I met up with Tamara who had already been living in Santiago for a few weeks studying Spanish and she was able to give me the guided tour for a couple of days. We then ventured across the border, over the Andes mountains, and into Argentina to a place called Mendoza where we’d spend Christmas. The bus ride over the Andes was quite spectacular. We stayed at an apartment that the local owner rents out to people while he is on holidays. It was very nice and he gave us many tips and lots of information. Luckily the place had air con as Mendoza is very hot.
Mendoza is also a large wine region and many of Argentina’s wines originate here. We had planned to visit some wineries but they were all closed for Christmas so we just had to enjoy their products in the comfort of the apartment instead. This also meant we had to settle for the next best available activity… Paragliding!
On xmas eve a weather-beaten man in an even more weather-beaten ute picked us up and took us to the Paragliding headquarters. This consisted of a half-built concrete hut in the middle of nowhere 20
minutes out of town. Not exactly the most professional looking outfit to inspire confidence in the forthcoming activity. After collecting the gear we proceeded up a very steep and rocky goat track to the top of a mountain range.
After receiving a very basic introduction and even more basic instructions, we paired up with our instructors and prepared ourselves. The setup was effectively two small seats, one behind the other, which you sit in after taking off. The large parachute soars up above and allowed us to climb into the air on the updraughts of the wind. The take-off was a little nerve-wracking as it involved running off the edge of the cliff and hoping the parachute would collect the wind in just the right way. After seeing a couple of aborted launches of people before me I felt even better!
But it went off without a hitch and we drifted majestically out into the air. We spent around 20 minutes in the sky above Mendoza, enjoying the view and fresh air. Upon descent, my instructor asked if I wanted to partake in some acrobatics. I mumbled in the affirmative and we proceeded to indulge in a number
of sharp and severe banking turns, the feeling was much like a rollercoaster, or that old ride called the Octopus. Ah memories. It was such a thrill though that I dared not tell him to stop. I was too busy laughing and yelling to form the necessary words anyway. Exhilarating is an appropriate way to describe it. After touching back down I was on a bit of a high.
That night, our apartment host booked us into a xmas eve dinner at a nearby restaurant. It was really nice and very tasty, and great to have a nice Christmas meal abroad. Especially because we’d be having a poor man’s Christmas lunch the next day as everything would be closed.
After the quick jaunt into Argentina we headed back to Chile and over to the coast to a place called Vina del Mar where we’d spend New Years. This is a very popular seaside destination for tourists and locals alike, and we’d heard this was where the best fireworks show in all of Chile was. We met up with one of Tamara’s friends from home Jonathan, who was joined by two of his friends from Chile. We again stayed
at an apartment close to the beach in a 23 story building. The views from the rooftop were excellent and would prove to be quite useful come New Years eve.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t being very friendly and presented us with foggy, cloudy skies most of the time. Despite not being able to make the most of the beach, we had a great time exploring the hills of Valparaiso, seeing one of Pablo Naruda’s abodes (famous Chilean poet), and wandering the sometimes dirty and twisty streets, searching for interesting graffiti-art.
We ate well, and Jonathan showed us how to make Completo’s, essentially a Chilean style of making hot dogs. For New Years, we visited a costume shop and picked out a few things to help celebrate and made some home-made Pisco sours. We also made some Terramoto’s, which is a local drink consisting of cheap white wine and a scoop of Pineapple ice-cream. Very delicious, but very powerful. We made our way up to the rooftop shortly before midnight to stake out our spots and watch out over the bay. The fireworks did not disappoint.
A few days later we all had to say our goodbyes and
continue on our own journeys. For me, I would be heading south into Patagonia.
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