Saturday, 31 March 2018

A new whirl 2018.03 edition

Greetings! About two weeks ago, I published my well-received post titled Give it a whirl. Today I'm joining my blogger friend Leslie who just started her Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone series to share one of my recent new whirls.

Earlier this month, I travelled solo to Chile. I have done solo travel many times and have been to South America before. However, it was my first time visiting Chile where Spanish is the official language. Santiago, the capital of Chile, has seven million people, about 3.5 times more populated than my home city. So it's kind of daunting to think about how I'm going to navigate in and around the city without getting lost.

Upon arrival at Santiago's Comodoro Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport, I decided to get into the city centre in a frugal and adventurous way, i.e. Riding Santiago's airport bus and metro (subway). Most tourists would use a shared van service or a taxi which, for the convenience, of course, costs several times more but does not save the passengers any time since Santiago traffic is heavy everywhere.

I had read about Santiago's airport buses and metro system before leaving home. I have also used various public transit systems at home and abroad before. Still, when there was no English-speaking staff available, it was out of my comfort zone to converse with them using my basic Spanish. I managed to buy a Centropuerto bus ticket to ride from the airport to Los Heroes terminal, then got off the bus, went underground, bought a Bip card to ride the metro (subway) to Baquedano station, and walked a few blocks from the metro station to my hostel. It took me about an hour door to door. The airport bus ticket was 1800 CLP, the Bip card was 1500 CLP, and the metro ride cost 750 CLP. Total 4,050 CLP or about CAD$8 (US$6).

The Centropuerto bus stop is outside the airport terminal at exit #5. Tickets can be bought from the bus driver. There is a small luggage area behind the driver, or staff will stow luggage in the bus belly. There is a second bus company named TurBus that runs similar route and charges the same for the ticket. The Bip card is mandatory since the beginning of March 2018. It's named after the sound it makes when scanned at the turnstile. Card holder can load the card with the ticket costs as needed, for one rider or more on the same card.

I made it to my accommodation safe and sound! I was pleased with myself for being able to use another foreign transit system without getting lost. Success!

How useful was my new experience? The next day, I helped an American couple from San Francisco to buy a Bip card and tickets. I also loaded my Bip card and hopped on and off Santiago's metro like a pro :)

What to do with the money saved? Well, how about treat myself to a nice glass of Chilean wine, maybe two, and enjoy the view of San Cristobal Hill from the roof top patio of my hostel?  Bring on another new adventure!

Your turn... What's your most recent new whirl? Please share.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Santiago street art

Greetings! After spending a few days in San Pedro de Atacama, I flew back to Santiago, to explore the capital of Chile.

I was staying in Barrio Bellavista, a bohemian neighbourhood in Santiago, known for street art, cafe-bars, and live music venues. So I spent one morning walking around the barrio, looked at the building architecture, and took pictures of the street art. I'm sharing a small sample here today.

The first two murals are outside Bellas Artes metro station by world-famous Chilean artist INTI. If you go to his web site, there is a video clip documenting the process when these two murals were painted in 2013.

The next five mosaic murals are on Dardignac street in Barrio Bellavista by Chilean artist Paula Guerra. The man in the first mosaic is Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet, diplomat, and politician Pablo Neruda.

The following seven murals are by unknown artists:

I think you'd agree with me that the art work makes the walls come alive.

In my next post, I'll share what I experienced on my walking tours in Santiago.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

San Pedro de Atacama and Moon Valley

Greetings! When I planned my itinerary to explore Chile, I intentionally chose an urban place (Santiago), oceanfront towns (Valparaiso and Vina del Mar), and a more remote destination (San Pedro de Atacama). I was looking forward to seeing some of the natural wonders in Chile, and experiencing the contrast between the destinations.

After taking a non-stop flight from Toronto to Santiago, I headed towards San Pedro de Atacama, 1,674 km (1,038 miles) North of Santiago.

How to get from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama, and to Moon Valley:
  • Direct flight from Santiago (SCL) to Calama (CJC) takes about two hours. Local SKY airline is less expensive than LAN/ TAM airline. My return flights were on schedule.
  • Shared van service from Calama to San Pedro Village, 100 km in distance, about one hour drive, return fares cost 20,000 CLP (US$35). Tickets can be booked online or at airport counter. I booked TransVIP service at Calama airport.
  • Moon Valley is 15 km (9 1/4 miles) from San Pedro Village and can be reached by bicycle or vehicle. The Moon Valley tour is offered daily. Upon arrival, I booked a half-day group tour with an English-speaking guide and transportation. The tour cost 14,500 CLP ($US25). Entry fee to the Moon Valley, which is in a National Reserve, costs an extra 3,000 CLP.
San Pedro de Atacama sights:
  • Licancabur volcano is visible everywhere you go in San Pedro de Atacama. Lican means people, cabur means mountain. 
  • San Pedro de Atacama houses or buildings are mainly made of adobe material. The roads in town are unpaved to retain their originality. 
  • San Pedro's 3-by-4 street centre is small with a casual vibe, plenty of small eateries, mini markets, and tour operators. 
  • Stray dogs are common. They look healthy and are friendly to passers by.
  • There is a street named after Gustavo Le Paige, a Belgian Jesuit priest, who was the first one collecting and searching for archaeological remains in the area. The museum named after him unfortunately has been closed with no scheduled re-opening date.

Licancabur Volcano

San Pedro de Atacama church

San Pedro Main Square

Local street towards Licancabur volcano

Gustavo Le Paige street

San Pedro local market

San Pedro cemetery

Souvenir shops in San Pedro

Moon Valley sights:
  • If you can only go on one tour from San Pedro de Atacama, I'd highly recommend the Moon Valley tour. The scenery is simply spectacular. 
  • We visited the Salt Cave, the Three Marias, The Amphitheatre, the Great Dune, and the Moon Valley itself. Imagine a vast moonscape that is so awesome that it silences everyone! 
  • The Moon Valley tour starts at 4 PM and lasts until sunset so we can see the colour changes as the sun goes down. We sat at the last stop in the Moon Valley to share snacks and fresh melon juice to celebrate a beautiful day's end in a beautiful place on Earth.
  • The Stargazing tour starts at 9 PM. It is very popular so book it in advance to avoid disappointment. If you like to do serious stargazing, this is THE place to do it. Astronomers come here to study. Imagine a deep dark sky with a vast net of millions of stars that no doubt leaves its viewers with a sense of wonder.

Salt Cave

Inside Salt Cave looking out

Three Marias

Moon Valley and Licancabur Volcano

The Amphitheatre/ Stadium, Moon Valley

The Great Dune, Moon Valley

Moon Valley
Moon Valley

Some travel tips:
  • If you're flying from Santiago to Calama, if possible, sit on the right side of the plane as the aerial view of mountain ranges, salt flats, and a vast desert is spectacular! 
  • At just over 2,400 m (8,000 ft.), the altitude in San Pedro de Atacama will slow you down at first. Give yourself time to acclimatize before going to higher altitude.
  • The Atacama desert is the driest desert in the world. Bring bottled water with you at all times. Sun protection is essential as UV Index is very high.
  • Even though there are ATMs in San Pedro de Atacama, bring enough cash with you before you arrive. Many local businesses accept cash only, and in high season, the ATMs might run out of cash.
Tours in and around San Pedro de Atacama:
  • I took two free walking tours in San Pedro de Atacama with Tours4tips. The walking tours run daily, at 10 AM, and at 3 PM, from Plaza de Armas. The first tour had six participants. The second tour had only two participants. Both tours were very good. I was told that March and April are the good time to visit as the weather is good and the tourist crowd is gone.
  • There are numerous tour operators and travel agencies in San Pedro de Atacama to book guided tours. I booked mine from the Hostal where I was staying. 
  • Most of the guided tours are full day as the sights are farther away from San Pedro de Atacama. Book the one with higher altitude last to give yourself time to acclimatize.
It was an amazing adventure. The images of Licancabur volcano, San Pedro Village, and Moon Valley are now etched in my memory. Next, I flew back to Santiago to explore the capital of Chile!

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Spring fun list

Greetings! I'm back from Chile, feeling energized from the experience, enjoying this beautiful week at home, and making plans for my next adventure.

I'd like to wrap up my winter fun list which I started on December 21 as posted here, with my update #1 in January, and update #2 in February. The last item Explore Chile in March on my winter fun list is now complete. Separate posts to come with highlights of my fantastic adventure in Chile.

Today I'm sharing my spring fun list and linking up with several fun-loving bloggers. I'm excited to be in spring season. I love the sunshine, the freshness in the air, and the increasingly warmer temperatures. In my neighbourhood, I see spring flowers growing and the trees start to look greener. When I walk outdoors in the morning, I hear bird songs and see ducks swimming leisurely in the lake. The sights of new beginnings are invigorating. Bring on spring!

My Spring Fun List from March 21 to June 20, 2018:
  1. View two art exhibitions.
  2. Attend eight music recitals.
  3. Watch ten movies.
  4. Review French fifteen minutes daily.
  5. Take a long weekend trip with my family.
  6. Meet up for coffee or lunch with my friends.
  7. Go to farmers' markets starting at the end of May.
  8. Explore the Baltics in May-June.
My spring fun list is full of new experiences for me. I'm eager to give it a whirl. Item #8 gives me lots of reading to do. I'm thinking of visiting Tallinn in Estonia, Riga in Latvia, Vilnius in Lithuania, and Warsaw in Poland. My travel planning checklist will come in handy again.

How are things going with you? What do you do for fun this season? If you've been to any of the capitals in the Baltics, please share your experience.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Give it a whirl

I discovered the above public art structure on one of my walks along the waterfront. I didn't see the title nor the artist's name at the site so I looked it up. From what I could find online, I believe it's the work of Alice Aycock, an American sculptor who recently presented some of of her work in an exhibition entitled The Turbulence Series in New York.

This art work made me think of words such as spin, whirl, twist, tornado, white, force, centrifuge, wind, as well as the expression "give it a whirl" as in give something a try for the first time.

When we give something new a whirl, it stirs up our regular routine or our normal environment. It engages our senses and makes us pay attention. It can also be disturbing because we're dealing with the unknowns. However, we usually learn something new from the experience.

I believe it's necessary for us to give it a whirl from time to time. It doesn't have to be something big and scary. It can be as simple as walking a new route, trying a new healthy recipe, or figuring out how to use a new tool.

For example, this month I gave the following a whirl:
  • I added a small new exercise to my workout routine. It required me to coordinate my limbs, alternate left side right side, and keep count (while remember to breathe).
  • I used a new selfie stick for the first time. It's simple to set up but I'm still practicing getting the pictures the way I like.
  • I walked a new route and discovered the above art structure, which led me to learn more about the artist's work, and inspired me to write about it. Could this potentially be a new win circle for me?
Some benefits to give it a whirl from time to time:
  • Inject freshness into our routine
  • Engage our senses and stretch our mind (ever heard of brain plasticity?)
  • Explore and discover something new that may be enjoyable
  • Practice how we handle changes and become more resilient
  • Appreciate what we have even more
Spring is arriving in a couple of days in my part of the world. It's the season for new beginnings and growth. I'm thinking about my spring fun list, and adding a few small whirls.

How about you? Have you given something new a whirl recently? Please share.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Wellness Wednesday Mar 7

Welcome to our third Wellness Wednesday monthly link up which started on January 10th this year! Today I'm providing a progress update on my February wellness goals, setting new goals for March, sharing my favourite exercise equipment, and linking up with several fabulous bloggers who are also on this wellness journey.

If you have a wellness-related post, please feel free to join us by selecting the blue link at the bottom of this post, visit the linked up blogs, and leave a comment to let them know you stopped by.

My progress update on my February wellness goals:

1. Meditate 15 minutes daily: I've been doing this daily because it works for me. I love the short duration and the focus during meditation. At night when I meditate with deep breathing, it helps me fall asleep.

2. Exercise one hour daily: Throughout February, I walked 5K each morning, except Sundays when I ran 5K. I alternated my gym days and yoga days during the week. In total, I exercised in the gym twelve times, did yoga at home twelve times, and ran 5K four times.

3. Smile or laugh daily: By writing this goal down, I remember to find humour and genuinely smile or laugh every day. It's one of my 'win circles' so it will stay on my list.

4. Enjoy two family outings on two different weekends: I met this goal when we went away the first weekend in February and went to our family party on Feb. 18. Both locations are about 35 km (25 miles) away from our home. The change of scenery was good, and we had great fun with our extended family and friends.

5. Attend two piano recitals with my friends: I met this goal on Feb. 16 and Feb. 23. The first recital was piano only. The second recital was a piano and violin duet. All three performers were amazing!

My March wellness goals:

We're changing from winter to spring where I live. With nicer weather, and to give myself variety, I'll replace my two completed social goals in February with two travel goals for March as listed below.

1. Meditate 15 minutes daily.
2. Exercise one hour daily.
3. Smile or laugh daily.
4. Explore Chile in March.
5. Plan for spring travels.

My favourite exercise equipment:

Over the years, I've used a number of exercise equipment such as elliptical, treadmill, stationary bike, indoor rowing machine, bosu, dumb bells, pulley station, balls, and skip rope, to name a few. Yet my favourite exercise equipment is actually my body. I think our body weight is excellent for calisthenic workouts, and other types of exercises such as yoga.

Some examples of good calisthenic exercises that we can do with our arms, legs, and body weight include: abs, planks, side planks, push-ups, burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, squats, or lunges. Start with selecting 5 or more exercises and keep repeating without a break between sets for at least two sets each, and you'll be amazed what a workout it is.

Short on time? Try the scientific 7-minute workout as published here. Want something more gentle? Do light exercise and the ten basic stretches as shown here.

Regardless of what equipment we have for exercise, I think the key to success is to exercise consistently (use it or lose it).

Your turn... How are you doing with your wellness goals? What is your favourite exercise equipment or gadget?

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Exploring Chile

Greetings! I'm planning a trip to Chile as mentioned in a previous post here. Today I'm writing about what's on my itinerary, and what I hope to see and do in Chile.

What's on my itinerary?

Chile is a long and narrow country on the Pacific Ocean side in South America. The header picture for this post shows the top half of the country and its neighbours. You can click to enlarge the picture. From my travel readings, I gathered that Chile's five main areas to visit, from North to South, include:
  • North and the Atacama Desert
  • The Central Coast where Santiago, the capital of Chile is located
  • Easter Island
  • The South with its lakes and volcanoes
  • Patagonia and Antarctica, with Torres del Paine National Park as the major attraction
Initially I was going to explore just the Central Coast. However, SKY Airline, the local Chilean airline, had a special offer that made a trip to another region affordable. Easter Island is remote and hence fairly expensive. Torres del Paine National Park would require more travel time to reach the park and fully explore it. The South area with its lakes and volcanoes seems nice. The Atacama Desert, described as the driest desert in the world, sounds intriguing with its moon-like landscapes, lagoons, geysers, and salt flats.

It's unlikely that I'll travel to the moon in my lifetime so I decided to visit the Atacama Desert area and the Central Coast of Chile.

What do I hope to see and do?
  • In San Pedro de Atacama (Point A on the map), I hope to take a walking tour to explore the archaeological capital of Chile, a day tour to visit Moon Valley, one of the many lagoons, and salt flats, and a visit to the Tatio geysers if my time and energy allow.
  • In Santiago (Point B on the map), I'd like to do one or two walking tours to explore the capital city.
  • In Valparaiso (Point C on the map), I'd like to do a walking tour to explore the city, known for its steep funiculars and colourful homes. If time allows, I'd also like to visit Vina del Mar, a coastal resort city near Valparaiso.
This itinerary would let me experience a mix of historic archaeological monuments, natural wonders in a desert, and urban sights.

I'm feeling excited about the trip. A new adventure awaits!

Where's your next adventure? Tell me more.