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Published: June 30th 2011
Day 151 – 157
After waking up on the bus, we realise it is stopping in the town (Caldera) that we are planning on getting a connecting bus to, and we jump off the bus. The town is small and we soon locate a hostel where we can stay. Si is in need of a coffee fix and so we head off to find a cafe... 30mins later and almost on the verge of giving up we stumble on a place that does real coffee.
We have discovered that there is absolutely nothing to do in the town during our walk and so decide to head to Bahia Inglesa for the afternoon. This is Chile’s most photographed beach and even though it is a little chilly the sun is shining. We get a taxi and when the driver asks us if we want a return lift I suggest 4 hours time, arguing to Si that there will be stuff to do. As the taxi speeds off, we head to the beach and it is very pretty... and we decide to walk along it. As the beach continues it gets less and less pretty, and we spot a rotting seal,
and a tent surrounded by dogs. 4 of them decide to check us out, and as they race towards us, I have a slight freak and suggest we turn around and head back, all the while chanting to myself to stay calm as Si has told me they can smell fear. 2 of them continue to follow us, and as 2 Alsations enter the beach, they race off, have a fight (which they lose) and then race back to us, whimpering for protection. By this time I am convinced that we are about to get in the middle of a dog fight and so we start to plot a large arc away from the Alsations...
Luckily the beach dogs get bored and leave us alone. Feeling peckish we find a restaurant that is open and have a nice lunch. With 2 hours to still kill, I suggest a walk round the town, thinking that there may be some nice shops to look round. After 20 mins we discover that there isn’t anything at all to do in this town... everything is closed, the houses are shut up for winter and we struggle to see any signs of human life.
Si does a, ‘told you we didn’t need 4 hours’ and then we find a sheltered spot on the beach and read our books until the time the taxi is due. Of course he doesn’t turn up, but we manage to find another one and speed back to Caldera, where there is nothing to do either. We decide to get the hell out the next day and book a ticket to La Serena.
We are accompanied to the bus station by a cute dog, who Si feeds some wafer biscuits and crackers to, and he sits and keeps us company till the bus comes. Arriving in La Serena we locate our hostel with the help of a friendly Swede (more on him later), and after a small relax we head out to get some dinner. We spot a place I recognise from the Lonely Planet and decide to eat there. Of course as soon as we have ordered we start to look around the place properly, and realise that whilst this restaurant may have been quite posh once, it is now well past its sell-by date. The continuous pings of the microwave confirm our fears and we await our
meal with trepidation. My chicken and mash is actually edible, but Si’s fish soup (slightly optimistic of him to order it I know) is disgusting. I try some and it tastes like someone has taken some mixed frozen seafood, added boiling water and thrown a few out of date dried herbs on top. I see Si set his, ‘I’ve ordered it, so I’ll eat it face’, and I start to feel mad. I mean this is not a cheap place, and I tell him that he can’t eat it. So we call the waiter over and in our best Spanish tell him that the meal is very bad and that we don’t want it. He asks if Si want something else instead and Si says no (after all the first experience hasn’t been great). Our stomachs are both churning with the embarrassment and Si helps me to finish my dinner. Then the bill comes, and the soup is on there... and we refuse to pay. We refuse the first time to the waiter and ask for the manager, we refuse the second time to the manager , who tells us his customers love the dish (yeah right), we refuse the
third time to the manager again (I want to give in when he offers us drinks instead, but Si is standing his ground) and finally the bill comes back and we don’t have to pay. We scuttle out of the restaurant feeling...well awkward, but also slightly proud that we have fought against our ‘don’t complain’ genes and have not had to pay for a terrible meal. We then find a lovely coffee place and Si has a celebratory lemon meringue pie.
After a good night’s sleep we sort out our bus tickets to Santiago (for Monday night) and then spend a relaxing day checking out what La Serena has to offer. We visit the Japanese gardens (whose tranquillity is slightly spoiled by the adjacent 6 lane highway), the history museum (which has a genuine easter island moai) and then do a bit of shopping. As it starts to rain we decide to have an empanada tea at the hostel. The Swede (who turns out to be very right-wing), a Belgian (who believes the world is going to end in 2012 as the Mayans predicted and is travelling until then) and a South Korean/Canadian guy (who seems normal) join us
as we eat and what starts is a mammoth conversation/debate about... well everything and anything really. Needless to say it is an interesting, and sometimes heated, conversation!
The next day our task is to find the bus to Vicuna in the Elqui Valley, which is made a little more difficult as it apparently goes from a street (with no bus stops). Si and I wander up and down trying to strategically place ourselves so we can see and stop the bus. I suddenly spot it and give Si a heartattack by running in front of it waving my arms. Luckily it stops and we get on and speed to Vicuna... Si is once again feeling hung-over and a little sick but insists it is the buses’ fault! Arriving in Vicuna we find a lovely hostel and then go to check the town out... turns out we have arrived at another place with nothing to do! But we have come here for one reason – the observatory, which the public can visit. We call into the office and check our reservation for the next night. As the clouds have rolled in and the rain has started the woman tells us
that basically it is unlikely we will be able to go to the observatory. Disappointed but hoping the weather will change we have an early night.
We wake up to torrential rain and spend the day sheltering in the hostel, only popping out for lunch at a local restaurant. It is also freezing and the hostel has no heating, except a small wood fire, so we huddle round that and try and keep warm. Knowing that the observatory is definitely out we feel a bit gutted.
We have another day to kill before we get the night bus to Santiago so we decide to head to Pisco Elqui further up the valley. Half an hour later we arrive and decide to walk round the town to see what is happening... and it turns out nothing is happening, even the pisco distillery (which we had hoped to visit just for something to do) is closed. So we wander around until we pick up a loco dog, that literally hurls itself at us both (as if we know it) and then proceeds to follow us all round town, picking up its crazy Dalmation mate on the way. When the two
of them are distracted we see our chance and run round a corner, thinking we have finally got rid of the dog... until we hear the sound of galloping paws and see the dog come racing towards us. We go for a long lunch and the dog waits outside for us for nearly 2 hours before giving up.
We catch the bus back to Vicuna and we have 5 hours left to kill. So we visit the Gabriela Mistral museum (a famous poet from Vicuna, she won a Nobel prize), which kills 30 mins, then go for coffee (30mins), then wander about a bit (40mins) before going for some tea at a local hotel. It is slightly comedy when I find a piece of plastic in my soup, and the waiter takes it and says ‘it is from a bag, is fine,’ and walks off! Then we head back to the hostel to wait 2 hours for our bus. It is a bit like the episode of the Simpsons when Bart is in detention and the clock goes backwards. But finally it is time to get the bus, and soon we are speeding off to Santiago.
Santiago we check into a nice hotel in the Belavista area before heading for some lunch followed by a visit to Pre Columbian Museum. The evening is spent sorting our stuff out for the trip to Easter Island, plus we have to be at the airport at 5am.
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