South America has so far been a fun whirlwind of activity and we are having alot of fun.
We arrived in Santiago having gone back in time by about a day and headed straight for a couchsurfers apartment, which was very conveniently situated in the centre of the city near the Plaza de Armas. Our hosts Philippe, Carlos and Shannon were pretty cool and we ended up staying in Sanitago about 5 extra days than planned so we could party with them on the weekend. They had a flat party for Shannon´s leaving do (she was going back to Oz after a semester in Chile) and we met some fantastic Chileans who were talking to us about the country and offering to show us around etc. We were very lucky that many of them have studied for a year or more in London or America so spoke excellent English! That meant we got a private city tour with another couchsurfer called Javi as well. We would recommend trying Pisco Sours after the party aswell - a Chilean cocktail made with lots of lemons and their wine based spirit Pisco.
While in Santiago we visited a couple of museums - the national history (where we didn´t realise we had to pay, whoops) and pre-Colombian art (complete with mummies). We also visited San Cristobal park which is up a mountain overlooking the city and ate lots of empanadas (like fried pasty things) and tresleches (means three milks and is an awesome sweet soft desert) in the city´s very European style plaza areas. It was an easy city and we felt very comfortable.
When we were finally partied out in Santiago (and really had seen everything we could) we left for Valparaiso - on the Pacific coast. "Valpo" was a quaint port city, with colourful houses rising up the sides of the mountains that descend into the ocean. To reach the upper suburbs you can either tire yourself by climbing the massive steep stairs or you can opt to take the easy option by using one of the many ascenors, which are like great big elevators running up the hills. We only rode on one but it was quite fun.
Whilst in the area we took a bus out to Isla Negra to visit Chilean nobel prize (x2) winning poet Pablo Neruda´s house which was very interesting. He collected tonnes of artefacts from all over the world and his house (which was just one of three which are opened as museums in Chile) was full of his incredible collections - including things like door handles from Czechoslovakia, many ship figureheads (he loved the sea and to travel) and a giant narwhal tooth. His house (and his tomb) was overlooking the pacific, he had amazing views from his bedroom! He is a kind of hero in Chile, especially because of his death at the time of Pinochet´s coup.
We moved on from "Valpo" just down the road for a few days to Viña Del Mar, which is just a beach resorty place really but was much nicer than staying in the main areas of Valpo - which we thought was abit drab really.
Then it was onto Argentina and we managed to get a bus across the Andes direct from Viña (although we were delayed by a day, partly due to a visa fiasco and quick police station visit!). The bus journey was goregous (if somewhat cold at the border, where we were stuck for about 3 hours with no money for food or drink!) and took us to the city of Mendoza (the wine capital of Argentina).
We have been in Mendoza for over a week now and have had a fantastic time, it kinda feels like our Argentinan home! We have spent 4 hours every day this week in spanish classes attempting to learn the lingo. I have to say we are much more clued up than this time last week but there´s still a long way to go before we can even call ourselves beginners!
The school ran activities in the afternoons after classes where you are supposed to practice what you have learnt. I managed to be lucky enough to have a private salsa lesson because no one else signed up (which was immense fun) and on Thursday afternoon we decided to do a wine tasting course. Unfortunately that was mostly being baffled by a lecture about the making of wine in spanish (for 2 hours!) and quite little actual wine tasting - we made up for that during the rest of the week though. Think my favourite part of the week at school was my salsa lesson but I think Pug´s was Carolina - one of our teachers!
We met some great people in Mendoza, who are part of the reason we enjoyed ourselves so much. The people in our room were a good laugh, even though the Argentinan girls, Agostina and Vani, were mental! They had so much energy, constantly, I thought I was around toddlers! We also spent alot of time with the English guys from our room and Greg, a Scottish wonder! It was sad to say bye to them all but we had a good few evenings with wine and games (and a rather long conversation about the history of Neighbours!).
Due to our course during the week we had little time for any excursions to the sites outside of Mendoza. We managed to do one yesterday up to the Andes and spent the day messing around in the snow, we got to see Aconcagua - the highest mountain outside of the himalayas (which Pug was very excited about). Unfortunately, we missed out on the biking wine tour but maybe that was for the best! Think we managed a sufficient tour of our own from the selection in the supermarcado!
Time to move on and start using our fantastic español skills in new places. So we head off tonight (on a nice 18 hour bus journey) to Bariloche in Patagonia - apparently going to be pretty cold.
One last blog thought before we head off - the steaks in Argentina are incredible. The Argentinan diet is pretty much steak and chips, with wine of course! A decent one with a beer will cost about 2.50 - Pug thinks he is in heaven.