Chile ? The Chile Express
First to say we?ve been a bit busy and a bit rubbish lately, so Chile and New Zealand are coming in two at a time? we hope you?ll manage to read both!
We had arrived in Chile with 15 days to spare before having to leave it. We decided to see as much as we could, but being a shade tired after the excitement of the salt flat trip (and the shoddy accommodation involved in it!) we figured the best thing to do was head straight for the beach.
Before that though we had an evening to fill in the border town of San Pedro de Atacama. The main attraction (there are many, but a lot of them are similar to those we?d been enjoying in Bolivia, only more expensive) is something called La Valle de Luna, or Moon Valley. There are many bits of land in South America claiming to look just like the moon, and this one was much the same, being all hills and canyons and sand. The reason to visit comes in watching the really beautiful sunset you get there, which having arrived mid afternoon and leaving the next morning was pretty handy for us.
Once again the photos here do most of the talking, though it?s important for us that you know just what we went through to get them, it being horribly windy, and us being stood next to a massive sand dune. Any of you who?ve been in a beach situation with Gem will know that she is NOT keen on sand on her feet, let alone in eyes, ears, nose and all kinds of other places. It wasn't relaxing.
This was followed by a good 24 hour bus trip to the port town of Valparaiso, next to the Vina del Mar beach resort town. We had a few days to spend, one of those on the beach in Vina, where it was cool and breezy and lovely and we didn't even notice our feet getting sunburnt beyond recognition.
Valparaiso is based on a series of 40-odd hills across from a natural harbour. It used to be a very busy and well to do place, where the rich came and built houses on the many hills (as rich people like to do). As these hills are pretty steep they also built a series of Ascensores (which means lifts) to get to them. So the town now is covered in all these rickety old funiculars built in the late 1800s, and is a World Heritage site. The hill we stayed on was a trendy boho hill, with lots of cafes and galleries and so on, and the BnB we were in had a rooftop terrace on which you could watch the world go by for miles, really lovely.
We were quite reluctant to leave Valparaiso, but our Chile express had to rattle on. To the island of Chiloe. We had heard a lot about Chiloe from various people, and it was very different than we expected. To be honest it looked a bit like the Isle of Wight. We did have a lovely time there though, visiting a few towns, with the wooden Jesuit churches that they are famous for (the people of Chiloe are VERY religious) and we even saw some penguins!! On the whole though we were a shade disappointed, but we did have a lovely couple of days eating seafood and wandering around fishing villages.
After all this relaxing, we were moving on to Pucon, built on the side of an active volcano, and the trekking and adventure capital of Chile for some action. On the way though we stopped off for a night at the German settled town of Valdivia (named after the founder of Chile) for some of their famous beer. The Kunstman BrewPub and Museum were very interesting, and we spent a very informative few hours drinking a column of beer (literally a 6 pint tube of beer that sits on your table with a tap at the bottom so you serve yourself. Brilliant!). It was a worthwhile stop to take in the German heritage. Honest.
And so, Pucon. And probably the nicest hostel of our entire trip in El Refugio. The place was gorgeous, a log cabin basically, with candles and log fires and comfy sofas and warm beds and oh it really was lovely. Also they had a tiny little dog, Negrita, with whom Lisa fell completely in love. The quality of accommodation turned out to be a real stroke of luck considering that the weather turned as soon as we arrived to driving rain, meaning much less than climb the volcano (which we weren?t too sure about anyway) we didn't even SEE it!
We did manage a trip to some old lava tubes, (that's dark caves to you and me) which was interesting, if a little scary, especially at the point at the end of the cave when they turn the lights out for 5 minutes to show you how completely dark it is. And it is. Needless to say Gem was not the happiest in the group at this point.
Pucon itself is absolutely lovely, sat on the edge of a lake, and of course the volcano. The volcano is active, in that they have a set of traffic lights on the town hall to show you whether you need to leg it or not. It has erupted about 8 times in the last hundred and fifty years or something. They tell you this on the lava cave trip just before you walk into the side of the thing. We took a photo of the warning signs. Not scary at all. Hmmm.
Last stop on our trip was the capital, Santiago. Everyone we had met from the beginning of the trip had told us to spend as little time as possible there, that it was boring, the people were horrible, it was really expensive. and so on. Santiago for a start is a beautiful city. It has the enviable backdrop of the Andes for one thing, a couple of smaller hills that double as parks in the city, and a remarkable amount of decent aged architecture for a city that has suffered so many earthquakes.
We decided not to run around too much on our last few days in South America, so we didn't go to too many museums etc. We went to visit the famous Concha y Toro winery, a really good tour, generous wine tasting and even free glasses! It was especially funny in the cellars when they put the lights down and tell you the story of the first owner, who put about the rumour that the devil lived in the cellar to stop the locals stealing his wine. He even had a lift so he could get down there to scare them off without being seen! This story is why the main wine they sell is called Casillero del Diablo, which is basically The Devil's Cellar. Apparently the locals still cross themselves when they pass the building!
On the Thursday we went to see some more football, this time the Copa Sudamerica semi-final between the Chileno side Colo-Colo and some team from Mexico. After having been led to believe that football in Chile was relatively subdued. well have a look at the photos. We had a scream, not least because the crowd make the kind of noise that kids do playing Cowboys and Indians, as the team is named after an old Chief. What a sound!
Other than that we just enjoyed the city (and we really did, this idea that all cities are the same is nonsense), visiting the various markets, including a really very good seafood lunch at the central fish market. Speaking of food, it's probably a good time to mention that Chilenos eat an astounding amount of hotdogs. The majority of our meals in Santiago were either empanadas or "Completos" which are essentially hotdogs with "The Lot". The lot being tomatoes, mushed avocado, mayo, ketchup, mustard, and anything else they happen to have lying around! We did try and go healthy, but for some reason in Chile the more money you spend on food the worse it is, so we went with it. As you do.
And that was that. We checked out of the hostel (where we stayed free thanks to a favour from the boss of our beloved hostel in Buenos Aires) and off we went to the airport. And another continent..