13.08.2013 - 17.08.2013 22 °C
So we are finally on the last leg of our tour, South America! Although still looking forward to hopefully another 6 months of travelling before we get that final flight home...
Santiago (13th August - 15th August)
Arrived in Santiago from New Zealand to bright sunshine and a lovely warm temperature. Spent a couple of days in the capital exploring the city. We felt a little overwhelmed at first to be back in a non-English speaking country, without our own transport, and with no good tourist information office to help us out. It took us a few days to get used to this again, but we are back to being true backpackers again now!
The first day in Santiago we visited the Bella Vista district which was cool with lots of funky graffiti on the walls of the brightly coloured buildings, and also hiked up Cerro San Cristobal from there to get fantastic views across the city. I had not realised how close Santiago was to the Andes, and it was very impressive to see the snow-capped mountains rising right from the city edge. The city centre had some interesting old buildings, particularly around the Plaza de Armas, but not much to keep us entertained for long. We also had our first introduction to Chillean food - forget vegetables, it is heavy meat and carbs for almost every meal! We had completos (hotdog with tomato and avocado), chorillana (fries with beef and onion on top), empanadas (like a cornish pastie), all pretty tatsy and very filling. Also went for a meal in the Central Mercado, where small restaurants surround the fish market and sell some delicious seafood meals. The final day in Santiago we visited the "Museo de la memoria y los derechos humanos", a museum describing the years of the Pinochet regime in Chile with a memorial to the "disappeared". It was interesting to learn about Chillean history, something I knew little about before, and thankfully they had an English audioguide for me, although Duncan decided to practice his Spanish and go without. Santiago had some interesting sights, but 2 days wandering around the city was enough for us, so we moved on to our next destination, Valparaiso, 2 hours north on the coast.
Valparaiso (15th August - 17th August)
We had heard that "Valpo" was a great place to visit, but also had the highest level of crime against tourists in Chile. On arrival we were not too impressed, the city had a rundown feeling with graffiti everywhere and lots of dogs wandering around (much to Duncan's dislike!), and we didn't feel particularly safe. We didn't stray far from the hostel on the first night. But, the next day we started out with a "Tour for Tips", a city tour that you only pay what you think it was worth at the end. This changed our opinion of Valparaiso, the guide was so enthusiastic about the city, told us of its interesting history as one of Chile's biggest ports, and most importantly showed us the interesting areas, like Cerro Conception and Cerro Bella Vista, and safe, more touristy, regions of the city along with some pretty cool street art and great views of the coloured houses sprawling across the hilside. With a more positive attitude we set out alone in the afternoon to explore further and had a really great day in Valpo. The second day we started with a trip to the local market and then went to another region of the city, Cerro Polanco, to see some street art recommended by our guidebook. On arrival in the Polanco district we could already tell it was not a touristy district, but we ploughed on looking at the fantastic graffiti art on the buildings...that was until as we wandered down the street both an old lady and a policeman within 2 minutes of each other told us to put our cameras away and get the hell out before we get robbed! Needless to say we made a quick exit back to the more central areas of town, and thankfully didn't lose any of our belongings on the way! After our little scare in Polanco we took the bus up the coast to the nearby Viña del Mar, a stark contrast to Valpo. Clean streets, modern buildings and much safer. Spent a nice afternoon wandering along the beach there, then back to Valpo for the best empanada yet from "Empanada Famosa", a highly recommended place with huge, juicy, empanada pinos.
From Valpo we got onto out first night bus, 15 hours heading south to Pucon in the Lake District. Thankfully Chillean buses are pretty good: comfy seats, blankets, TV, a toilet on board and even a little snack and breakfast. Plenty more hours on these buses to come!