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Published: June 21st 2017
Geo: -33.4691, -70.642
The bus ride over the Andes to Santiago lived up to all our expectations. We had managed to reserve two seats at the front on the top deck so we had a panoramic view as the road wound its way up the valley with the mountains leaping to more and more prodigious heights on either side, including a glimpse of the highest Andean peak of all. The whole way we were also following the abandoned rails and bridges of a narrow gauge railway and we also followed rivers of a muddy glacial brown with frequent signs advertising white water rafting and cabanas (holiday cottages). We all disembarked for the somewhat chaotic Argentinian exit and Chilean entry procedures with multiple warnings about not carrying fruit - at the last moment Peter remembered he had an apple in his shoulder bag but he managed to secrete it between the seats on the bus, which was then searched aswell, but no apple found. It was the level of formality that was intimidating.
The road down the other side was, if anything, more exciting initially winding down a cliff face, backwards and forwards through a long series of hairpins. This road was also
under repair which involved single file driving and looking back up the hill as we rounded a bend the slope was decorated with a zig-zag line of trucks and buses, crawling at 10 mph down the precipitous slope.
And so to Santiago de Chile.
Our first job was to try to get our tickets for the next bus ride to Puerto Montt which had been reserved by an agent but as we quickly discovered they had failed to provide all the information needed to actually get the tickets. So a frantic series of e-mails ensued (which all had a happy ending). We also discovered that our hotel had chosen to put us into the tiniest room imaginable where the only place for a case was on the floor which one then promptly fell over! But, again, that worked out OK because they agreed to move us into a bigger room with a balcony the next day. And off we trotted for a quick look at the nearby parts of Santiago and to the area known as BellaVista for dinner at a restaurant inspired by Pablo Neruda.
We joined a great free (based on tips) guided walking tour the next morning with Franco -
4 hours or so - of all the important sites in central Santiago including the best ice-cream store! He gave us a great orientation to Sanitago and Chile with a summary of poliical struggles mixed with a survey of where to go and what to do, including standing coffee bars and 'cafe with legs' - girls under dressed behind tinted windows. Peter struggling a bit with the walking, before leaving home he had a niggly pain from time to time in the back of his left knee, this has got worse and he now thinks it must be a tight hamstring that doesn't 'walk off' but stays painful. He is hoping 4 days on a boat with no walking to do with be sufficient rest to help it improve! After the walking tour we took the free bus (replacement for the funicular that was under repair) to a park on top of a hill for a 360 degree view of the city, then to tour Pablo Neruda's Santiago house - he had three, the others in Valparaiso and Isla Negra. Pablo Neruda's life story, his Nobel Prize accolade and political association with Salavador Allende was interesting. Pity we didn't get
to Allende's museum of memory, but inevitabably there's lots we haven't had time for. As the sun set we were on the hotel roof sipping quality wines with the manager, joined by Emily, just arrived from London. Quite surreal!
The best way to see Valparaiso seemed to be a tour so we set off early the next day with a bunch of spanish speakers and a bilingual guide to visit the seaside resort of Vino del Mar where Liz got her feet wet in the Pacific, but kept a distance from the punding breakers, then Valparaiso itself which is famous for the multi-coloured houses that cover the surrounding hills and for its historic port. Best part of the trip was a walking tour through part of the area of coloured housing then to an ancient (1883) funicular down to the port. We saw one of the Easter Island statues outside a museum to wet our apettite for future travels. And so to our last day in a city which we came to like a lot. We wandered round the nearest museums and cultural centres, and lunch with Emily and Ruth. Emily is the partner of Mark, son of Helen and Steve
who we travel with often and who will be joining us in Brazil. Ruth is a friend of Emily, teaching English in Santiago as part of her degree. Ruth pointed out the traditional Chilean dishes to try for lunch, like a kind of shepherd's pie with all sorts of meat, olives and raisins in the base, mashed corn on top, with a sprinkling of sugar - quite delicious mixture of sweet and sour. Finding our overnight bus to Puerto Montt, it didn't start in the central bus station where we had gone to collect the tickets but at some departure point way over the other side of town which turned out to be a car park beside a park in a very smooth part of town, where other passengers slowly gathered dropping off piles of luggage or their offspring seemingly bound for a summer adventure in the mountains to the south. And so we were off on our 12 hour overnight ride in flat bed comfort!
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