Northern Chile and Easter Island - Lunar landscapes, Stargazing and a few gallons of vino tinto…
We crossed the border from Bolivia into Chile and arrived at the town of San Pedro de Atacama and the contrast between the two countries could not have been greater. From one of the poorest countries in South America to the richest, Chile is more comparable to Europe than to the rest of South America and the standards of living are actually very high here. However, such luxury came at a price as we found when we got the bill for dinner and realised we could have survived for a fortnight on such an amount in Bolivia! Still, after weeks of being unable to eat or drink anything without the fear of Montezuma´s Revenge we happily handed over our Chilean Pesos, traded our antibiotics for Alka Seltzer and said goodbye to our new-found waistlines!
We spent a night in San Pedro looking at lunar landscapes before heading south to La Serena, a town known for its observatories and vineyards. Once here we spent an evening stargazing at one of the observatories in the area which was fantastic and a truly humbling experience as we stared at distant galaxies and stars light years away.
We continued south to Santiago which, we´d been warned by other travellers, was a city that lacked charm and culture and was far too European to be of any interest. For us however, a couple of shandy-drinking Londoners away from home for 4 months, being back in a big city was fantastic and we happily spent a few days wandering around and seeing the sights.
After a few days here we flew to Easter Island, a Chilean-governed island in the south eastern Pacific Ocean, 2000 miles off the coast of Chile. This is one of the world´s most isolated inhabited islands and its inhabitants are primarily Polynesian. The island is so-called as a result of its discovery by a Dutch explorer on Easter Sunday, 1722, although the Polynesians, who settled here 800 years earlier, know the island as Rapa Nui.
The island is best known for its Moai statues (the ´Heads´) of which there are over 800 on the island and were thought to have been created between 1250 and 1500 AD although why remains a mystery.
As the island is relatively small, at just over 60 square miles, so we decided to hire bikes to explore the island which was a great way to see the sights but after 2 days cyling around on unpaved roads on bikes with no suspension we were very, VERY sore and decided that all this exercise was clearly not good for us so it was back to the mainland to continue our wine marathon!
And what better place to do so than Mendoza, Argentina, which produces over 70% of Argentinian wine. There are over 700 vineyards around Mendoza and we took a day-long wine tour to 3 of these to look at the wine production of each and, of course, to sample the results! The day included a fantastic 5-course lunch at one of the vineyards and a different wine was served with each course... The rest of the afternoon is a bit of a blur but once we´d sobered up we decided it was time to move on, and quickly, or our next stop would be rehab so it was another 17 hour bus journey to start our travels around Patagonia…