Published: March 14th 2012March 10th 2012
K – After a surprisingly enjoyable 12 hour flight across the pacific we arrived in Santiago
– Chile looked dry, barren and sunny but you could see the gigantic snow-capped Andes in the distance which was pretty cool. We made our way into town and the tiredness kicked in. Due to time zones we were living the 27th Feb twice as well as gaining 7 hours (T – You only live twice Mr Bond…
or however many times you cross the International Date Line from west to east.) Having not carried our bags (which were now even heavier due to our warm NZ gear) for a month we were finding it tough going but somehow we made it to Barrio Brasil and the lovely Blend hostel – our home for the next four days. The owner was a Chilean anglophile who had lived in Chelsea for the last 25 years and he was a really excellent host. The hostel was a beautiful 100 year old house and felt more like a homestay as there were only a few bedrooms – on the first night Rudy the owner whipped up a proper Chilean BBQ and a good time was had
For the next few days we explored the city – Tom was here in 1999 but didn’t seem to recognise anything (T – seriously, what on earth did I do when I was here last? Certainly more dogs than I remember – Chile is ruled by them!) We thought it was a nice enough city and particularly enjoyed an area called Bella Vista which had a great square with excellent restaurants. The weather was hot and it was so good to be back in our summer clothes! We both agreed it was so good to be back in South America, and after being constantly hassled in parts of SE Asia, it was so much easier being in a place where people just aren’t bothered.
After working out a quick route and seeing how much money we had left we headed 12 hours down south to a city called Valdivia
. Supposedly famous for beer and chocolate thanks to its German heritage – after a half hour walk to our hotel (not a hostel!!) in the dark and rain I could have done with both of these things! The hotel looked like a little alpine lodge and we
had cable TV in our room – brilliant. We were staying quite far out of town so had to eat in their restaurant every night – the food was great (proper steaks etc.) but ended up costing us an arm and a leg! Nobody spoke English so our phrase book came in very useful as did our ever improving (?!) Spanish – we have both decided, however, that we need to learn the past and future tense – mas importante!
Valdivia is a city that has its pretty parts and is on a wide river - it seemed to be popular with Chilean tourists. We had a fun few days walking about through an excellent fish market and looking in horror as local kids tried to pet the sea lions that sit on the docks waiting for the scraps! It wasn’t particularly warm and as we pulled on our trousers and hiking boots we were worried that we would stand out as the gringos that we are. Not true – local fashion seemed to dictate that everyone was dressed in the best quality outdoor wear so we kind of blended in! There were some fantastic outdoor clothes shops where
I could have spent a fortune – bit like fat face and white stuff but better!
So back on the bus and off deeper into the lake district to the town of Pućon
. This area is famous for its huge picture perfect volcano – called Volcan Villarica. We spotted it out of the window and it looked mesmerising, huge and covered in snow. We had planned to climb it but unfortunately and sadly two people had died after falling off it the week before so it was not possible. The volcano is really active, so much so that on clear days you can see the smoke from its top. There is a traffic light warning system on the wall of the tourist information - thankfully it remained green for our trip! (T – A siren test happens each day at noon.)
We really loved Pućon – it felt like a little alpine ski village and the German influence was very strong here with wooden houses with peaked roofs everywhere. The town was on the edge of a huge lake with a black volcanic sand beach and it really had a buzz about it. From here we were able
to hop on local buses and do trips to beauty spots such as lake Carbuga (warm water, golden sand) and its crystal clear rock pools (Ojos de Carbora). On the last day we travelled out to some hot springs – this place seems to be full of them. You had to go down and up at least 200 steps to get to there but they were worth it and it was great to have a soak surrounded by such lovely scenery. We were both surprised at the beauty of this area – it is full of meadows and rolling hills and not how I imagined Chile to look at all.
After a 12 hour overnighter with Tur Bus (who are fast becoming our best friends – cheap and easy) we pulled into Valparaíso
or Valpo as the backpackers call it. The Chilean capital of culture and a huge mass of little buildings packed together on a series of hills. Our first task was, as always getting to the hostel, which was at the top of one of these hills. Being as cheap as ever we decided to get a bus not a taxi – great idea until we realised
it was school run time. Just like at home we fought to get on and then became completely surrounded by about 30 kids on this tiny bus, blowing bubble-gum and listening to reggaeton on their speakers. We couldn’t even see out of the window so the driver shot past our stop – it was only when half the kids got off that he turned around to see us still sitting there that he told us to get off – hellish!
Our hostel (Luna Sonrisa) was owned by the author of our footprints guide book who was a bit crestfallen when I told him it was an excellent book but, like our blog, full of typos – whoops – anyway it was true – not his fault, sloppy editing! His wife has a bakery so we were treated to an excellent breakfast and real coffee
before a quick nap to recharge the old batteries. The next two days were spent exploring the city, which I would describe as interesting but a bit dodgy – the port area had a bit of a Marseille feel about it and full of all types of weirdoes. Tom couldn’t get his head around the
whole ‘graffiti as art’ thing and I tried my hardest not to tread in dog poo which was everywhere. The city is unique in that it has little wooden lifts everywhere to get up the steep cliffs – these were great fun and only cost about 20p. We decided that we were staying in the nice bit – Cerro Allegre as it had plenty of beautiful colonial buildings. On the second day, fed up of empanadas, we treated ourselves to a delicious three course lunch at a restaurant in a stunning location looking over the city and the bay. It seemed a real luxury to us but it probably only came in at £12 between us – good value I reckon.
On the last day we took a metro train (a nice change from the bus) 20 min north to the resort town of Viña del Mar
. Unfortunately the weather was gloomy and swimming looked unlikely – the town was pretty grim – it looked like its heyday was in the 1960s. We stumbled into a funny little museum on the seafront that was full of tiny Air fix models of planes and dioramas of WW2 – very odd!
A quick walk about followed by a lovely falafel kebab on the beach and we were done with Viña – still it had a nice sandy beach and it was fun watching families and dogs avoid the huge crashing waves for an hour or so.
Tomorrow we take a bus up the coast to the town of La Serena and then the start of the Atacama desert, so until next time…
There are more photos below