Chile by Baz
Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been 1 month since my last blog...
Our last 2 weeks in South America were very enjoyable. They were spent in Chile, where we crossed from Argentina and travelled up to Santiago to catch our flight. First stop in Chile was Valdivia, notable for its wonderful fresh fish and sea creatures in general.
Upon our arrival we took the advice of our host and walked along the river towards the city's fish market. As we drew closer we observed a massive lump of meat on a jetty, and as we got closer still we realised this thing was alive, ugly as sin and was in fact a massive sealion. How this boy climbed the 5 feet up onto the jetty I dont know, but there he was basking in the sun. We paid quite a bit of money to get within 50 feet of a sealion in Argentina, and here I had to take a side step to avoid one. As we got to the fish market the show just got better with tens of sealions holding court at the banks of the river only a few feet away from where the men were gutting the fish and throwing the unwanted remains to them. As it turned out they had constructed a barricade on the banks of the river to stop the seals climbing up as they had caused mayhem in the town square, chasing birds and small humans.
The other treat was the fresh fish we bought in the market. A foot long salmon fillet just caught that morning which cost around 1 pound 50 pence. I brought it back to our hostel and even my amateurish cooking skills failed to destroy its delicious fresh flavour. NNNYYYUUMMM!!!
Then it was on up North to Pucon, to climb the impressive 3000m snow capped Villarica Volcano, one of Chiles most active. We arrived on a Sunday and arranged to climb up the volcano on the Tuesday. For a week before we arrived the weather had been so bad that all climbs were cancelled, so we were very lucky with the timing. However, Seonaid was a little nervous as we were fitted for all the gear we would need; proper climbing boots, reinforced pants and jacket, oversuit, backpack with crampons and an Ice Axe, and a small toboggan to slide down after we reach the top - this was more than just a walk up a mountain. We had a 7.00am start on the Tuesday and we soon realised just how tough it was going to be. We had to walk single file and weave diagonally up the mountain using the edge of our climbing boots and our Ice Axe for grip. It was steep and our progress was very slow, not helped by the intense sun. We were both struggling at the last 100 feet. I was encouraged by watching others toboggan past us at high speed, having already reached the top. Seonaid was terrified by the prospect of our decent by toboggan and every agonising step upward meant a step closer to facing her greatest fear.
Sometime around 2.00 we reached the top and it was beautiful. Panoramic views that stretched to 2 other volcano's, including one across in Argentina. There was a strong smell of sulpher and some smoke coming out of the volcano. We had a bite to eat and rested for 20 minutes before beginning our decent, the moment Seonaid was dreading. We were taught how to use our Ice Axe to control our speed, but Seonaid (constantly innovating) concocted her own technique and when the speed got too much for her she would engage in the Starfish maneuver, opening spreading her arms and legs and screaming until she came to a standstill (normally upside down covered in snow). Before long our guide offered to accompany her down.
All in all a tiring, but very enjoyable day for me. Seonaid didn't really get too much pleasure out of going up, or coming down the volcano.
Then on to Santiago, capital of Chile, for our final 4 days. We had heard nothing but bad reports about Santiago, and as a result we were both stubbornly determined to love it. The weather was terrific for the time we were there, and the hostel we stayed at was comfortable, informal and friendly. We had another terrific time at the local fish market, which really is a buzz about it. From the moment we entered we were harassed by people trying to get us to eat at their restaurant. I normally hate this kind of attention but they were actually quite warm, friendly and charming happy enough to get their photo taken with a king crab or tuna. We had a great time checking out the fresh fish, and photographing the massive tuna's and king crabs, before we settled down to a delicious meal. I got to try ceviche, raw seabass prepared in lemon and chilli. We had a great night out in Santiago where we drank red wine and danced until 3.30am to 80s music.
And then it was time to leave South America. After nearly 5 months we were ready for a change, and excited at all that New Zealand would bring.