We are now in San Juan in Argentina (that's pronounced Wan not Juan for you Manx people - wierd Spanish language!!) We've actually found that the accent here is really different and the little Spanish we've picked up on our travels is useless as we can't understand anyone or make ourselves understood anywhere!! Oh well! Other than that I love it here - much more European than anywhere else we've been (they have toilet roll AND water in ALL of the toilets!!) If it wasn't for the language barrier I'd happily live here.
Anyway, Nick left you all in La Serena, Chile so I'll continue from there....
We arrived early in the morning and were met at the station by a guy who presented us with a card for his hostel but following a bad experience in Warsaw several years ago I'm always suspicious of those people (Porscha understands why!) So we spent about half an hour wandering round only to end up at his hostel anyway and I'm so glad we did! It was lovely and they did the best hostel breakfast so far in S. America!! As we'd arrived on a Sunday the whole town was very quiet, unlike the rest of S. America people here actually don't work / try to sell you stuff on a Sunday. So, we had a wander around town and booked a tour to the Elqui Valley and an Observatory for the next day in the only tour agency that was open. We then walked down to the beach, not the best beach in the world and it was quite windy but it was really nice to just sit and do nothing but read and talk for a few hours. We actually did virtually nothing all day but after our hectic schedule
of the last few months we needed it!!
The next day we set of on our tour to Elqui Valley (after our lovely breakfast obviously!) Unfortunately, when we got on the mini bus it was full of families and elderly people, none of whom spoke English. We don't have anything against families and the elderly but we had a feeling that we wouldn't really fit in!! We were right. It was the slowest, dullest and (unfortunately) most expensive tour we've been on to date. We basically got driven to a dam, then a few small towns and told "ok, we'll stay here 30mins then meet back at the van". We could have done it by bus ourselves for a quarter of the price and spent as long as we wanted in each place. Matters were made worse by the disgusting lunch we were served (if anyone ever tells you that Goat is good they're lying!)
Anyway, in the evening we had arranged to visit an observatory to see the stars. N. Chile has very clear skies and some observatories that are open to tourists. It was amazing!! The guide was brilliant. Really funny (possibly unintentionally, I'm not sure) but we saw the rings of Saturn and the Moon through a telescope and he would point at what looks like a single star (i.e. the middle star of Orion's belt) and when we looked through the telescope you'd see that it's actually a cluster of 100's or 1000's stars. It was amazing and completely overwhelming just how big "space" is.
That was a very late night (for us) and we didn't get back to the hostel until 2am so we had another quiet day on the Tuesday. Had a wander round the shops then walked along the beach in the opposite direction to previously (still windy but very developed, looked a bit like I imagine the Costa Brava years ago!) That night we were on the move again and got a 12hour night bus to Mendoza in Argentina.
The bus journey was awful but Mendoza's lovely. Really Italian in feel. It was flattened by an earthquake in the 70's and completely rebuilt with wide, tree lined boulevards and lots of squares and parks. The architecture's nothing special but the city has a really nice feel to it. Atleast that's what I found after crashing out for a couple of hours, prior to that I didn't really notice the city - I just wanted to go to bed!
So another relaxing day began, walking round the city and the big park before treating ourselves to a delicious meal and wine in a very posh restaurant (well, we hadn't eaten all day and it was much cheaper than in England!)
The next day, we moved to a nicer hostel (one with windows and no babies) and decided that it was so hot we needed a swimming pool. Unfortunatley, Mendoza has no public pools and to use a private one you need a doctors note to confirm that you don't have nits or a foot infection!! Yes, really!! So we got a bus out to the hills to use a campsite pool. But.... the one recommended in our book was shut and the one next door wanted to charge us $10 each and since we didn't get there til almost 3pm that was a tad expensive. So, another afternoon sitting in the shade reading!!
So, on Friday 13th we set of to San Juan, a small town 2 hours North of Mendoza and everything went well!! We arrived just after lunch and found a nice hostel with a very small pool and air con (it's soooo hot here!!!) Then sat around until the temperature dropped a bit before heading out to do a tour of a bodega (winery). We went to a bodega recommended in our guide book that's free and within walking distance of the centre. Unfortunatley when we got ther it was closed, but there were two girls working there, Laura and Gabriella, who showed us round anyway. They were great. They both spoke excellent English and were so funny they were like a comedy double act. Then, at the end of the tour they opened some wine for us to try and joined us in finishing the bottle (well you don't want to waste good wine do you?!?!)
The next day we took a trip out to Ullam Dam where there are lots of campsites, bbq areas and a swimming pool. Usually it's possible to swim in the lake to but the water's too low at the moment so we had to make do with the pool. We then hitched back to town as the buses are really infrequent and we were bored of waiting!
Well, two nights in one place - it was time to move. So, off we went to San Augustin de Valle Fertil to visit Valle de la Luna national park. It was an interesting trip but I think we're getting a but jaded as we were walking round thinking that it was quite similar to Bolivia really!! Anyway, San Augustin is a very small town with very little happening so after two nights there we travelled back down to San Juan where we will spend the night before going down to San Rafael at 6am tomorrow!!
So, that's where I'll leave you all. Nick will do the last blog of S. America next week before we fly off to New Zealand! We're both really looking forward to a change of scene and an English speaking country!!!
Hope you're all well.