27 degrees but still Chile

Trip Start Sep 02, 2008
Trip End Dec 14, 2008

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Flag of Chile  ,
Friday, September 19, 2008

Yes, the Chile gag was unavoidable and just as predictable was that fact we actually really like Santiago in spite of numerous negative reports we'd had.
We were made to wait a good 4 hours at the Argentina - Chile border, annoyingly just 200 yards or so from a ski field in Chile which looked a damn site more enticing than sitting on the coach. However we had enjoyed a smooth, steady climb into the Andes, past the snow line and managed to get through customs/immigration unscathed. We'd been warned that the road on the Chile side was much less intact and dropped unnervingly with a succession of tight zig zags and u-turns. To be fair to the coach company though they could sense the tension and put on a movie to distract us....Flight 93...yes nothing like a real-life disaster movie to stop your mind playing tricks on you. Genius.

Our first impressions of Chile as we left the mountains were that it was fantastically green and verdant compared to Argentina, and that everyone loves kites - they are sold on every street corner, and flying them seems to be the main entertainment of everyone, young or old, in the quiet moments after work and before dinner!

Anyway, our next challenge once off the bus, was to navigate the metro system and anyone familiar with foreign underground systems won't be surprised to learn that Santiago's (unlike the tube) is clean, quick and easy to get the hang of. As a result we reached our hostel without any problems, right in the heart of Santiago at Plaza de Armes. The hostel wasn't all that flash but had a great view of the plaza, 6 storey's up and a perfect vantage point to see all the activity going on in the build up to Chile Independence Day on Sept 18th.
You may think England is pretty bad with all the St George's Cross' hanging out of windows across the country but Chile must take the prize for the biggest flag waving country we've been to for a while. Most homes have a flag, and at most major traffic light junctions there's at least a couple of people selling more flags ...and the aforementioned kites, Spiderman designs seemingly the most popular.

Santiago was a really pretty city, at least compared to BuenosAires - much greener and surrounded by an amazing backdrop of snowy mountains, if you can see them through the smog! Also the locals spend their week nights dancing in the square, and we got a particularly good view of some traditional dancing (think Morris dancing with hankies instead of the sticks) much more fun than Tango!
So we're starting to move on a bit quicker now and left Santiago for Valparaiso the following day (according to the Lonely Planet, one of the best 5 cities in South America), but although it's a pretty cool place it's not much more than a poor man's Wellington (slightly biased view possibly) -- It's main attraction are the multi coloured houses perched on the side of steep hills, and the higher parts of the town (accessed by Ascendors - quite like Lisbon for anyone that's been there) are intriguing and pretty to walk around. Trouble is the lower parts are quite skanky and full of shady characters which kind of detracts from the whole ambience of the place. Still one man's skanky is another man's bohemia so horses for courses I suppose.

After one night in Valparaiso, we took a bus north to La Serena to enjoy Independence Day on the beach - the beach however turned out to be further from the town (20 mins walk) than advertised and the Chile day celebrations were somewhat quieter than we'd imagined (i.e. non-existent or possibly all happening in the bosom of people's families rather than on the streets to entertain us poor travellers!). We also found ourselves in a B&B rather than a hostel, thanks to some misguided recommendations we took at face value...all part of the learning process though, suffice to say we won't be listening to any American students and we'll be trying to avoid staying in any German run accommodation in future. To be fair to the Germans, in general they seem to have no difficulty speaking in either German, English or Spanish however my gripe is that they insist on doing it a good number of decibels higher than what is normally considered reasonable. 
On a positive note, La Serena is a pleasant town, with many old interesting-looking churches and a weirdly english-looking centre - we kept expecting to turn the corner and see a WHSmith or Boots - oh, and the biggest supermarket we've seen so far - Jen got quite excited!!  

Onwards and in our case upwards, we have a no doubt pleasant 16 hour journey north ahead of us ...and no Royal Suite max, just the semi-cama for us (think economy class rather than first class!) but hopefully we'll reach our destination - San Pedro de Atacama in no time, where we'll be visiting the driest desert on Earth apparently which are home to a particular hardy breed of Penguins...yes not just pointless rambles on our transport adventures, some cold hard (although admittedly vague) facts the discovery channel would be proud of! BBC watch for Bolivia turned out not to be required as the horses mouth came to us, we managed to have a quiet word with Evo Morales when he was in Santiago for crisis talks with all the South American Presidents and he's assured us that Bolivia will be fine to travel in ("No tiene un problema" he said)...particularly the Salt Flats tour which was billed as a LP highlight...let's hope so for the sake of the budget if nothing else.
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