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June 9th 2011
Published: June 9th 2011
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58 - Number of different places of accommodation we have stayed in so far

139 - Days travelled so far

57 - Days left to travel (as of writing this, not of oublishing it)

1039 - Number of times we've told someone where we have travelled on our journey so far

2498 - Number of people we have told that we are NOT Australian

(Please note that there are more photo's attached to this blog than you may see next to the text, so please have a look at the next page of pictures as well)

Hola from Chile!!

So we made it to South America, and so far it has been fantastic. We are writing to you from a wonderful Hostel in a town called Pucon, in the Chilean Lake District. We have a 2800m high coned volcano looming over the town with toxic gas constantly blowing from its crater. We do see the top glow orange at night occasionally - now that is a wonderful sight! (we climbed it the other day, but more about that later).

So Back to New Zealand. We spent some time in the lovely fishing town of Kaikoura on the South Islands NE coast. What was so fascinating about this place was the amount of marine wildlife everywhere. On our first morning, we couldn't go Whale watching due to the weather conditions, so we decided to take a tough walk around the towns coast. We had been told about two seal colonies on the walk, and Barrie nearly fell over one large adult sea lion having a siesta on the pavement next to the main road. To say he was shocked was an understatement, however the seal's reaction inferred that people very nearly trip over him several times a day... the seal seemed to roll his eyes, tutt, grunt, and went back to sleep.

The next day, we finally managed to get out into the bay and see two of the hundred odd resident Sperm Whales (and a pod of friendly Dolphins). The Whales can grow to 20.5 metres (67 ft) long and are the largest living toothed animal and the fourth largest whale in the world. This was one of our 'top things to do' on this trip and it was a great experience to see such beautiful, huge, yet elegant creatures, surface, expell air, rest, and then dive to depths of up to 1km to go and chump on giant squid.

So we left Kaikoura feeling like young David Attenborough's in the making, with a renewed interest in Marine life - it was great. Oh, and on the way out of the town, we had been tipped off about a small walk along a river up to a waterfall where we discovered a little local secret. Hundreds of seal pups used this whole area as a nusery. Protected from predators and the wild ocean, they could grow and socialise here in peace. Under the waterfall, there was more seal than water, it was lovely to see them playing in such large numbers.

We took the ferry over to the North Island, where we spent the night (and evening) at one of Barrie's past school friends in Windy Welly (Wellington). Nicola Simpson (now Alesbrook) and her husband Alex had offered to put us up when we got to Wellington. Getting a bit tired and sick of sleeping in ol' Betsy, the cold, cramped, smelly campervan, we gladly accepted their invite of a warm meal and a proper bed(!) We had a great evening with them both, talking of old times whilst eating home made Lasagne and drinking good red wine. It was so nice to see them.

It was always going to be a bit of a rush getting around the North Island - we had just four days to get to Auckland before our flight to South America. Spending more time on the South Island was loosely based on friends and family's advice who had travelled these parts - to which we were grateful. In our opinion, the North Island is not as scenic or epic as its' southern partner, however it does have its moments, particularly Tongariro National Park. Within Tongariro, we spent some time walking at the base of 'Lord of the Ring's' Mount Doom, (the volcano's actual name is Mount Ngauruhue) This was our first experience of a classic white coned shaped volcano and there were also two other large active volcanoes close by.

We also spent some time around Lake Taupo, the largest lake in NZ, and saw probably the most impressive waterfall yet. Huka Falls is where the Waikato River narrows from roughly 100 meters across into a narrow canyon only 15 meters wide, with the volume of water flowing through often approaching 220,000 litres per second. Really impressive! We also had the opportunity to see lots of volcanic activity in this area, including fields of volcanic steam and boiling bubbling mud - it was like being on the moon or maybe Jupiter - anyone been?

By this time we were more than ready to give ol' Betsy the campervan back. It was tough sleeping in her (at Marieke's age) and we hadn't slept that well - Barrie had got a little sick and chilled to the bone on more than one occasion. She also smelled of damp and generally a bit gross (Betsy that is, not Marieke). We drove to Auckland, spent a well deserved night in a Hostel and gave Betsy back to 'Jucy Campervans' - we will miss her.

To sum New Zealand up, it was brilliant - the highlight was driving Betsy along the seemingly endless scenic roads, stopping where we wanted and driving at our own pace, whilst viewing and experiencing NZ's powerful and magnificent nature. However, one of the down points was that we didn't meet many people, and the people we did meet were not really interested or interesting, and preffered to stick to themselves and not socialise - oh well, their loss!

The end of our journey around NZ brought us to the beginning of our current destination, and of course, a new continent. After an eleven hour flight and no sleep, we touched down in Santiago, Chile, four hours before we left Auckland... confused? So were we. World travel eh?

We booked into La Casa Roja; a wonderful Hostel reccommended to us by many travellers over the last four months. This was the first of many fantastic, cosy and friendly Hostels that we have stayed in on our South American journey so far.

The first thing we realised once we arrived at the airport, was that not many people here in Chile/South America speak English (how dare they??!!) We massively under-estimated this and had assumed that maybe 50% of the population would speak it, but the percentage is more like 5%. So it can be quite an interesting (and isolating) experience trying to order food, buy a bus ticket or check into a Hostel. We have had to rapidly adjust and we are learning Latin American Spanish VERY quickly - Marieke more so than Barrie. It's actually quite fun learning a new language, we feel as though our brains are working overtime, all the time.

The first few days were spent adjusting, getting over slight jet lag and generally partying at this most socialable of Hostels - we literally made more friends in two nights here than we did over the whole period in Australia and New Zealand - let the good times roll! It helped that the wonderful Chilean wine was around £2 per bottle, and the 1 litre beers were £1(ish) - good for the bank balance, not so much for our livers. One of the local drinks we were introduced to consisted of half a pint of white wine, pineapple juice, a shot of something else alcoholic, and two scoops of vanilla ice cream. We can't remember the name of this potent cocktail as after two of these delicious beverages we were ready for bed. To sleep of course.

We wanted to head south from Santiago and with a lack of Spanish on our part, we reluctantly decided to take a tour on a mini bus down to the Chillean Lake District. We went on the tour mainly because at the time we were too scared to deal with all the different bus companies in Spanish and we thought it might be a good idea to travel with some English speaking Spanish guides and fellow traveller's, just to ease us in.... We made the right decision! We had such a great five days making some great friends along the way. There were eight of us and three guides in total, and we all had such a fun time; the banter and the socialising was just what the doctor ordered - we were all from different parts of the world but most of us got on really well.

We travelled to Pichilemu and saw some of the worlds biggest waves, with some crazy people actually surfing these eight meter walls of water. We then travelled south to the wonderful town of Pucon, where we climbed Mount Villarrica, one of Chile's most active volcanoes, rising above the lake and town of Pucon to 2800m. It is the westernmost of three large volcanoes perpendicular to the Andean chain along the Gastre Fault.

The climb was one of the most difficult yet rewarding challanges either of us have ever undertaken and at the time we very nearly didn't make it to the top. It was really tough for us mentally and physically. We donned the full snow mountaineering kit - crampons (shoes with metal spikes), breathing equipment (gas masks to prevent inhilation of the toxic gases produced by the volcano), ice picks, helmets and roughly 6 layers of clothes - this was NOT walking up Trencrom Hill in St Ives. This was the real deal!. The rewards were great though - the views were outstanding and not many people can say that they have looked down into a volcanic crater (normally you can see the lava bubbling away extremely close to the surface, but on this occasion the lava was too deep into the crater for us to see). It was a real highlight of our trip so far.

What topped off such a tough but enjoyable day was that evening when the group went to some volcanic thermal hot pools, where we spent some time relaxing our poor leg muscles in 60 degree volcanic waters, sipping beer (well deserved) and having a laugh - another memorable experience.

After a couple of tiresome days in lovely Pucon, we were on the crazy-laugh-a-minute mini bus again, heading down to Valdivia, the capital of the Lake District. When we first got out of the bus we walked through a local fish market which backed onto the river. Sitting on a large ledge between the fish market and the river were THE biggest Sea Lions in the world. We did not speak to anyone for five minutes as we just looked at these beasts feeding off all of the market scraps. They were more like Whales or buses than some of the cute sea lions we'd seen previously in New Zealand! They were so ugly yet we could not take our eyes off them. We think they must have been genetically modified to become so big!

After five days with the tour group and after spending our first anniversary with them all (romantic eh?), we decided we were confident enough to leave the rabble at Puerto Varas and do our own thing - we'll miss them all. At this point Marieke could even string a sentence or two together in Spanish. We made our way back to Pucon (under the Volcano), and have spent a few days back at the Hostel, taking some great walks and bike rides around some picturesque lakes and mountains.

It is slightly off season here so not many people are around. The season's are changing, just now going into their winter, so the nights are cold and the days are crisp and sunny. We're really enjoying the peace and tranquillity that comes with being slightly off season, but are missing the heat!

We plan to go back to Santiago tonight, where we will look to cross the border over the Andes to make our way into Argentina - Football, Steak, Wine and Buenos Aires - here we come.

We are still loving travelling and can't believe we might have to return soon, at least it will be hotter in England!

love Barrie and Marieke x

Additional photos below
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9th June 2011

What a journey for you both,I for one could not have done that.We will e-mail soon again having trouble printing the blog !! Fantastic photo's as usual,love to you both,xx
9th June 2011

JEEZ! Look at the size of that seal! He's insane! ARGH! Chile looks awesome, I hope you guys are having a great time. Loads of love you fiends xxxx
10th June 2011

One ring to rule them all
Is that your wedding band you threw into the volcano??? Ah what's a ring, it's the heart that counts! Great blog again, I thoroughly enjoyed it, as usual. 40 degrees (Celsius) here in New Jersey yesterday and no a/c so this spoilt American envies the cool he sees in the pictures...:) Actually I'm getting more jealous with every line I read from you guys. Keep it up! Can't wait to read about your endeavours in Argentina... Cheers, Albert.

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