Pucon to Zapallar

Trip Start Jan 06, 2008
Trip End Mar 31, 2008

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Flag of Chile  ,
Monday, January 14, 2008

Yesterday we drove from Pucon in the south of Chile to Zapallar on the Pacific coast, west of Santiago. If our first impression of Pucon was of the English Lake District then Zapallar is Carmel in California. We arrived as the fog rolled in from the ocean, just as it does in Carmel most days.
The drive itself was easy, if prolonged. The odometer showed we had driven 948 km in just over 9 hours. This is a tribute to the great highways in Chile - they are at least as good as the US interstate system if not better in places. This is not Mexico even if they do speak Spanish.
Having traversed a good portion (if by no means all) of the country I feel ready to give my first impressions.

First - tolls - the good roads are paid for by tolls. Consequently they are mostly empty. Every 50 miles or so you have to pay about 3 dollars - it mounts up. As a warning to US and Canadian visitors, there is also a 'toll' for them when they enter the country. It is a $100 for US and $45 for Canadians ($35 for Australians and $15 for Mexicans). However, everyone else gets in free. Happy were the Myers as they waved their British passports through immigration. Brazil also charges US citizens $100 to enter. As we are going there as well we will save $400 by using our British passports instead of our US ones. Purely a commercial decision!!

Second - flowers - they are everywhere, seemingly growing wild. Fuchsias, hydrangeas, bougainvillea, and of course flowers we have never seen before. In Zapallar there are literally cascades of geraniums down the cliffs to the beach.

Third - mountains - as we drove north from Pucon the Andes were constantly to our right, often rising to great heights and seeming very close.  The tops were covered in snow and glistened in the sun.  Chile has a geographical profile much like California, with coastal mountains, a central plain and then the Andes. Like California the central plain is a prolific agricultural producer with every kind of fruit and vegetable plus, of course, extensive vineyards. Wines we have sampled so far (I'm the red guy and Joan is the white) are two Sauvignon Blanc and two Carmerere  (Santa Rita and Concha y Torro), mine were very good and Joan enjoyed hers as well.

Fourth - bicyclists - they are everywhere. Many people use bicycles as their main mode of transport (there are many poor people here) but there are also lots of keen road bikers complete with safety helmets and total riding gear, just like me in fact when I'm out on my bike.  There is also a triathlon taking place in February which could explain the extra cyclists.

Fifth - beauty - this country is beautiful. We took a 3 hour walk along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There is a pathway/promenade (called La Rambla) along the coast which seemingly goes for ever. This is no casual affair but has carefully constructed steps, fences, and ramps. The climate here on the coast is perfect (except for the fog), warm but no need for air conditioning. Many rich Santiagans have built beautiful summer homes here to escape the heat of Santiago. There must be some English blood in them as their gardens are full of flowers and very meticulously maintained.

We visited a nature reserve today, where we saw Humboldt penguins in their natural state for the first time in our lives. We were quite excited. They are on a small island less than 100 metres from the shore. No one is allowed on the island but you can observe from la Rambla easily, and with help of good lenses capture good photos and videos.

Sixth - Birds. There are varieties of birds which we have never seen before.  Perhaps they exist in North America but they seem much more accessible here.
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