Our first port of call in South America
05.02.2008 - 22.02.2008 30 °C
Getting to Santiago proved slightly more problematic than we had anticipated.
On Tuesday 5th February we made our way to Auckland airport, massively excited at the thought of starting the next chapter of our travelling adventure. After queuing for quite some time,we were finally called over to the check in counter just as a Lan Chile representative came over to inform us that no one else was to be checked in. 20 minutes and much confusion later it transpired that our plane had been grounded in Sydney and we would not be flying for another 24hrs. The airport staff were all very good and after an hours wait we were all taken by coach to a nearby hotel for the evening and ushered back to the airport the following day in time to catch our flight.
On Wednesday 6th our South America adventure started in earnest. As usual I didn't sleep at all and spent the flight watching the entire library of films that were available. Gav did manage to grab a few hours but still we were both very dazed and confused by the time we landed in Santiago. It didn't help that we were living the same day twice. As we had travelled through the international date line, we departed Auckland at 5.25pm and, after a 12 hour flight, landed in Santiago at 12.45pm on the same day. That was a first for both of us.
Getting to the city from the airport was very easy as we used one of the airport shuttle buses. A chap called Richard tried in vein to have a conversation with us on the shuttle but Gav and I could barely remember our names at that point let alone anything else. Must have been an interesting journey for Richard.....not!
We stayed in the Bellavista Hostel which is a great hostel in the Bella Vista area of Santiago and had opted for a private room - as we probably would do for the rest of our trip (we are so over dorm rooms!). First things first....Zzzzzzzzzzzz, sleep was required. I think we literally threw ourselves onto the bed fully clothed and gently slipped into comas. Hunger woke us at around 7pm that evening.
Our Hostel was in a great location. Bella Vista is a lovely area full of traditional, brightly painted buildings, bars, restaurants and clubs. And so our first attempts to speak Spanish. The airport and hostel staff had all spoken English but we knew this would not be the case everywhere. Armed with our second-hand Lonely Planet Spanish phrasebook we hit the streets of Bella Vista. We didn't have to venture far to find a great little restaurant, called Golinder, which served traditional Chilean food and nice cold beer.
It's pretty painful when you try to have a conversation with someone whilst referring to a phrasebook for every second word but with the help of a patient waiter we managed to order steak dinners and a large bottle of Escudo beer to share. Then more sleep.......... in our hostel, (not the restaurant I hasten to add).
Aaaah, the pleasures of jet lag. We were both wide awake at 3.30am, managed to drift off again at around 7am only to find it was nearly 11am when we woke again. Bugger. Desperate not to waste the day we headed off to explore Santiago.
Central Santiago, El Centro, is a little grubby and cramped and is seemingly filled with an infinite amount of fast food restaurants. The surrounding areas of Barrios Bella Vista and Santa Lucia, for example, are far more pleasant to spend the majority of time in, however, the colonial architecture in central Santiago is not to be missed. The gorgeous Plaza de Armas was well worth exploring. Also very worth while was a visit to the Fine Arts Museum, although the contents were not outstanding in my opinion, the building itself was lovely.
We found a little cafe that seemed to be really popular with locals and so decided it would be a good bet for a cheap lunch. Using our so very basic Spanish we managed to order a salad for me and a steak burger for Gav however we have since learnt that the ‘steak’ burger that we had ordered was most probably horse meat. If it was horse, I have to say it tasted pretty good.
That evening we found another restaurant called El Caramaño which served excellent traditional local dishes. I had a sort of beef casserole topped with mashed corn whilst Gav tried chicken breast stuffed with meat and vegetables. Excellent washed down with a very good Chilean red that cost the equivalent of 3 quid.
Still very tired we called it a night pretty early only to wake up at 2.30am and again at 6.30am. Unbelievably the next time we woke up it was 4.30pm!
We set an alarm to ensure we woke up at a reasonable time on Saturday 9th and set off for Cerro San Cristobel. A hill that displays a 14 metre high Virgin de la Inmaculada Concepcion statue, that can be seen from all over the city. A short walk from our hostel took us to the foot of the hill and the point at which the funicular that takes you to the statue can be boarded. From the foot of the statue we had 360 degree views of the city - well as much as we could see through the smog (the city smog can get so bad at times that it can make your throat sore and your eyes water).
We then took the cable car to Piscina Tapahue which is a lovely open air pool up on Cerro Cristobel. We had heard that there was a nicer pool a little further along and so walked maybe 2km, up hill, in the blazing heat to find it. Pisca Antilèn was very much worth the walk. The views of the city with the Andes in the background were amazing.
Saturday night in Santiago, it would simply be rude not to go out wouldn't it? First stop was Bar Conception, just around the corner from the hostel. It starts off as a bar restaurant and later removes the tables and chairs inside and becomes more of a club. Excellent, if a little too strong, Mojitos and slightly dodgy music but a really nice atmosphere. At 12am the club we had planned to go to, La Feria, was pretty empty according to the door men so we went off in search of another bar or club. Where we ended up was a sort of Chilean hip hop club. Dingy club, warm beer and sweaty bodies. After an hour we headed back to La Feria which was by that time fairly busy. The music was a little old by UK standards and, due to fridge issues, all the beer had been frozen and then defrosted and so was disgustingly flat but it was still a good night.
Something that was a little different about being out in Santiago was the smoking policies. Most restaurants and all bars and clubs allow smoking within the premises. I smoke but have become quite happy with not being able to smoke in public places. It was really strange to have our eyes stinging in the club because of the smoke and to come home with our clothes stinking of cigarettes. I definitely prefer stepping outside for a ciggie when I want one and being able to sit in a smoke free bar (so remind me I said that when I am back in the UK and having to step outside in the freezing cold for a ciggie).
On Monday 11th we took the Metro and then the bus to Valparaiso "The Jewel of the Pacific" which is 2 hrs away from Santiago. Valparaiso (which translates to Paradise Valley) is a world heritage site which consists of a fairly unattractive, flat central port area, El Pan, that is surrounded by dozens of charming, picturesque hills that are sprinkled with brightly coloured houses. The city is particularly beautiful at night when all the houses on the hills are lit up.
Each of the hills has it's own funicular to enable you to get to the top without exerting too much energy, alternatively you can take the steep stairs. One guy told me that the girls in Valparaiso have the best asses in Chile as a result of climbing up all those stairs every day.
Caracol Hostel, our home for the next three nights, was on Cerro Bellavista. Cerro Bellavista was also home to Museo a Cielo Abierto, an open air museum displaying large murals painted by students of Universidad Catalica's Instituto de Arte.
After checking in and dropping off our bags we set off to explore. Cerro Conception and Cerro Alegra were our first stops. Ascensa Conception is the oldest of the 15 funiculars in the city and leads you up to the most beautiful of all the hills, Cerro Conception from which you can easily stroll over to Cerro Alegra. Walking around taking in the art on the walls, the brightly painted homes and charming cobbled streets passes a few hours easily. When all of the little bars and restaurants open early evening the atmosphere changes from quaint to trendy and another few hours can easily be spent over dinner.
Tuesday 12th was spent strolling around and stopping for coffees. On Wednesday 13th we took the Metro over to Vina del Mar, a popular weekend destination for Santiaguinos. We took a long walk through the centre, along the river and along the long stretch of coast line.
Caracol hostel is an intimate hostel that makes it very easy to get chatting to the other people that are staying there. That evening it seemed that everyone that was staying at the hostel stayed in for dinner and so we all got to know each other.
Christian, AKA Genius, Harvard student who speaks numerous languages and knows everything about everything
Claude, The Crazy French Man. Hilarious guy who asks "Oh my God, what did I did (sic) to deserve this"
Rafael, The Boy from Ipanema (well Copacabana actually but I couldn't think of a song about that)
Anna & Carolina, Sisters from Buenos Aires who spent hours giving us list of things to see and do in their home city and whom we hope to meet up with again whilst we are there
Claude knew a bar in town and so at around 1am we all headed out to a typical Chilean smokey bar for ridiculously cheap beer and laughs. A large local guy befriended Gavin and asked if he could film us and kept repeating "sexo, sexo, sexo" into his ear. He later fell asleep at his table and whilst sleeping was dribbling onto his shirt (the "sexo" guy, not Gav). The funicular stop running at 10pm and so we had to make our way from and back to the hostel via the stairs. I'm glad we were in a group because the gangs of youths (yep, that'e me sounding old) hanging around on the stairs would be quite intimidating if there were just one or two of us.
The following day we headed back to Vina del Mar with Claude, Rafael and Christian. Anna and Carolina had moved to a hotel there and we had planned to meet up with them later in the day for a drink. We had a very long lunch in a restaurant over looking the sea which included two Pisco Sours for me. Pisco Sour is Pisco blended with egg white, lemons, sugar and ice and is delicious. Both Chile and Peru claim to have invented Pisco, a type of brandy. Most people believe that it was in fact Peru that invented the drink but the argument still carries on and if you are found entering Peru with Pisco from Chile it will be confiscated!
Once we met up with the girls we decided to take a walk to Renaca beach which in fact turned out to be a very long walk indeed, we think maybe around 10km. After dinner we made sure to catch the bus back! Back to the hostel for showers, change of clothes and home made Pisco Sours and then back to Vina del Mar to meet the girls and head to a club (although we didn't make it to a club at all. By the time we left the bar we were in, most of the clubs were closed and so after saying our farewells to the girls, we called it a night and around 4am headed back to the hostel by bus.
The following day we said goodbye to Christian as he had decided to stay a little longer in Valparaiso and Gav and I along with Claude and Rafael headed to Santiago by bus. After lunching together we said goodbye to Claude and made plans to meet Rafael in Pucón a couple of days later.
Pucón is in Chile's lake district and to reach it from Santiago we had to travel 10 hours by bus and chose to do so over night. We travelled in Semi Cama class which meant we had virtually fully reclining seats, foot rests and someone to tuck us in with pillows and blankets. It’s a really comfortable journey and means you save on a nights accommodation and wake up fresh in your destination. Of course, we had a snorer on the bus which disturbed my sleep a little. Well, I have to complain about a snorer at least once on every blog entry don't I?
By this stage we had taught ourselves a few Spanish phrases including how to ask for directions. This came in handy when we alighted the bus on the morning of Saturday 10th and were trying to find our hostel. The problem being, we could ask for directions but then where then totally unable to understand the answers given to us. Chilean Spanish is so fast, people that speak fluent Spanish have told us they really struggle to understand Chilean Spanish. The last letters are dropped off words and the words themselves are moulded together so that a sentence just sounds like one long incomprehensible word. Anyway, we managed to find our hostel eventually and after an hours rest we set off to explore the lovely city of Pucón.
Sunday 17th started at 4am for us as we had booked on a trip to climb Villarrica volcano. We chose the ealiest trip as we wanted the opportunity to climb the volcano before hundreds of other people arrived to do the same. Also, groups are often forced to turn back and are unable to reach the summit due to bad weather so we hoped that the early start would give us the opportunity to reach the top without the weather turning on us.
Half way up our guide informed us that if the smoke pouring from the volcano did not die down a little we would be unable to go all the way to the summit. The sulphur fumes are very toxic and can cause breathing difficulties and in the worst case scenario, suffocation. Luckily, the volcano decided to allow us to have a go and the smoke died down as we approached the top.
The final 50 minutes of climbing were the hardest, oh boy was it ever. It was the steepest part of the volcano and maybe the altitude made it a little harder but thankfully after 5 hours of hard climbing up steep rock face, ice climbing and snow walking we reached the 2847 metre high summit. What a fantastic feeling! I'd seen a shooting star on the way up the mountain before sunrise and wished "to get up this bloody mountain", see, wishes do come true!
There was more to come. As part of the descent back down the volcano we got to take off our crampons, don our waterproofs and slide down three huge ice slides. It was so much fun! It would almost be worth climbing back up again just to be able to slide back down (I said almost).
We had arranged to meet up again with Rafael that evening and were delighted that Claude had decided to come along to Pucón with him. After catching up on each others activities for the last couple of days we headed out to the bars of Avenue O´Higgins.
The following day, Monday 18th, we decided to hire mountain bikes to better explore Pucón and after visitng Largo Villarrica we cycled over to Rio Trancura. My legs were already aching from the climb the previous day after riding a mountain bike all day so was my butt!
Pucón has numerous hot springs and to relieve our aching muscles we decided to visit one that evening bringing with us a couple of bottles of wine to enjoy whilst soaking under the stars. Talking of stars, three of us managed to see a shooting star at the same time that night. All together now, aaaaaah!
Tuesday 19th was our beach day. The four of us headed to the beach and Lago Villarrica and stayed there all day. Sleeping, chatting, laughing and occasionally swimming.
Gav and I along with Claude were leaving for Santiago by overnight bus that evening and sadly we had to say goodbye to Rafael (if we ever make it to Brazil for carnival we'll definitely know who to call!).
We arrived back at the Hostel Bellavista on Wednesday 20th and spent the next few days generally having a ball with Claude and Kim, a Dutch girl who was also staying at the hostel.
On Wednesday 20th after visiting Pablo Neruda's Santiago home, the Fine Arts Museum and Cerro St Lucia, we held a roof top barbeque during which we were able to watch the total lunar eclipse and afterwards we headed to Bar Conception for Mojitos and dancing.
Thursday 21st was Gavin's birthday celebration, our last night in Chile and our last night with Claude (although we hope to meet Claude again in Argentina). Gav's birthday is actually on 22nd but as we were leaving early that morning we decided to celebrate a day early with a view to carrying on the party past midnight and into 22nd. The night involved a roof top barbeque, a chocolate birthday cake and a trip to Bar Conception. In fact we partied on to the point that I didn't have time to sleep before our taxi picked us up at 6.45am (birthday boy just managed an hour as he had sneakily packed eariler in the day). We were asleep on the flight before it left the tarmac and slept through to landing in Lima airport 3 hours later.
Just before I go could I please ask that we have a moments silence for our camera. You may have noticed that our pictures are becoming progressively more pink. Alas, I must inform you that our camera is dying. On some of the photos of New Zealand you may have noticed a slight pinkish tinge and it's now obvious that the problem is getting worse. We are reluctant to buy a new camera abroad because of warranties etc but equally are gutted that there are so many pictures that we may not be able to print on our return. I'll have to see if I can Photoshop them to amend the colours maybe?
On that sad note I bid you adiós until our next installment.