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Published: March 25th 2016
After my birthday celebrations in Mendoza, I needed somewhere new to go to and originally I was going to head south toward Patagonia. However everyone I had spoken to over the previous weeks had said that it was expensive compared to the rest of Argentina. So a ew plan was needed and it came in the shape of Harry and Mike, 2 British blokes who celebrated my birthday with me and they were headed for Santiago in Chile to head up north eventually getting to Lima. So I decided for now to tag along with them to see how Chile was and hopefully come up with what I would be doing next. We took the bus and it was a short one of about 6 hours and starting at midday. Getting to the bus station was a hassle as we grabbed a taxi and then found all the roads had been blocked off for the wine festival that was taken place. Although we hadn’t booked tickets we knew that there would be buses every half an hour or so. Getting on the bus we all managed to get back seats of the bus and settled in as there was no one else around with everyone sitting towards the front. After a only a few hours we were at the border which was slap bang in the middle of the Andes. The road getting there was small and you could see down the edge of cliffs towards massive rivers and the views of the mountain range was beautiful. The border crossing itself was quite quick with a lot of Europeans just being carted around from one queue to another, then being taken to another room where our bags were checked with dogs around us sniffing away. You could tell from some of the guys in the queue they looked nervous, whether it be that they had drugs or they just didn’t like dogs, who knows! Back on the bus and we were on our way again.
Arriving in Santiago bus station we hailed a taxi and headed to our hostel which wasn’t that far and it was a nice surprise to find that it was a decent place. It was pretty late by the time we got there and we decided to grab some food from a nearby cafe then head to the bar which was sat just next to the hostel pool. Perfect place to chill and relax and have a couple of beers. That night was another bad experience of sleep by the girl that slept under me who was obviously there to party but had decided to use the locker that was next to my head (it should have been my stuff in there) and basically had a habit of coming back in every now and again to open the locker and even got to the point of taking stuff out and laying it on my bed as I was trying to sleep. I few tuts and grumbles under my breath didn’t work, and all I wanted to say was ‘Listen bitch, I’ve been on a bus all day with hardly any sleep and I want to go to sleep now’ before slapping her but I just turned over and tried my best. You can imagine that the next day I was not the best of moods and it was a day of just chilling by the pool in the sunshine and chatting with the two lads.
It was also the day that I had decided that enough was enough and after 13 months of travelling it was time to go home. I was homesick but not to the extent that I was needing to go home. I usually get homesick at least once a month for a couple of days and then snap out of it, but this time it was growing. The main reason for going back was to do with money. At the start I had ‘emergency funds’ which after a year had disappeared and now I was living on an overdraft. I had my pension coming in which gave me a budget of roughly £25 a day but when you consider accommodation and 3 meals a day along with transportation, it was adding up and I was finding it harder and harder each month to survive without help from friends and family. I spent the day looking at the positives about going back, just to give me some happiness and there were loads. For the majority of the 13 months I had been in a hostel sharing a room from 3 to 31 people and hardly have any privacy. Moving every few days to a new place and meeting new people you have the same conversation EVERY time. “Where you been?”, “How long you been travelling?” etc and there have been times that I’ve thought about making cue cards up and presenting them without talking knowing exactly what they were going to say. So now I had it in my head that I was going home, my lodger had already said he was thinking of moving out due to his girlfriend being pregnant so I emailed him to say I’d be back by the end of the month and moving back in the house 01 April. This wasn’t a firm date for me, but gave him the time to start moving as he had previously promised to have moved out earlier. I now had some sort of timescale and now just needed to work out where to fly from. The cheapest flights to UK by hundreds of pounds was from Rio de Janeiro. I suppose the perfect place to finish the travels from. I’ll admit I felt like a weight had come off my shoulders, from worrying about money, not knowing where I was going and missing home it felt right. I celebrated that night with a couple of cheap beers with the lads.
It was the next day that we all decided that we were going to do a walking tour. Although it was another bad night with bitch face still opening her locker up next to my head at silly o clock in the morning, I did grab enough sleep to enjoy it. However when we got to the place where we were meant to be there was no tour guide or even any other tourists milling around. So after waiting for 10 minutes we took it up on ourselves to do the tour ourselves as we has the map from the hostel that gave the route. Although we had no idea what buildings were or any of the history, we sort of made it up ourselves and I’m sure it was much more interesting then what the official guide would have said. We walked thought the city from back streets and shopping arcades and even stopped at a cafe for a bite to eat, which would not have been allowed on the official tour. Walking on we found what appeared to be a lookout of old that had been converted into a park. Climbing the steps to the top and it gave a pretty cool view of Santiago. The City itself is a mixture of modern and old colonial buildings. Like any other capital city it was busy and multicultural, although English is not as widespread as I would like it to be, but thats only because I still couldn't speak Spanish. There are plenty of things to do, however it all costs money and due to our level of funds, me and the boys agreed that we had seen enough of Santiago and we would head up North the next day. Especially as they had a timescale to get to Lima and I was just tagging along for now.
Our next bus ride the following day took us to Valparaiso which only took a couple of hours. Harry and Mike had seen the town online and it was a picture of a lot of houses with different coloured roofs which had interested them. It was on the coast and had boasted on the internet of decent beaches. The taxi from the bus station took us up through the backstreets going up and getting higher. The hostel was empty and the staff out numbered the guests, but they were all backpackers getting free accommodation while working there. It was late afternoon when we got there and decided to get a proper decent meal and got recommended a german restaurant that was just down the street. It was owned by a German traveller who had moved to Valparaiso a few years earlier and had fell in love with the place. The food was absolutely gorgeous and washed down with a German beer that was brewed in the area from hops that had been bought over from Germany itself. To make it more European the barman was from Kent in England who had also fell in love with the town.
Afterwards we had a wonder into the centre and thats when we discovered how high we were and climbed down the steps which were all numbered and I think there was 160 steps but felt like more. Going down there were various groups of locals who were all sitting drinking alcohol and chatting with a mixture of old and young people. Getting into the centre and it was busy with lots of shops and crazy traffic. The main reason for going down was to get toiletries for the lads. The shopping system is a bit weird in Chile. You go to the counter and there will be a friendly shopkeeper who will get you the items and place them on the counter and give you a receipt, then you have to go to another part of the shop to pay for it and you will be given another receipt to take back to the original shop keeper who will take it and then give you the items. Its a strange system and its in all the shops but I suppose it gives extra employment to the locals? After getting all the supplies that they needed, we grabbed a couple of cheap bottles of wine and went back to the hostel, climbing all the steps and giving me a bit of a sweat on! The night was spent with just us 3 in the courtyard chatting, drinking and watching a film, very chilled.
The next day was probably our most adventurous that we have had since meeting up. Getting up early after a decent nights sleep we headed for the beach. We did have the option of getting the train/metro but ww weren’t too sure how it worked and it didn’t look that far. 45 minutes later we ended up on something that resembled a beach with sand and rock but it was dirty and not that many people sunbathing! We later found that the best beaches were out of town but here we were. Walking on the sand just to say we had been, I was approached by a local guy who had been doing small running reps up and down the sand with a couple of press ups thrown in. He started shouting at me and looked pretty angry and the only word that we could understand was “Gringo’. Obviously we were in the wrong place at the wrong time and as soon as he had turned around, we made a quick escape onto the pavement away from him. With no idea of what he had said, we decided it was time to head into the centre to make it for the walking tour of the city. I was map reader and did get lost, but a couple of locals helped up on our way and we made it in time with seconds to spare. The tour itself was interesting and took us up lots of stairs as it was explained that Valparaiso was built on numerous hills. Looking down from one of the highest peaks you could see that all the houses had different coloured roofs and there were various reasons put forward to why, and the most likely was in the days of old when the city folk were fishermen, they could identify their house from the sea and tell if the wife was working or had a ‘friend’ in. The city is also a UNISECO World Heritage site which causes a few problems for the locals. The city is known for its earthquakes and fires which will damage buildings, but they are not allowed to pull down damaged infrastructure or make them more safe as UNESCO forbids it. There were lots of half damaged building that were pointed out to us and there is nothing that they can do, unless the organisation actually makes a visit and sees it for themselves. Another part of the tour was the graffiti around the place which is illegal but murals are allowed and artists are encouraged (with permission) to do some and some of them are amazing. However with graffiti being banned it doesn’t stop the local youths from going out to make their mark and so far from what I had seen in South America its an epidemic and all over the place.
After a very long day of walking in the sun, we headed back to the hostel to have something to eat which consisted of a ready made chicken from the local supermarket and I attempted to make home made chips which turned out better then I expected. The next day was already planned on the lads itinerary and again I, with no idea of where to go was to follow them. The final night consisted of a glass of wine, which Mike and Harry were getting used to (the hard way) and an early night. Waking up the next morning, the guys had said that we would head for the bus stop for about mid afternoon to grab the overnight bus to San Pedro de Atacama, The Atacama desert. After pottering around the hostel in the morning we grabbed a taxi asking for the bus terminal and arrived at a different one to where we had originally arrived at. Undeterred we looked at the various punters advertising the bus routes and no one was going there. After asking in basic English, we found that we had to get the route to Calama and then get a separate bus to Atacama. Happy with the direction that we had to go for, we purchased tickets from the seller and in Spanish told us to get the bus from 4 blocks down and it was at 1645 hrs, at least thats what we thought he had said. Walking to the street name he had given, there was no bus depot, only a bus stop and it didn’t really look like the place an overnight bus would stop. So we asked a couple of locals, one of them being an American guy. He asked the crowd that were there and they sort of agreed that a bus would be at the bus stop at that time. Feeling a little bit confident, we headed to a cafe across the road and had something to eat, but we did ask the cafe worker who spoke perfect English, just to confirm that the bus would be there. She looked at our scrap of paper with Spanish instructions and nodded her head. Feeling even more confident we tucked into our food and then went to a nearby shop to get some essentials for the overnight travel. Asking once again if this was the right stop to the cafe worker, she looked at our tickets as well and said….. “No this is a ticket from another bus station about an hour away but you need to get a local bus from this stop to get there”. We had missed the main bus as it was already half past 4. She felt guilty and was aware of the lack of English amongst the bus company workers which she wanted to change. For some reason she then grabbed our tickets and told us to follow her back to the bus station and in her ‘politest’ manner she demanded that we get refunded and that the next bus should be booked. The old guy behind the counter looked at her and said NO. After a lengthly discussion she told us that unfortunately he would not repay us as it was our mistake for not understanding but would give us discount on the next bus leaving that night. There was nothing we could do but to accept it and pay up even more money for our next destination. The lady then took us back to the bus stop and waited with us for the local bus to turn up and explained to the driver exactly where we were to go. She was so helpful and decent that we thanked her so much. We did discover that her English came from falling in love with an Irishman and following him to Dublin, which even she said was a shock compared to Valparaiso. We got to the main bus station with plenty of time and had a bite to eat kicking ourselves for not trying to find someone at the time to translate. I guess thats all part of the adventure….. the bus was 45 minutes late, but we got on it and we were off. The Chilean experience with the Three Musketeers carried on.
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