And so to South America, destination Chile: land of avocado farmers and red wine. The flight was 11 hours but I landed before I took off thanks to the International Date Line.The length of the flight meant I just about had my head around this idea by the time I landed.
I was feeling very adventurous until I got chatting to a man in the bus to the centre of Santiago who was heading down to Antarctica in a yacht. Next time….
Because I had gained time I was surprised at how much jet lag I suffered. That's my excuse for not really seeing a lot of Santiago in the first few days. I also knew I would be there again with Lady Bowles in a few weeks so thought I would save the sight seeing until then. One highlight was a trip to an outdoor swimming pool which was a novel thing to do in January!
After my experiences in China, it was a relief that I could actually understand the road signs and I could make myself understood for things like buying a bus ticket. It was just when people spoke to me that I had troubles… a difficulty when you're trying to receive information! My excuse is that they speak a very different Spanish in Chile to that which I was taught in my Bracknell College evening classes: it's faster, they drop sounds and use lots of slang. My other excuse is that my last evening class had been almost a year ago and I hadn't had the opportunity to practise in between!!
What I should have done is signed up for some language lessons and refreshed my knowledge and confidence.I nstead, travel and adventure beckoned me onto a bus heading to the north of this very long country.
I stopped for a couple of days in La Serena: big but not very nice beach, impromptu Spanish lesson from a waiter, first Pisco Sour cocktail, dorm with a German lady who snored very loudly for an entire night.
I took a tour to the Elqui Valley which is famous for growing the grapes for Pisco, the national spirit, and fruits, including Avocados. Alas, there was little time for hunting the farmers. I looked wistfully into the green (heavily irrigated) valley bottom but he failed to appear. Hey ho. That night I caught a night bus (16 hours) to San Pedro de Atacama.
San Pedro is a popular tourist destination with loads of activities in the surrounding desert area. I liked that there was plenty of local tourists around - something which you didn't notice in Asia- a mark of the economic status of Chile, one of the more developed countries in South America.
I invited myself out to dinner with the two Czech guys in my dorm: we drank a bottle of red wine each and wrote off the next day. Oops. I did manage to take a tour to the Valle de Lune (Moon Valley) which was very impressive: various landscape formations created by the previous andcurrent very dry conditions. I watched the sunset while sat on a very large sand dune. This sounds more romantic than it actually was because I was surrounded by several bus loads of people!
Actually, I alluded to the conditions of the Atacama desert back there. It is one of the world's driest deserts. But it actually rained while I was there! This caused power cuts and the resultant candle light gave the town a nice atmosphere for a night or two!
San Pedro is also the starting point for 4 day jeep tours into Bolivia. It had been much recommended by one of my Travel Heroes and a bunch of Irish Girls I got chatting to over breakfast. So I duly booked myself on a tour and spent the night before departure worrying about: altitude sickness, whether the people were going to be nice, and the lack of toilets, and trying to ignore my squeaking bunk bed, the snoring kiwi guy and the mini buses trundling up the road the other side of the not very soundproof adobe wall. At last I could justify getting up and ventured out to await my fate.