Thursday 7th April lasted about 40 hours. We left Sydney in the early morning and arrived in Santiago about 2pm - despite having been travelling for 16 hours. We had gone back in time 14 hours and for the first time in three months are now 4 hours behind the UK in time. Confused? So were we - we literally didn't know what was going on. Add to that the fact that our hostel had moved from the address in the guide book and we had no idea where to and we were off to a great start!
Santiago is crazy - it's busy, smoggy, chaotic, old and modern, smokey and full of street dogs. A complete contrast to the anglophiled travelling we have done so far. Day 1 was spent doing little other than sleeping and taking a brief walk around Barrio Brasil where we were staying - a 24 hour party place, full of cafe culture and students, pubs and clubs. We also had a mix up at the hostel which meant that our double room with private bathroom had been changed for a room with 5 beds all to ourselves and a shared bathroom. We didn't care though - the beds were great, the staff were lovely and there was a pleasant hippy vibe going on which put us at ease. Course we didn't know that meant music until 3am but I digress.
We explored Santiago for several hours on our second day and then surprised ourselves by staying up until 3am with a French/English/Spanish/Chileno group and drinking too much Bolivian lager. Photos of Santiago later.
As our time in Chile was limited due to the trip to Easter Island, we decided not to travel too far in either direction. We wanted to see Chile not the inside of a bus and the famous vistas of the north (desert) and south (Patagonia) needed about 27 hours on a bus in each direction if you did it all in one crazy go. Instead we dragged our hungover selves to the bus station and took a 7 hour journey to La Serena. Firstly - these buses are brilliant. 15 pounds each buys you a bed on the bus, pillow and blanket and movies and headphones. So you can imagine what we did for 7 hours - yep, slept. We arrived in La Serena on a pretty cloudy afternoon and checked into Hostal El Punto - a really pretty place to stay right by the town and the famous Faro (lighthouse).
We had a brief roam around and then followed our stomachs to dinner - unfortunately this comida Chileno was closed.....so we had to have the cheesiest pizza in the world.
The next day we had booked on to a full day tour of the surrounding areas and the famous Valle de Elqui - a beautiful valley filled with vineyards, papyas, avocados and 'arty types'. The nobel prize winning Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral came from Vicuna in this area and is somewhat of a hero (just don't ask about Doris Dano and their cats!!).
We had a great day on the bus from hell - including a wine tasting and papaya shop (who knew you could do so much), the dam, the river, lunch in a solar powered restaurant (goat with rice,and a pudding of rehydrated peaches and wheat kernels......) and a tour of a pisco factory. The Pisco sour is the drink of Chile (and Peru apprently but don't get them started) and it is made from Muscat grapes. It bears no resemblance to other grape drinks and reminds me of tequila - Noush had to drink mine and her own and then the second sample of mine......and her own. No complaints though. The best thing about the distillery tour was the history of the people who own it - there are stories of bachanallian piss ups, poetry and black magic. Like a crazed dead poets' society with way too much Pisco! The cellars of the distillary look like this.....
A maze of tunnels filled with poetry, skeltons and 150 year old bottles of Pisco - and the bones of the dead grandfather in his grave. Madness!
One of my personal highlights of the day was watching the local dogs walk in and out of church during Sunday service. That is how integrated they are into the culture - no one bears them any mind as they wander down the aisle, have a sniff around and then wander out again. Surreal.
La Serena is famous for having 29 churches and indeed they were everywhere. We wandered the streets in the sun the next day and then headed down to the coast for a further walk to lunch. It's not the prettiest coast in the world - there is a lot of neglect and that many stray dogs will cause their own problems but it was good to see what was going on in the surrounding area. Plus the recommended restaurant was great, the pisco sours (papaya in my case) really tasty and who says sushi isn't traditional?
We travelled to Observatorio Cerro Mamalluca by rally bus that evening for some stargazing. It was a bit cloudy and the driver kept stopping and making worried phone calls en route but we did get to go and learn about the southern skies, look through a few telescopes and gaze at the moon. As well as Saturn - which looked a bit like the set from an Ed Wood movie to me. Our guide was excellent and very patient with Mr. Knowitall who was also in our group (there is always one!). She even took a photo of the moon for us - so did Anouska - what do you reckon?
We jumped on another bus south this time to Valparaiso or Valpo. This bus stopped everywhere and anywhere and it took 7 hours again although we were still two hours north of Santiago. They gave us free food though - although I'm not sure that the stale salami and cream cheese sandwich was exactly what Noush was after. However we discovered we could try to improve our Spanish by watching Spanish subtitles on French movies about flying angel babies (it's a classic.....) and Clash of the Titans.
We waited until the next day to really explore Valpo - it's an UNESCO site, a higgledy piggledy mass of coloured houses and painted streets raising up steep hills from the old port. We walked the streets and admired the creativity, more extreme than Brighton or Barcelona, a total riot of colour.
We met a couple of lovely Irish girls at breakfast and so all went out for a few drinks in the evening. I had the traditional bife pobre for dinner (chips, with a steak, two fried eggs and onions) and Noush went for the tabla (25 cubes of ham, 25 cubes of cheese, 25 olives and some cauliflower.......and we know what kind of 'ham' comes in 2cm cubes????). It is fair to say that Chile has not been wowing us with it's cuisine although we've had a few lovely glasses of wine. Every traveller you meet tells you how much weight they have gained - and quite frankly, that's just not the plan!!
The last two days we have been south of the capital in the stunning Andean valley of Cajon del Mapio. We journeyed by bus, 3 tubes and collectivo to reach our hostel.....which was actually a creaking, Germanic hunting lodge - and we were the only people in it. Not even any staff lived in - scary stuff! But we actually loved being out of towns and cities for a few days and booked ourselves on a little stroll yesterday with an English speaking tour guide Martin (pro. Mar-teen - I don't have the accents for over the i). Three hours in to the walk we had reached our highest point - 2000m high in the Andes - glutes burning - covered in dust - but the view was worth almost every second of it. We also had the great joy of being accompanied by some other guides. Cascada de las Animas (waterfall of the spirits) where we were staying is a family run business and the 9 families all live on site with 5 dogs a piece...we didn't know they would join us in what I suppose is their back garden.
There are too many lovely photos of this day to show you - you'll just all have to come round when we're back and be bored to tears. Thankfully the restaurant at the Cascada was pretty creative and we managed to fill up on quinoa cake, goat, chicken, potatoes and pancakes and wine (yep - all of the above) when we had washed the dust off at the end of the day.
And there we have it - 9 days in Chile. We travelled back to Santiago today and returned to Hostel Princesse Insolente but we got our double room this time. We've been out to see more of the city and visit the Virgin on the Hill at Cerro San Cristobal. You travel to the summit by funicular....an ancient hillside cable car. I wish London had a hill like this in the centre of it - the views were marvellous.
We fly to Easter Island tomorrow morning which we are both stupidly excited about. The sun is supposed to be shining and there's some big heads to take masses of photos of. Hasta luega!