On Tuesday we had a lie in (well as much as you can in a noisy hostel!) and went for a coffee in the plaza. The coffee´s are good here but they put squirty cream on everything. We then had a wander to Plaza de Armas to see it in the daylight. The buildings are so beautiful. It was really busy because there was a demonstration about education. We had a lovely Paella lunch in Mercado Central (central market) which also has a great fish market and a couple of fruit and veg stalls. From there we walked to Palacio de Bellas Artes (art gallery), setin a leafy park and then we hiked to the top of Cerro Santa Lucia (Santa Lucia Hill) for views of the city, with its snow capped mountains in the background. There were lots of lovers kissing which was funny. We also past a statue of Charles Darwin, a cute little church, Iglesia de la Vera Cruz, walked through the beautiful neoclassical archway and went down the grand stairs to the bottom. Across the road is the lovely National Library (1924 Biblioteca Nacional) and a great market (Centro Artesanal Santa Lucia) packed full of sweaters, ponchos, and crafts - bit expensive though! On the way home I bought some black jeans (7 quid) from the department store called Hites because all my trousers are in pieces.
Back at Barrio Brasil we had a great candlelit meal of empanadas (pastry filled with different fillings like cheese) at Peperone, Huerfanos 1954. I had a cheese and mushroom empanada and Jem had a cheese and shrimp (he didn´t know what he was getting!) which cost just over a pound and a 500ml Escuda for the same price.
That night we had the unpleasant experience of being kept awake by a guy and a girl in our room doing you know what. Tried to shout at them but it didn´t work. Horrrible so hope it doesn´t happen again because we´ve been lucky so far!
On Wednesday we caught the metro to Pararitos, then a posh bus and spent the day walking the cobbled streets of Valparaiso, Chile´s cultural capital, a Unesco World Heritage site, 120km northwest of Santiago, stunningly perched on steep hillsides above the pacific. At Valparaiso bus station a friendly tour guide warned us about a demonstartion that day (students and professors not happy with the government), showed us where the old town is and recommended a nice, cheap place, called Cinzano in Plaza Anibal Pinto, for lunch where Jem had a delicious 3 course set menu and a pisco sour (grape brandy with lemon juice, egg white and powdered sugar) for just over 2 pound-bargain! We walked round Plaza Victoria, Plaza Sotomayer with it´s Monumento a los Heroes de Iquique which pays tribute to Chile´s naval martyrs of the War of the Pacific. Had a quick look in Mercado Puerto (fish market) but saw two dodgy guys looking at my bag so got out of that area quick! We past the striking Iglesia San Pablo before taking a ride in one of Valparaiso´s famous, and very steep, elevators-Ascensor Espiritu Santo which accesses Cerro Bellavista (Bellavista Hill). The views from the top of the hill were amazing, we had a walk to La Sebastiana (house of famous poet) and the open-air musum of abstract murals called Museo a Cielo Abierto.
On Thursday we started our Pachamama Tour of the Lake District in Southern Chile. The tour cost 116 pounds each for 7 days not including accommodation which usually costs about 5 pounds each. In hindsight this is expensive and we should have done what everyone does and go straight to Argentina (alot cheaper) but we have a lovely guide called Cotes (nickname for Maria Jose), a smiley driver called Marcelo and we´ve met Jerome (Netherlands) and Dragana (France), two other people on the tour.
Day 1 - a visit to very quiet Pomaire (cave of refugees, Quecha language), an ancient ¨Village of Indians¨ with Inca origins. Practice traditions and customs which are maintained in their clay handicrafts. Sells the best empanadas-in the summer!Next stop was Rapel Dam, a hydro-electrical complax installed in a concrete dam that collects water from the rivers Cachapoal and Tinguiririca. It creates an artifical lake, which holds 700 million cubic meters of water. 80% of Chile´s electricity comes from dams. The stop for the night was the extremely quiet town of Pichilemu, a surfer´s hotspot in the summer. The weather was a bit rubbish but we managed to walk along the black sand beach and watch the two very brave surfers. Caught the sunset at Punta de Lobos, 6km south of Pichilemu, home of National Surf Championships every summer. Stayed at the very cold Hotel Bahia, cold showers and no heating for 5 pound each a night.
Day 2 - Visited the picturesque Santa Cruz, the heart of the wine region. looked round the Museo de Colchagua. Countries biggest private museum, built in 1995 by obscure local millionaire, Carlos Cardoen, who made his fortune dealing weapons. For many years he was in the top ten list of most wanted criminals by the US government. After an amnesty he can´t leave Chile without risking imprisonment. The museum contains Mapuche textiles, exquisite gold work, ceramics and while we were there we saw Carlos Cardoen walking round with a friend. From here we drove through Villarrica and onto Pucon, passing the fantastic snowcapped Andes, for 2 nights at La Posada del Embrujo hostel, thankfully nice and cosy and warm! For dinner we all went out for pizza at Chef Pato.
Day 3 - Today I´m feeling pretty rubbish with a cold. We had the option to climb up Volcan Villarrica (2847m) at 7am this morning and then sledge down on your bum which would have been a wicked experience, expecially seeing the inside of the volcano at the top but I just didn´t feel like it and wanted a chilled day instead. So myself, Jem and Dragana (who is 67yrs old and an amazing lady) had a wander round Pucon, which looks like a swiss town, and is Chile´s southern tourist capital. The town is embedded in the Andean foothills, right beside Villarrica volcano so we admired the volcano, hiked up the hill to the monastry and walked round Lago Villarrica (lake). Tonight we´re going to relax in the natural hot springs ´Los Pozones´ which look lovely but I bet it will be very cold when you´re not in the warm water!
I´ll be off but will be in touch very soon xxxxxx