Our Last Days in South America- Vina del Mar and Santiago

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The last pisco sours have been had; good-bye South America…

So the bus from San Pedro to Vina del Mar was our longest yet- 23 hours! We got on at San Pedro at 1pm and got off 12.30pm the next day. We went ‘cama’ (wider, more comfy seats) so it wasn’t as brutal as it sounds. Plus I got my second Christmas build up surprise from Hedd- the ‘Love Actually’ film on the iPod. So I got to watch that on the way which made me feel very Christmasy! However I had a nasty surprise when I collected my bag from the storage part of the bus. It was slightly damp and smelt like urine! Absolutely disgusting and definitely an example of the darker underside backpacking. Luckily the backpack cover bag that my backpack was in got the worst of it. Needless to say, the first thing I did when I got to our hostel was to wash the cover bag and empty my backpack and wash down the outside, then bleach dry it in the sun! Yuk yuk yuk! The hostel we stayed in was called ‘Little Castle’ and was in the Cerro Castillo area of the seaside city, up on the headland so we had a good view over the city centre. The hostel reminded me of university hall crossed with a rickety old London flat! Felt really comfortable and the owner Patricio was lovely. So Vina del Mar is where the city folk from Santiago come on holiday. The city wraps itself between 2 headlands and has a lovely beach and promenade. So the first afternoon we were there we of course headed to the beach. We strolled along the promenade lined with little stalls selling bits and bobs and settled ourselves on the very clean sandy beach to watch the waves. Now these waves were huge and broke and swelled really close into shore. Surfers actually stood on the sand and when they wanted to ride the wave, ran into the sea and jumped on their boards on the way; the waves were that close. We watched the sun go down whilst eating delicious ice cream on the sea front terrace of ‘Enjoy del Mar’ restaurant….very nice.

Tuesday was our first and only full day in Vina del Mar and we started off early walking along the main drag called Valpariso Street, to the main place- Plaza Jose Francisco Vergara, which had lots of native plants and trees planted within it. We then headed to Museo de Arqueologia e Historia Francisco Fonck which for 2000 pesos we got to browse exhibitions on Chilean early history and about Easter Island. And it was in English and Spanish so we could read all the information boards and know what we were looking at! The Easter Island exhibition was the best, and it was interesting to read that it is still a mystery how the Rapa Nui people got to the island. There has been no remains found of early man on the island so that means man must have sailed there later on. Chileans dismiss that Rapa Nui people sailed over from Indonesians and instead advocate that it was people from Northern Chile that sailed the un-navigational seas to the Island. However the Indonesians is the most likely! I also didn’t know that the infamous Easter Island stone men- Moari’s- started off really small but grew in size t0 22 meters tall as the Rapa Nui elders tried to hold on to their spiritual traditions in the face of greater dilution with more visitors coming to the island from Europe and the South American continent, carving the Moari’s larger and larger (as you can see in the pic). After the museum we checked out the local market which is in the now dried up river bed which ‘flows’ through the city. We picked up some über inexpensive beach towels in prep for our 10 days on the beach in Fiji…mine is extremely grown up with multiple colourful cartoon zoo animals on it, hmmm! After a siesta, we made vegetable fajitas for dinner and then headed to the beach again for sun set. Our bus to Santiago on Wednesday didn’t go until 1pm, so in the morning we took a last stroll along the promenade going from headland to headland. And on the way we found a free outdoor gym, with a rowing machine! So I got a bit of training in whilst admiring the seaside view…Duncan (my coach in Chester) will be proud!

So we made it to Santiago okay after only a 1hr 1/2 bus ride, which made a very welcome change from our 23 hour bus ride only a few days previous! We caught a taxi (5,000 pesos, but could get one for around 3,000 if you walked a bit away from the bus terminal) to our Hostel called Princess Insolenta in the Brazil district of the city. Brazil is a bohemian, studenty area of the city and has lots of colonial type buildings. Quite pretty in fact. Our hostel is super funky and very music centred with travellers strumming their guitars in the shared courtyard…gave the place a really nice atmosphere. We (well me mainly!) had collected a few presents and souvenirs on our 2 months around South America which were making our backpacks bulge, so we headed to the post office to send a few parcels home. The post office was packed! Everyone doing their last-minute Christmas card sending and there was a band outside playing Christmas tunes, which eased the long wait in the que. Luckily we were eventually served by a very efficient yet patient women who kindly guided us through the various custom forms and coped with our sheer lack of Spanish! Fingers crossed the parcels will make their way to their recipients in one piece sometime in 2012! We picked up some ingredients on the 40 minute walk back to our hostel and I rustled us up a good old spag bol for tea, with a glass or 2 of vino blanco to help with the cooking! Yesterday was our only full day in Santiago, but my gosh did we make the most of it! It was an early-ish start to get to the centre of Santiago (30 minute walk) on time for the start of a free walking tour with the ‘Spicy Chile’ company at 10am. The tour started at the Palacio de la Moneda which is Chile’s equivalent to the White House as it is where the President lives/works. We got there in time for the changing of the guards. This is a very elaborate affair which happens every other day. A whole heap of soldiers in their event uniform march across Avenue Libertador towards the Palace and there are soldiers on horseback in front and then a full army brass band behind. When they stopped at the back yard of the Palace (this was all open-no high gates or anything) the band then played Jingle Bells! So so Christmasy, it was lovely! Our tour guide was called Dani, and she was in her final term of studying Acting at uni. She knew her stuff and could answer all our questions. So a bit about Chile’s (scarily) recent history. In the 70’s a well-loved Communist President called Salvador Allende Crossens was overthrown by the leader of the army called General Augusto Pinochet who ran the country as a Dictatorship. For around 18 years the country was under this dictator and during this time human rights were squashed, there were frequent tortures and lots of people ‘disappeared’. The authorities are still finding the mass graves now- not nice. In 1989 the people revolted and the dictator killed himself. The people of Chile are politically passionate as a result and as Dani explained the history to us in front of the army display in the Palace’s back yard 2 local men pointed at the army and shouted at us “killers of the people”. In the 1990’s Thursdays were when the weekly protests took place. This isn’t so much the case now, but when we did see a protest on our walking tour when we stopped for a cuppa. It was a workers protest of factory staff of big multinationals such as Adidas and Loreal, protesting against the low minimum wage (200,000 pesos a month) and the big gap between those on the lowest and those on the highest wages in the company. Fair play I say, I wouldn’t be able to live on £250 a month!

From La Moneda Palace we walked towards Plaza de Armas and popped into the big catholic cathedral there. It was very ornate inside without being Gordy, and they had a fab nativity scene on display too which the photo opposite shows. Then it was onto the Parque Forestal area which is like Santiago’s equivalent of Central Park in New York. Within Parque Forestal we passed the Museo Bellas Artes which is a modern art gallery set up to help up and coming artists. The state do not subsidise art education at all in Chile. Actually the current President of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, sounds a bit of an arse as well. Dani told us that he isn’t well liked as he pledged in his election campaign that he would make public education free (even Chilean public primary/secondary schools, locals need to pay to send their children to), but instead he increased the price of schooling, out pricing many local families. He is a billionaire business man and apparently runs the country like an enterprise; i.e. just for profit.  That’s not what Government is all about. Hopefully the Chilean people will have better luck when it comes to Presidents next time round! We then made our way further east to Plaza Italia where there is a high-rise building which looks like an old mobile phone with an antennae and a big battery pack. It used to be the headquarters to Telefonics, the equivalent of BT in the UK…that’s taking corporate branding to the extreme! Then it was onto the bohemian (and posh) neighbourhoods of the city called Lastarria and Bellavista, which had lots of restaurants and cafes which spread out onto the streets- very nice. We passed Pablo Neruda’s house along the way who was a famous poet who lived in Santiago and won a Nobel Prize for literature. He loved the sea and all his homes he built to look like boats- La Chascona (his house in Santiago) is no exception.

We ended our tour at the bottom of Cerro San Cristobel which is a big hill which has a massive white Virgin Mary statue on top of it, “to protect over the city”. We took the funicular up to the top, (cost 1,800 pesos for a round ticket), to take in the view. The pic opposite is us at the top. As you can see the city is sprawling, only stopping when it hits the mountains to the South West. The virgin mary is beautiful up close, and the adjacent Chapel equally so. Plus Christmas hymns were being played out at the top which continued the Christmas theme of the day! After the funicular ride down the hill again, we had a quick-lunch, and then headed to the Santa Lucia area to visit the big artisan market there. It was also the place of choice to do a Christmas present buying dash for each other! Hedd started one end of the market, and me the other, and we met in the middle once we were done. It was really good fun hunting for pressies, at the same time as making sure we didn’t bump into each other! 30,000 pesos was the budget and I think I did pretty well with Hedd’s gifts…time will tell, hope he likes them when he opens them in 2 days time! After leaving the hostel at 9.20am we finally got back at 5.30pm. Needless to say our feet were aching and we crashed on the sofa with a cold drink! We were home just in time for my scheduled 6pm skype call home to my parents and Nan. It was my first time skyping and although I got the video call to work, I couldn’t get the headset to. So I had a visual but no sound! We ended up speaking on a mobile phone and watching each other on skype! Not quite how skype creators intended, but it was great all the same to see them all and see their lovely decorated Christmas trees. Ahh the wonders of technology…I just need to brush up on my technical ability for next time! For our last evening meal in South America we headed to a local restaurant, called Restaurant 69 on Ricardo Cumming Street, as recommended to us by our hostel owner from Vina del Mar. We had a traditional Chilean dish called Parrillada, which is essentially a simmering pot of different types of meat and sausage, served over a dish of hot coals. We got so much food for the price and as you can see Hedd struggled to finish his half of it! We had our last pisco sour too, to toast the end of the South American leg of our 5 1/2 month adventure.

So today we fly to Auckland, New Zealand. We have just chilled today, strolling around Brazil and sitting in the sun in Brazil square with an ice cream or two. I think we are good to go. We have scrubbed our hiking boots that we will be wearing on the plane. Apparently the immigration officers in New Zealand are really strict about foreign flora/fauna being brought into their country on shoes! Better to be safe than sorry! Just 1 hour until our taxi to Santiago airport arrives…can’t wait! Plus 2 days until Christmas Day, woop! Merry Christmas Eve Eve everyone!

Vina del Mar in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Warm with a lovely sea breeze
  • Food= Empanada’s and Ice cream
  • Drink= A glass of vino or two
  • Best fun had for free= Playing ‘chicken’ with the waves on the seaside (they only got me once!)

 

Santiago in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Scorchio! 30 degrees plus, but the buildings reflect the heat down so it feels like you are walking through a wall of heat
  • Food= Meat in the form of a Parrillada
  • Drink= Anything cold!
  • A ‘must do’ on your first day in the city= Spicy Chile’s free walking tour- you see so much of the city in one day and know all the best places to go back to.

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

So here we are, two months in South America completed. It´s been amazing, we have seen natural wonders, the remnants of ancient civilisations, incredible wildlife and met some wonderful people along the way. We have managed to do almost everything we set out to do (with the exception of the cancelled star tour) and although there is more we could have done here, I feel it´s the right time to move on and I{m looking forward to the next leg of our adventure. I am so pleased that we decided to do this, we have seen and experienced so much already and are not even half way through our trip. So as we sign off from South America and head to Auckland for our Christmas Day at the Airport, let me wish you all a “Nadolig Llawen”, “Feliz Navidad” or a “Merry Christmas”. See you in 2012…

 

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