Pelicans and legs akimbo

Trip Start Aug 30, 2009
Trip End Mar 01, 2010

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Where I stayed
Here and down in Valparaiso

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Monday, November 9, 2009


"Have you sorted out the accommodation for Chile yet?" asked Nadine from the sitting room in the apartment in Buenos Aires. "Of course I have, replied Duncan from the bedroom where he was messing around with Facebook on Nadine's teeny tiny laptop. He scrabbled frantically to open some new windows as Nadine stomped down the corridor towards the bedroom and quickly clicked through the screens on the Starwood Preferred Guest website, booking them a night in the Sheraton in Santiago.

Chapter 1: A close shave

Nadine and Duncan arrived early at Buenos Aires airport after their last night out in the city to try and secure some exit seats on the aeroplane so they could stretch their legs after having been cramped up into various rubbish Aerolineas Argentinas aeroplanes for their previous trips to Calafate and Iguazu.

"Can you see our flight on the departures screen?" asked Duncan as he fumbled around in his rucksack for his electric shaver. "Mmm" replied Nadine, moving towards the queue for their check-in desk and largely ignoring Duncan, who still looked a little bewildered from the previous evening and was currently trying to shave in the middle of the airport. Happily, the pair achieved their aim of exit seats and shuffled off through security towards Chile.

After an uneventful flight, Nadine and Duncan alighted on Chilean soil, fresh and ready for their next adventure. They decided on a reputable taxi company and took a shuttle bus to the Sheraton in Santiago. The hotel turned out to be one of the nicer Sheraton complexes they'd stayed in and they both decided they were going to treat themselves to a full English breakfast and dip in the outdoor pool the very next day. Having just arrived from tropical climes, they had an augmented laundry requirement and so headed off on foot towards the city centre after having had a quick scout around the hotel. As these were the last of the Sheraton points, the pair needed to find some alternative accommodation for the following night in Santiago and were intending to do this after dropping off the laundry. After having tried to fit the laundry into a number of carrier bags, they decided to take Nadine’s rucksack instead (see photo) and took with them a number of addresses copied from

“That will be 8,000 pesos please” said the lady in the launderette to Duncan as he emptied out the contents of Nadine’s rucksack onto the floor of the launderette. Nadine quickly did some maths in her head and turned to Duncan looking alarmed, “Oh my god that’s about £50!” she shrieked. “Calm down dear” replied Duncan, his piercing green eyes reflecting the laundry spinning in the machines, “actually it’s nearer £8 at current exchange rates and that’s literally all of our clothes I just handed over”. “You’re right of course” replied Nadine, placated, and the duo left to go hostel hunting.

Duncan strode purposefully down San Antonio toward Plaza de Armes in search of their next hostel, Nadine in tow. “What’s a Jacuzzi room do you think?” asked Nadine as they walked past a hotel price list on the main road. “One with a Jacuzzi in it I would think” replied Duncan and turned toward where Nadine was looking. “Actually those prices look pretty cheap for a hotel, let’s have a quick look at their rooms” he added. They were shown a double room by a friendly maid. “Can we please see a Jacuzzi room?” asked Nadine and the three of them crammed into a very small lift up to the third floor. “Ah I see” commented Duncan on entering the Jacuzzi room “it appears to be the same as the other room but with a Jacuzzi in it”.

After a couple of further hostel inspections, the couple decided on CasAltura, a recently refurbished 'boutique hostel’, which in fact was much nicer than many of the hotels they had seen (but this was of course reflected in the price; $50 USD a night, expensive by hostel standards). They agreed to move over their rucksacks the next day after checking out of the Sheraton.

Nadine awoke the next morning and tugged open the curtains to reveal bright sunshine over the hotel pool. “I wonder what the conference is that all those people with name tags on are attending” she called over to Duncan, who was rubbing sleep from his eyes. “No idea” he replied, and started getting out of the extremely comfy bed. He rummaged in his flannel bag for his razer to rectify the incomplete shaving job achieved the previous day at Buenos Aires airport. “Have you seen my shaver?” he asked Nadine. “No I haven’t, have you checked your hand baggage? You might have taken it onto the airplane with you” she suggested. “No I didn’t” replied Duncan, “I definitely put it back into my hold luggage, into the compartment at the top of the bag, you know, the one that you can’t lock”. He paused, slowly realizing what might have happened to the shaver. “It would appear a baggage handler has pilfered my shaver en route to Chile”. “Oh dear” sighed Nadine, looking at Duncan’s lopsided stubble: the result of the mid-airport shaving incident.

Chapter 2: Full English

“Putting beards aside for a moment” said Nadine “let’s go and jump into the pool while there’s no-one about and then we can get the big breakfast before heading out for another exciting day in Santiago”. “Good idea”, agreed Duncan and so the two headed downstairs to the outdoor pool.

Observing the many suited individuals sitting in shady spots around the pool Duncan turned to Nadine who was wearing a bikini and lying stretched out on a sun lounger, “it makes this holiday all the more enjoyable when I see other people around me working”. “How do you know those people are working?” replied Nadine with her eyes still closed. “Well they’re all wearing black suits and ties with name tags so I think it’s a fairly safe assumption” said Duncan, and wandered off to trail his toes in the freezing cold pool.

“This water’s freezing I don’t think either of us is going to go for a swim” remarked Nadine after joining Duncan on the edge of the water. “OK well let’s go and find some breakfast then” suggested Duncan, and the pair headed off to one of the many restaurants in the complex.

“Two American breakfasts please”, Nadine asked the waiter as he approached their table. “I’m sorry Madam, this restaurant closed at 11am” replied the waiter, “but you can still get breakfast over at the lobby restaurant”. On the verge of protesting, the couple instead decided to head over to the other restaurant and find some breakfast as by this time they were both rather hungry.

“Two American breakfasts please” Duncan asked the waiter after they had relocated to a table barely twenty feet away from the last restaurant. “I’m sorry sir, we stopped serving breakfast at 11am” replied the waiter. “Yes your colleague informed us of that” said Duncan, “and he also told us we could get breakfast at this restaurant”. “Well if you give me each individual item you would like in your breakfast I could put it together for you” suggested the waiter, “No, I just want the American breakfast that’s on the menu” replied Duncan, starting to get agitated. “If we pay for the individual items it will be ridiculously expensive”. “You are correct” agreed the waiter “but we’re not serving breakfast anymore; it’s a breakfast buffet and it was cleared away at 11am”. “Right well can we just have some coffee then please and we’ll go somewhere else to get breakfast” said Duncan, vowing to take everything he could carry from the hotel room and knock over some plants on the way out in protest.

The intrepid duo checked out a little later and went out to the front of the hotel to get a taxi to their hostel in the centre of the city. “Taxi?” asked the porter, who for some reason was wearing a series of gold rope chains that it looked like he’d removed from a church. “Yes please” replied Nadine, and the porter signalled a smart black sedan from a line of limousines down the hill. “Er, does that taxi have a meter?” asked Nadine; the porter shook his head and performed a complicated series of gestures following which the black sedan retreated, a battered yellow taxi appeared and the pair jumped in.

“CasAltora please, on the corner of San Antonio” said Duncan to the taxi driver in his slightly improved Spanish. “Right you are” replied the taxi driver, or words to that effect, Duncan assumed.

The pair were greeted in their hostel by the same jolly fat man who had shown them around the previous day and they started filling out the realms of paperwork necessary to secure a hotel room in any South American country.

“So if I could just photocopy your passports then we’re all done” asked the rotund gentleman, and Duncan reached into his bag to locate the passports. “Oh dear I appear to have left our passports, credit cards and phone at the hotel” said Duncan, calmly*. He ran downstairs and jumped into the next taxi that went past. After some initial confusion he managed to convey that he would like the taxi driver to take him over to the Sheraton and wait outside whilst he ran upstairs to the safe in their room and retrieved the goods.

* This is a lie, he was actually swearing profusely at the poor fellow.

Luckily, Duncan had retained the key to their room after an earlier experience where they found it useful to be able to return to hotel facilities after check out (a trick used at the Sheraton rooftop spa in Quito) and so on arrival at the hotel he jumped out and went straight to their room. He keyed in the safe code and the door sprung open to reveal all their valuables, still in place. He returned to the hostel and completed check in while Nadine sat on the roof terrace in the sun, oblivious to the crisis that had just been averted.

Chapter 3: Santiago centre

After a bracing cold shower the following morning (the hostel renovations hadn’t it appeared extended to the boiler), Nadine and Duncan settled themselves on the roof of their hostel with Nadine’s teeny tiny laptop to do some internetting. Whilst Nadine was powdering her nose, Duncan called the Concha y Torro vineyard (who produce Casillero del Diablo) and successfully booked them in for a tour the following day. This was the pinnacle of Duncan’s Spanish expertise and he is likely to refer to this moment for years to come. On Nadine’s return, she retrieved her laptop and hid away inside one of the German beach shelters that were randomly placed on the roof terrace (this is the large basket thing in the photo). After some more internetting, the pair decided to attempt to place a call to Duncan’s parents via Skype, a feat that had hitherto failed due mainly to time differences. On this occasion however the call was answered and Gail and John both grabbed a telephone in Somerset whilst Nadine and Duncan shared an earpiece in Chile. The conversation centred largely around how impressive it was that Duncan had booked a vineyard tour entirely in Spanish and when the subject moved onto other matters Duncan lost interest and wandered off to an important business meeting.

Telephone call completed, Duncan and Nadine set off into the city centre on a walking tour from the Lonely Planet. “Well I have to say that so far Santiago isn’t a particularly exciting city” complained Nadine. Duncan nodded his agreement. “It’s a pleasant enough place but there’s nothing to set it apart from any of the other cities we’ve visited. It all seems a bit clean and controlled – there’s no edge to it like Quito or Lima and no cosmopolitan feel like Buenos Aires” lectured Duncan to no one in particular. By this time Nadine had wandered off to look at a beautiful wedding clock (see photo) which she promptly ordered online as a wedding gift for Lisa and Sean.

It was at this point that two armoured vehicles pulled up beside the couple and riot police piled out onto the street. The vehicles joined another three that were already on the road and moved towards the main shopping street to block in a protest that was taking place. The main feature of the arsenal was a tank-like vehicle with what looked like a huge water pistol mounted on top. As this pistol swung towards Duncan and Nadine and a chap started barking orders over a megaphone, Nadine dragged Duncan away who was of course frantically taking photos of the riot police. The pair moved down a side street where shop-owners were nervously peering through shuttered windows to see when it was safe to roll the shutters away and consequently never saw the outcome of the protest. It did add a little excitement to an otherwise fairly nondescript city but nonetheless the pair decided to take a trip down to the coast to a place recommended by a number of other backpackers: Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.

Chapter 4: Vineyards

The alarm went off at 7.30am the next day and Nadine jumped out of bed to go and get the breakfast included in their hostel rate. Duncan joined her shortly and they sat down to a breakfast greatly improved on the previous washout at the Sheraton. They successfully left the hostel on time and made their way to the Metro. The city of Santiago is actually in the middle of the main wine producing regions of Chile and so it’s possible to get to this particular vineyard on the city Metro. The pair made it to the vineyard with half an hour to spare and were greeted at the gate by some friendly staff.

“Which tour would you like?” asked the lady at the gate. “We have the basic option which includes a tour of the winery and a limited tasting session afterwards with two of Concha y Torro’s most popular wines. Then we have the exclusive version which is exactly the same but the tasting session includes a professional sommelier who guides you through four of our exclusive wine ranges and instructs on wine tasting technique. This tour also includes cheese as part of the wine-tasting”. Duncan turned to Nadine, “so which tour do you want to do?”, but Nadine was already imagining herself eating the cheese and so it was agreed that they would take the expensive tour and get the cheese.

After the tour and tasting was complete, the pair sat down at a table outside with one of a large group of people to enjoy their cheese. The fellow sitting opposite had a huge beard and maniacal grin and he was wearing a name tag that matched the ones the couple had seen in the Sheraton the previous day. After some small talk with the chap it turned out that he was a tour operator by trade and was escorting 200 of these conference guests around some sights in their free time. “So what’s the conference?” asked Duncan while Nadine was ordering some food. “It’s a Jehovah’s witness conference” replied the tour guide, “they have so many people meeting here that they have filled the two major football stadiums in Santiago”. “Jesus Christ” said Duncan and turned back to his cheese.

Chapter 5: Parcel Force

Whilst packing, Nadine realised that she had now accumulated too much stuff to fit in her rucksack anymore and there was no longer an overflow option into Duncan’s larger rucksack as this was also now full. The clever pair thus decided to send a load of stuff back to Duncan’s parents’ house to join the bits and pieces left there after the wedding. They sorted out all the non-essential things to send back and put them into a box Duncan had picked up from the side of the road. The contents included: an A4 ring-bound booklet of sample wedding photos; Spanish grammar exercise books; various electrical cables and instruction manuals that came with all the goods that Ben had brought over to Argentina; 3 paintings; the old camera; DVDs of photos taken in Argentina; Christmas presents for the Coleshills.

En route to Valparaiso, they stopped off at the Chilean post office in the centre of Santiago. Duncan took the box with him to queue whilst Nadine looked after the rucksacks. A short wait later, Duncan got to the front of the queue, ready to try out his much acclaimed Spanish.

“I’d like to send this to Inglaterra” Duncan said to the lady behind the counter in Spanish. “No problem” she responded, or so Duncan assumed. “Is it going to very expensive or just expensive?” he managed to ask and she replied “how much do you think?”. After a few minutes of translating the sentence in his head Duncan responded “forty thousand pesos perhaps?”. After the lady had perused the contents of his box (much bemused by the three paintings of cats) she weighed the box and said a number to Duncan which he didn’t understand. After some furious typing on her part, twenty thousand pesos flashed up on the till, Duncan breathed a sigh of relief and handed over his credit card.

“Now all you need to do is sign here and we’re all done” said the lady handing Duncan a sheaf of papers. Ten signatures later (and a detailed summary of the contents and value of the parcel) Duncan left the post office satisfied. Nadine was reading her book on the floor in the middle of the post office and the two left for the bus station.

Chapter 6: On the beach

Valparaiso is a coastal town in Chile, touted as the cultural capital of Chile. After their experiences in Santiago, Duncan and Nadine were looking forward to some entertainment in Valparaiso and so stepped off the bus late in the afternoon with some enthusiasm.

They made their way out of the bus station and into streets lined with rubbish and smelling of urine. Stray dogs followed them down the road and tramps called out as they walked past with their big rucksacks on.

The Lonely Planet had a recommended bed and breakfast just around the corner and so they headed there with some haste. They rang the doorbell and were welcomed into an oasis amongst the squalor they had so far experienced. “Do you have any rooms for tonight please?” asked Nadine, a slight look of desperation in her face. “We have a double available tomorrow but nothing for tonight I’m afraid” replied the friendly landlady. “Could you recommend us anywhere else for tonight?” asked Duncan and they were pointed just across the road to Muriel’s house. Duncan took one look at the bedroom in Muriel’s house and suggested they check elsewhere before committing...

Half an hour’s walk later they were getting desperate. Weighed down with rucksacks and pursued by tramps the journey was less fun than imagined and so they decided to lighten the mood by having an argument in the middle of the main square. Duncan had espied a bright orange hotel lit up on the hill a little while ago and by this time neither was particularly concerned by cost and so they agreed to head toward the orange hotel. The only problem was now how to get to the hotel; it was perched on the edge of a steep cliff and there was no obvious route up. It was at this point that a small friendly looking chap accosted Duncan: “do you need a hostel?” he asked. Duncan decided this was probably a good moment to throw caution to the winds as far as communicating with touts on the street went and followed the chatty man down the road to his hostel. “Doesn’t your wife speak any Spanish?” he asked Duncan. In actual fact Nadine speaks much better Spanish than Duncan but was so annoyed with him at this point in time that she wasn’t talking so Duncan told the man she didn’t. He introduced himself as Jorges and the trio headed across the square to his hostel for a look see. Jorges led Nadine and Duncan into a funicular which looked as if somebody had simply mounted their garden shed on some rails and they headed up the cliff edge. “So this is how you get up to the top” remarked Nadine.

“So how are you finding Valparaiso?” asked Jorges and Duncan in typical British fashion responded that they were having a lovely time so far. “So you didn’t notice the rubbish men are striking then?” asked Jorges, surprised. It turns out that the general election was due to take place a fortnight from now and this is when any and every union chose to stage protests to attempt to get agreements in place from the winning party. This week was the turn of the rubbish collectors and hence the city was covered in rubbish until they got their 2% pay rise.

Having disembarked the funicular at the top of the cliff, the trio headed past a rather nice looking restaurant overlooking the docks. “That’s a very expensive restaurant” said Jorges, “I can recommend you some cheaper options when we get to the hostel”. After a couple of minutes brisk walk they arrived at a house down a side alleyway. There was no hostel sign to be seen but Jorges opened the front door and let them in. The room on offer was in fact very nice and the price was good so the intrepid duo removed their rucksacks and slumped into the bed. Disregarding Jorges’ advice from earlier in the evening they headed straight back to the expensive restaurant and had an excellent meal; Nadine ate squid lasagne and Duncan had fresh ravioli filled with crab and prawn. Delicious.

“Do you actually know where Budget lives” asked Nadine over breakfast the next morning. “Well I checked with him on Facebook and he sent me some directions” replied Duncan. “Would you mind if i had a quick look?” asked Nadine, innocently. “Sure” said Duncan, handing over the laptop.

“They’re a bit vague” said Nadine after inspection. “All he’s written is get a train from the airport to circular quay and then take a ferry to Manly. Do you know his address?”. Duncan considered this as he chewed his scrambled egg. “No” he admitted eventually and wrote another email to Budget asking for directions, this time copying Nic. Within a day a step by step guide of how to reach the Budget \ Nic residence in Manly was sent over by Nic and Nadine was happy again.

The activity planned for this day was a trip on the 612 bus, a tour recommended by Jorges. Basically, the 612 bus takes the same route as the tour buses over to Vina del Mar but is a public bus so much cheaper. Having enjoyed some spectacular views as the bus drove over the cliffs toward Vina del Mar the intrepid duo found themselves in the lovely seaside resort of Vina del Mar. They followed the promenade along to a sandy beach, past a huge number of pelicans perched on the shoreline.

“I once stroked a pelican on the head and it nuzzled against my knee” said Duncan. “Yes I know” responded Nadine, “it was on your Cyprus holiday with Vic”. “Yes indeed it was” said Duncan, “how did you know?”. “Because you tell that story every time you see a pelican” replied Nadine. This however didn’t dampen Duncan’s enthusiasm and he proceeded to take about ninety photos of the pelicans in various positions.

“I fancy a Starbucks” yelled Nadine suddenly, jerking her head violently from side to side. “Calm down dear” said Duncan and led her over the road into Starbucks for a frappucino. Nadine ran through the cafe and installed herself on a table out the front with a view of the beach as Duncan queued for overpriced coffee. After some confusion with the baristas over wifi, Nadine connected Teeny Tiny to the world wide web and proceeded to do some surfing. First on the list was a long distance call to the other olds and so when Duncan returned with coffee, Nadine was nattering to Mummy Scholz (nee Müller). Duncan wasn’t entirely sure about what they might have been discussing but the call ended as usual with him being told off for not looking after Nadine properly and so all was well in Deutschland.

“I’m getting tired of all these men whistling at me when I walk past” complained Nadine. “I can’t go anywhere without somebody whistling or saying hello beautiful”. “I’d take it as a compliment if I were you” replied Duncan. “I’m not sure anyone’s ever whistled at me”. “Well I don’t like it” stormed Nadine, and stomped off to the toilet. While she was on the toilet a busload of schoolgirls drove past Duncan and many of them were taking photos of something behind him and shouting. He enjoyed the rest of his coffee and on Nadine’s return they headed towards the beach to sunbathe.

En route, two busloads of schoolgirls shouted and cheered as the pair walked past, all brandishing cameras aimed distinctly at them. “My god that’s aimed at me” said Duncan incredulously, and continued the walk to the beach with a more pronounced swagger than normal, completing the look by cocking his cap at a jaunty angle.

On return to Valparaiso that evening, the pair enjoyed a final meal at their favourite restaurant and packed ready to set off for Santiago airport the following day. The next flight was an eighteen hour flight to Australia and so the plan was to arrive six hours early at the airport to be sure of getting an exit seat with additional legroom (South American airlines only release emergency seating at the airport itself, it’s not possible to book this online).

They arrived six hours early at the airport as planned; too early, as they found out, to check in. They spent a happy two hours at the all you can eat buffet and then checked in successfully, obtaining the precious exit aisle seats. Once through security, Nadine enjoyed a manicure and pedicure and Duncan enjoyed a massage and beer (not simultaneous). Pampering and drinking completed, the pair headed to Oz.

Author’s note

I said previously I wouldn’t write another one of these extremely time-consuming blog entries but was forced to do another one by my lovely wife and also pressure from you lot. So here you go. Congratulations for making it to the end! I wonder who will be writing the Sydney blog….
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