South America Day 33 – Pirque
10th February 2019
Our time in Argentina is over, today we fly to Chile. Our departure is bittersweet; we’ve had a great time with the exception of the thefts and their continuing fallout. Next we have five days in the Santiago region. Plan A involved a leisurely drive in our hire car through the wineries of the Maipú valley and then up the coast. Without a car we have simplified this to two days in Maipú and two days in Valparaiso.
We fly to Santiago then have to travel 33 miles from the airport to our hotel in Pirque. This involves a shuttle into town, then two tubes and a taxi. It’s only a 90 minute flight, from one side of The Andes to the other. I’m not looking forward to it – previous encounters with the Andes have involved way more turbulence than I would like. The captain doesn’t help by announcing; ‘We’re about to fly over The Andes, fasten your seatbelts.’ However, it’s actually quite calm and the view is awesome. White snow and glaciers at the top. Blue lakes surrounded by greenery at the bottom. And it the middle, mountains in every shade of red, yellow, orange and brown.
We reach Santiago Airport, which is basically a huge building site. We park so far out that from landing to reaching the terminal building takes 58 minutes. Next immigration. That takes care of another 52 minutes, then customs, changing money and a queue for the bus. We finally leave the airport after what feels like an eternity.
Our bus, tube, tube, taxi combo is straightforward and four hours after we landed, we reach La Calma de Rita; a quirky little place amongst the vineyards. The accommodation is a mixture of wine barrels and Romany style caravans – we’re in a pink caravan. It’s quite remote (a car would have been ideal) but it has a bar, restaurant and pool, so moving isn’t really necessary.
We agree with our taxi driver to collect us in the morning for a vineyard tour, then settle by the pool for dinner.
South America Day 34 – Concha y Toro
11th February 2019
La Calma de Rita is a strange place, balanced precariously between rustic charm and just plain dirty. Our Romany caravan in quaint and the bed was really comfortable, but I could do without the mouldy shower curtain. After breakfast, a similar mix of tasty freshly baked bread and nothing else I’d care to eat, we head for Pirque.
Our plan to tour several wineries in our fantasy hire car has been pared down to just one, but it’s the biggie; Concha y Toro, the 5th biggest wine producer in the world.
We book the basic tour which includes a glimpse of the founder Don Melchor’s villa and gardens.
Then on to a small vineyard, each row containing a different type of grapes. We’re invited to wander round, trying the different varieties. I’m surprised how different they taste, but then I’m no wine connoisseur. I just like wine. Our tour allows us to taste three different wines. Then we are given a funky orange box to pack our commemorative wine glass in to take home. In our case, home is five weeks and thousands of miles away, so I don’t fancy its chances.
The tour concludes in the Casillero del Diablo, where we see thousands of barrels of wine, a fake devil and a sound and light show explaining how the legend of the Devil’s Cellar came about.
Our hotel is four miles from literally anything, so we stock up on supplies and return for an afternoon of swimming and lazing by the pool, drinking beer and eating cheese rolls and crisps (which we have share with a very insistent cat).
South America Day 35 – Valparaíso
12th February 2019
Today we head to the Pacific coast. Our original plan to spend a few days driving up the coast in our fantasy hire car has been changed to two nights in the port of Valparaíso. We receive a message from the hotel warning of a gang that targets hire cars, puncturing a tyre then robbing you which you change the wheel. We tell them not to worry, we were robbed before we reached the hiring of the car stage.
It’s a trek to Valparaíso by public transport (taxi, tube, tube, bus, taxi). Also, we haven’t booked bus tickets in advance to avoid using our last bank card unnecessarily. So when we reach the bus station, the first two buses are full and we have to wait 40 minutes. It isn’t a disaster, but further fallout from being robbed; a two hour car journey becomes a four hour public transport extravaganza. It’s 500 pesos to use the station toilet so I sit with my legs crossed waiting for the bus to arrive. I’m relieved to discover that the bus is modern, clean and punctual with comfy allocated seating.
We reach our hotel in Valparaíso; WineBox. It’s built from 25 shipping containers, most of the décor is made from recycled pallets, bottles, barrels etc and it’s covered in murals. It’s very cool. It sits on a hill overlooking the city with great views both from the balcony and the rooftop bar where they serve their own wine.
We walk up the hill (in Valparaíso it’s all about hills – hills and steps) to La Sebastiana, home of the poet Pablo Neruda, stopping several times along the way to admire the prolific street art.
Neruda had this house built on five levels overlooking the city and bay, designed with a nautical theme. We take an audio tour of the house, which is very interesting.
Valparaíso is an interesting place; spreading up a series of hills overlooking the ocean; a mixture of industrial port and colonial buildings mixed with slums – and there are murals everywhere. It’s dirty and chaotic, but also alluring. Neruda sums it up in his ode to the city that he loved:
what an absurdity
a crazy port.
What a head
that you never finish
We walk to the supermarket to get some dinner. It’s not far, but it’s all downhill. Which, of course, means it’s all uphill (including 285 steps) with the shopping.
Once we have caught our breath, we spend the evening eating roast chicken and drinking Chilean wine on our balcony overlooking the city, watching the sun set over the bay.
South America Day 36 – Valparaíso and Viña del Mar
13th February 2019
I wanted to love quirky little hotel WineBox Hotel, but to be honest, shipping containers aren’t very soundproof, so we had a restless night of traffic, barking dogs and plumbing noises. However, they redeem themselves at breakfast with fruit salad, smashed avocado, poached egg and fresh orange juice.
We spend the morning in Valparaíso with no specific plan (we consulted three maps and they were all completely different) other than a combination of murals and funicular railways.
We walk down our hill (Cerro Florida) then take the Ascensor Espírito Santo up the next hill (Cerro Bellavista) to the Museo a Cielo Abierto.
The ‘Museum of the Open Sky’ is an area which my guidebook says is adorned with colourful murals. Unfortunately, the museum and Lonely Planet are both in need of updating. It’s sad to see how dilapidated the area has become, making it both ugly yet beautiful at the same time.
On to Palacio Baburizza; an art-nouveau chalet built in 1916 for a wealthy businessman, now an art gallery. The Palacio is at the top of the Ascensor El Peral. The old man, who thinks himself an expert navigator, tries to take us to the base station but somehow manages to navigate to the top. I point out (more than once) that one doesn’t usually climb so many steps to reach the bottom of something. But he is undeterred. We finally reach the top, panting like a couple of steam trains. At least we’ve burned off breakfast (and saved ourselves 12 pence each on the Ascensor fare).
The Palacio is an interesting building with stained glass, wrought iron and an intriguing marble shower. The building outclasses the art it contains and isn’t really worth the foreigners’ entrance fee, which is double the standard fee. But, thanks to our epic climb, there is a great view across the city and port to the sea and the neighbouring town of Viña del Mar.
We take the Ascensor down to Plaza Sotomayor with its imposing blue Naval building and Monument to the Heroes, honouring Chile’s naval heroes. After a brief detour to the port, because the old man loves a boat, we take the train to Viña del Mar.
It’s a pain not having a car, but the train is clean and modern, costs 60 pence each way and runs every seven minutes along the ocean front. It is a pleasant five mile journey which passes beaches lined with pelicans.
We walk along the coast of the resort town of Viña del Mar, past the Castillo Wulff, another house of a wealthy businessman. It was built in 1906 to look like a castle with a bridge to a tower overhanging the rocks beneath.
We visit the city’s main attraction; a floral clock. It’s surrounded by people dressed as Disney characters, superheroes and a rather scary tree man.
We catch a train back to Valparaiso, buy some empanadas and a bottle of Viñamar wine to commemorate our trip and climb the 285 steps back up to our hotel. Most of me has loved our trip to Valparaiso. My calves not included.
South America Day 37 – Valparaíso
14th February 2019
It’s our last morning in Valparaiso and we decide to walk to the Parque Cultural; according to Lonely Planet it’s the city’s No two attraction and, I quote; “has a little bit of everything the thinking traveler could ask for. There are excellent murals in the old exercise yards, rotating arts exhibits, live theater and dance and… other intellectually stimulating events.”
Meanwhile, back in the real world, after a steep 30 minute walk, we find ourselves in a yard surrounded by concrete and filled with stray dogs.
We return (via a shortcut through the cemetery, which isn’t a shortcut because we get lost and end up back where we started) up the Cerro’s 285 stairs for the last time. The park was rubbish but at least we got a good workout.
We check out and head for the bus station. This time we only have to wait two minutes for a bus and return to Santiago watching the Baywatch movie. The plot is so simple that even I can follow it with my ever so basic Spanish.
Then we catch the airport bus to pick up the shuttle to our hotel. It’s not a shuttle in the way we imagine a shuttle to be. We walk up and down the shuttle bus rank with no success, then go to the information desk. They ring the hotel, and the ‘shuttle’ is despatched to collect us.
We check into our hotel but our bank card is declined, it’s a nervous moment as it’s our last card. Luckily, it works second time, which is a huge relief. They ask what time we want to book the shuttle for in the morning. We say 7.30. It’s a trick question as they only run on the hour.
The hotel is on an industrial estate with no shops or restaurants nearby. It has capitalised on this with very expensive food and drink. According to Google Maps, there is a supermarket a 10 minute walk away. We do two rotations (in 35 degree heat) of the alleged location. Some people from a nearby office ask what we’re looking for and confirm the bleeding obvious – there is no supermarket nearby. Undeterred, the old man insists on a third rotation.
We give up and return to the hotel, but he will not accept defeat and pay hotel prices for beer and sets forth again. It’s been 10 hours since breakfast so I’m getting rather hungry. I decide to go for a swim to take my mind off the fact. Eventually, the old man returns and we have a romantic Valentine’s Day meal of bread, cheese spread and reconstituted ham. Then an early night as we have to be up at 6 am for our flight to Hanga Roa.
South America Day 38 – Easter Island
15th February 2019
Today, we’re flying 2350 miles west to Easter Island; a tiny dot in the South Pacific. Having an allergy makes me nervous or remote locations, so I’m not sure why I decided to fly to literally the most remote airport in the world.
It’s an early start as we head for the airport and attempt to check in for our flight. Easter Island belongs to Chile, so we proceed to the domestic departure gate, but are sent away and told to go to the second floor. The old man tells me I’ve misunderstood and we head to the other end of the hall to the international departure gate. Again, we’re sent to the second floor. Again, the old man tells me I’ve misunderstood.
After some dispute, we descend to the second floor, past a range of offices and storerooms and finally find the Easter Island departure area. We have to complete a detailed Easter Island arrival form and pass through immigration. We produce our Chilean departure cards, but are told to put them away until we leave Chile. We are then issued with identical cards to present for our non-departure from Chile. It’s all very confusing.
We board the plane; it’s a 787 with seat back TV screens showing English films – a moment of great excitement! So I spend the five hour flight watching Bohemian Rhapsody and eating the worst cheese sandwich ever. The bread has lumps in – lumps make me nervous as I worry the lumps might be nuts. So I take a tiny bite and wait to check I don’t react. The next thing I know, the old man has attempted to swipe the remains of my sandwich. He’s already sulking because I won’t let him order food for the woman sleeping next to him and eat it before she wakes up.
We arrive at Easter Island – the runway runs almost the entire width of the island and has cows and horses grazing either side. First, before we can even enter the terminal building, we have to pay our National Park entry fees of $80 each. It’s going to be an expensive few days.
Then, the other 298 passengers are picked up, greeted with flower garlands and taken to their hotels. The airport is locked up, leaving us standing alone in the car park.
We are not happy, and find a taxi to take us to our accommodation; Hostal Sunset. The landlady apologises for failing to collect us (says her friend told her the flight was delayed) and tries to put flowers round our necks in a typical Polynesian welcome, while the old man continues to rant about being abandoned and having to pay $10 for a taxi. He has a point; there’s only one flight a day and you can see/hear the plane land from virtually anywhere on the island.
Once checked in, we go for a walk round town. It’s very busy – tonight is the crowning of the island’s king and queen.
We get to see our first Moai statues, at Tahai; a group of five plus two individual statues on a cliff above the ocean.
Then we find a beachside shack for some dinner; Donde la Tia Sonia. I order shrimp and cheese empanadas. I appreciate that these are going to contain shrimp and cheese, but didn’t quite get my head round the fact that these are the only ingredients; an enormous blob of glutinous cheese and a few shrimps; cue chronic indigestion.
We walk along the coast and back through town, stopping at one of the island’s three Wifi hotspots to contact home.
After a brief interlude to watch the firework display, we retire ready for a full-on Moai onslaught in the morning. Easter Island is very expensive because almost everything (apart from fish and chicken) is imported from thousands of miles away. But they certainly didn’t skimp on the fireworks.
South America Day 39 – Easter Island
16th February 2019
We had a good night’s sleep, until 6.45, when the resident cockerels decide it’s dawn. Today, that’s fine because we haven’t adjusted to the time zone. Tomorrow, however I will probably hatch plans to murder cockerels.
We plan to hire the hostel car (the only car we can hire now we no longer have a credit card) to follow the ‘North East Circuit’. This takes the island’s only paved road past various archaeological sites, finishing at a beach. The weather forecast for today is hideous, but tomorrow an enormous cruise ship is due at this tiny island with minimal infrastructure, so we are torn between a storm and hordes of entitled pensioners. We side with the storm and set off in the little Jeep, bouncing along the road in search of the island’s main attractions.
First, the ancient settlement of Akahanga where we get caught in a torrential downpour.
Next, Tongariki; a spectacular row of 15 Moai on a clifftop.
Then, on to the quarry at Raraku where the stone for the Moai was carved. The site is littered with hundreds of rejected, half carved Moai – it’s quite a sight.
The road ends at the beach of Anakena, although it’s not exactly beach weather – the wind is fierce and it has rained intermittently all day. But we decide to go for a swim, separately, as we needed to bring our passports. The old man goes first. It starts to rain and he gets out.
I am already in my costume and determined to swim in the South Pacific. He takes the bags and we agree to meet at the car. I make it into the ocean just before the heavens open. After I’ve had a brief swim, I head to the car, but there is no sign of the old man. I stand, shivering in my wet costume for some time getting wetter and colder before finally locating him (and my clothes) – I am not happy. I head for the changing rooms, but they cost $1. I’m not prepared to pay $1 to put on my pants, so we drive back to town with me still in my swimwear.
Once showered and dressed, we set off in search of food. This is not as simple as it seems. Most restaurants are closed and we enter several restaurants which appear to be open, only to be told they’re closed. Next we try some supermarkets; one is closed, the other is open but doesn’t have much food – the shelves are fairly empty unless you include the cats.
In the evening we try again, it’s been 11 hours since breakfast so I’m hungry and grumpy. We find a restaurant at the third attempt – Te Moana. It’s rather expensive; a fish and chip platter costs £30, but it’s very good. We return via a shop for beer and biscuits.
South America Day 40 – Easter Island
17th February 2019
We wake up to to find out that the old man’s father has died. It’s not unexpected, but still sad news. Outside it’s still raining. It’s as if the heavens have decided to join the old man in his tears. A brief amusing interlude; the butter at breakfast has been modelled into a Moai.
We opt for a quiet day with a walk along the coast. We walk 8 miles in total, stopping first at the museum; Museo Rapanui to learn about the history of the island and its Moais.
Then on to Ana Kakenga; a cave in a lava tube with two ‘windows’ overlooking the ocean. The entrance is tiny. I may be descended from a long line of miners, but I don’t do enclosed spaces, so the old man goes in while I stay on the surface.
On the way back, it finally stops raining and we catch our first glimpse of the sun in days. We head into town to see what impact a ship with a capacity of 3800 has docking on an island with a population of 6700. The answer is none at all; the shops and restaurants are mostly closed and the cruisers have returned to their ship – apparently the water is so rough, most passengers opted not to come ashore. We find a shop which sells tuna empanadas and another which sells drinks and head home, followed by a very hopeful dog, to try and dry some of our ever increasing pile of wet clothes.
South America Day 41 – Easter Island
18th February 2019
It’s our final day on Easter Island and our first nice day. Until now, our time here had combined the worst weather of our trip with the worst accommodation; outside has been wet and windy and miserable while inside has been damp and mouldy and miserable. But today the sun is shining and we ‘borrow’ (£50) the landlady’s jeep for an outing.
We’re doing the South East circuit (basically, the runway runs almost the width of the island and the road circles the island in a figure of 8 around the runway).
Our first stop is Ana Kai Tanga – a cave with petroglyphs.
Next, we stop to take a walk along the rim of Rano Kau (a crater containing a reed covered lake)
Onwards to Orongo – a ceremonial village.
Then, Vinapu – some fallen Moai.
We continue to take a walk around Puna Pau – a quarry where Moai topknots were carved.
Next stop, Ahu Akivi – seven Moai facing the sea. These are the only statues facing the sea, the others all face inland.
And finally, Ana Te Pahu – a lava tube cave. Ana Te Pahu does not go well. We enter the cave, which goes on and on. I decide I’ve had enough and want to go back. The old man wants to go on and takes my iPhone as a torch. I’m left alone in the dark for longer than I can manage without a panic attack. He returns and suggests we continue as it’s interesting. I’m only interested in being above ground. There’s a difference of opinion about who should have the torch. Eventually I regain my torch and my composure.
In the afternoon we have a second attempt at the beach. This time conditions are perfect and we have a pleasant dip in the ocean.
We return to town, stopping en route (the old man is finding it difficult to drive as he’s accidentally put both legs through one leg hole of his pants).
On our fourth evening, we finally find the proper supermarket and buy some dinner. After we’ve eaten, we return to the shore to watch the sunset. It doesn’t happen; the sun disappears behind a huge bank of clouds instead. And that pretty much sums up our time in Easter Island, back to the forlorn Hostal Sunset to pack for our return to the mainland.
South America Day 42 – Easter Island to Santiago
19th February 2019
We awake to the inevitable sounds of rain and cockerels. It’s been an uneventful night, apart from the old man waking to find a cat on his chest. Today we are returning to civilisation. Although I have developed a cough and chest infection and am worried someone will notice and deny me boarding.
We check out of our hostel. The bill is quoted in dollars then converted to pesos at a very creative exchange rate. The old man stands his ground and eventually she backs down and agrees to use the official exchange rate.
It’s another long day of travelling; a five hour flight backwards through time zones, a bus, a tube and a walk along the riverside, finally reaching our apartment; Bellapart in Santiago at 8 pm.
It’s such a relief to be somewhere clean and dry, away from the smell of mould. We have Wifi, we have a balcony with views across the city to the Andes and the real highlight – a laundry. By tomorrow the smell of Hostal Sunset will be but a memory.
South America Day 43 – Santiago
20th February 2019
Today we’re sightseeing in Santiago. We’ve passed though it via underground three times but not surfaced yet. We start with a guided tour of the Palacio de la Moneda (the seat of the President) where we visit the ground floor; courtyards, the press room, state rooms and the chapel.
Then on to the main square; Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral, finishing at the hillside park of Cerro Santa Lucia.
At Cerro Santa Lucia, you can climb several hundred steps through various gardens to a turreted lookout, where we are confronted by the rather surreal scene of a family taking their cat on an outing, while a man plays the soundtrack to Grease on a harmonica.
The afternoon consists mainly of chores; I do 12 days worth of laundry while the old man gets a haircut and buys a new belt (following a rather embarrassing incident at airport security when his old one broke, causing him to accidentally drop his trousers). Then we have a quiet evening consisting of a swim in the apartment’s communal pool, followed by drinks on the balcony while the sun sets. It’s such a good view, going out seems superfluous.
South America Day 44 – Cerro San Cristóbal
21st February 2019
It’s our last day in Chile and we’re going to Cerro San Cristóbal; a park on a hill on the edge of the city reached by a funicular railway.
First, breakfast from the mini market over the road. The old man buys a cake tossed in a thick coating of icing sugar and coconut. He puts it into a bag, then picks the bag up by the wrong end. The cake falls, he executes a miraculous catch, saving the cake and covering the next lady in the queue in sugar and coconut.
After we’ve finished juggling/eating breakfast, we walk to the funicular which operates from its own castle and takes you 500m up the hill for great views over the city. You can then climb past a series of painted crosses to a 22 metre high statue of the Virgin Mary.
We descend the other side by cable car, then ascend on foot to the pretty Japanese Garden with more great views across the city, including the Costanera Centre – the tallest tower in Latin America. Then a 50 minute uphill scrabble to Antilen, for a view which probably didn’t warrant the effort in 30 degree heat.
We slip-slide our way back down the hill and head for the Costanera Centre, where you can take a lift to the top for ‘the best view in Latin America’. We lose interest when we realise they want £18 a ticket and walk to the (free) sculpture park instead.
Then we walk the final 2.5 miles back our apartment (not my idea) bringing the total time spent walking today to a good 4 hours. Then it’s an early night (assisted by today’s exertion) as we have a taxi to the airport booked for 3.30 am for our flight to Bolivia.
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