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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4


Chapter 4


bags.  Argentine taxis have very discreet signs and don’t hassle.  It is hot.  We start walking with our packs.  We manage to flag down a taxi who takes us to Argentine immigration.  Hooray we get a stamp rather than a piece of paper.  The official is drinking mate de coca, crushed leaves in hot water, through a silver straw.

The taxi takes us to Oran and a cheap hostal, San Martin.  We have 109 pesos for our 650 bolivianos (about £68.00).  The peso is the same as the $.  Our two bed room with a fan but no bathroom costs $10 (£6.25).  We look for somewhere to eat but every restaurant is closed.  We manage to find somewhere selling coffee but have to keep fielding a young child in a walker who keeps making a run for the gate and the main road outside.  His family are busy with Xmas decorations.  It is a short walk to the bus station for a ticket to Jujuy at 0700 tomorrow.  The night is hot but bug free.


Sat 4th December

What an amazingly posh bus!  It has an upstairs.  It has lots of leg room.  It has a water dispenser and a steward with a squeaky clean white shirt.  Argentina seems to be very flat.  The fields are full of fruit and sugar.


At 1030, an hour earlier than expected, we arrive at Jujuy.  We have to ask because we’re not used to arriving early!  The province’s name may be evidence of Inca influence – according to Incan nobleman Guamán Poma de Ayala, the region’s Inca-designated governors went by the Quechua title of Xuxuyoc, a word early European residents Hispanicized as “Jujuy” (another explanation is that the Spanish corrupted the name of the Río Xibi Xibi).  We have a map of the town so we walk.  It is very hot.  The first residencial charges $20 for rooms without bath but has none.  We walk past the next until the street signs tell us we have gone wrong.  It is a café with rooms out the back.  $10 without bath.  All the banks are closed so we visit the hole in the wall.  Of course the instructions are in Spanish and it takes us a while (and some wild button stabbing) to persuade it to part with some money.


We pass the theatre which is advertising ballet tonight.  When we arrive for the performance the audience consists of mums and children.  It is amateur night for pupils from the local ballet school.  After an hour we are bored to tears.  We decide to go for a traditional Argentine mixed grill.  They like meat in Argentina.  Our dinner consists of a huge plate of various different parts of cow.  I think I will pass on the intestine.


Mon 6th December

After a day travelling we arrive at Termas de Río Hondo.  Termas de Río Hondo is closed.  It reminds us of Newquay in the winter but is worse.  The book says there are 12,000 beds in 190 hotels, plus rental apartments, houses, chalets, and three campgrounds in a town with just 25,000 residents.


We walk up to town to find a bank.  The Banco de Santiago del Estero is teeming with people.  I ask the guard if they change travellers’ cheques but he doesn’t know.  Usually the guards in South American banks know everything.  I wait in line to ask a teller but the guard insists I push in.  No, try the other bank.  Is there another bank?  Banco Nacional is quieter but the answer is still no.


In the centre of Rio Hondo they are digging the road up and replacing the drains.  The town smells of  drains.  We check out another hotel, the Hotel Bristol, but it is just as expensive as where we are staying and not much better.  We find an open oficina de Turismo.  They give us a leaflet on the town, the area and a map.  We decide to go looking for the thermal pool.  It is small, round, shallow and full of screaming children.


We try and walk up the river to Dique Frontal, the 30,000 hectare reservoir, but as far as we walk it always seems to be further.  We are then looking for the way back.  We must make the 1540 bus.  We must get out of here.  We head for the tarmac road although it seems to be going in the wrong direction.  I ask someone and yes we are going the right way.  We come out by the Casino, where we started.  How convenient.  We decline to buy a mate bowl and silver straw because they’re so tacky and so expensive and we don’t have much money left.  A grey kitten runs around the shop which is situated between two main roads.  Rather worryingly it follows us up the road but fortunately keeps to the side away from the road.


I am just going to sleep on the bus to Tucuman when it is time to get off.  We have to wait at Tucuman for an hour or so and catch the next bus south.  Juan, our steward has a sense of humour.  He turns up our TV so we can hear the film, Meet Joe Black.  We play Bingo.  Dinner comes on board at 2200 just as we were beginning to give up hope.


Tues 7th December

We arrive San Juan at 0630.  With an annual average of nine hours of sun daily, its nickname is Residencia del Sol.  El Zonda, the dry north wind, often brings extreme heat and very high pressure, slowing the pace of local activities.  Our taxi takes us to a cheap hotel “Hotel Malvinas” (ha ha) $15 (£9.40) each.  We get directions to the Tourist Information office and a map from there.  We are off on the trail of money again.  The Banco San Juan sends us to Citibank who sends us to the Banco de Boston who sends us to Cambio Santiago.  Success, we can afford to eat.  We can afford to visit the bus station and book the journey to Santiago for $20 each at 0830 tomorrow.  It is customary to tip the person who puts the baggage ticket on the rucksack and then on bus and then again when they take it off.  Blow that for a game of soldiers.


Gosh it’s hot.  The streets are empty during siesta hours, between 1 and 4 pm.  A  massive earthquake in 1944 destroyed the city centre and it was Juan Perón’s relief efforts here that first made him a public figure.  We have some food and a drink at one of the cafes in the square.  I have a normal cup of coffee and a cheese and ham medialuna (croissant).  Jen has an orange juice and a sandwich.  That’s a pint of orange juice and a sandwich that is 12” square.  The rest of the customers in the café are watching football on the television.  They eat very late here.  Two chaps offer to show us the dam, part of a huge hydro electric plant just outside town.  With its walkways hundreds of feet up and lights disappearing into the distance it looks like something from a James Bond movie.  The stars are amazing.  The best view in South America they say.  Where have we heard that before?  We pass several restaurants outside the town with loads of people eating in the open air.  It is quite late by now and the action has moved from the centre of town to the clubs and restaurants on the outskirts.


Wed 8th December

The next morning we have to change our tickets at a cost of $4 because we have discovered how to get to the thermal baths.  Today is a feria (bank holiday) and everything is shut.  We wait for the 20 bus at the end of Cordoba and pick up Carlos, a local.  No bus arrives so we take a taxi.  It costs $6 (£3.75) not the $15 Jen was quoted this morning.  There are private hot baths and a huge cold swimming pool.  The sky is a clear blue.  It is very hot.  A few people are already t the baths and more arrive all the time with their meat to barbecue.  One small bag of salad and six big bags of meat, that’s an Argentinean barbie.  After an hour or so Carlos turns up.  He’s come on the collectivo for $1.60 and is not going to go away.  He talks and talks and talks (in Spanish).  We all take a collectivo back at 1800 with time to raid the bank and have tea before hitting the town.  Jen is a long time saying goodbye to Carlos.  On the way back in the collectivo Carlos points out a motel where one can hire rooms by the hour.  We have another, more carefully chosen, drink and snack in the Plaza café.  It is too hot to eat.  We watch the world go by and then go dancing till dawn.


Thu 9th December

We are woken at 1000 – are we leaving or not? – no tomorrow.  It is very hot.  People can work because offices, banks and shops are air conditioned but everywhere else from 1000 to 2200 is HOT.  The disco vans drive around the town blasting out music “a little bit of Monica” reminding us we must go dancing again this evening.  We walk to the bus station to arrange a ticket for tomorrow.  Everyone else has a siesta so we do too.  A quiet day ending with a drink in the Plaza café and dancing till I am.


Fri 10th December

We have a bit of difficulty getting up but make it to the bus station in time.  It takes two hours to  get to Mendoza.  I hurt my back last night and it is now very painful.  I can carry my rucksack but getting up and sitting down hurts.  We have an hour in Mendoza just time for breakfast in the bus station.  We have to take a new bus to Santiago.


The bus turns west into mountains.  The bus conductor points out Aconcagua, at 6962m the highest mountain in South America, of volcanic andesite with a base of uplifted marine sediments (!).  It is very popular with climbers although technically less challenging than other nearby peaks.  I don’t think I can spare the 13 to 15 days needed to climb it!  Exit from Argentina is just a queue for a stamp.  Entry to Chile is not much more complicated.  The bus conductor finds it highly amusing that my passport is in my body belt and I have to lift up my dress to get it.  He keeps coming back and asking to see my passport.  At the border, Los Libertadores, he tells the customs chap where I keep my passport so then the customs chap starts.  I am holding my passport in my hand by this time.  We line up with our bags so the customs can go through them.  Jen declares the fruit we have left from Argentina, they confiscate it and we can go.


The road winds down the valley.  The unused ski lifts criss cross the road and the hotels at the bottom look like Swiss chalets.  All the mountains are green, grey, red, blue, bare rock.  A herd of wild horses comes up the road with two dogs.  It is a beautiful picture.  At 1845 we are in the Santiago bus station.  Not one we know despite walking round a bit to find out where we are.  We have to take a taxi to Cienfuegos.  The Youth Hostel has room 6950P (£8.40) per night.  Who should we meet but Paul.  We have dinner at the Youth Hostel and go to bed early.  Too much dancing.


Sat 11th December

We pass a hairdressers with an advert for depilation.  A mere 3500P (£4.22) for a leg wax and bikini wax.  She is so professional.  We can’t resist going shopping and I buy a short, strappy, summer dress that feels and looks gorgeous.


At lunch time we find ourselves near the fish market.  Another ambition achieved.  We don’t know what to choose so the waiter shows us various meals on his way to delivering them to other people.  I think we ended up with mixed fish soup and something with crab.  Everyone is very friendly but we keep close hold of our bags.  In the main pedestrian thoroughfare a clown goes for Jen’s shopping.  We react savagely and everyone laughs but they don’t know our past experiences in Santiago.


Sun 12th December

We get up early to catch the metro to Parque O’Higgins to catch the bus to Banos Molinas but the metro doesn’t start until 0800 on Sundays.  We take a taxi.  At the stop outside the metro we ask another bus driver and are directed to a small bus station round the corner.  Buses start there, head off in the wrong direction, turn around and then come back past the metro.


At Banos Molinas we have breakfast  at Chicos Malos (bad boys), which seems to be the only restaurant open.  Another ghost town.  We start walking and hitching towards Banos Colinas.  A woman taking her two children to the baths gives us a lift.  There is now a 3000P (£3.60) entrance fee.  The top pool is much hotter than last year.  There are new changing rooms with lavatories and cold showers.  Stone seats have been created at the side of the pools.  The mountains are still beautiful but only the very tops have snow on them.


Jen chats up Ramonido so we can be sure of a lift back to Banos Molinas and the return bus.  He has a pickup so it is a bit of a squash for three in the front but as he is going back to Santiago we manage.  On the way we pass his house.  He is separated from his wife.  She has the house, the children, the dog and the posh car and he is not happy.


The road back to Santiago is full of hitching teenagers who come out on Sundays to drink and frolic by the river.  We persuade Ramonido to give some a lift, only about seven of them.  They are very grateful and when they leave us at the outskirts of Santiago they present Jen and I with flowers they have pulled off the hedges whilst travelling past.  Ramonido decides we need a conducted tour of Santiago so he drives us around the posh parts.  We try and enter the Prince of Wales Golf Club but just being personal friends of the Prince of Wales does not work.  We have to be members.  We pass Pinochet’s house, the one with the armed guards and dogs.  Ramonido points out a motel painted red.  The rooms can be hired by the hour apparently.  What can he mean?


Mon 13th December

In the Youth Hostel there are several people who have been parted from their luggage.  Trons, a Norwegian, is trying to get money out of his airline so he can buy some clothes.  We want to visit the Navimag office and his airline is nearby so we all go together.  Trons is new to Santiago whereas we know our way around!  Navimag’s offices are very new and glossy and full of women in power suits.  All the cheap berths for the cruises at the end of December and beginning of January are sold.  Jen has the choice of a cabin at how much? or travelling to Puerto Montt where there may be a berth available, or there may not.  She sensibly decides that is not an option.


We take a trip up the funicular.  The view from the top would be brilliant if it wasn’t for the haze over Santiago.  Ramonido told us that Pucón is a beautiful place so we buy a bus ticket.


Tue 14th December

Jen goes shopping and is charged (tricked out of, should I say) 5000P (£6.00) for half a pound of cherries.  She comes back spitting.  We visit the Police station so I can report my handbag theft and get the necessary Police report.  Some of the cafes we pass have blacked out windows.  The first one looks quite smart so we open the door.  Inside are scantily clad ladies serving coffee.  We cannot resist looking in the next.  The third has topless waitresses, one of whom invites Jen in for a coffee.  Jen puts on her best shocked look which amuses the waitresses and the customers.


Wed 15th December

Even Chile’s cheap buses are better than most buses in Peru or Bolivia but my back hurts and I am very uncomfortable.  We are offered the usual cheese roll and sweet coffee.  We arrive at Pucón at about 1000 and are approached at the bus station by Christophe.  He is touting for a farm, Kila Leufu, just outside Pucón at 7000P (£8.43) including breakfast and dinner.  We have to catch a local bus out to the farm.  The farm is run by Margot and her mum and dad.  Nina, an Austrian, is staying there for a few days, looking after the horses,  before going off into the mountains to help run a horse trekking holiday for a German company.  There are four other guests, Mike and Alex from New York and an English couple who are about to go off on a walking trek.   Jen and I go out to explore the countryside and are surprised at how English it all looks, the cows, the birds, the plants and even the weeds.  We take a short cut back home across fields, climbing over the barbed wire fences.


Thu 16th December

We are dropped at the waterfalls.  El Leon is the biggest and has a charge of 800P each.  We have fun seeing how close we can get without getting wet.  El Diablo, a smaller one, is free.  We pass on La China for another 500P because we are a bit miffed at being charged at all.  The main road is 10km away.  There are lots of cars driving up the track but none going back to the main road so we have to walk.  At the road, we catch a bus into town and book a whitewater rafting trip on the Transcuro Alto for tomorrow at 8000P (£9.60) each.  I try to use the internet but the café is too busy and they only have two machines.  The town of Pucón is full of travel agencies offering hiking, climbing, mountain biking, windsurfing, whitewater rafting and kayaking.  The book says “until the next major eruption of Volcán Villarrica obliterates it, this lakeside resort will remain the focus of Chile’s adventure tourism industry”.


Fri 17th December

Our rafting group consists of Eric and Jordan (a couple of English sporty types), Andreas (was he Brazilian? Argentino?), Duncan (a Scot) and Chino the guide.  The river is a Grade 4 with one grade 6 salta (jump).  We are supplied with wetsuits, life jackets and helmets.  Jen and I are impressed with the quality and cut of our wetsuits.  We are each given a paddle, allocated a position in the boat and then the lessons begin.  We are reminded of how to go forward, backwards and how to avoid the boat turning over.  Jen and I have done this before but on a Grade 2/3 river.  The trip is a mixture of hard paddling between rapids and then frantic activity during the jumps with the odd moment of peace afterwards to catch our breaths.  At the grade 6 we have to pull into the side, climb out and scramble over the rocks to rejoin the boat further downstream.  Chino takes the boat through the big jump on his own.


The last but one jump is called La Ultima Sonrisa (the last smile).  Frantic activity turns into frantic chaos, we lose one man and then we are through.  Duncan is rescued by the outriders in kayaks (more safety precautions, as an aside one of them is a Frenchman who looks amazingly like Mr Spock which amuses Jen and I) and hauled back on board.  After one more rapid we have finished.  Chino explains the name.  At the end we all have huge smiles on our faces, apart from Duncan.  His last smile was just before La Ultima Sonrisa.  Chino also points out that Duncan made the fatal error of sitting on the side of the inflatable with his back to the river.  You are supposed to sit sideways on, facing the front, at all times.  Sitting in the correct way means it is more difficult to go over, but not impossible!


At Kila Leufu, Nina and the American boys are just off to the Termas de Minetúe so Jen and I join them.  We have a choice of a warm pool or private hot baths and go for the pool.  For the masochistic there is a stream running down the rocks at the side of the pool – (n)ice cold shower anyone?


Sat 18th December

Margot and Christophe leave for Pucón at 0830.  Jen and I hitch into town half an hour later!  Funny girl Margot, sometimes very warm and friendly, other times very distant.  Our bus to Valdivia (last major earthquake in 1960) awaits.


A genial and rotund German approaches us at the bus station.  His name is Mario Hess and he runs a hostal.  It seems a good deal and turns out to be a very nice place.  We explore the town and find the botanical gardens next to the University.  The weather is glorious and we have acres of grass, winding paths, trees, plants and flowers to investigate.  Some of them even have name tags.  Dinner is served in the sun in the garden of our hostal.


It is the Cokes’ silver wedding anniversary party tonight so we phone them before going for drinks at the Cabana where live entertainment  is advertised but either there is none or we are too early.  Jen orders a submarino because our Argentina book says it is a chocolate bar melted in hot milk but in Chile it turns out to be cerveza (beer) with kummel at the bottom.  After my G & T I try to drink it which is a mistake.


Sun 19th December

We find a collectivo going to Niebla beach.  We walk down onto the black sand and watch the raging Pacific.  Just outside the breakers there are dolphins.  We climb over the rocks onto the next beach.  It is very hot.  We climb over the next rocks to the village of Las Molinas.  Wooden cabins perch on the sides of the hills.  Many of the cabanas are available to rent.


Every restaurant is a fish restaurant.  There is even a fish market open on Sunday where we could buy crabs at 300P (£0.36) per kg, huge mussels, clams, corvina (sea bass), cierra that looks like swordfish and bits of rock.  The stallholder sticks his fingers into the bits of rock to remove soft orange invertebrates which are washed, cleaned of non edible parts (!) and made into ceviche.  At one cabana on the beach side there is someone chopping up a whole sheep for his asado (barbecue).  The fleece lies in a soggy, bloody mess on the grass.


Wed 22nd December

After a couple of days travelling through Argentina we return to San Juan and try to find a better hotel.  There seems little between good but expensive and awful but still fairly expensive.  I mean expensive in South American terms!  The hotel we choose offers us a deal if we stay there for a few days but it is so awful we are unwilling to commit ourselves.  Jen rings Rabbit (Carlos) and we meet him at a local café.  He is surprised but pleased that we have come back to San Juan.


Thu 23rd December

We spend the day exploring San Juan on foot and revelling in the heat.  In the evening Jen and I want go out to eat and, of course, Rabbit comes too.  I choose Las Leñas, one of the places on the outskirts of town.  The advert on the town map says they like tourists!  Jen and I cannot believe we’re sitting down to eat at 0100 and we’re not alone.


Fri 24th December

The three of us take a bus to Dique Ullum to swim in the lake off the causeway.  It is very hot and there is no shade at all close to the water.  We walk back to the café for sustenance and shade.  After a coffee, lots of water and some of Rabbit’s sandwich we return to the lake.  More people have arrived by now and the causeway is roped off.  It is too dangerous.  The lake is manmade and very deep in the middle.  The flooded village is still down there.  I stay in that night whilst Rabbit and Jen attempt to find somewhere open for dinner.  They want to go to Chez Moi but it is closed.  They end up having a sandwich at the Ibiza café.  There is a huge video screen and modern music but no dancing.


Sat 25th December

Jen rings her younger son David and we all talk to him.  Rabbit and I go for coffee whilst she rings her elder son Tris.  I ring AJ and the family has just arrived.  I speak to them all except Thommo (sorry Thommo).


A taxi takes us to Las Brisas piscina.  There is a nifty automatic shower on the way in.  Rabbit nips home.  We have a little bit of grass and a tiny sunshade.  The pool is large.  There are not many people to start with but it soon fills up, mainly teenagers.  I go to the lavatories outside and have another automatic shower and then realise there are lavatories inside.  Jen and I hear our song (a tune that has followed us around South America) and ask the girls next to us who it is but they don’t know.  Eventually we find out it is Noella with “Tu”.


When we leave at 1900 it is still mega hot and heaving with people.  At dinner time (well bedtime for us) we try Chez Moi again and they are open tonight.  The restaurant is run by someone from Portugal.  We sit in the open in the courtyard, eating beautifully cooked fish drinking complimentary champagne.


Sun 26th December

Rabbit and Jen go to Cordoba.  Rabbit’s family have a flat there.  Jen will be able to cook and will save on accommodation and food whilst seeing more of Argentina.   I have to go and meet John in Chile.  I watch a lot of TV, American programmes with Spanish subtitles.  This is not pulp television this is a Spanish lesson.


Mon 27th December

I try to visit the bodegas but they are both shut, rats, after walking all that way in this heat.  The Casa de Sarmiento is open.  Domingo Faustino Sarmiento was a writer, politician, diplomat and journalist.  Exiled in Chile during the government of Rosas, he wrote “Life in the Argentine Republic in the Days of the Tyrants”, readily available in English translation and still used in many South American history courses.  Sarmiento argued that Unitarism embodied “civilisation” on the European model while Federalism represented unprincipled “barbarism”.  In the 19th century, having achieved independence from Spain, Argentina was split between the Federalists who advocated provincial autonomy and the Unitarists of Buenos Aires, who upheld central authority.  Rosas was a Federalist.  The Unitarists forced him from power in 1852 and he spent the last 25 years of his life in exile in Southampton.  Now isn’t that interesting?  His house is built round a courtyard.  It contains his original furniture, large and dark in the Spanish style, and his books and letters.


My bus to La Serena leaves at midnight (Mondays and Thursdays only) .  I walk up to the bus station in the morning to leave my bags.  I pass the time in the usual manner – shopping, drinking, eating.  I look round the local department store, Falabella.  In one of the main streets there is a wonderful shop full of gaucho clothes, leatherwork and trinkets.  The owner speaks English and I spend a happy hour discussing life, horses and all that jazz whilst buying a belt, a bombadilla and a purse.


I have an orange juice at Freud’s.  The shops are beginning to close and I need some shampoo.  In Spanish I ask the waiter if I can leave my juice (it’s another full pint) whilst I pop out and do some shopping.  If I drink it all in a hurry I shall just have to buy a second one later to pass away another hour.  He is quite amenable and I am very pleased that he understands me.


I walk back to the bus station at 2130 and the bus office is closed with my bags inside.  Panic!  I ask at the bus office next door.  He wouldn’t have just locked his office containing my bags and gone away, surely?  They suggest I try another office opposite, friends of his apparently.  The chap opposite tells me he will be back at 2300.  Phew.  (This is all in Spanish too.)  What now, oh yes a coffee in the café.  A drunk at a nearby table keeps eyeing me and muttering.  I notice there are tables outside so I move.  It starts to rain.  Everyone outside ignores the rain.  The rain gets a bit heavier so we are forced to move inside.  I go and stand near the office.  The chap turns up just after 2300.


The whole point of coming this way was to go through the 4750m Agua Negra pass to Chile but the bus doesn’t do this, it goes back through Las Libertadores.  Oh well.  No horses this time.


Tue 28th December

I arrive in La Serena, on the south bank of the Río Elqui, 470 km north of Santiago, in the afternoon and take a taxi to the Youth Hostel.  John is already there but out.  I have a shower and hear him outside.  We catch a bus to Coquimbo, the port at the mouth of the river, and inspect (the millennium?) cross in the making.  Later John cooks dinner of strange fishy things and Chilean champagne.  We hear that Valparaiso has an amazing fireworks display on New Year’s Eve so decide to head for there.


Valparaiso is Chile’s second largest city and is built on a narrow  terrace, overlooked by precipitous cliffs and hills covered by suburbs and shantytowns linked to the city centre by meandering roads, footpaths that more closely resemble staircases and nearly vertical ascensores (funicular railways).  It is often called La Perla del Pacífico (Pearl of the Pacific).


Wed 29th December

Our chosen hotel in Valparaiso, La Reina Victoria, looks very impressive on the outside but is a little rough.  What do you expect for only 13000P (£13.80) a night.  It is not as bad as some places in which I have stayed.  For dinner we have fish in the restaurant below.  I ask for white wine and am offered a three year Sauvignon or a ten year old one.  Obviously no-one drinks white wine around here.


Thu 30th December

There is an ascensor a short walk from our hotel so we go up it.  At the top there is a little park overlooking the quay and a good view over the town.


From the pier, Muelle Prat, we take a train to Viña del Mar, the more up market town about 10 km away at the other end of the bay.  The main station is quite low key so we miss it and go on to Quilpué.  Despite trying to wriggle out of it by explaining we missed our station we have to buy another ticket to go back.  John is determined not to stay another night in La Reina Victoria.  We ask at the first hotel we find in Viña, the Hotel Asturias, and they offer us complete luxury for 25000P (£30.00) per night.  We return to Valparaiso for our luggage.  As we have booked and paid for three nights I ask for a refund but this is not available until the owner returns at 1100 tomorrow morning.  I explain in that case we might be back tomorrow after the fireworks.  In Viña we have a carriage ride around the town, past the Reloj de Flores (Clock of Flowers) and on to the even posher bit, Reñaca.  The flats up the hill behind the beach each have their own funicular.


The ride costs 12000P (£14.50) for one hour but 30000P (£36.00) for one and a half hours!  But we did go a long way and you don’t see many carriages in Reñaca.  Over coffee at Paddy’s we meet Clare and Rachel from Australia.  


Fri 31st December

We spend the day on Acapulco beach.  The day usually starts off by being cloudy but by midday the sun is out and it is hot.  The beaches are short and steep.  It is possible to paddle up to my knees but it is difficult to get beyond the breakers, especially for a wimp like me.  If the wave doesn’t  knock me over the first time, the drag of the sea going back out makes me fall over and then the next wave can get me.  Maybe I’ll just paddle like the locals do.  On the beach there is a temporary motor museum in a tent.  Ancient American and European cars and motorbikes.  How exciting.


In the evening we head for the station to catch a train to Valparaiso but when the train arrives it is full, more than full, stuffed to bursting point.  The buses are the same so we taxi to Valparaiso.  The police have organised a one way system so there is one route into Valpo and one route out.  Our taxi driver keeps coming up against roadblocks but makes it in the end.  We call in to La Reina Victoria but they thought we were not coming back and have let our room.  We watch the fireworks from the small park overlooking the quay along with several hundred others.  All the roads up to the park are crammed with people but there is a good atmosphere.  Everyone has a bottle of champagne, not to drink but to open at midnight, shake and spray the crowd.  A minute later the fireworks start.  For half an hour there is a magnificent display.  We walk back to Viña.


Mon 3rd January

John and I spend the weekend on and around the various beaches at Viña del Mar and Reñaca.  My tan is coming on beautifully.  At 1240 we catch a bus to Santiago and leave our bags at Alameda bus station.  We take the metro to Providencia to visit out the office for Cascada de los Animas at San Alfonso, east of Santiago, in the mountains.  This is a private park with walks, horses, kayaks and a full size swimming pool.  It costs 35000P (£42.00) per night which is more than we want to spend but we want to go out that way anyway.


The metro takes us back to Alameda to collect our bags.  We then have to get back on the metro, travel to Los Heroes and change there for Parque O’Higgins.  At Republica, the stop before Los Heroes some kind person removes the rest of John’s travellers’ cheques from his pocket.  He realises just too late to grab the guy.  Fortunately the pickpocket doesn’t go for the other pocket in which John has his passport and cash.  This changes our plans.


We exit at Los Heroes and make for the Youth Hostel.  I ring Amex.  They will wire money via the Western Union tomorrow morning.  John and I go to the Police Station to report the theft.  My third visit to the Police Station in Santiago.


That night we have dinner in Bellavista, an area on the other side of the river full of clubs and restaurants, at a rather arty café, el Libro Café Mediterráneo,  with music, a Chilean singing songs in French.  Eduardo Peralta canta los lunes a Georges Brassens.  He is obviously a bit of a comedian as well but, unfortunately, I cannot understand what he is saying.


Tue 4th January

We collect the cash from Western Union.  Everything is now in my money belt.  On the bus to Maipu the first chap tries to sell manicure sets, the second safety pins.  At every traffic light we get a new ice cream seller.  Then there is a chap selling CDs.  We can find nowhere to stay at San José so a taxi driver takes us to a place out of town.  22000P (£26.50) each all in.  I ask for somewhere cheaper and we are deposited at the Posada Las Montañes in Melocoton.  16000P (£19.20) for both of us.  Melocoton is halfway between San José and San Alfonso.  John goes out for a walk and I sit in the sun by the mini pool.


Wed 5th January

Oriana, the owner of the hotel, has arranged a horse ride for me to San Alfonso.  It is a quiet ride as there is nowhere we can go apart from down the road.  Rosselliti is excellent in traffic.  We walk sedately past the Cascada de los Animas.  Oh that’s where it is.  John and I walk back in the afternoon.  The river and the road alongside it dominate this area.  There are mountains either side of the narrow valley but very few paths leading up into them.  It is very hot.  In the evening we find a collectivo going to San José for 300P each.  There are a few more people around now but not much is going on.  We find a modern restaurant and have a huge dinner.  When we get back the shower is not working.  At the end of a very hot day this is not what we want to hear.  Oriana’s husband has attempted to mend it but has now given up and called a plumber.


Thu 6th January

More sun and mini pool for me.  I can now lie out in the sun for ages without getting burnt.  John walks to Cascada to pay his 2000P (£2.40) and look around.  Oriana has an ancient retainer who wanders around the property clipping the odd fruit tree and cleaning the pool.  Occasionally he mutters as he walks past me but I cannot understand him.


In the evening we catch a bus to San Alfonso and decide to carry on a little further in the hope of finding something interesting.  After a couple of miles travelling along the road winding by the side of the river we give up and leave the bus.  We walk back but the restaurant serving roast kid is closed so we go next door.  We are the only customers.  A Dandie Dinmont with a wall eye watches us eat.  We walk home.


Fri 7th January

Our bus returns to Parque O’Higgins for 600P each.  Prices in Chile vary so much!  At the Youth Hostel in Santiago we meet Rachel again (from Viña) and Tessa, a New Zealand girl working at a local hospital for three weeks.  They have arranged to go out for the evening with Todd, an American, and John, a Scot.  We join them for a meal in a different restaurant in Bellavista and then cross the road to a club for a live band and disco afterwards.  When we arrive the band is playing a Doors track.  They continue by playing their versions of disco hits from the 60s and 70s which suits me fine.  Most of the Chileans prefer to watch the band so the dance floor is almost empty until the band finishes and the South American disco music starts.  Time for us to go.


As we walk up the street we can see that all the other restaurants and clubs have plenty of customers, both inside their premises and at the tables which line the road.  Even at 0200 it is still warm enough to sit outside and the pavements are crowded with people, including parents carrying young children.  The atmosphere is friendly and there is a distinct lack of rowdy drunks.  The police (in threes) carry out regular foot patrols.  Is this the reason?


Sat  8th January

When I was in Pucón, Nina recommended a place in Talca run by her ex-boyfriend, Peter.  Talca is some hours south of Santiago and John and I decide to go there especially as we can travel by train.  But the 1415 train to Talca is full and the next is at 1830 which would mean we arrive late at night.  We head for the main bus station and, whilst waiting to buy our tickets, see four buses leaving for Talca.  There are lots more buses.


I have a small photocopied map which I show to a taxi driver in Talca.  He doesn’t understand it and there follows a long discussion with two more taxi drivers.  They don’t know where La Casa Chueca is either so our taxi driver radios his control.  Control will phone the mobile number and get instructions.  We set off in the taxi and go all of 50 yards when we are accosted by a chap with a mobile phone.  It is Peter.  He was outside the bus station when control rang him.  We transfer to his 4WD for the 20 minute trip out into the country.  Even I have to agree the map is fairly awful.


Peter shares La Casa Chueca with Kati, a German, and Franz, another Austrian.  Kati and Franz  have been running trekking holidays in Chile and Peru for more than 10 years whilst Peter has just started organising holidays and specialises in the area around Talca, with the help of Roberto the cook.  Roberto is a Chilean from Santiago but speaks German and a little English.  There are three other German guests.  The conversation is mainly in German but Peter, Kati and Franz can switch to English or Spanish halfway through a sentence.  At the moment they are all working from the main house but Peter has had a single storey building (containing a large bedroom and bathroom) constructed for his paying guests.  There is another building for the guests on the site containing bedrooms and bathrooms and the, as yet unfinished, kitchen and bar.  Once this is complete Franz and Kati can have their house back.


Sun 9th January

Our first excursion is to the Siete Tazas (seven cups).  Peter is driving and he misses the  turning at Molina.  We are halfway to Santiago before he realises.  The seven cups are seven small lakes carved into the rock with a waterfall connecting each one.  From the lookout spot was can only see three of the seven but we are assured the others are there.  It is possible to travel from the first to the last in a kayak but you have to be a little mad to do it.  Every field contains a horse or horses.  There are families camping in the various sites around the edge of the National Park as it is still their summer holidays.


We walk to a canyon and climb down the rocks to the water’s edge.  It is very hot and we would like to bathe in the river but the water is very cold.  Breathtakingly cold in fact.  The river is very shallow and pebbly and by the time I have walked across to a slightly deeper part my legs are frozen.


Wolfgang, one of the other guests, is busy taking photographs.  His pack weighs 30kg and contains his Hasselblad, lenses, filters, colour and black and white film.  He takes it everywhere.


That evening Franz sets up his telescope on the lawn.  I can see craters on the moon; Jupiter’s lines and four of its moons and Saturn’s rings.  Saturn looks brilliant it is so clear.  He shows us Orion and the foggy star (which is not a star at all just fog, the star imploded? exploded? many years ago) and Sirius.  I can see that Proxima Centauri is actually two planets.  We also look at the arrow of Taurus.  It is an amazing telescope.  This is the first time I have been able to study the stars in the southern hemisphere with someone who knows what they are talking about and I find it fascinating.


Mon 10th January

After breakfast Franz is out with his telescope again to show us Venus.  We drive off towards the border with Argentina.  The road is tarmacked to start with and then changes to a dirt road up to the border checkpoint. We pass some gauchos herding their cattle up the road.  They have wonderful wide brimmed black hats.  Franz says they will take the cattle up into the mountains for several months and stay there, camping out and living off the land.


Franz apologises that the dirt road is even worse after the checkpoint but it is no worse than many main roads in Peru and Bolivia.  We walk over the natural basalt cliffs to the top of a waterfall.  Behind the waterfall is a little area of green where the wind blown spray lands.  Everywhere else on the cliffs is bare rock.


Franz’ first love is mountains and we climb a hill next to the road so we can see an extinct volcano in the distance.  This is extremely hard work in the heat and altitude.  Of the volcano just the funnel is left as the rest has eroded away and it is now too dangerous to climb.  Franz tells us a German woman died in the attempt recently.  His second love is kayaking but he has never done the seven cups, he is not mad enough.  The hillside is covered with tiny alpine flowers and sand coloured lizards run across the rocks.


Tue 11th January

Peter takes John and I to the other National Park, Vilches.  He has arranged a horse riding trip for us.  We wait at the Coca-Cola booth in the forest and eventually a chap rides up leading three other horses.  Great hat again, but straw this time.  We set off up the mountain, climbing over trees and through rivers.  The horses are very sure footed and manage to negotiate any obstacle.  We leave the tree line behind and continue up another mountain.  In places it is very steep but the horses are extremely fit.  The view is incredible.  On one side the forest of the National Park, on the other side mountains disappearing into the distance.  Having got to the top we have to come down again.  The horses are very adept at getting their back legs underneath them and almost hop down the steep slopes.


At the bottom we walk along a wide, sandy road between the trees and I mention to John it is a pity we don’t have the chance to canter or gallop.  The next thing I know Peter is off, hurtling down the path, only slowing down to go through the gate and then off again.  We have been riding for more than five hours but my horse does not need any encouragement to go too.  John and our guide follow at a more leisurely pace.  Our few days at Talca cost us 184,600P (£220.00) including all meals but we cram in so much that we feel it is worth it.


Wed 12th January

We have to leave for Santiago at 1045 so I just have time for a swim in the pool and to rescue a frog.  We are sorry to leave Talca as it is a beautiful place and the people at La Casa Chueca have been great.


After six nights at the Youth Hostel I am now a member and will be charged less for a room but they have none!  Fortunately Peter recommended another place, Scott’s, so John and I go there.  It is not so convenient as it is further out of town but they are very friendly and helpful.  The walls are covered with information about Chile, Bolivia, Peru and other South American countries.  I notice there are lots of nasty comments about Colque Tours in Uyuni.




Jen arrived back in Santiago a couple of days ago and has a bed in the Youth Hostel so we all meet there.  Franz has recommended R punto (R.), a fish restaurant at the foot of Santa Lucia.  Jen and I know how to get to Santa Lucia but don’t have a clue where the restaurant is.  I try asking a waitress in another restaurant but she is no help.  We continue walking around the area and find it just round the corner.  That waitress obviously knows her city well.   The food is good, the service is good and it is a fitting place for our farewell dinner.  Did we have fish knives and forks?  I can’t remember.

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