Monday, 16 May 2011


12-15 December 2010

We had just a couple of days in Chile... obviously nowhere near enough, even for just Santiago. Anyway, with a pleasant bus ride through the Andes and some amazing views, it was ciao Argentina and hola Chile. Under deep blue skies and blazing sun our bus laboured up mountains and careered around downhill hairpins like the Italian Job, but with decidedly less gold bullion.

All was going well until we got to the border. We should have known that it was going to take some time when the driver put a film on while we waited for our turn. One dubbed Bruce Willis film later it was time to disembark and line up to get through immigration... and again... and again.

Back on the bus, we travelled, ooh... fifty metres before stopping and disembarking again, this time unloading all our bags to go through a drug x-ray machine. My favourite thing was the posters on the wall of the people who had tried to smuggle into Chile and got caught. Honestly the amount of parcel-tape these people use to stick drugs onto themselves really must smart when removed. I thought the man who had made the sticky-tape pants should have been given a prize for most inventive, but instead he was just arrested.

Thankfully no one on our bus had anything to hide (or they’d hidden it really well) and ‘just’ four hours later we were allowed to enter Chile. Once out of the mountains, the landscape was the familiar combination of red rock and dusty scrubland with bursts of well irrigated green fields before reaching the increasingly developed outskirts of Santiago de Chile.

We had found our hostel - Landay Barcelo - on a website and after arriving at yet another huge bus station, we had a quick look at the map and decided to walk it rather than have the hassle of getting all our bags on a bus... couldn’t be that far, could it? Main street turned to side street turned to alley-way and it was such a discreet place we walked straight past it...twice. This turned out to be the longest and hottest hostel trek of our journey (so far).

So, we arrived hot and sweaty, but were welcomed by such a lovely, friendly chap; Victor. It was a new place not in our traveller’s bible, but must surely have made it into 2011 edition. It was the nicest hostel we've been to in South America, maybe even the whole journey. All checked in, we we're shown the dorm-room which was more like a swanky hotel room with bunk beds, fluffy duvets, white cotton sheets and the biggest shower and fluffy towels, plus mega fast internet and all at only $10 a night with breakfast included. Result!

We’d arrived early evening having not really eaten during the day and Victor said if we could wait until 9:00pm he would like to take us out to a local place to eat. He wanted to show us the real Santiago and so he did. We went along with two Brazilians also staying at the hostel; Rodriguez and Luis. We were tired and very hungry with aching paws but it felt like we’d walked across half the city to our venue, but Victor provided a good narrative along the way. The Brazilian guys were great and thankfully their English was much better than our Spanish.

We entered the loud Chilean bar (where Victor was known to everyone) and sat at a table, leaving the ordering of food and drinks to Victor. Moments later, we each experienced an Earthquake. Not the geographical phenomenon but a local drink, consisting of a pint of white wine and a shot of Fernet liquor, topped off with a generous scoop of pineapple ice cream... quite a concoction. Needless to say I managed a sip and my legs where gone, so I nibbled at the ice cream them passed it on to Tim who bless him drank mine too, and later had another. Strangely, this made him fluent in Spanish and managed to hold a conversation with some locals about snowboarding and Iron Maiden. Did I mention, they LOVE the Maiden here... good times.

For food we had a local dish of Pork and potatoes which was ridiculously cheap but delicious. A great night out with some great people and quite a welcome to our new city. Our first night was fun... even when the drunk woman spilt her earthquake down Tim’s back, then started picking fights with whoever would listen.

The following morning after a good night sleep, I headed out to O’Higgins Park for a run around... what a nice place to be. Such a green park with big open spaces and beautiful gardens. Back for a delicious breakfast and a slightly hung over husband we headed into the centre of town for a look around.

With such a short time in the city, we covered many miles trying to see as much as possible. And Santiago was another lovely surprise. We were staying on a very quiet avenue but only five minutes from the main street where preparations for Christmas festivities seemed misplaced being so hot and sunny.

Another ten minutes and we were at the city centre with its magnificent buildings, pretty plazas and all the shops you could eat. Speaking of which, we had a rare extravagance by having lunch at a cafe on the edge of the main square so we could do some serious people watching... with beer and everything! The square was a bit of a tourist trap but buzzing – I guess like a hot and sunny Covent Garden.

After visiting the really rather nice tourist information office, we headed to a lookout spot - a mini mountain - in the city. A long uphill climb including many steps was rewarded by a magnificent view of high-raise flats and offices... still it’s nice to get out and about and it was a nice little spot with gardens and fountains. Santiago de Chile is a lovely place.

Back to the hostel we caught up with Rodriguez (estate agent) and Luis (nano-particle PHD scientist). We had a bottle of wine and sat outside while Rodriguez played guitar, then Luis played, then the hostel owner joined in. Another couple of bottles of delicious Chilean wine and it turned into such a brilliant, chilled evening in the hostel’s pretty little courtyard.

We headed out to a pizza parlour for food, which was delicious but the previous night was taking its toll so we went to bed and we left the boys singing late in to the night.

The following morning I went for another run and then came back and met up with Rodriguez as we had decided to go to the outside pool in the park. Tim wanted to spend time with the mega fast internet and Luis was left sleeping. Tim had a leisurely breakfast, sharing the dining room with a Brazilian couple, just married, on their honeymoon and very smiley.

It was yet another lovely blue sky day and we got to the pool to find it not yet open... ever... it was brand new! But the football playing life guards were adamant that we stay for a dip. Which we did. Everyone was very, very friendly and chatty; Rodriguez said it was because I’m Blonde and British... possibly. Rodriguez was an excellent swimmer; only a persistent injury prevented him from world-class involvement and he helped me with my turns. Anyway, after being stared at for an hour we headed back to the hostel as we both needed to pack and leave.

Tim was worried as we'd been gone for hours and thought we we're going to miss our flight [I was also a bit worried being left alone with Victor as he was a bit of a Michael Jackson fanatic and would frequently moonwalk past me in the lounge, screaming “what about us?” and other MJ lyrics]. Luis on the other hand had left Rodriguez to find food and drink, taking the room keys with him. In the end everybody was packed and ready to go at the same time, so we all said our goodbyes and headed off in our different directions; for them a continuation of the Chilean tour but for us, the bus to the airport. Checked in and ready to hit New Zealand.

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