Category Archives: Travel

Kicked out of the hostel!

‘Can I have a word with you outside?’ she said, eyes hardening. By her language, I knew I was in trouble somehow. The way she used ‘…have a word, ‘ instead of ‘can I talk with you…’

I followed Alejandra, a slim Chilena woman in her 30’s, long back hair swaying and her riding boots making a hard crack-crack sound on the cement.

I sat across from her at the metal patio table. It was chilly, and I felt my body shiver.

‘We have received complaints about you,’ she said. I was thinking, ‘Whaaat?’ I thought I was very nice with the guest, social without being overly personal. I thought it must be a miscommunication, and told her so.

‘A couple arrived and said you wouldn’t let them stay. They said you told them it was full, but I checked and you still had many beds available.

I remembered them, a couple, huge backpacks, asking for a habitacion privada (private room) with it’s own bathroom. We didn’t have one, so I suggested they go to the other hostel a 15 minute walk away. I told her this.

This seemed to soften her a bit, but she stopped and started asking about what I knew about the recepcion role: am I friendly with the guests (yes), did I turn on the music? (No, no one told me to) Did I take out the trash? (Of course). She asked if I told guests about the town using the small tourist map? Before I could answer, she said, ‘I showed you this before, but perhaps you forgot,’ throwing a glare at me, before explaining all the things one could do.

‘Do you tell them about the tours?’ No, she never told me I should. ‘If you are working in reception you must enjoy being a receptionist, otherwise I will have to replace you,’ she said, giving me a hard look.

I was thinking, so what? I didn’t want to be a receptionist in the first place. ‘You have time here, so you should be looking up things to do and the attractions La Serena has to offer,’ she said. I thought, I am a volunteer working for free, and am here temporarily, if you wanted a higher level of service and knowledge perhaps you should hire someone.

I let her repeat all the things I already knew. I remember Pedro, one of the longtime volunteers saying to me at their other beach hostel prior to my leaving for the hostal downtown: ‘Oh, you are working downtown?’ he said, eyebrows raised. Pedro was a 70 year old guy from Portugal who looked a couple decades younger. He had been there a month and a half, traveling on his rented house money – like me. He said, looking down, face going dark, ‘I wish you luck, my friend. The owner is over there, and…well, I just wish you luck.’

I considered that a warning, but I really didn’t want to know. I figured so many things are due to personality conflicts, or some other individual thing that wouldn’t apply to me.

I should have asked.

I liked being a receptionist, but I had a lightning bolt of terror whenever the phone rang. That meant I had to use my meager espanol skills to communicate. I even wrote down the greeting, so I wouldn’t forget, ‘Buenas tardes, Hostal — —–!’

The other thing was that they only gave me a 30 minute training with a staff person who didn’t speak english well. So, she demonstrated the job using a combination of Spanish and English, and I responded in bad Spanish. Nothing was written down, no checklist to follow, no price list, just 30 minutes and ‘here’s the phone!’

The only thing I could think of was that it was some sort of weird miscommunication with the couple, and said as much, ‘I don’t remember exactly, but for whatever reason we couldn’t accommodate them. But instead of sending them into the night, I got on the phone and made sure there was a room for them at the other hostal.’

Part of me was wondering if this was just a way to tighten up the work. Some sick workplace S&M. But, one thing I’ve learned is to always know you have self-worth, and to stand up for yourself, use your words, and state the facts. If I have done my job, and have nothing to be ashamed about, well then: I have nothing to be ashamed about.

Well, maybe I did something unintentional. ‘I’m sorry if there was something I didn’t understand. But we were communicating in English. But that wasn’t their first language, so maybe that’s it.’ She seemed to accept this, and said, ‘I’m going to Santiago tonight, so I won’t be back for a couple days.’

The next day, I received a whatsapp text from her, ‘We received another complaint, we cannot have you working recepcion anymore. You can stay and do hard garden work for the rest of your time here, or you can leave. Please let me know.’

W The actual F? I thought back on my work time there: There was one time I asked if a guest could help me with a call in Spanish. Another time I stopped checking in a mother-daughter to deal with a couple Chilenos deciding they didn’t want to stay, making the mother-daughter folks wait. Could that be it?

I decided it didn’t matter, and that I didn’t want to stay at a place that didn’t want me there.

Also, I thought back on Pedro’s warning, and that this was probably something that happened repeatedly. Their training sucked, and the owner was a bitch. That’s what I was thinking at that moment. They expected a volunteer, who is only there 2 weeks, to know all the details about their city and all the tours, plus all the small details of opening and closing the hostal, and were pissed off when things went wrong. I didn’t want anything to do with all that.

I just had one ameliorating thought: At least I can get a blog post out of this.

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La Serena & Coquimbo – Day 1

“I counted how many countries I’ve been to, and it added up to 33,” she said. She turned to the young frenchman named Sebastian, and said, “I bet you’ve been to a bunch more.”

He said, “I dunno. 36?”

Let’s see, I’ve been to Thailand, various parts of Mexico, Panama, and various states in the United States, of course. Oh yeah, Scotland, England, and a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. And now, Chile. Eight? Really?

You think you are well travelled just because in comparison to your fellow Americans you’ve visited one country in Southeast Asia, a couple trips to Europe and a couple trips to a country in Central and South America, whereas they just visit Cancun.

And then, you encounter real travelers.

Bus Technical Difficulties…

“We tried to contact you with a phone call, but were unable to connect…” started the (translated) message from, the online website to purchase bus tickets.

So, the ticket I purchased was no longer valid. Just a roadbump in travels one has to deal with. A visit to BusBud with another ticket, and I was sorted, perhaps minus another $15 USD.

This bus was not as comfortable as the last one I took, didn’t recline as much, so I found myself in the morning sorta scrunched up in a ball, nearly upside down.

In La Serena around 5:30 I told the taxi guy, a grizelled Chileno around 60 years old I guessed the name of the Hostal. He rumbled something in a low rough voice in reply that I didn’t understand. I replied, ‘No se.’ I don’t know. He rumbled something else. ‘No entiendo,’ I responded. He motioned to the trunk, and I tossed my luggage in.

Frankly, I didn’t really understand what he was asking until I sorted the individual words out later. ‘El Arbol? Al Centro o cerca la playa?’ he said. I found out later that they had TWO hostals with the same name in town, one near the beach and one in town. But at the time I was just riding in the car, hoping I didn’t get carjacked. It was a company car, though, metered, so less issues than the unmarked ones.

We rolled into a suburban neighborhood in front of a large 2 story house, and stopped. I waited a second, ‘El Arbol?’ I asked. ‘He pointed to the sign, ‘El Arbol.’

I got out and stood with my bags outside the locked gates, and pushed the button.


It was still dark, and a bit cold. Luckily I was wearing my puffy and my running pants (in lieu of long johns). I debated whether it was better to wait in the light of the streetlights, or in the shadows of the facing fence across the street.

I opted for the shadows. I sat on my suitcase thinking, ‘This must be a little bit what’s it’s like being homeless.’ Not really, but I was feeling a tad homeless at the moment. After awhile I walked around a bit in the neighborhood, towards the distant lights of the Chucky Cheese nearby. Yeah, THAT Chucky Cheese, alive and well in La Serena. After passing a couple guys in the park, and in the street, looking over my shoulder as they passed I thought it might be safer heading back.

Luckily, an older lady was at the gate. She motioned to me, saying something like, ‘Quieres ver adentro la Hostal?’ Eh, something like that: ‘You want to go inside the hostal?’

I followed her in and she motioned to the couch, placing two white pillows, and motioning to the blankets, saying something like, ‘You can sleep here.’ So, I did.

Thar be pirates!

Vegetable Market at Coquimbo

After awhile, guests started coming down for breakfast. Once the receptionist arrived, I found out I went to the wrong hostal, and had to walk to the other one near the beach.

The older lady who let me in, who I found out later was the breakfast cook, cleaning help, insisted that I have breakfast. She kept touching my shoulder as she served me eggs, toast, coffee, and oatmeal. She reminded me of my mother, and I hugged her before I left. She said (translated) ‘A full belly makes for a full mind,’ gesturing to her belly and her head.

I forgot to ask her name.

El Arbol – Beachside

The El Arbol hostal near the beach was a well-kept hostal, single story, that at capacity could house up to 40 guests. Low season now, so only 13 or so. Alejandra, the owner, a Chilean woman in her 30’s I guessed showed me to the voluntario housing, a converted shed. A guy from Portugal, named Pedro greeted me in English while lying in his bed, and we talked of the sights I should see. He told me to go to Coquimbo, to visit the fish and vegetable mercados, eat a cheap lunch, and see the sea lions.

“The sea lions come right up onto the street, where they are fed at this fence,” he said.

Ride an inauthentic Pirate Ship, matey!

He told me I could take any bus heading east for 600 pesos.

Apparently, he was wrong. After going around in a spaghetti-like route in the neighborhoods, the bus driver turned around, surprised I was still there. He said something I didn’t understand. I just said in response, “Coquimbo, al centro?’ Coquimbo, town center?

He shook his head and motioned outside the door, saying something about another bus. I got out and after awhile, took another bus with a sign saying Coquimbo.


Hmm, some racist imagery on a restaurant wall in Coquimbo.

It’s funny being in a country looking a bit like the locals, but by my clothing and manner, completely different. And language can be as solid a barrier as anything else. So, one becomes like an observer, only occasionally interacting, mostly to say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand.” The language of commerce is easier: How much is it? I would like to have…, the check, por favor…

Some sort of fig treat, $300 pesos




Eventually, I found myself at the fish market – like La Vega in Santiago, rivaled, and in some ways surpassed the fish market in Seattle. They had seafood cocktails of various varieties: fish, shrimp, octopus and clams in a single ceviche looking plastic container.

Vegetable Market at Coquimbo

Yo matey

Later I strolled a huge covered vegetable market, looking at the colorful vegetables and fruits. A visit to the bathroom, and I exeited, but a lady yelled something like, “Oye!” Apparently, I failed to pay the 200 pesos to use the bano.


I followed the board walk, and then heard a weird prehistoric sound, like a film dinosaur, or something from National Geographic: A sea lion.

See Sea Lions?

Actually, not just one, but several. Just beyond a wire fence with the remnants of fish scraps drying on the wire edges. They were huge, and close enough to touch. Seeing one close up, with their huge heads, and their prehistoric sounds, they looked to me to have heads of a lion, and the smooth body and flippers of a, well, sea lion. Heh.

I wondered what it would be like to see one close up while scuba diving. I heard they have diving in the area. I guess one of the things they do is “mouth” you. If you don’t know this, you might think they are trying to eat you, and as much as I would try to fight the urge to freak out, encountering anything underwater that is bigger than you are is a tad freaky anyway, not to mention something opening their mouths and clamping down on you!

Here, they looked fat dumb and happy, if a tad overfed and gluttonous. Fish bits hung off their maws, and dripped down their chest. Occasionally, they would rear up and become statues, absorbing the bright sun.

I feel you, I thought, myself basking in the sun. I think I will enjoy La Serena.



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Leaving Santiago

I leave Santiago, the capital city of Chile in a couple days. I’ve been in Santiago since the 9th of May, and will leave on the 31st for La Serena, a smaller coastal city. So around 3 weeks, 1 month total in Chile.

Today, I met 2 groups of people from Los Estados Unidos (USA). One group from Philadelphia, and one from Chicago. Interestingly, a local here told me that Americans don’t say what country they are from, they only say what city, assuming everyone knows where that is. Both told me that they were here just for 2 days.

‘Where were you before Santiago?’ I asked, assuming a longer trip.

‘Chicago,’ he said.

‘Oh, this is your first stop. Where are you going after Santiago?’


Wow. 2 days, probably at least 10 hrs flight not to mention any layovers. For only two days.

It blows my mind how people only stay for a couple days. It’s not even long enough to get rid of jetlag, get drunk and recover the next day. How do you do that? I just smiled, and said, ‘Wow, nice!’

And here I am, leaving Santiago for my 3rd Chilean city.

When I was returning on a bus from Valparaiso, the woman next to me asked, ‘Do you know where we are?’ I looked out the window. I knew we were in Santiago, but besides that I couldn’t make out any specific landmarks. ‘It all looks the same to me,’ she said with a sneer. ‘I thought Buenos Aires was a prettier city.’ I looked out the window. I could see what she meant, mostly 2-3 story buildings that were mixed use of storefronts and dwellings.

‘I think that there’s a lot to Santiago. I think, like Denver, it’s a city with a lot of heart,’ I said. I could tell she was just sick of traveling in a bus all day, but I really didn’t want to hear the typical tourist slagging the city they were vacationing in. I’ve come to love this city, and a part of me is sad to leave.

Admittedly, another part of me is sick of the city, and when that happens, when I feel the sickness that is a sort of hatred for the little things – crowded metros, ugly graffitti, rainy weather – what have you –   I know that it’s also a good time to leave.

Leave while you still love it, but a small part hates it.

Then you can feel hopeful for the change rather than fully despairing for something lost.

The two places I have been to in Chile, Frutillar and Santiago, a part of me wanted to stay. And it’s not even the things you are told to go see that I miss, not the museums, or monuments or architecture. It’s the little things.

It’s the desire for the familiar. I had my routine, I know where my favorite pie de limon is, my favorite cafe, a few restaurants that are good, how to ride the metro and where my favorite park is. I know some good places for a nice view of the city, and where to get good fish and sushi. I’ll miss the tree lined boulevards and street food stalls.  Yes, I will miss this familiarity. And familiarity is a comfort, like a warm blanket, that you do not want to shed.

But, if you don’t, you may miss out on another place that is just as great, and in some ways may be even better.

That is my barometer then: Un poco enfermedad, con mucho amor.


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Hostel Life: 3 Weeks in

3 weeks in Chile.

Already 1 week more than most Norte Americanos take for their yearly vacacciones. I’ve visited 3 cities in Chile, went to 4 museos, took 2 walking tours, rode planes, interstate overnight busses and figured out the Santiago Subway.

As a volunteer at 2 hostels,  I’ve created a logo, then animated it, learned some bartending, cleaned bathrooms, served breakfast, lit outdoor heaters, learned how to barbecue – Chilean style, and gotten to know around 15 local Chileans by name.

And next week I go to volunteer at a 3rd.

3 weeks. And I see a line of endless days stretched before me like the long hallway to the staff bedrooms at the latest hostel I am volunteering at.

Occasionally, I meet hostel guests who have been traveling for months – 5 months, 8 months, etc. Universally, to me they seem a tad…weary. But also: if they weren’t fluent in Spanish before, they certainly are now. Some still have fears, which I thought would disappear after awhile, fear of theft, of more egregious things, even murder by gangs while traveling the remote byways of South America by car. But they are also more street smart. While newbies may not lock their belongings, longtimers always do.

They do less of the tourist things, maybe one or two in the town they find themselves in, but not the daily trips like I find myself taking. Nina, a German voluntario who has been traveling for 5 months said, ‘Yeah, that’s what you do in the beginning. After awhile it’s enough just to interact with the people around you. Maybe see a few of the sites.’

I’m struck by how many young people travel for months in the hostels I meet. 3 months is not unusual – travel all of South America during a break. Sounds fine to me, but was nothing I thought I could do at their age. I was busy being in school, then in my career, getting married and divorced. Maybe they are the cream of their respective nation’s crop, but it’s hard to figure this out as I am surrounded by these adventurers.

Like me now, I guess.

I tell people that I am traveling for a year, and every time I say this I feel like I am saying, ‘I am exploring the solar system…’ Like it’s a phantasy, and I used to let out a little laugh when I said it. Now, I just say it as if it’s a fait accompli, flat smile, studying their reactions.

Most they think it’s great, ask about my itinerary. The longtimers mostly do the same, but sometimes just nod, like: you really don’t know what you are in for.

I don’t, it’s true. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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‘Patrick, you are scheduled to work in the kitchen.’ It was 8 am. I was getting ready to work my 8:30 shift in Recepcion. It’s a pretty casual shift – support the front desk, who are bilingual, and often trilingual. Delma, one of the front desk people, was leaning through the doorway.

‘No, I’m not. I’m scheduled to work Reception,’ I said.

‘Romiro says you are scheduled to work the kitchen. Can you work the kitchen?’ Romiro was the head of the voluntarios, setting their schedules, and does some of their training. I knew I wasn’t scheduled for the kitchen, but said, ‘Sure, I can do that.’

Kitchen duty is the hardest job at the hostal, mostly because it is fast paced, everything needs to be set quickly, and cooked and cleaned quickly. And once breakfast (Desayuna) is complete, you get setup for Almuerzo (Lunch).

At La Casa Roja, there were 3 main cooks, all women, none of whom spoke a lick of English. And none of them suffered fools gladly. As an American thrust into a new culture with only very basic Spanish skills I knew it was going to be a test.

I found out that one of the new volunteers failed to arrive, and that I would be sacrificed have to do my best.

Paoula, a short stout Chilean showed me very quickly where to get things, and where to put things through her words (which I barely understood), but mainly in actions and pantomime, which were easier for me to get. But it was all a blur, figuring out where to get more coffee, screwing up my Spanish, ‘Tienes cereal?’ I asked: ‘Do you have cereal?’ They would look at me incredulously. ‘Si?’

Eventually, I figured it out, changing it to ‘Quieres cereal?’ Do you want cereal?

And then the breakfast rush was over. After putting things away, I stood watching Paoula, waiting for instructions. She looked at me as if I had 2 heads. ‘Necesitas limpio!’ You need to clean! Making rapid motions of scrubbing, sweeping…and on it went.

And in this rapid fire environment I found that I had to listen very closely to what was being said, in order to pull the words I knew from the words I didn’t know. To figure out the meaning of what they tried to convey to me. And, as hard as it was for me, I knew my inability to communicate made it very hard for them. What must it be like to have to deal with volunteers who couldn’t speak Spanish very well? Every week, new volunteers with various levels of Spanish, all saying, ‘Como?’ or ‘What?’

I’m finding the culture of Chile to be very warm, formed from bonds strengthened by daily greetings, and the “beso” or kiss on the cheek (between men and women), or the handshake and eye contact and a smile between men. I do not fully participate, because I don’t really know what is, and isn’t acceptable. So, I observe, and then try when appropriate to follow the etiquette.

But, not participating can be seen as rude.

Like this morning, I went to get my voluntarios breakfast allotment of 2 eggs (huevos) and a piece of bread (pan). I gave my breakfast ticket to Joseline, the voluntario working the shift. As she got my food, I waited watching Maria, this shifts head cook, busily preparing the special breakfasts for the private rooms. She looked up at me and said, exaggerating the words, ‘Bueenoos diiaas!’ sounding each vowel while glaring at me. I responded, ‘Buenos dias.’ I looked at her and Joseline as she spoke some rapid fire Spanish. All I caught was “…conosces…” He knows…

I looked at Joseline, who said, ‘You must say hello.’ Hmm, in the US if someone was busy you learned not to bother them, but here it was a must to say ‘hello’ to everyone. My first reaction was, man she was rude! But then it occurred to me that I was in fact the person who was considered rude, just standing in front of her without greeting her.

I figured I was confronting ‘enculturation,’ or “…the process of teaching an individual the norms and values of a culture through unconscious repetition. The totality of actions within a culture establishes a context that sets the conditions for what is possible within the society,” (source:

But, to what degree must I participate in their culture, I ask myself? Can’t I just approach folks from my background rather than theirs? But becoming enculturated has its benefits, mainly to smooth over interactions.

I think it’s probably best to figure out what is incorrect first before diving in, though. For example, when I was in Buenos Aires I tried to do the ‘beso’ (kiss on cheek) with a man who was to be our tour guide through the poor section of BA. He paused as I neared his cheek, then kind of lightly smacked the side of my face with his. I learned it wasn’t as accepted between men, especially if they didn’t quite know each other well.

Stupid Gringo.

But, my tutor explained the beso to me saying, ‘Do not deprive me of my beso!’

I have to talk myself off the ledge, saying ‘It’s only your 3rd week in, give yourself a break.’ Enculturation takes time. I just simply say, ‘Buenos dias,’ only responding with the beso if they do it first. I figure I can use my ‘I’m a Gringo’ excuse a little longer as I learn to navigate the intricacies of Chilean (South American?) etiquette and culture.



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Why I chose TravelingMailbox as my virtual mailbox

When planning on traveling the world, the question on how to get and read your snail mail comes up, as in: I am currently traveling in Chile, but my bank sends me something – where can they send it to where I would have access to it online?

That’s just one example, but it could also be letters that friends send, postcards, etc. But they could also be mail that you might want to forward, such as replacement credit cards, or paper checks.

Luckily, there is a plethora of services that have the ability to receive your mail, and even scan the contents, store and even forward mail to the address of your choice. One of the most well known virtual mailbox services is Earth Class Mail, and while they received good reviews, I couldn’t see myself paying $50-100/month for their service.

So, I started to look around.

Some criteria I had were:

  • Must be reasonably priced
  • Real Address (not PO Box)
  • Reasonable scanning cost
  • Reasonable storage time
  • Able to forward mail to the address of my choice.

A bonus point was for a Colorado Address.

After reviewing the major players, I selected

Three reasons I picked

1. Cost Effective

TravelingMailbox only costs $15/month. Compare against Earth Class Mail at a starting price of $50 and the difference becomes clear. Other services such as USGlobalMail and iPostal1 start at around $10, but I passed on them since scans were an additional cost, and not part of the monthly fee. Knowing that I would be having important looking mail scanned on a regular basis I felt there should at least be a minimum number of scans as part of the fee you pay. Which brings me to:

2. Scans

TravelingMailbox has 35 scans included. This is one of the highest number of pages scanned that is rolled into the same monthly fee. Earth Class Mail actually has unlimited scans, but then it also costs a minimum of $50/month. 35 is a pretty generous amount of scans, and so far in my travels I have not used up my quota. Most of the low cost alternatives, such as iPostal1, USGlobalMail and AnytimeMailbox don’t have ANY scans as part of their fee, you have to pay per scan, and at an average of $2/scan it can add up quickly.

3. Mail Storage

TravelingMailbox has a decent amount of time they will store the received mail: 60 days. PostScanMail, AnytimeMailbox and iPostal1 only store mail for 30 days.


TravelingMailbox was the clear winner to me in terms of comparing its price, number of scans included, and mail storage length. Some other considerations you might have would be to see if the service also serves the state that you’d like, but having my mail delivered to a North Carolina address it was a non-issue for me. I mean, you’re traveling anyway, so why do you need a specific state? The only thing that gave me pause was voter registration, but I just used my parent’s address since they lived in Colorado. Problem solved!

If you can afford it, EarthMail may be a clear choice for you, especially if you receive a lot of mail, or need a very large amount of scans, or require HIPAA level security, and so forth. But if you are budget minded, and looking for a good mix of price, number of scans and mail storage, then TravelingMailbox may be the virtual mailbox for you!


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Ever since I landed in Chile, I have been doing voluntourism with a couple different hostels, and I find that this type of travel seems to suit me. Instead of just paying for a hotel, or hostel, I get room (bed), and sometimes board (food) in exchange for 30 hours of work.

One of the hostels I volunteered at was also the office of the owners many other business interests, many of which included cellphone towers, intranet and even a tv movie service similar to Netflix. I found it through the website, which is a site that puts volunteers together with hosts who need help.

The workaway was located in Frutillar, one of those cute tourist towns near their lakes district which was founded by Germans back in the 1800’s (I believe).

At first I thought I’d be working on an ERP system, but since I was only going to be there for 2 weeks max, they decided I’d create a animated logo.

Tie Up the Lion,Tie Up the Lion: An Insight Into Voluntourism, Available on Amazon!

It was sort of a throwback to my previous work as a web site designer. But, it almost felt to me like an unequal exchange. Like, I got room and board for a week for an animated logo – right?

I had an entire house to myself – and while quite cold and damp it had 3 bedrooms and I ate meals with the family at their house next door.

For an animated logo.

Just didn’t seem fair to me, which bothered me. The host, though, seemed delighted with the logo. It’s what I used to tell a friend of mine: It may be simple for you, but for someone who doesn’t know how you did it, it is like unimaginable magic.

The gig was pretty good, but the house was located about a 45 minute walk from the tourist village, and after going to the Concert hall, and eating at a few restaurants I found that I exhausted the interesting tidbits about the town.

The animated logo that bought me a free week of room and board!

So, every day I would leave after work for a rainy stroll to town and back, eating one of the specials of the day, drinking a local germanic-like beer, then walking back before it got dark.

Every day.

So, after a week, and seeing another week stretch in front of me into an eternity-seeming repetition of my days ahead, after a week I had had enough. I talked to the other volunteer named Fucundo, and asked him how long he had been volunteering, and he said: ‘One year.’

Blew my mind.

How was that possible? One week for me and I was already going stir crazy. I think part of it was just escaping a Colorado Winter, and even with it being mild as it was it was a shock to go from Spring straight back into another Winter.

But then I found out where Fucundo was from, and he said it was the most southern part of Argentina. From his description it sounded like an alternate universe Alaska – Long cold Winters, and maybe a brief couple weeks where they might see some sun. After something like that, Frutillar must have seemed like a decent place to hangout for a year – or more!

But for me, I had had enough.

The thing about traveling is that you are in charge of the experience that you want, and since the host and I had not established how long I should stay, it was simply up to me how long to remain.

I completed the logo and bought a ticket back to Santiago.

Coincidentally, I received an offer to work in a hostel through a different volunteer service called , otherwise known as Help Exchange. La Casa Roja was quite large, with the ability to host nearly 100 hostel guests. I was to be part of around 20 people, some paid staff, and the rest volunteers like myself.

Hey Bar Tender! Who knew voluntourism could be so fun!

The hostel need many different types of help, and so far I’ve done cleaning, grounds maintenance, helped make a fire for a BBQ and even learned some basic bartending!

I actually spent 2 days as a regular guest until my voluntourism gig came up, just to check them out, and found they facilitated alot of activities for the hostel guests, like movie night, arranging guided tours, and had a nice bar with cheap drinks.

And after spending a few nights ona shaky top bunk, it was nice to stay in the staff bedroom with only 3 other people (instead of 7) with a bed to myself, and even a dresser!

The dreaded top bunk!

It’s so pleasant, and the tasks well organized and communicated that I may even extend my stay!







700 Places to Volunteer Before You Die, Available through Amazon.

Being a volunteer also helps you connect with both regular staff, who are typically locals, and also an international contingent of people also traveling by doing voluntourism. I’ve practiced my basic Spanish with the staff, as well as get travel information from the other volunteers. It’s a great combination, because as a guest, while you may interact a bit with both staff and other travelers, as a volunteer you become almost quasi-staff, with more privileges, and some unique to staff perks.

For example, I get free breakfast as a volunteer on top of my free room. And certain volunteer activities allow volunteers extras, such as BBQ night you get to also get a plate of food, or bartending usually gets a free pint of beer as well as any tips. And certain things like bartending are great skills to develop – they travel well, and how cool is it to say, ‘Hey, yeah I learned to bartend in Santiago, Chile…’

I’m sure I will find alternate ways to do work exchanges, or even paid gigs like teaching english – or bartending! But, helping out at hostels and other places that need a hand is turning out to be a great way to facilitate travel in ways you might not have thought of! I certainly didn’t. And if you are planning a long-term travel trip I most definitely recommend that you give it a try.



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Hegira to Valparaiso

“My cousin Roland Blas did the ancestry research and he didn’t find any record on him other than the  name Don Jose Liberato Guerrero born in 1840 and must have immigrated from another country as a spanish soldier and settle on Guam and married a chamorro woman. Spanish records shows that on october 23, 1857 he sponsored a sailor from Val Paraiso City, Chile and settled in Hagatna, Guam. So there is really not much to go by. We don’t even have the name of the sailor he sponsored. It was assumed that he is from Val Paraiso just because of his sponsorship. Another assumption is maybe  from spain as he was a spanish soldier. So don’t sweat it especially if the place is dangerous.”

My mom wrote this to me as I was considering my next move. I had heard from more than one person that the thieves were, well, thick in Valpo. One scam was a person would squirt mustard or water on a person, and while acting as if they were trying to clean or dry the person they would also be pickpocketing them as well. I heard this from more than one person. Facundo, in Frutillar, told me about a woman he met who had everything stolen from her, including her cellphone, purse, and backpack in Valparaiso. Ricardo, my host in Frutillar put it this way:

They have very high unemployment with all the young people there. And whenever that happens wherever that happens, crime follows as a result.

The stories had me rethinking my plan on going to Valpo, but Ricardo told me, ‘You must go. Your great great grandfather is from there. You can’t go to Chile and not go there.’


I know that the theft probably happened outside the tourist sections of town, and I heard that if you stay away from a certain side of town (north?) you’d be fine, but how was I to know what from what?  After contemplating getting a bus on my own, among other plans, I decided to just join a tour.

I’ve always been a non-tour, non-cruise sort of person, but as far as sticking to the tourist areas and being with a group of people with a guide shepherding us all seemed like a good way to check out the city for the first time.

Vina Del Mar

The tour was split to 2 different places, Vina Del Mar, or “Vineyards facing the sea” – something like that – for the first part of the day, then Valparaiso the second.

Vina Del Mar is a big wine growing region of Chile, and our first stop of the day was a vineyard – and at 10 am I found myself drinking a sweet red, a sweet white, and a dry red. Samples, but still – sorta early in the day for that, right?


I heart medialunas

Pablos everywhere

Almuerzo. Apparently Chilean Sea bass is just called “Sea Bass” in Chile.

I made a stop in the restaurant inside the vineyard and discovered my old Buenos Aires breakfast food – medialunas, washed down with a nice cortado coffee!

We also visited this impressive rounded stadium, which also had some statues of Pablo Neruda at the entrance:

In fact Neruda was sort of a underlying theme to the whole thing, with photos, paintings, and tchockes galore being sold imprinted with his image. Chile is very proud of their native son, as they have a right to be. He is arguably the 20th Century’s most noted poet in the world. That he is also Chilean has to be a point of pride (and source of tourist revenue).

He is everywhere, and became a sort of stand-in for Don Jose Liberato Guerrero, the abuelo de mi abuelo de mi abuelo…

We also visited a place that had one of those sculpted torsos with the huge heads from Easter Island. And I thought, “Maybe I should go there?” But, as this Dutch person on the tour told me, who had travelled for a year and a half in her younger days, “You soon realize you just can’t go everywhere, and so you go where you can.”

We had Almuerzo (lunch) at the coastal restaurant in Vina Del Mar, and I was right: Chilean Sea Bass in Chile IS just called Sea Bass.


Valparaiso is hilly and picturesque, with paintings and colorful arty graffiti decorating the walls, and multiple houses tumbled together in bright colors befitting the seaside town of Pablo Neruda. Apparently he had 3 houses he owned, and one of them was a sort of museum that was part of the tour.

The walking tour went past all this great outdoor art, and Neruda seemed to pop up everywhere.

Pablo Pablo Pablo

Mucho gusto enconocerlo Pablo

Todos los Pablos están serio…

You talk to Pablo you talk to me!

Pablo y Yo

Pablo stoned

Pablo en arte

I think a few actually are…;-)

Steep hills filled with art

I am soon stoned!

Flowery clock

Pablo y Yo

So stoned!

Dime Pablo!

Walking the colorful art-filledstreets, I felt that I would have had no issues in Valpo – it is a city like other cities, with all the dangers and precautions one had to take in any city you find yourself in. And as a person who has travelled through New York, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, et al, I should not have been as concerned as I was.

But, like the venerable Mike Tyson said, ‘Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face.’

I knew that I would not find any information about Don Jose, but perhaps my photos of Valpo could assuage the searching hearts of my relatives, perhaps show parts of Valpo so that they may see what he might have seen, experienced a bit of what he might have experienced traversing the hills and streets full of art many decades ago.

I feel the spirit of Don Jose here, though. I feel a sort of kinship. What it must have taken for him to travel by ship to a tiny foreign island, marry a native there and start a family. And leave beautiful Valparaiso behind.



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How to buy a bus ticket in Chile if you are from the US

Buying a bus ticket in Chile can be difficult, unless you know the correct place to go. And going to the bus station in small towns in Chile may not work, as they have varying hours of operation. Luckily, there is a new company started in January 2015:


Unlike the other bus websites such as or, allows the input of your Passport number, instead of the Chilean RUT number. Recorrido also allows you to pay for a bus ticket through Paypal.

One thing to remember is that you do need to be able to print your ticket to bring with you to where the bus picks you up, (which may look to you like the middle of the road)! Remember this, because they will not accept electronic tickets.

The other way that works is to go to the station during their operating hours and purchase a ticket there. In Santiago, this worked for me at Alameda Station. I was able to select my seat, and purchase the ticket with my credit card.

There you go! If you know of another way to purchase bus tickets in Chile, please leave a comment below!

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Frutillar Baho, Voluntourism and Kuchen!

Who knew I’d be designing logos again a couple decades after I ended my graphic design career?

I had a little miscommunication about the volunteer requirements – I thought I’d be working on Odoo, but I guess their immediate need was to transfer email servers. That, frankly, was waaay out of my skillset.

So, after some back and forth about what I could do (and couldn’t do) it was decided that I’d take a shot at redesigning one of their logos.

I had a bit of a throwback emotion to my old working life – having to discuss what was expected of me, and what I could realistically provide. Just because I’ve worked in the tech industry for 20 years, doesn’t mean I’m also a developer, a network admin, or understand how to transfer to a new email server!

But I do not want to freeload either, I want to be of service. They provide a house, an excellent wifi service, 3 square meals – and I don’t just expect it all to be free.

So, I’m designing a new logo. I find it sorta refreshing to do this again, especially since my career isn’t on the line – I just want to do good work in exchange for their hospitality.

Voluntourism is an interesting way of doing travel. You have interactions with the people of the area, you do some sort of service in exchange for room and sometimes board. And you have a person to get information about the area you are in. I’ve budgeted for about $30/day for the year, and any day I can either do voluntourism, or get paid work is another day I can extend my trip.

Frutillar Bajo

Frutillar Bajo is kind of the main tourist part of Frutillar (I think). There’s also a “Frutillar Alto” which is sort of newer (if 100 years vs 200 can be considered “newer”).

Funny, you start the morning thinking you’re isolated and not able to contribute in any meaningful way, and then you start work on an interesting project, and then find out the town is a pleasant 40 minute walk away!

I was just contacted regarding doing house-sitting for 2 months in Bariloche, Argentina. I planned to go north to Valparaiso and La Serena, and maybe find some desert heat east to San Pedro de Atacama, but we’ll see what Destiny has in store for me…possibly in Bariloche!

But, Bariloche, while in Argentina, is still basically in the same region – a lake region with similar cold and rainy weather right now. And, I need to find some climbing soon – the El Muro gym in Santiago slaked the climbing thirst for a bit, but perhaps made me thirstier in the long run. Will need to find a solution soon!

Iz dat Jeebus hanging from a tree?

Jeebus luvs u!

Take a long walk off a short pier

El Teatro de Frutillar

Kuchen ist bichen



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