Mountains to sea to desert..10 days in Chile (Part 1)

From Mendoza it was a short 8 hour bus ride to Santiago (where we bagged the front seats on the bus!- it was actually very hot), up and over the Andes.

Unusually they had the Argentine and Chilean immigration in the same building. Window one to stamp out of Argentina and window two to stamp into Chile. All the bags were unloaded and scanned and we handed in our customs declarations. Though the whole process was very straightforward there was a lot of hanging around but after an hour we were back on the bus and on our way down the mountains.

Link: Inca Bridge

As we got close to Santiago, the traffic thickened and we slowed to a crawl- the joys of evening rush hour! Argentinian driving is less aggressive than in Santiago and the driver was being very cautious with the bus so we were sometimes stuck across 2-3 lanes blocking traffic. After an age, we pulled into the South Bus station, grabbed our bags and a taxi heading for our hotel in downtown Santiago. Our first impressions of Santiago were that it was a lot cleaner than Buenos Aires, and had the feel of a Mancunian version of Barcelona about it. We liked it. Unfortunately it was also on par with UK prices for many things, namely accommodation and rooms were about $30-35 a night for the most basic accommodation near the city centre. So we were spending two nights here and one day sightseeing. Our first meal in Santiago was the very Chilean dish of sushi. It is massive here and is literally everywhere.

Gav  (43)

The following morning we were up early and off to see the many sights of Santiago.

First stop Cerro Santa Lucia (the remainder of an old volcano but now just a small hill- good views over the city though):

Mercado Central- Fish Market with tourist trap, place was dead and everyone spoke English, we had a quick look and moved on.

Some great street art here too:

Next up the centre of Santiago- la Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral Metropolitana.

Last stop on our Santiago sightseeing day was the Cerro San Cristóbal.

I had been given a recommendation by a friend who used to live in Santiago (and is married to a Chilean) so that evening we took her up on her suggestion and had dinner in the very chic Ky Restobar. Our reservation was for 8pm and at 8pm after much confusion with out taxi driver and the address, we were dumped in a semi-dodgy looking area at the side of the road and with number in hand we went to look for it. Luckily we had been warned that it would not look like a normal restaurant, the number was barely visible and we walked past it twice before we saw it and once we located it the next job was getting in as there was a fence and a series of vines to negotiate. It was 8 and the buzzer didn’t seem to be getting anyone’s attention! In fact after five minutes a guy selling melons across the road came over, and stuck his hand through the fence to where the exit button was strategically hidden just as the maître d appeared to let us in. It  was unclear whether he was happy with the stranger’s intervention but we were delighted to be finally inside……

We hadn’t booked a taxi but figured one would be easy to pick up after a short walk. Santiago has a slight reputation for muggings but we followed our usual precautions and after ten minutes of walking we picked up a taxi home. For us the area we were in felt a lot like Liverpool, we liked Santiago.

Following morning we had a few bits to do and then got the bus to Valparaíso. Valparaíso could easily be done as a day trip- and we decided as much after we had booked our hotel but good old Booking.com wouldn’t let us cancel it so we had to go and stay there. Again we were stung by only booking accommodation a few days before (this haunted us for all of Chile) so we were staying was a fair walk from the historic centre. If you plan to go here, please book ahead as the historic area is really cool, but unfortunately where we were a km away it was pretty grim and we mainly ate empanadas while we were there.

Before we went off exploring though we had to walk back to the bus station and get our tickets for our next stop of San Pedro de Atacama, we had spent 3 hours the previous evening trying to book online but with no success, just as well we did as they were almost sold out, we wanted the moderately expensive but more comfortable Semi cama Superior (like the first bus in Argentina to Iguazu) but they were completely sold out and we managed to get the last two Cama seats on the 22.15 bus from Santiago (77,800 CLP/£80/$144.50 (US)).

The city is an old port town and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and where the Chilean poet and politician, Pablo Neruda had one of his houses (and was also hid here for a time when there was a warrant for his arrest). It was also the birthplace of Pinochet. It is famous for its colourful buildings which joyfully dot the hills around the town. Currently it is experiencing a bit of regeneration due to tourism but despite being Chile’s second city,  unlike Santiago which has money for street cleaners, Valparaíso hasn’t and it has a large (friendly) stray dog population. The whole town sort of has a stale smell of poo and urine about it (Gav started calling it Valparshito rather jokingly).

[The Arco Británico is decorated with the images of four leaders of the Chilean War of Independence: Thomas Cochrane, Bernardo O’Higgins, Robert Simpson and Jorge O’Brien (link in Spanish). Two were actually Irish or of Irish descent, but then looking at the names it’s fairly easy to guess they were.]

However if you ignore this and watch your step the area of Concepción is really nice to explore. It is a bit on the dodgy side at night though even if you are staying in the ok part of town (there are clear no go areas here!).

Blog post on artwork above –here:

The following morning was Sunday and it was back to Santiago. We had a few things to get (new headphones, torches and sleeping bags) and then we planned to go to some museums.

We mentioned this before but nothing is open on a Sunday, so you end up looking for shopping centres as they are the only things open. We located some headphones but there was no sign of decent torches or a hint of a sleeping bag (a supposed necessity for our travels into the next country of Bolivia), luckily when we were trying to buy the headphones, one of the sales assistants spoke English and since he was a rare gem, I asked him where we might find some camping shops. He recommended an enormous shopping centre a bit out of town, Costanera Center. We ended up spending the whole day there and got our sleeping bags and torches. As well as earplugs (we were staying in a “young persons” hostel in San Pedro, it was the cheapest going when we booked).

It is worth noting that they have a weird system here for serving people. For example where we bought the headphones there was one guy running around like a headless chicken covering that section plus TVs and computers and four people manning the mobile phone desk, none of them working and all on their phones; plus one other guy also working flat out on the till. Many shops here you buy your stuff and then queue to pay for it and then take your payment receipt back to collect the goods. Or you have to take a number to be served- this was the preferred system by the chemists here. They seem to love queuing here for some reason.

Anyway after wasting an entire day in a temple to consumerism at 9 pm we were back in a taxi to the Bus station (Alameda). Taxis after dark here are a rip off and twice the price of the day rate we ended up paying 20,000 CLP (£20.57/$29.42) rather than the 8,000 CLP (£8.22/$11.77) we paid over two journeys to get to the shopping centre. It was the easiest way to get there though.

After a short wait where were got some supplies for the road in case we got hardly any food/no food and we were off on a relatively comfortable 22 hr journey up the coast. We got on found our seats and I was straight to sleep. The following morning after a mammoth twelve hour sleep I woke up to this outside:

 Relatively well rested we arrived in our next stop San Pedro de Atacama…

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