First taste of Chile

Trip Start Mar 17, 2008
Trip End Jun 08, 2008

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Flag of Chile  ,
Monday, April 7, 2008

... so we left Cypress In and BA for the last time and boarded our flight to Santiago and a new chapter (albeit short) in Chile. The approach to Santiago airport included about 15 mins flying over the Andes, a quite stunning spectacle in bright sunlight. At times the peaks felt like they would reach us at 10000m!

Chilean customs were very strict on the īno fruit, meat, dairy or poultryī front and GB had to empty her bag because when it was scanned they thought she was carrying some kind of round fruit, In fact it was her Tigi hair mousse, but we decided to laugh about it later given the police and sniffer dogs everywhere!!

We decided to get some cash out and found that the person before us had left their card in the machine with a message in Spanish saying, "do you need more time to make your decision". And yes, we did the right thing and handed the card in..... without helping ourselves to some free dosh.

We took the bus into town, hopped off and walked the three blocks to our street - except it was three blocks forward and about 15 blocks to the left, and away from downtown. Between us we were carrying about 42 kilos, it was hot and we were heading into increasingly unfriendly looking territory. Welcome to Chile. A 40 minute hike later and we both felt like proper backpackers for perhaps the first time - stiff shoulders, soaking wet tops and proper parched.

Our hostel was dreadful really, lovely family running it but a room with no windows, no air con, and a bathroom that looked like it hadnīt seen a cleaner this season all left us feeling rather flat.

Undeterred (itīs all part of the experience we reminded ourselves), we grabbed a cab and headed for the bus station as the next day we were hot-footing it back to Argentina to Mendoza and wanted to see about changing our 7am tickets. This proved impossible but at least we discovered where the bus would leave from!

Later we set off into the city centre, and managed to negotiate the underground - about 15p each for a single ticket - London Mayor (is it still Ken or has mad Boris got in?) take note please. We got off and promptly set off in the wrong direction (I was map reading again), but eventually the dwindling street lighting led us to the conclusion that this was not the "happening" Bellavista we were after!!

However, with GB in charge of directions (ironically), we found our way into Bellavista and happened across a series of fantastic terraces given over to artesenal shops, bars, outdoor artwork exhibitions and restaurants. We enjoyed our first Pisco sours which lived up to the name - and the hype, followed by a great dinner at one of the eateries.

Afterwards we took a cab back to our hostel and endured a night of rolling into the middle of the bed - it was so bad it was hilarious. Showers (with flip flops firmly in place) the following morning, a tasty breakfast of fresh water melon, fresh smoothie, fresh bread and hot milk with a splash of coffee (ugh) and we were in another cab heading for the bus station.

The Andesmar coach was pretty luxurious to be honest, we managed to get our bags in the loading area first - a move we thought smart at the time but would come to regret during the offloading scrum in Mendoza later.... and settled down to 8 hours crossing the Andes. All went well to begin with, the bright sunshine (later replaced by snow that actually came through the side door of the coach) cheered us, the scenery amazed us, the solitary cockroach appalled us and the random films they showed entertained us, until we got to the Chile/Argentina border crossing a couple of thousand meters up in the Andes. Probably one of the most inhospitable places Iīve ever seen, like a big bus depot, it was snowing as we entered - itīs the last place youīd want to be without all your correct paperwork, which is exactly what happened to the woman in front of us. We all got off the bus (t-shirt and flip flops at this point were a mistake it was bloody freezing up there), and waited in line while the Chileans allowed us out, and the Argentines allowed (all but one of) us in. Our hand baggage had to be presented for inspection, no more than a cursory glance in our case but the guy next to us had to invest a lot of time justifying bringing a fridge with him...! Some larger pieces of luggage were selected at random and scanned - not ours, and then we boarded again drove out the other side of Colditz into bright sunshine and stopped. We didnīt know at this point that this woman didnīt have all the paperwork - but an hour later GB sought the driver to find out what was going on. This poor woman was off loaded, with bags and from what we could gather, left there until another bus came to take her back to Chile.

Now more than an hour behind schedule (thank goodness we decided to stay in Mendoza tonight) we set off again with lots of people moaning about missing connections. The last 3 hours were far less eventful, and by the end we both had numb cheeks despite the leather recliners, and were glad to get off in the late evening sun of Mendoza. Off loading the baggage was hilarious - instead of standing in line with their luggage tags people just started shouting at this poor bloke whose job it was to locate everything in what was a fairly restricted space. We tipped him about 25p for finding our bags right over the far side of the luggage area, and were pleased to have arrived in one piece with all our gear.

We set off from the bus station for the short walk to our hostel (again managing not to follow the instructions weīd been given - but hey itīs all part of the fun), and arrived at Hostel Lao - an oasis of welcoming calm after the grot of Hostal Santiago and the excitement of our first cross-border bus journey.

Allocated to a double room in the pool house with a shared bathroom, we were chuffed to bits that this last minute panic selection seemed to have paid off. And once the lone mozzie in our room had been terminated we could start to relax - and think about wine, after all weīre in the wine capital of Argentina now.....
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