Published: June 2nd 2012April 26th 2012
It was only a 40 minute drive from the Bolivian border through the desert to San Pedro de Atacama. First we queued for ages to get our passports stamped then back to the bus (after everyone was finished,) grabbed our bags and got back in line at the customs area to have our backpacks manually searched by the officials. We could see x-ray machines but they must have been broken.
San Pedro itself was a small town with mostly one storey clay bricked buildings all covered in dust. Half of our laundry came back with dusty lines across it. The main draw for us to the town was the stargazing tour which a few travellers had mentioned along the way. Having spent the last 3 days on a desert tour and the 5 days before that in Tupiza we were well acquainted with the desert. Unfortunately because of the high winds the previous night’s gazing tours were cancelled which meant on our one night in town 4 tours were running, of which we got on the last – beginning at 11.30pm and ending at 2am! Remember, we got up at 4.30am that morning to watch the sun rise
in the volcano crater in Bolivia.
The tour itself was out in the desert, about 15 minutes out of town. A French astronomer, Alain, showed us the constellations while giving us an intro talk before bringing us to the big telescopes all pointing at different wonders of the night sky. First we took a close look at Mars, then Saturn and its rings before moving on for a zoomed in look at the Milky Way, The Jewel Box and stars beginning and dying with a few other things in between. After we sipped hot chocolate indoors and listened to some Alain’s stories. Poor Ade was falling asleep, having elected to skip the afternoon nap option.
Ade cooked us a fabulous breakfast which served us well as it turned out meals weren’t going to feature heavily on this day. We waited for an hour in a dusty car park for our bus watching crazy dogs chase cyclists and women with their shopping. When it did finally pull in it took the conductors half an hour to figure out how to fit in all the bags eventually giving up and making about 6 people take their
1 Hour Queue To Leave Chile
the bonus sandstorm was not appreciated !
rucksacks on board. The bus wasn’t even full! At the border we stood in a sandstorm for about an hour waiting to get our exit stamps. The sun roof blew off while we were driving which took awhile to be found and replaced and then we realised the driver had managed to get us stuck in the sand during this exercise. We didn’t stop anywhere for food and the in service snack was nuts and biscuits. What a nightmare! Luckily the Argentineans eat late so despite arriving after midnight we still managed to eat in a packed restaurant.
After just over a week in Argentina (more on that in the next blog) we caught another bus over to Valparaiso. The scenery while crossing the Andes from Mendoza to Chile was stunning. Both countries immigration were in the same building and side by side, so one line got you to the top of both desks. It was very quick. Our hostel wasn’t great, close to bus terminal not historic area and changed hands a few days before we got there so none of the glowing reviews we’d read applied. With the internet at our fingertips we still managed
Return To Chile
from Mendoza to Valparaiso
to figure out what to do in town starting with a Chilean Cooking Class.
We had a lot of fun on this class. We took Ascensor Artilleria, a funicular (steep cable car from 1880’s), to the top of a hill looking out over the port. It was a cloudy day so the colourful buildings climbing the dozens of hills didn’t look as impressive as we’d anticipated. It all looked a bit run down and shabby really despite being a UNESCO World heritage Site. The 8,000+ stray dogs leave their mark which isn’t scooped up often enough and the busy port below adds smells of its own.
First stop with the class (Mairin & Neal + us and the teacher - Boris) was the fish markets to pick up some fish fillets and crab meat. The water’s edge was lined with red and yellow fishing boats and fishermen in full wet gear walked up and down the docks. Just before we left some of the fish vendors came over with huge buckets of fish head and guts and fed the hungry enormous sea lions below. Pelicans and seagulls circled too trying to get a stray
bite. It was amazing to see! On our foraging mission we also picked up veggies and bread. During the course of the day we learned about Chilean life, musicians, wine and of course food. We were all set to different tasks so our overall understanding of what was going on was minimal but the Pisco Sour lessons we all paid attention to and enjoyed drinking. We tried them plain, with ginger and the group’s favourite, with chilli and basil. We made and ate fish terrine with avocados, empanadas with salsa and crab pie all of which was delicious. We had matching wines to go along with it. We’re looking forward to attempting to recreate the dishes at home soon.
After the class we wandered through the old parts of Valparaiso while waiting for the wine store to open. Lots of people were hanging around waiting for the clock to strike 5pm and the doors to unlock. We enjoyed the view with our leftover empanadas then headed back to Mairin and Neal’s hostel to have some wine and chat to the owner, his wife and other guests.
It was only 2 hours on a bus
from Valparaiso to Santiago and we stayed in the Bellavista area. Our hostel was fantastic and the staff were really friendly and helpful. The area is filled with bars and restaurants which we enjoyed trying out during our stay. The cheap and tasty Menu del Dia’s were of the best quality we’d seen and included wine and pisco sours in many places too. At night the place comes to life with the outdoor areas of restaurants packed and street musicians making the rounds. One guy played an enormous drum and span around defying gravity. A 3 piece band playing electric guitars with amps wheeled around and a small drum kit moved from place to place. A churros (fried donut strips covered in chocolate or dulce de leche) van turned up each night. One night the local university team won a football game and the place kicked off with cars beeping and waving flags.
We visited the Concha y Toro winery while in town where we took an English speaking tour along with 30 other people. It was quite interesting although short on actual wine tasting at only 2. We got to try lots of different variety of
spot the tuna hunk
grapes, see the clouds of smog hanging over Santiago and walk around Casillero del Diablo (The Devil’s Cellar) and hear the legend of how it got its name.
During our stay the path outside our building was drilled up and new cement was laid. The drilling went on till 10pm at night although luckily we were at the back of the building on the top floor so weren’t affected too much. We visited the Museo de Artes Visuales and were sorely disappointed. Most floors were closed and the little that was there was poor. The walk around a different part of the city was nice though. A friend we’d met hiking to Machu Picchu (Colin) was in town so we met for beers along with a few others he’d met along the way.
Our bus to Buenos Aires was a let-down. We’d booked cama seats thinking they would lie flat but they were only wider and slightly more reclining than normal. Our search for full beds on a bus continued.
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