Well of all the things we expected to happen on this section of the tour (Chile and Argentina), public transport delays was not one of them. ´The bus system is excellent´ they said. Well you find us sitting at the bus stop in sunny Santiago (31 degrees today...sorry Brits) waiting to depart for Mendoza, Argentina and awaiting some guys on the border to stop striking and to lift up the big barrier in the Andes. Latest news is we leave at about 10pm tonight, but I´ll only believe it when I´m tucking into a huge piece of Argentinian cow washed down with glass of Malbec.
So much to tell you of since we last spoke as ever; although slightly less bizarre and wacky than normal seeming as we have been in a thoroughly developed and affluent nation. Since leaving La Serena we have arrived south via brief stops in Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, two fashionable beach destinations for Chileños. Both are well worth a visit, with Viña del Mar feeling decidedly like the French Riviera, but we have to confess to being slightly more taken by the more bohemian qualities of Valparaiso. Much of the city´s beauty is found perched on the cliff side, where winding streets are decorated with creative art work on the walls. Beautiful to stand and admire so long as you stay vigilant to the obscene amounts of dog crap lying in the streets. The call of ´Mind the Poo!´becoming very much a mantra for those brief days spent in the area. Now far be it from me to point the finger at another race, but I feel it necessary to make a few observations about the natives; I have previously said how nice it was to arrive back into the emerging first world, but looking around Valparaiso, the country´s economy is not emerging quite as quickly as some of the waist lines of its people. Clearly revelling in the amount of food and the quality of it, is something this nation does well and even the beggars look remarkably well dressed and fed (presumably some sort of trickle down effect). That said I have to add that this observation was made before hitting the capital where people are eminently more fashionable, thin, pretty and there have been fewer people calling me Barack Obama on the street....I kid you not...this has happened...they don´t see too many Indians around here or for that matter people of colour.
After leaving Valparaiso and revelling in my American election victory, we made the brief 2 hour journey into the capital, Santiago. It could quite easily be a European city: beautiful, elegant, surrounded by snow capped moutains and with an enviable cafe culture and metro system. Santiago is a great city to roam in and we have spent a number of days just wandering on foot through the parks, museums and cinemas. Yes, I´m afraid to say it that not only on this trip have we stepped into an air conditioned mall (Panama), but we did spend one afternoon in some comfortable, red velvety chairs chewing popcorn. An arty, post-modern flick, with a depressingly, frank and honest overview of the world´s plight. It was called ´James Bond, The Quantum of Solace´. Now I feel it necessary to make a number of pertinent points about the setting of this masterpiece (actually we really enjoyed it), which rather amusingly for us takes place largely in our last country of travel, Bolivia: Firstly, and I´m not spoiling the film for you, Bond goes to a plush area of La Paz where he checks into a stunningly beautful hotel...we were in La Paz the nice part of La Paz is called your arrival in another country´. Secondly, Bond appears to have no trouble travelling around Bolivia on public buses encoutering no delays, strikes and drunk drivers..yeah right. Thirdly, he appears to have found tarmaced road straight through the desert...not the Bolivian desert I´m afraid James....my bruised backside lays testament to 10 hours in a 4x4 over unpaved roads, and last but not least, no one is ever going to believe your cover story of a teacher taking a sabatical year and travelling round the world (see the film to get that one).
Chile is famous for a number of things, but top of list for many people is it fine wine. Since hitting the country we have embarked on a fairly successful mission to try as much of it as possible. Fortunately, we were given a helping hand by a fabulous Wedding gift from Jacqui and Gonzalo that took us via train out to one of the most prominent areas of wine making, serving us ample cheese and glasses of the good stuff on the way. Allied to that we have been hitting the vineyards hard, including the biggest of them all, Concha y Toro, well known for their Casillero Diablo wines that make it over to England. We have to admit to enjoying the lifestyle of ambling round vineyards (I do need a Panama hat though) and if anyone is thinking of buying us a present...4 month Wedding Anniversary..... we miss you....Barmitzvah...you give it a title, a vineyard would go down very nicely. Just a small place, producing a minimal amount of cases for personal comsumption would do fine. Fortunately for our budget, although after five or so different samples of wine we are so merry we are ready to buy cases of the produce, the limitations of a back pack have meant that our grand intetions of creating an enviable wine cellar....alright cupboard in the garage, have been dashed.
Now you may or may not know, but Chile appears to be the capital of the Strawberry growing world and the produce here is as nice, if not better than anything we have tasted back in Blighty. A tray, 3-4 kilos worth, can be purchased for the princely sum of three of your English pounds and was exactly what we did in a blaze of strawberry gluttony. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon trying to put some pounds back on!
So with any luck, in a few hours we will be heading off to Argentina...country number 11. In the words of rap group Public Enemy´ ´Don´t believe the hype´, however it´s getting increasingly hard to do this because each person we meet raves about Buenos Aires. I hope it lives up to our expectations. Oh and travel alert latest....we appear to be heading both south and north in Argentina and may even be heading across the border to Brasil. This travel thing is addictive and we´ve only been gone 3 months on Saturday!