Sunday 8 February 2009 - Saturday 14 February 2009 28 °C
It was really rather nice and warm in Chile, a lovely dry heat unlike the extreme humidity of Asia. The flight to Chile was not the best, beginning with all the women around me clutching their rosaries and crossing themselves as we were taking off! My tv packed in 2hrs into the flight just as i was getting geared up for some interactive Who Wants To Be A Millionaire! As always my iPod was my savior, especially when the children across the aisle started crying and only stopped as we came into land when they were too busy being sick to cry! Nice! During the flight we crossed the international date line so i actually landed in Chile before i had even left New Zealand! It was very strange to have two February 8ths!
Got the bus into Santiago, trying to get used to being in a non english speaking country again! The hostel was nice, in a converted house, on the cosy (small!) side though. Everyone was very friendly and the owner made a big effort to share the Chilean culture with us. One evening he took us round the corner to a ramshackle old house on the edge of a small plaza with music blaring out of the first floor window. Heading into the dark building we climbed the rickety stairs, muttering about how the house should probably have been condemned years ago and were greeted with the sight of a room packed with Chileans dancing Cueca the traditional dance of Chile. The first floor was full of people of all different ages dancing and we found the source of the music, the lively band. The core elements consisted of a double bass, a casio keyboard (!) and about 5 guitar players with a revolving assortment of other musicians my favourite being someone playing the saucers! also a hit was the wooden crate drum and the many tambourines being played by people throughout the room. The dance itself consists of a bit of stamping (possibly not great considering the choice of venue!) and some tantilising hankie waving!
The next day i had a walk round Santiago, went to the National Museum of Chile which would have been interesting...had it not been completely in Spanish!! A few nice buildings in the main square but Santiago is a pretty modern city.
Then it was off to Valparaiso about 2hrs west of Santiago on the coast. The old part of the city is unesco listed and i spent a lovely day wandering round the narrow and very steep streets looking at the traditional houses and admiring the views! The town is built up into the hills and to get anywhere you have to head upwards, they also have these cute acensors dotted around the town in the really steep parts, small lifts that whisk you up the hillside in an instant! I went to visit Pablo Nerudas house. It was really interesting, set out just as it was when he lived there. Full of quirky furniture and murals. High up in the neighbourhood of Bellavista the house looks out over all of Valparaiso, the living room has the most spectacular panoramic view over the city and ocean.
Sadly after just 6 days it was time to leave Chile and catch the bus over the Andes to Argentina. The buses in South America are amazing! I was on a semi-cama which is like a half sleeper, not even the poshest class but it had really comfy seats! A definite improvement on the Greyhound! We left Valparaiso and headed east, back through Santiago and into the Andes. Wow. They were spectacular, we were just completely surrounded by mountains, making the bus feel very small! On the Chilean side in order to climb up to the border there was a series of switchbacks which was quite precarious, especially when the crazy car drivers started passing us on the bends! Overall the roads are pretty good here, we did have to stop and negotiate a couple of rockfalls that had blocked the road though. The border crossing was fine but took ages, it's at 11,483 ft and you can really feel that the air is thinner up there. Continuing the journey on the Argentinian side the mountains were just as beautiful as we made the thankfully much gentler descent down from the mountains and into the city of Mendoza.