We left Mendoza on Jan 11th and took a bus across the Andes to Santiago.The day was a bit of a trial and resulted in a night 'on the streets' (kind of).The road took us from Mendoza towards the seemingly impenetrable wall of the mountains, then picked a route along riverbeds, up switchback roads and through the snow line into Chile.The day started to go down hill at the Chilean border post which is a huge concrete shed, high in the mountains.All we had to do was get a exit stamp from Argentina, an entry stamp from Chile and have our bags scanned, but a combination of the South American habit of timetabling buses so that they all leave at the same time, and the global phenomenon that is surly, work-shycustoms and immigration staff ensured that this took more than 3 hours.The upshot of this was that all the trains to Talca (our final destination) had gone by the time we arrived in Santiago and we had to resort to getting a bus, which got us into a virtually deserted Talca after midnight.At least we were not stuck in Santiago.We tried to phone and text the out of town guest house we were staying in to tell them we were inbound, but got little response, but hey, they knew we would be late so there would be no drama.Needless to say, we ended up in the middle of nowhere, waving goodbye to a taxi hoping we could rouse somebody.We couldn't.We tried knocking on doors, phoning the numbers we had been given, and encouraging stray dogs to bark.A moment of hope came when we where at last able to connect with a mobile phone number we had.It rang and rang….and was then rejected.No problem - obviously the person at the other end and pressed the wrong key.We rang again.Again, rejection.Butter fingers?We rang again.Phone switched off.Damn.This happened with another mobile number we found.Luckily, we were equipped with a sense of adventure, and more importantly, a bottle of wine, so pulled some of the garden furniture together, befriended a dog and settled down to a night on the veranda.We both woke at about 6.30 am, expecting to find staff turning up to clear away all the glasses, bottles and other detritus left on the tables from the previous night (which we took to be a sign of either a good party or bad staff), but had to wait until 7.55 before anyone appeared.The member of staff was a young Austrian girl (I am assuming that as the owners were Austrian, the German speaking staff were too).She was not overly apologetic but did show us to a room - which was not what we had booked, so we asked to speak to the manager.5 minutes later a hard faced 20ish Austrian girl appeared and asked us what our problem was.I was so angry I managed to stay angry despite the fact she was blonde haired, blue eyed and tanned, wearing little more than a very short silk dressing-gown.Very quickly we understood that it was she who had turned off the mobile phone the night before because we were too late, she was tired and she "had to work yesterday and today".Bless.No wonder some of them are kept in cellars.I think Jodie and I were just about as angry as we get by this stage.We discovered that there was a grown up about, in the shape of the owner, who was pregnant and not to be disturbed.She was disturbed.She was nice enough and gobsmacked by what had happened but by that stage we both felt that we did not we did not want to stay in Chiles' version of a bad ski chalet, run by the Hitler Youth, in the middle of nowhere, so she was left to watch 4 nights of income leave in a cab, back into town.
Talca is an odd place.Like Mendoza, it is a wine centre, but with little in the town itself.The local Tourist Office pointed out that there was a museum, but it was closed, and a lovely street with trees down the middle - fantastic!However the tourist office also kept us chatting for an hour and wrapped a parcel up that we needed to send home.The girl looking after us was very concerned that we had lots of padding and disappeared into a store room returning with a very large (unused - thank God) nappy, explaining that it was for her uncle but was just the thing to help us!We are still trying to work out where that particular memento from our trip will be displayed.They also informed us that there was an interesting train to the sea and a walk with a view, and that is how we spent the next two days.
We missed the interesting train to the sea, so got a bus which went through 55m hectares of pine forest to the costal town of Constitution.On arrival I was all for staying on the bus, such were my first impressions. However, we reminded ourselves that we were travelling to see the good and the bad.We eventually found the tourist office, which to be more accurate was two fat birds in a garden shed on the town square.They had no maps or leaflets, but could tell us the way to the beach'…………………………then go left next to the really big factory and you will see it'.So, like true Brits we grabbed a few bits for a picnic and headed off to the beach where we realised that not only would we not get into the sea, but it was important to find a sheltered spot.The reasons for this were: the sea looked dirty and cold; whilst the sun was hot, the wind off the Pacific was from the south and bitterly cold: the towns landmark was a rock made white by the poo of all the thousands of birds that called it home and it was upwind of us.Once in shelter we had a few pleasant hours sunbathing before heading off to get the famous train home.Due to my inability to shake off the Army's desire to always arrive 'five minutes before five minutes before', we arrived at 3.10 for the 4.15 train, which was lucky as by then locals where bagsying seats and loading bags and boxes of produce.We grabbed a couple of seats and spent the next hour with one guarding the seats, whilst the other fetched beer and other supplies.Whilst there are two trains a day, obviously catering of the local villagers, it was a real occasion and people were there to wave off friends and relatives, and it seemed everyone had an ice-cream.To see the scenery along side the narrow gauge track and just how important a lifeline the train was for so many very poor people made the trip worthwhile and I would recommend it to anyone.You don't need to be a train spotter.
The 'walk to the view' was a bit more of an epic and Jodie and I walked some 22kms in the mountains over the next 8 hours - 6 of which were walking.It is worth isolating a few words from that sentence to really appreciate it; Jodie, walk, 22km, mountains.The walk started at the park entrance which was 2 hours on a rural bus from Talca.Our experience of parks in foreign climbs led us to believe that we would be mobbed by 'guides' and people selling food and drink as soon as we got off the bus.We had also been promised that we could hire horses.In Chile, things are different and when we got off we found nothing of use.We had, however, not eaten all our provision we had brought for breakfast so set off on our trek (in the mountains, in the sun) with 1.5 litres of fizzy water and two bread rolls between us.If I had not left already, I am sure that I would have been drummed out of the army for being so badly prepared.To top it all, after about an hour the front of the sole of my 12 year old walking boots decided to part company with the upper.This was repaired using one of Jodie's hair bands and off we went.30 mins later the other boot followed suit.This was repaired by cutting a lace in half and using one part to secure it.It worked, but I did spend the rest of the day walking like a clown in an attempt to prevent the toe of my boots rubbing the ground.The view at the end was spectacular and it was a good day spent 'with nature' and despite the need to ration water and bread, Jodie retained a sense of humour for (nearly) the whole day.With about an hour and a half to push (on a deadline for the last bus) blood sugar levels had obviously dropped to a very low level and I knew I was unlikely to make it out of the forest without being a figure of hate.Luckily fate sent us horses, vacated by others staying in a cabin inside the park, and on their way back to the entrance empty, so (for a fee) the last 3kms were covered on horse back and I survived!
We are now in San Pedro De Atacama, a small town in the north of Chile and surrounded by 100s of miles of desert.It is also the launching point for visits to hot springs, geysers, lunar landscapes and star gazing.We will update the blog in a few days.