Santiago, Valparaiso, Vina Del Mar, Caldera, Arica.
18.04.2010 - 26.04.2010 21 °C
I wish I could say we made the most of Santiago's nightlife but we were too tired to go out here as we made the most of the days instead, fitting in a lot of sightseeing. A famous sight here is the Virgin Mary statue on top of a hill at San Cristobal. To my relief the cable cars that once serviced it are now permanently out of action (I was planning on waiting at the bottom for the others), but the steep, rickety train carriages up the hillside were only marginally less scary. Great views of the city from the top though. I had a really nice dinner after (pasta with mushroom sauce) which I think is worth a mention as I didn't do well in Mendoza for food, so it was nice to feel full after a good meal.
From our base in SANTIAGO (Hostelling International Hostel) we also did day trips to VALPARAISO and VINA DEL MAR, both nice towns on the coast. Valparaiso has seals living in the bay and we went out on a boat trip to see them (getting too close actually - Sophie almost ended up with a huge seal in her lap as it could have jumped into our boat if it had wanted to). A quaint, attractive city set on a hillside but difficult to tell what was generally shabby and what was earthquake damage from the recent quake.
Vina Del Mar has one of the ancient stone heads from Easter Island so we went to be 'cultured' at the museum but it was closed so we took a photo of the head (outside) and left. Job done. We then spent the afternoon wandering round the town and sitting on the rocks looking out to sea eating ice lollies and watching out for pickpockets trying to steal our valuables from underneath the rocks. Not exactly hot enough to sunbathe but sunny enough to be nice.
One of our main objectives whilst in Santiago was to track down some verruca cream for what the three of us had self-diagnosed to be a potential verruca on Naomi's foot. This turned into a far bigger mission than you might expect when hardly any pharmacy staff spoke any English and my limited Spanish phrasebook didn't include anything useful like 'verruca', 'wart', 'virus' 'from swimming pool', etc. We tried several different pharmacies armed with our scrappy drawings of what we thought they should recognise as a verrucca, but only succeeded in obtaining a selection of corn plasters and athlete's foot remedies. Several customers got involved to try and help so much of Santiago ended up knowing about Naomi's manky foot, to no avail. There appeared to be a conspiracy to deny the existence of verrucaes in Chile. Eventually another customer was able to fluently interpret and get us the required gel. Result. (In the end we decided it wasn't even a verruca anyway, so all a bit of a pointless exercise, although quite funny.)
Another mundane mission which took up much time and energy was for me to continue trying to obtain some cash from a cash machine, on my so-far-useless debit card, making me feel like an international criminal, being repeatedly denied access to my own money. Many cash machines and expensive international phone calls to my bank later, I eventually ascertained that Co-Op had been deliberately blocking foreign transactions on my card 'for security reasons'. This was quite ridiculous seeing as I had now informed them on at least four separate occasions (including a desperate phone call from Argentina) NOT to block it in specific South American countries, as they could be assured it was me trying to get my own money out. Luckily Sophie and Naomi had been able to cover me for food and accommodation but otherwise Co-Op would have completely stranded me due to their administrative incompetence. Thankfully this is now sorted and I can now get cash out of ATMs.
On the 22nd we got an overnight bus to CALDERA (16hrs) - as we are all on tight budgets this is a good way of saving on a night's accommodation. The buses are actually pretty comfy if you pay a little extra for fully reclining seats. You do get onboard meals but they don't understand / cater for vegetarianism, so everthing I was offered had some form of dead animal in it. Crisps and chocolate are the staples of my bus journeys. We stayed in Caldera for just one night as it's a small port town with not much to see and do, but a nice little place for a stopover (even if the beach was pretty grotty and sea infested with jellyfish). "Residencial Milleray" was the little house we stayed in - a bit shabby with cold showers but very friendly, nice owners, who let us leave our backpacks there the next day until our next overnight bus. It was here we encountered "Mike 2" (see Nagasaki entry) - it seems not uncommon for hostel owners to have a pesky pet dog whose favourite hobby is to terrorise backpackers. Mike 2 woke us up howling and woofing persistently outside our door during the night. There were also many stray dogs roaming the town scavenging for food, possibly the worst town so far for dog presence.
On the 24th we got another overnight bus (14hrs) to ARICA, a coastal town in the north of Chile, bordered by the Atacama desert (so sand very much the theme). We stayed in a funky little HI hostel run by a crazy character called Roberto whose hyper enthusiasm was infectious (if a little hard to cope with after not sleeping all night!). Cockroach caught in room. Cold shower. Washing not returned as promptly as promised and still damp for packing. However Roberto went out of his way to be helpful, informative and friendly which compensated for these things so I probably would stay here again. Pelicans sighted on the beach! Quite impressive watching them fly in formation along the water's edge, fishing. Technically I could say we 'got lost in the desert' trying to find our way back from the beach, but perhaps that is a little dramatic when in the end it was quite easy to flag down a taxi, when we gave up trying to locate the hostel ourselves. Again not much to do here so we spent a day relaxing and reading on the beach (first opportunity to get bikini out!).
On the 27th April we left Chile for Bolivia, again by bus, as this is the main form of public transport in South America. And yes, apart from the sunbathing in Arica, it was chilly in Chile!