doorways compete with the sky for the prettiest shade of blue.

The lively square.  Behind me, the Cusco Cathedral is filled with art and splendors that rival many world-class museums.

The lively square. Behind me, the Cusco Cathedral is filled with art and splendors that rival many world-class museums.

My brother cheesin' in front of a mural at Nuna Raymi restaurant. I could look at that smile all day, what about you?

My brother cheesin’ in front of a mural at Nuna Raymi restaurant. I could look at that smile all day, what about you?

 

We spent one afternoon touring the important Incan site of Sacsayhuaman, which overlooks Cusco. Sections of the site were first constructed around 1100 AD, and the Incans added stone walls made of enormous boulders in the 1200s. The huge stones were cut to fit tightly together without mortar, and have withstood earthquakes for centuries.

No, the Incans weren't giants, but they made sure the doorways were large enough for servants to carry royalty through on litters.

No, the Incans weren’t giants, but they made the doorways large enough for servants to carry royalty through on litters.

The largest stone is estimated at weighing between 140 and 220 tons!

The largest stone is estimated at weighing between 140 and 220 tons!

Jesus Blanca waiting at the end of the path.

Jesus Blanca waiting at the end of the path.

Natural water slides! Without the water though...

Natural water slides!

Without the water though...

Without the water though…

An ancient seat probably used by Incan astronomers.

An ancient seat probably used by Incan astronomers.

Supposedly, an extensive system of underground tunnels once connected Cusco, the capital of the Incan empire, to other cities. This is just a small tunnel, but it is utterly lightless. But I'd follow my brother into the unknown darkness anytime!

Supposedly, an extensive system of underground tunnels once connected Cusco, the capital of the Incan empire, to other cities. This is just a small tunnel, but it is utterly lightless. Wait for me, bro!

So happy to be back from the underworld!

So happy to be back from the underworld!

Back in Cusco, contentedly traipsing through the steep stone streets.

Back in Cusco, contentedly traipsing through the steep stone streets.

Dusk in Cusco's Plaza de Armas. It really is a lovely city.

Dusk in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas. It really is such pleasant place.

 

Then it was time to leave Cusco behind and embark on our Huchuy Qosqo trek through Llamapath. (Sidenote: this is a fantastic route for those who want to hike the traditional Inca Trail but find it all booked up. This trek got us away from the crowds of the Inca Trail, but we still enjoyed the mesmerizing nature of the Andes, plus a visit to the little known site of Huchuy Qosqo.)

We weren't hiking long before the earth started to look like this. The Andean highlands are absolutely stunning.

We weren’t hiking long before the earth started to look like this. The Andean highlands are absolutely stunning.

No one else I'd rather hike with!

No one else I’d rather hike with!

Not a bad spot for a snack. (The man in red is our incredible guide, Adolfo. He was a wealth of knowledge and a ton of fun to get to know!)

Not a bad spot for a snack. (The man in red is our incredible guide, Adolfo. He was a wealth of knowledge and a ton of fun to get to know!)

You'd be forgiven for thinking this is somewhere in Middle Earth. Moments like this were ineffably peaceful.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this is somewhere in Middle Earth. Moments like this were ineffably peaceful.

Standing at the highest altitude of our trek: 14,107 ft up!

Standing at the highest altitude of our trek: 14,107 ft up!

We definitely didn't go hungry either! The meals were out of this world. For those wondering, yes, that apple is carved into a swan.

We definitely didn’t go hungry either! Our chef deserves a medal. For those wondering: yes, that apple is carved into a swan.

Overlooking the mountain town of Lamay. This guy is too much fun.

Overlooking the mountain town of Lamay. This guy is too much fun.

Sometimes, we have twin moments. That's our campsite in the right side of the frame (the porters also deserve medals.)

Sometimes, we have twin moments. That’s our campsite to the right (the porters also deserve medals.)

Well, that's one view to wake up to. By the way, that snow wasn't there the night before.

Well, that’s one view to wake up to. That snow wasn’t there the night before.

 

In the morning, we explored the little-traversed Incan town of Huchuy Qosqo.

For Gondor!

For Gondor!

Llamas showed us around the place! Something just to the left of this picture must have been rather enthralling.

Llamas showed us around the place! Something just to the left of this picture must have been rather enthralling.

Adolfo teaching us about the chakana, or Andean Cross. The three tiers represent the condor (spiritual realm), the puma (earthly realm, strength), and snake (underworld, ancestors.) The other half - formed when the sun makes a shadow - symbolizes the values and behaviors of the Incas. The three tiers on the right side represent "ayni" (obligation to one's neighbor), "minka" (obligation to neighboring communities), and "mita" (obligation to government). The three tiers on the left side symbolize the Inca desire to work, to love, and to know.

Adolfo teaching us about the chakana, or Andean Cross. The three tiers represent the condor (spiritual realm), the puma (earthly realm, strength), and snake (underworld, ancestors.) The other half – formed when the sun makes a shadow – symbolizes the values and behaviors of the Incans. The three tiers on the right side represent “ayni” (obligation to one’s neighbor), “minka” (obligation to neighboring communities), and “mita” (obligation to government). The three tiers on the left side symbolize the Inca desire to work, to love, and to know.

 

The next morning, we woke up early to experience the iconic and enigmatic citadel of Machu Picchu.

If you've never been here or seen one of the few pictures available on the internet, it looks like this:

If you’ve never been here or seen one of the few pictures available on the internet, it looks like this:

Utilizing the shape of the mountain, these terraces were probably used for agriculture.

Utilizing the shape of the mountain, these terraces were used for agriculture.

The exterior of Machu Picchu's Sun Temple. The window are perfectly aligned with the solstice suns so light shines directly on the altar inside.

The exterior of the Sun Temple. The windows are perfectly aligned with the solstice suns so light shines directly through them onto the altar inside. Notice the two knobs of stone with no window above it though–looks like someone fudged the initial measurement!

Catching a glimpse of Huayna Picchu in the distance and realizing we were going to ascend it later!

Catching a glimpse of Huayna Picchu in the distance and thinking to myself: are we really going to climb that later?

Indeed we were! Here is Stephen, standing in slight disbelief before yet another flight of steep stairs that wound up the mountain.

Indeed we were! Here is Stephen, standing in slight disbelief before yet another flight of the steep stairs that wind up the mountain.

We made it! On the left is Machu Picchu, more than 1000 feet below us.

We made it! On the left is Machu Picchu, more than 1000 feet below us.

It was a glorious vista. The earth seemed to boil with mountains.

It was a glorious vista. The earth seemed to boil with mountains.

Just working on my balance! I wanted to jump, but decided against it at the last second (you're welcome, Mom.)

Just working on my balance! I wanted to jump, but decided against it at the last second (you’re welcome, Mom.)

Sometimes you just have to catch some rays.

Sometimes you just have to catch some rays.

 

Back in Cusco, Stephen and I paid one last visit to the San Pedro market. Inside, one can find items such as clothes, trinkets, fresh fruit juices, meats, bread, herbs, and food stalls, as well as donkey snouts, roasted cuy (guinea pig) and other more exotic fare.

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This lovely woman prepared most of the lunches we enjoyed in Cusco. Our favorite dishes, which included lomo saltado and pollo milanese, were very cheap but so delicious.

This lovely woman prepared most of the lunches we enjoyed in Cusco. Our favorite dishes, which included lomo saltado and pollo milanese, were very cheap but incredibly delicious.

 

As our trip came to a close, Stephen and I spent a couple days at my home in Valparaíso.

Stephen became acquainted with the house cats while enjoying the sunset over the water.

Stephen became acquainted with the house cats while enjoying the sunset.

Our time together wasn’t nearly long enough, but it provided countless memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. Exploring Cusco and Sacsayhuaman, hiking the stunning Peruvian Andes, and meandering through sprawling Machu Picchu would have all been marvelous experiences on their own, but experiencing them with Stephen by my side made them truly glow. When I think of how glad I am to be Stephen’s twin brother and have him as mine, words fail me.

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– Ben

Thirty Days at the End of the World

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” – John Muir

The title says it all. I was fortunate enough to spend a month down in Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia, making new friends and seeing some of the most stunning and wild nature I have ever witnessed in my life. It was a beautiful, exhausting, invigorating time. Over the course of my travels, I found myself in Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, El Calafate, El Chaltén, and Ushuaia, though I spent much of my time away from the towns and cities in the awe-inspiring wilderness. Here is a map to help you understand the scale of Patagonia:

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And here are some pictures! My first big adventure was spending a few days hiking the ‘W’ trek in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park with a group through REI Eco Camp. Torres del Paine is a breathtaking corner of this world. The sunsets look like this:

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The sunrises look like this:

This little domed abode was my home for a few nights. I want to live here.

This little domed abode was my home for a few nights. I want to live here.

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And the night skies look like this:

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Over three days, we hiked ~60 kilometers of the ‘W’ trek.

That's me in the back! I love that hat..

That’s me in the back! I love that hat..

New friends are wonderful! Can you tell this is at the beginning of the first day of hiking?

New friends are wonderful! Can you tell this is at the beginning of the first day?

At a lookout point in the French Valley. Huge chunks of ice occasionally fell from the surrounding mountains, looking like distant waterfalls.

At a lookout point in the French Valley. Huge chunks of ice occasionally fell from the surrounding mountains, looking like distant waterfalls.

I found sublime beauty everywhere I turned.

I found sublime beauty everywhere I turned.

Those are the Cuernos del Paine in the background. All this nature was so neat it made my heart swell with joy.

Those are the Cuernos del Paine in the background. All this nature was so neat it made my heart swell with joy.

Guanacos in their natural habitat! They are adorable (and also rather delicious in a spin on Chilean dietary staple pastel de choclo!)

Guanacos in their natural habitat! They are adorable (and also rather delicious in a spin on pastel de choclo, a Chilean staple!)

Getting close to Glacier Grey.

Getting close to Glacier Grey.

Getting very close to Glacier Grey.

Getting very close to Glacier Grey.

We even had pisco sours--with glacier ice! A crewman turned bartender chipped off some ice from a passing ice floe and plunked a piece in each of our drinks.

We even had pisco sours–with glacier ice! A crewman-turned-bartender chipped off some ice from a passing ice floe and plunked a piece in each of our drinks.

It's just too bad my surroundings were so uninspiring.

It’s just too bad my surroundings were so uninspiring.

After an arduous trek on the third day, I stumbled (literally) upon these iconic granite massifs. The leftmost one, Torre Sur, is 8,200 feet tall.

After an arduous trek on the third day, I stumbled (literally) upon these iconic granite massifs. The leftmost one, Torre Sur, is 8,200 feet tall.

It was difficult to believe this view was real. Do yourself a favor and go here sometime during your lifetime.

It was difficult to believe this view was real. Do yourself a favor and go here sometime during your lifetime.

There are times in life you just have to be still and ponder what it means to be alive.

There are times in life you just have to be still and ponder what it means to be alive.

Next, I caught a bus to El Calafate, Argentina.

Sometimes I search the great beyond.

Sometimes I search the great beyond.

And sometimes I search within.

And sometimes I search within.

This is the Perito Moreno Glacier (note the people in the lower left corner for scale.) It was truly stunning to behold, but I wasn't content to just look at it...

This is the enormous Perito Moreno Glacier (note the people in the lower left corner for scale.) It was truly stunning to behold, but I wasn’t content to just look at it…

...So I walked on it! (Almost didn't clear this yawning chasm.) I even drank glacier water and it was the most refreshing water I have ever tasted (other than the living water of Jesus)

…So I walked on it! (Almost didn’t clear this yawning chasm.) I even drank glacier water and it was the most refreshing water I have ever tasted (other than the living water of Jesus)

Yet again, I jumped because I was happy. I have a problem, I know.

Yet again, I jumped because I was happy. I have a problem, I know.

My next stop was El Chaltén, Argentina. It is a tiny mountain village hundreds of kilometers from any other town. It may not have a natural gas connection, water connection, or central power supply, but it does have some of the best hiking in Patagonia! It is nestled among majestic mountains, rushing rivers and waterfalls, and enchanting forests.

This is how El Chaltén greeted me the night I arrived. Due to clouds, snow, rain, and wind, I would not see that peak - Mount Fitz Roy - for the next five days.

This is how El Chaltén greeted me the night I arrived. Due to clouds, snow,  heavy rain, and fierce winds, I would not see that peak – Mount Fitz Roy – for the next five days.

Sunrises and silhouettes.

Sunrises and silhouettes.

The view along the Lago Torre trail.

The view along the Lago Torre trail.

It took me many hours to reach this spot. The rain, snow, and wind were severe, as is most likely evident.  Fitz Roy was hiding! In all, I hiked 24 km this day.

It took me many hours to reach this spot. The rain and wind were severe, not to mention the snow. Fitz Roy was hiding! In all, I hiked 24 km this day.

This lovely waterfall was just a short walk from town.

This lovely waterfall was just a short walk from town.

On the sixth day after I last saw this jagged peak, I was given the gift of this alpenglow sunrise.

On the sixth day after I last saw this jagged peak, I was given the gift of this alpenglow sunrise.

Then, I took a 24 hour bus ride south to Ushuaia, the “southernmost city in the world.” The voyage crisscrossed the Argentinean and Chilean borders, and the scenery outside the bus window was varied yet consistently mesmerizing.

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Here is an example of said scenery.

Our bus even got help from a ferry.

Our bus even got help from a ferry.

Once in Ushuaia, I took a boat tour on the Beagle Channel, so named when the HMS Beagle passed through, carrying a young Charles Darwin.

So many sea lions! They've really mastered the art of lounging.

So many sea lions! They’ve really mastered the art of lounging.

Ok, that's adorable.

Ok, now that’s adorable.

Seagulls guarding the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse.

Seagulls guarding the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse.

Cormorants gliding through the blue.

Cormorants gliding through the blue.

I even got to explore one of the largest islands, which was home to a diverse array of flora and fauna.

I even got to explore one of the largest islands, which was home to a diverse array of flora and fauna.

No idea what this sign says..

No idea what this sign says..

Father Alberto María de Agostini (1883-1960) was the first person to summit this peak in 1912. He is widely considered one of, if not the, most important explorers of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

Father Alberto María de Agostini (1883-1960) was the first person to summit this peak in 1912. He is widely considered one of, if not the, most important explorers of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

After a couple days in Ushuaia, I took another long bus ride north to Puerto Natales, Chile, to end my adventure where it began. I spent four days aboard this Navimag Ferry, taking in more than 2000 kilometers of fjords, channels, mountains, forests, volcanoes, wildlife, sunsets, and open ocean.

(photo credit: Navimag Ferries)

(photo credit: Navimag Ferries)

The red line was our route from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt.

The red line was our route from Puerto Natales up to Puerto Montt.

On the first day, our captain guided us through Angostura White, the narrowest pass of the voyage at only 80 meters wide.

On the first day, our captain fearlessly guided us through Angostura White, the narrowest pass of the voyage at only 80 meters wide.

It was quite an edenic journey.

It was quite an edenic journey.

For days, Views like this were all around me.

For days, views like this were all around me.

Even when the weather seemed bad, there was beauty to be found.

Even when the weather seemed bad, there was beauty to be found.

Friends are fun. There was a light, temperate breeze this day.

Friends are fun. There was a light, temperate breeze this day.

The little statue of the Virgin Mary protect sailors as they venture into the frigid waters of Patagonia.

The little statue of the Virgin Mary protects sailors as they venture into the frigid waters of Patagonia.

That statue must have been placed there after this shipwreck though. Its hull is riddled with bullet holes from years of Chilean Navy target practice.

I suppose that statue must have been placed there after this shipwreck. Its hull is riddled with bullet holes from years of Chilean Navy target practice.

When it was too cold to stay outside, cards were a popular activity! This is the face I make when I think I am about to win.

When it was too cold to stay outside, cards were a popular activity! This is the face I make when I think I am about to win.

We spent nearly a day on the open ocean, where the swells reached 4-5 meters in height!

We spent half a day and a night on the open ocean, where the swells reached 4-5 meters in height!

There was even a moment at dinner when a rogue wave caused everyone's trays to slide across the tables. Most were caught before they crashed to the floor.

There was even a moment at dinner when a rogue wave caused everyone’s trays to slide across the tables. Most were caught before they crashed to the floor.

I even (sort of) saw my first whale in the wild! See the little puff of water from a whale's blowhole just below the horizon? See it??

I even (sort of) saw my first whale in the wild! See the little puff of water from a whale’s blowhole just below the horizon? See it??

I've seen thousands of sunsets in my life, but they never get old.

I’ve seen thousands of sunsets in my life, but they never get old.

After four days, it's almost time to trade my sea legs in for dry land!

After four days, it was almost time to trade my sea legs in for dry land!

What an indelible experience. One month, six hostels, 100 kilometers hiked, one glacier walked on, 2500 pictures taken, 2000 kilometers ferried, and a few new friends later, I finally made it back home to Valparaíso. I will cherish the memories I made in Patagonia for the rest of my life. One of those memories is of lying on the ground in Torres del Paine National Park at 1:00 am, staring up at the endless chandeliers of stars; at our swirling, gauzy Milky Way galaxy; at the occasional shooting star slicing through the dark. As I lay there, the ethereal song “Dauðalogn” by Sigur Rós swelling in my ears, eyes wide open, I realized I didn’t have to come to the end of the world for an experience. We are all here, on this planet, ferrying hearts and brains and memories and dreams, breathing.

That is an adventure all unto itself.

– Ben Groner III

 

Pucón y Chiloé

Well this post is long overdue. Two months ago I took a southbound bus to Chile’s Lake District, spending my time in Pucón and Chiloé. The first week, I explored Pucón, a town perpetually in the shadow of the inscrutable and majestic Villarrica volcano.

Villarrica put on a sputtering, fiery show the night before I arrived, and it exploded two days after I left! While I didn't see any lava, the volcano did belch out foreshadowing puffs of smoke.

Villarrica put on a sputtering, fiery show the night before I arrived, and it exploded two days after I left! While I didn’t personally  see any lava, I did witness the volcano belching out foreshadowing puffs of smoke.

 

Spent a few hours of my first day soaking up some rays at the aptly named Playa Blanca. Not a bad view!

I spent a couple hours of my first afternoon soaking up some rays at the aptly named Playa Blanca. Not a bad view!

 

Then I explored the lush "Ojos del Caburgua."

Then I explored the lush “Ojos del Caburgua.”

 

Beauty was everywhere.

Beauty was everywhere.

 

The next day, I lounged in the some thermal baths known as "Los Pozones." This is the icy Liucura River, a place to cool down between the warm pools.

The next day, I lounged in the some thermal baths known as “Los Pozones.” This is the icy Liucura River, a place to cool down between submersions in the warm pools.

 

I also hiked in the El Cañi Sanctuario, which contained a preserve of Araucaria, or "monkey-puzzle" trees. The species has remained virtually unchanged since the Jurassic Period, and some of these particular trees have been looking down at the world for 3000 years!

I also hiked in the El Cañi Sanctuario, which contains a preserve of Araucaria, or “monkey-puzzle,” trees. The species has remained virtually unchanged since the Jurassic Period, and some of these particular trees have been looking down at the world for 3000 years!

 

As I climbed on, incredible views like this one became common.

As I climbed on, incredible views like this one became increasingly common.

 

After hiking 8 kilometers - ascending 1600 meters - I reached the Mirador.

After hiking 8 kilometers – and ascending 1600 meters – I reached the Mirador!

 

The view was truly breathtaking. From left to right, the three visible volcanoes are Lanin, Llaima, and Villarica.

The view was truly breathtaking. From left to right, the three visible volcanoes are Lanin, Llaima, and Villarica.

 

Since I had to catch the last bus back to Pucón, I had 2 hours to descend what took me 4 hours to ascend. This is what I looked like after basically running down a 1600-meter change in elevation over 8 kilometers.

Since I had to catch the last bus back to Pucón, I had 2 hours to descend what took me 4 hours to ascend. This is what I looked like after basically running down a 1600-meter change in elevation over 8 kilometers.

 

The next day, I hiked the Los Lagos Trail in Parque Nacional Huerquehue. There was no shortage of vistas such as this.

The next day, I hiked the Los Lagos Trail in Parque Nacional Huerquehue. There was no shortage of vistas such as this.

 

I eventually reached Lago Verde, a gleaming sea of a lake hemmed in by rumpled tree-coated hills. It is a popular swimming destination among the locals (No idea why!)

I eventually reached Lago Verde, a gleaming sea of a lake hemmed in by rumpled tree-coated hills. It is a popular swimming destination among the locals (No idea why!)

 

Story of my life.

Story of my life.

 

I also went zip-lining with a new friend. Gig 'em!

I also went zip-lining with a new friend. Gig ’em!

 

Casual selfie in front of the Rio Toltén. Fun family history: in the early 1900s, my great-grandparents fished along this river, and its beauty inspired them to name our beloved family farm in northern Mississippi "Tolten" in honor of it.

Casual selfie in front of the Rio Toltén. Fun family history: in the early 1900s, my great-grandparents fished along this river, and its beauty inspired them to name our beloved family farm in northern Mississippi “Tolten” in its honor.

 

Sunset over Pucón's neighboring Villarrica Park Lake.

Sunset over Pucón’s neighboring Villarrica Park Lake.

 

All adventures must end so others may begin. Farewell Pucón.

All adventures must end so others may begin. Farewell Pucón.

 

Next, I went to the large island of Chiloé, just a few hours farther south. It has a culture, cuisine, and geography that is in many ways distinct from the mainland of Chile. For instance, “minga” refers to the act of helping neighbors move by rowing small houses from island to island. There is also a side of their spiritual mythology that involves folk legends, ghost ships, and forest gnomes.

The classic "los palafitos" stilt houses in Castro, the island's capital.

The classic “palafitos” stilt houses in Castro, the island’s capital.

 

There are many colorful old churches on the island that date back up to 250 years. This is a cathedral in Castro.

There are many colorful old churches on the island that date back up to 250 years. This is a cathedral in Castro.

 

The bright church in the town of Chonchi.

The bright church in the town of Chonchi.

 

This is Chiloé's oldest church, built in the town of Achao around 1740. It is made entirely of wood; there is not even a single nail in the building. Instead, it's held together by wooden pegs.

This is Chiloé’s oldest church, built in the town of Achao around 1740. It is made entirely of wood; there is not even a single nail in the building. Instead, it’s held together by wooden pegs.

 

The creaky interior of Achao's church.

The creaky interior of Achao’s church.

 

I made sure to stop in the sleepy village of Curaco de Velez, where I stumbled across this open air oyster market along the coast.

I made sure to stop in the sleepy village of Curaco de Velez, where I stumbled across this open air oyster market along the coast.

 

Hauled to shore that morning--and less than a dollar each!--they were easily the most rich, flavorful oysters I've ever had the fortune to enjoy. Yum!

Hauled to shore that morning–and less than a dollar each!–these were easily the most rich, flavorful oysters I’ve ever had the fortune to enjoy. Yum!

 

Took a ferry to tiny Isla Lemuy and wandered around the peaceful, secluded villages.

Took a ferry to tiny Isla Lemuy and wandered around the peaceful, secluded villages.

 

One day, I took a bus to the western edge of the main island and hiked in the national park near the village of Cucao. Then, I decided to try to walk south to the hidden Muelle de las Almas (translated "Pier of the Souls"). This friendly dog was my travel companion for an hour!

One day, I took a bus to the western edge of the main island and hiked in the national park near the village of Cucao. Then, I decided to try to walk south to the hidden Muelle de las Almas (translated “Pier of the Souls”). This friendly dog was my travel companion for an hour!

 

It was farther than I thought and I wouldn't have made it if a nice family hadn't let me hitchhike with them the last few kilometers.

It was farther than I thought and I wouldn’t have made it if a nice family hadn’t let me hitchhike with them the last few kilometers.

 

As we got closer, I began to feel as if I were in Tolkien's Shire.

As we got closer, I began to feel as if I were in Tolkien’s Shire.

 

Let's just say the view was worth it.

Let’s just say the view was worth it.

 

As those close to me know, sometimes I jump when I'm happy.

As those close to me know, sometimes I jump when I’m happy.

 

The famous dish of Chiloé known as "curanto." Traditionally slow-cooked in a hole in the ground covered with large leaves, it consists mostly of mussels and clams, but also includes chicken, sausage, pork, potatoes, and milcao (a kind of potato dumpling.) One definitely does not go away hungry after consuming a dish of curanto!

The famous dish of Chiloé known as “curanto.” Traditionally slow-cooked in a hole in the ground covered with broad leaves, it consists mostly of mussels and clams, but also includes chicken, sausage, pork, potatoes, and milcao (a kind of potato dumpling.) One definitely does not go away hungry after consuming a dish of curanto!

 

I spent my last couple days in Chiloé in the town of Ancud. Nearby, I got to see Humboldt and Magellan penguins at the Puñihuil Penguin Colony. They are as adorable in real like as one would expect them to be.

I spent my last couple days in Chiloé in the town of Ancud. Nearby, I got to see Humboldt and Magellan penguins at the Puñihuil Penguin Colony. They are as adorable in real life as one would expect them to be.

 

Seagulls can photobomb too.

Apparently, seagulls can photobomb too.

 

Yet again, the coastline was rather marvelous.

Yet again, the coastline was rather marvelous.

 

IMG_5703

Back in Ancud, this is most of the skeleton of an 85-foot ing blue whale that washed ashore in 2005. It is the fourth largest blue whale skeleton in the world.

Back in Ancud, this is most of the skeleton of an 85-foot ing blue whale that washed ashore in 2005. It is the fourth largest blue whale skeleton in the world.

 

The cannons of Fort San Antonio. The Spanish fort was built in 1770.

The cannons of Fort San Antonio trained toward the Bay of Ancud. The Spanish fort was built in 1770.

 

After one more 12-hour bus ride, I made it back to Valparaíso. Pucón and Chiloé were both incredible places to experience!

After one more 12-hour bus ride, I made it back to Valparaíso. Pucón and Chiloé were both incredible places to experience!

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

 

Until the next post, friends. May we all perceive the adventure(s) in each of our days!

– Ben

Wonderful Days

While I have felt the first pangs of homesickness in the past few days, I am definitely loving Chile. I get more and more familiar with Valparaíso with each passing day; it is becoming my new home! Here are a few pictures from the past week or so.

Sometimes the sky looks like this.

Sometimes the sky looks like this.

 

It's good to have friends, don't you agree?

It’s good to have friends, wouldn’t you agree?

We three searched for and eventually found J Cruz, the restaurant that claims to have invented the famous Chilean dish "chorrillana."

We three searched for and eventually found J Cruz, the restaurant that claims to have invented the famous Chilean dish “chorrillana.”

Chorrillana is some combination of these four ingredients: fries, beef, sautéed onions, and fried egg. It's not for the faint of heart!

Chorrillana is some combination of these four ingredients: fries, beef, sautéed onions, and fried egg. It’s not for the faint of heart!

Good thing it was shared between the three of us, and we were all hungry!

Good thing it was shared between the three of us, and we were all hungry!

There was also this neat music festival where people from all over South America played indigenous forms of music.

There was also this neat music festival where musicians from all over South America played indigenous forms of music.

Even the perro in the background was enthralled by our hilarious tour guide, Felipe! Although I had been walking around Valpo for ten days, I still discovered more about the city I hadn't known before.

Even the perro in the background was enthralled by our hilarious tour guide, Felipe! Although I had been walking around Valpo for ten days, I still discovered more about the city I hadn’t known before.

The man inside this door, Don Sergio, spends his days making homemade alfajores (a chocolate and dulce de leche treat) and empanadas. I can already tell we are going to become good friends.

The man inside this door, Don Sergio, spends his days making homemade alfajores (a chocolate and dulce de leche treat) and empanadas. I can already tell we are going to become good friends.

Something I love about traveling is this: different paths intersecting and friendships forming. Life is better with community!

Something I love about traveling: different paths intersecting and friendships forming. Life is better with community!

I also had my first macaroon at this adorable little French bakery. It was "cherimoya" (custard apple) flavor and it was divine.

I also had my first macaroon at this adorable little French bakery. It was “cherimoya” (custard apple) flavor and it was divine.

Amen to that. Who needs the Kalām cosmological argument when you have beer?

Amen to that. Who needs the Kalām cosmological argument when you have beer?

Silly seals in Valparaíso's bay.

Silly seals in Valparaíso’s bay.

Getting down to sea level by means of ascensor Artillería, one of Valpo's oldest iconic ascensores. It was first functional in 1892.

Getting down to sea level by means of ascensor Artillería, one of Valpo’s oldest iconic ascensores. It was first functional in 1892.

Use the bike? Well that's awfully kind. Should help me get from A to B.

Use the bike? Well that’s awfully kind. Should help me get from A to B.

So I moved into my permanent Valpo residence today. It's located just above Cerro Alegre, a colorful hills dotted with restaurants, shops, and street art. The view isn't too shabby either!

So I moved into my permanent Valpo residence today. It’s located just above Cerro Alegre, a colorful hill dotted with restaurants, shops, and street art. The view isn’t too shabby either!

Friends and family, please stay tuned for a blog post devoted entirely to Valpo’s endlessly puzzling and intriguing street art. It should be coming in the next few days. Until then, ciao!

– Ben

“Valpo”

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark

 

Just when I thought we were all going a little crazy..

Just when I thought we were all going a little crazy..

We completed the course! And we celebrated in style, with empanadas and mimosas, of course.

We completed the course! What a good-looking, intelligent group of TEFL teachers, if I do say so myself.

Bridge, thank you for training me to teach English as a foreign language. It's been fun, but it's time for the next chapter in the adventure.

Bridge, thank you for training me to teach English as a foreign language. It’s been fun, but it’s time for the next chapter in this adventure.

 This past weekend, I left Santiago for clearer skies and a more bohemian vibe. Looks like I found both. Valparaíso (or "Valpo" as the locals call it) is my new home base!


This past weekend, I left Santiago for clearer skies and a more bohemian vibe. Looks like I found both. Valparaíso (or “Valpo” as the locals call it) is my new home base!

The Chilean flag is so close in design to the Texas flag! If you squint you can see it. This photo was taken by the delightful couple I met at the place I'm currently residing. The bar was celebrating their 14th anniversary (A-Whoop!) so we were treated to a concert of traditional Chilean folk music.

The Chilean flag is so close in design to the Texas flag! If you squint you can see it. This photo was taken by the delightful couple I met at the place I’m currently residing. This bar was celebrating their 14th anniversary (A-Whoop!) so we were treated to a concert of traditional Chilean folk music.

This morning, I visited one of Pablo Neruda's houses, the five-story "La Sebastiana." Sadly, I was not allowed to take pictures of the interior, which was chock-full of charming oddities. From a French carousel horse, to an armchair the poet affectionately named "The Cloud," to the life-sized picture of Walt Whitman in his study, the house is replete with fascinating surprises.

This morning, I visited one of Pablo Neruda’s houses, the five-story “La Sebastiana.” Sadly, I was not allowed to take pictures of the interior, which was chock-full of fascinating oddities. From a French carousel horse, to an armchair the poet affectionately named “The Cloud,” to the life-sized picture of Walt Whitman in his study, the house is replete with surprises.

Here's the view! The Noble-prize winning poet didn't have to look far for inspiration.

Here’s the view! The Nobel-prize winning poet didn’t have to look far for inspiration.

Later, I set out with a couple friends to explore the color and character of Valpo.

Later, I set out with a couple friends to explore the color and character of Valpo.

This guy froze when I tried to take his hat..

This guy froze when I tried to take his hat..

There is so much peculiar and marvelous street art in Valparaíso, so I am going to save most of those pictures for a future “street art” blog post. But here’s one to appease your curiosity.

I'm the Piano Man!

I’m the Piano Man!

– Ben

Cajón del Maipo

“No longer can I call a home, the place I’ve known so well / But what may come upon the road, right now I cannot tell” – Bryan John Appleby “The Road”

Just the closed eyelid of a crescent moon from earlier this week, with the tallest building in South America near the bottom right corner of the photo

Just the closing eyelid of a crescent moon from earlier this week, with the tallest building in South America near the bottom right corner of the photo

Yes, watching Back to the Future II dubbed over in Spanish is as entertaining as it sounds.

Yes, watching Back to the Future II dubbed over in Spanish is as entertaining as it sounds.

Some river rats enjoying the chocolatey Maipo River by way of raft!

Some river rats enjoying the chocolatey Maipo River! I wanted to jump down there and join them.

A view of the Cajon del Maipo (a canyon near the edge of the Andes), near the Cascadas de las Animas region.

A view of the Cascadas de las Animas region of Cajon del Maipo; a canyon near the edge of the Andes.

Cheesin'

Cheesin’

Follow the open road.

Follow the open road.

Adventure is out there, everywhere you turn. Don’t be afraid of the road.

– Ben

Old and New

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art […] It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” – C. S. Lewis

I started this past week off by meeting up with my friend Peter as he was wrapping up his year in Chile and heading back to the States. Hadn’t seen him since Great Books Summer Program — Summer 2013!

Hadn't seen this stud since Great Books Summer Program -- Summer 2013!

What a guy!

Also, my new friend Jacque introduced me to Venezuelan food. I'll definitely be doing that again.

Also, my new friend Jacque introduced me to Venezuelan food. I’ll definitely be doing that again.

Sometimes they let me teach real students.

Sometimes they let me teach real students.

(not actors^^)

not actors^^

The smog is trying to steal all the attention, but the Andes are back there, I promise! (This photo was taken halfway up Cerro San Cristóbal, the second-highest point in the city.)

The smog is trying to steal all the attention, but the Andes are back there, I promise! (This photo was taken halfway up Cerro San Cristóbal, the second-highest point in the city.)

The interior of a tranquil chapel near the top of the "hill."

The interior of a tranquil chapel near the top of the “hill.”

I may have forgotten to take both a panoramic shot from the top of Cerro San Cristóbal and a group picture with all my friends, but at least I snapped this selfie!

I may have forgotten to take both a panoramic shot from the top of Cerro San Cristóbal and a group picture with all my friends, but at least I snapped this selfie!

You can take Elvis out of the South, but you can't take the South out of Elvis. (This was taken at our empanada lunch stop once at the bottom of the hill.)

You can take Elvis out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of Elvis. (This was taken at our empanada lunch stop once at the bottom of the hill.)

As a side note: I managed to sustain myself entirely on empanadas for a whole day. I’m strangely proud of this fact.

Goodnight from this city to wherever you call home tonight.

Goodnight from this city to wherever you call home tonight.

– Ben

El Fin de Semana

“All experience is an enrichment rather than an impoverishment.” – Eudora Welty

Some pictures from my first full weekend in Chile:

Ran into this nifty water feature on the edge of Parque Forestal, an urban park in Santiago.

Ran into this nifty water feature on the edge of Parque Forestal, an urban park in Santiago.

No, I'm not in Europe. This is the interior of the spacious, ornate Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago.

No, I’m not in Europe. This is the interior of the spacious, ornate Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago.

Just me being strange next to a strange statue partway up Cerro Santa Lucía (Santa Lucia Hill).

Just me being strange next to a strange statue partway up Cerro Santa Lucía (Santa Lucia Hill).

The view from the top! That's Cerro San Cristóbal on the right, and the Andes in the distant background.

The view from the top! That’s Cerro San Cristóbal on the right, and the Andes in the distant background.

Look Mom, friends from the BridgeTEFL program!

Look Mom, friends from the BridgeTEFL program!

A statue of Pedro de Valdivia, the Spaniard who founded Santiago in 1541.

A statue of Pedro de Valdivia, the Spaniard who founded Santiago in 1541.

A refreshing Mote con Huesillo! (a stewed dried apricot, soft cooked wheat, and light apricot syrup). Odd but refreshing!

A refreshing Mote con Huesillo! (a stewed dried apricot, soft cooked wheat, and light apricot syrup). Odd but tasty!

And now it’s time to hit the books again! Week two, here we come. – Ben