Reflections on the Journey Home

This morning wasnt too stressful surprisingly – the airport in Santiago is certainly not as chaotic as Juliaca up in the Andes or Lima in Peru and we were flying Qantas which was departing on time unlike almost all the Lan and Aerolineas flights we had taken. We managed a visit to the American Airlines lounge at the airport and purchased some pisco sour to help us come down slowly on our return home…

I almost burst into tears when I boarded the plane with my smiling hola and the nice man grinned back at me with a big “G’day!” It was so unexpected and I think I was both exhausted and overwhelmed with everything we had done and everywhere we had been. Muchas gracias may stay on the tip of the tongue for some time me thinks – but that G’day greeting was more welcome than you can imagine!

My beloved was happy too but not quite as emotional as we sat in our beautiful big new Qantas jet ready to head home, but as soon as we were in the air his emotions were a little different. The older Spanish lady in front of him reclined with her head almost into his lap and stuck her feet up on the seat in front! TThis was before the seatbelt light had gone off! Reminiscent of the Macchu Piccu bus ride without the knee cap problems! Fortunatemente she was disturbed by the fact that husbands tv screen kept bouncing her seat back (I cant imagine why?) and she relocated to a spare seat on the other side of the plane which was left by passengers stranded in Buenos Aires through some sort of strike in Argentina – obviously they dont just put rocks on the road over that way. Ironically her seat was then no longer reclined!

Anyway all is well in the air somewhere over the Pacific between Antartica and the South Pacific Islands. (dont worry I’m not going to send love messages through the fancy little messaging system this time (might end up going to the lady who just moved) – I’ll just stick with telling him personally!)

What interesting and or useless things have we learned?

There are eucalyptus trees all over the place – originally imported from Australia (at least we saw a lot in Valparaiso and Peru (where they are used a lot but also considered pests) – I noted the locals in the Andes like to sniff Eucalyptus to keep their airways clear.

The pre-Inca language spoken by the locals on the floating islands of Lake Titikaka has a lot of similarities with Japanese and many tourists come from Japan solely for that reason.

Wild pigs left by early explorers and settlers are a problem in Patagonia just like they can be in Australia.

The dogs I originally thought were starving and too tired to move are actually fed by everyone making them too lazy and too fat to move!

Condors only prey on the dead – so dont stop for too long in remote wilderness regions lest you be mistaken for the dead!

Flying from Juliaca to Lima over the Andes was interesting and bumpy (read frightening) and we still dont know why people decided to climb them and live there (post Inca and pre Inca included).

I dont think anywhere really looked like Julia Creek but then, I’m not the expert on Julia Creek so maybe husband was right everytime.

If you really want to try roasted guinea pig (cuy) you should ask for it without its head as the mouth roasted open suggests the poor little thing was screaming as it was cooked (dont worry we didn’t eat them).

Watch out for dog poop everywhere you walk, and I mean everywhere! – only the national parks are safe from this problem.

Vegetarians and people from some Asian countries have more trouble with Altitude sickness than we did because they are picky eaters and dont eat enough red meat. (That is according to one of our tour guides and may or may not be true – maybe you can check wikapedia again).

Much to the horror of my beloved I may have exposed myself to future imprisonment – I have become a law breaker – yes I admit it – I crossed at lights that didnt say walk – many many times! (even when police were present with big guns and battons!). I accidently took some photos when I wasnt allowed – and last but not least – This may or may not result in breaking laws – I signed things that were in spanish and I had no idea what I was signing! But if we wanted to stay in those hotels – or go on that tour – we had no choice. Someone had to sign!

Husband is confident that either speaking Spanish or being with someone who speaks some Spanish is mandatory for many of the places we visited particularly if you are not on an organised tour! In my opinion even where we had organised things it is useful knowing how to say “necessito bano ahora!” (I need the toilet right now!) Or “Help – Ayuda my wife has just been sick on the floor!”

So what was great about the trip and what experiences were the best?

First of all I think the fellow travellers we have been fortunate to have come across have made the trip so great – mostly sharing experiences in Patagonia, Argentina and Peru. Firstly Marilyn and Lloyd both in the bus and at Ushuaia, and all the Canadian adventurers, Ginger and Gail and Carol whose hiking prowess and friendship made Torres del Paine and Cape Horn such a pleasure (and who donated a great Steinbeck book to the library in my pack), particular credit to Carol whose patience and photographic eye inspired us to stop every now and then to smell the roses metaphorically speaking (and photograph the smaller things), (hopefully we will hear from one or two of them soon as they visit downunder), Stacey and Lorena who we need to thank with a big dinner in Oz or Hawaii some time.

Ulrich and Heike also stand out for hiking prowess and great company (must be because they’re German lawyers) it may well also be the French Valley hike and the sharing of the heirloom brandy made by Ulrich’s father which ensured they will always be remembered! Only sorry we didnt have the stamina to stay longer at the bar at Iguazu and keep up with them!

Of course the tango girls Cassie and Stacey who hiked the Inca trail were inspiring and great fun and numerous others who sat and chatted with us on trains, boats and buses (and in bars and restaurants) giving us tips and patiently listening to our stories over and over and over (especially the one about the lost gopro!) (actually maybe I was the only one who heard that one over and over). I think it is fair to say that fellow travellers develop a unique bond regardless of where they are from and its nice to sit and have a drink and a chat and debrief after some of these experiences or to share tips for future destinations.

Due to the nature of the trip it was difficult to get to know the locals well – especially when my basic spanish did not extend to Glaswegian or Swaheli dialects and husbands Spanish was non existent! Nevertheless there were some great moments communicating with people all over the place – often when ordering one thing and receiving another! The young boy at the airport in Buenos Aires and the little boys practising English on the plane to Puenta Arenas also stand out.

As far as tour guides go Juan Adriana and Diego stand out in Torres del Paine and for much of our journey as being helpful, entertaining and filled with enthusiasm. (And for ensuring I did not fly to Antartica like Mary Poppins would have if she was there!) For most of the Argentinian adventure we were our own guides although Ulrich and Heike’s driver “omar” in Iguazu was a great catch. Cusco saw us being passed between a few different guides that followed script to the letter teaching us about the Spanish and the Incas. The pickups and dropoffs in Peru were always on time and well organised although these tours, while being informative and, at times, necessary, were usually quite strict and with minimal humour (a bit of laughter goes a long way when you are faced with such horrors of history and physically exhausted). Macchu Piccu was, thankfully on our own! We would say the diving team and Scuba duba in Puerto Madryn were great too and I am thankful fear did not prevent me from playing bait to the orcas for that one day. My beloved tells all it was the best diving experience he has had so that’s saying something for someone who has had so many dives! And finally of course one must learn to tango in Buenos Aires without question! A failure to partake in this dance of love is to deprive ones senses of the electricity of one of lifes great thrills (especially if your beloved is as hot at tango as mine)! lol.

For me must sees in these parts of world are Valparaiso, Torres del Paine, Cape Horn, jumping in with the sea lions in Puerto Madryn, both sides of Iguazzu, Cusco and Macchu Piccu – I’d head to Titikaka to see the floating islands but I’d try and find a private driver and check out some not so touristy stops up on the altiplano. Husband would say Puerto Madryn diving. There are obviously many other places we did not get to and others will suggest Antartica (it was so close) or the Argentinian Glaciers and hikes near the border to Torres del Paine – we were challenged quite enough given anyway that we live at sea level and rarely see a mountain at all, let alone the ones they have in South America! And frankly our trip to Cape Horn was fantastic and we were pleased to have made the landing!

We genuinely feel so privileged to have been able both physically and financially to have partaken in these experiences knowing there are many less fortunate who may never have these opportunities – although I will say with a backpack and a cheap hotel or hostel (and an uncomfortable bus) – its surprising how far the money can go if you at least have the physical capacity. Hopefully sharing the stories and a few of the photos might give some pleasure to those at home (especially those who should have been looking after the animals and mowing the lawn) and to others who have taken the time to read and follow this blog.

We hope that if you’ve met us along the way or even if you just enjoy the blog you will put a comment up and keep in contact with us! Editing and photos will be uploaded when we return home so stay following to ensure you catch the updates.

We will also be back soon with more adventures – next time the Camino – until then Adios!

 

Back to Glasgow!

Sitting in our air conditioned room in Santiago I have to say thank heavens we are not in the hot box we started out in here at Santiago a lifetime ago at the beginning of our trip.

Last night was another long night flying from Puno to Lima and then, and after being delayed in Lima we didnt arrive until after 1am this morning. A few technical difficulties with our booking so sleep was slow coming and it has been another hot day!

I couldn’t believe it was Sunday and all the little special shops are shut for our last day! Also, after finally having some reasonable Spanish conversations in Peru we are back in Glasgow! I couldnt even order breakfast this morning without the shop assistant muttering “gringo” as he tried to explain the type of juice in Glaswegian! Jugo de naranga was all that I wanted Pedro! (orange juice) – and as I said “Soy de Australia! No soy de Estados Unida!” My beloved relied on me to tell them Jamon y Queso and pedro had trouble with comprehending that! I think thats enough about Pedro except to say he got no chow pescado from me!

So we skirted around the Plaza de Armas and had a good visit to the Cathedral de Santiago – photos permitted and all. It wasnt as old as the Cusco churches, nor as ornate, but it was very impressive anyway – with various Archbishops buried below also it seemed. We laughed at the traffic signals that showed a lighted green man walking who started to run as it got closer to turning red. Council would be sued in Australia if someone ran and fell over!

We found a small handicraft market and watched a number of street performers throughout the day, and we watched the illegals packup stalls as the police come through and open them seconds later. All in all it was quite a pleasant last day in Santiago.

In the evening we found a great little restaurant in Barrio Lassaria and saw some night markets and busking musicians, had one last pisco sour and enjoyed a nice pinot noir to farewell Sud America!!

Hasta luego Santiago!

 

An elbow on the table

I awoke very early this morning. Too darn early in fact. The boat was a rockin and it wasnt because of loud music and dancing. We were nearing Cape Horn and I was filled with fear and excitement all at once. I wanted to catch the sun rise at the end of the earth and as time went by I could see a line of red on the horizon from where we lay. Then it disappeared. I decided to have a shower and head up to the next floor to see if I could stomach a cup of tea. Before departure I ingested more drugs to keep the illness at bay and ward off any potential sea sickness and I also packed an emergency tablet in case I was to throw up again. Upstairs Carol and Gail popped in shortly after me and we caught a brief few minutes of sunrise shortly before the clouds closed in and visibility diminished. We were almost there and the weather did not look good. We still didnt know if they would allow us to disembark on Cape Horn as the sea down here is so unpredictable. I managed a cup of tea and half a cheese sandwich. My hiking boots were on, my life jacket was on and my beloved husband bounced onto the lounge next to us all kitted up as well. Would they allow us to disembark? Would we have the unique opportunity of walking the 6000 odd steps up to the lighthouse and the broken albatross monument at the end of the world? The Southern most tip of South America? To walk on the last land before Antartica, over 1000 km south of New Zealand’s most Southerly point? To physically touch the ground 2400km South of the Cape of Good Hope?

The captain sent men ashore to check the landing site first. The zodiacs were then accompanied by two men in dry suits standing in the water and a few others around catching the boats as they drove into the rocks. We threw our legs over and climbed out in time with the waves. There was no beach and our path led directly up. The steps were steep and wet. Our hands were frozen. God knows how they first landed here and built the lighthouse.

Well this means we did it! We landed on Cape Horn! The zodiacs threw us onto shore and we climbed up the stairs in freezing rain and climbed inside the lighthouse where flags from everywhere adorned the walls. The first flag I saw was from Koln near where my Aunt Christa hales from. (By the way I have no idea how many steps there are up to the lighthouse – just that there are a lot and it felt like 6000 to me!) We now can put one elbow on the table at dinner in my opinion (thanks to Cousin Charlie for letting me know that once a sailor rounds Cape Horn he is entitled to one elbow and another for the Cape of Good Hope – I thought we were going to have to get anchor tattoos! Elbows are so much more convenient).

So that was that, we have been to the end of the world, it was done, there was going to be another shore excursion in the afternoon at Wulaia Bay before disembarking in Ushuaia Argentina on the morrow but we were not doing anymore hiking today! We would disembark in Ushuaia tomorrow and that would be that. After all I was still unwell.

Well I wasnt going to do anymore hiking and neither was my beloved but we couldnt help ourselves. We were addicted! As soon as the announcement came at ten to four we were up dressed and ready to roll! But this time we did the slow walk again. We were determined to use the time and look closely at things. Stop and smell the roses so to speak. We visited this uninhabited bay where Darwin stopped off and Fitzroy returned the boys i mentioned before whom he had educated in England – these stories were really interesting, sad and adventurous all at once and so very much like Australia’s history. The land had once been used as a sheep station but had long since been abandoned. There were signs of wild pigs digging, just like in Australia. Pests left from a by gone era. A positive was that we could take many photos without holding anyone up – the negative, well, you guessed it – we were now super human and the likes of Colonel Sanders and the Bird lady were still entertaining me. These little walks along the shore were nothing more than warm up stretches now and strolling slowly means barely moving and you get cold – your mind goes numb – you start imagining things – But more importantly, it is so difficult to work out what to wear in these parts and that has nothing to do with fashion – just let me say if its slow and its windy and you aint movin, you need four layers at least. Maybe thats why bird lady looked a little like a penguin – so many layers – oh my good heavens — maybe I do too now!!!

So then was our farewell dinner with our Canadian friends – it was a little sad as we had become a bit of a team. We have also made some new friends from Hawaii and have had a few good laughs with Stacey and Lorena. We have shared some very unique experiences – the camaraderie that comes with the towers of pain and also here on our trip to the end of the world cannot be underestimated. We are so lucky to have struck such great travel companions to share these experiences with. Sadly and yet with eager anticipation we now move onward to new adventures!

 

A return to civilisation at the end of the world!

I guess we are going to learn a lot more about the history of Patagonia when we catch the boat down to Cape Horn. For now though I should tell you that between Torres Del Paine and Punta Arenas there are lots of sheep and the land stretches forever – I guess the hills in the distance are still the Andes. You’ll have to look that up yourself on google earth if you want more detail. It was big country anyway you look at it and, apart from the fact that it was freezing cold and exceptionally windy, you could have been in Western New South Wales or even Julia Creek again! That is until those magnificent mountains come into view.

It is a truely unique place and I cannot imagine the hardships the early settlers endured when establishing there livelihoods down here. In Australia there were the snakes, the spiders and the crocodiles and numerous other species ready for a good feed. Here there was the wind and the occasional puma although I believe there were enough guanacos to keep them (the pumas) satisfied and away from humans. It was clearly too damned cold for anything venemous me thinks – although on our last hike when the sun was out, we were visited by the odd bumble bee. I’m not sure whether they count as venemous though. Apparently all the berries are edible too so we had the odd stop to eat the female calafate and some other not dissimilar berries that hid within the spikey bushes along the sides of the trails.

I have to be honest I dont know alot about the indigenous folk down this way either except to say that the great explorers decided to take four boys back to England and educate them before returning them to Patagonia to find that they denounced the ways of the “civilised” people and returned to living naked in this freezing cold territory. I have to be honest, I knew very little about South American history before arriving and now I realise how big a part the English, Welsh and Germans had in this neck of the woods in addition to the Spanish and Portuguese inter alia (yeh had to use it again) I realise I should probably go back and read up on it. I should say here and now that this blog is not committed to historical fact telling (other than in relation to our travels) and if anyone is seriously looking for some information on these places then wikapedia would be more reliable than me and thats saying something!

Our last morning was more than a rush, I quickly gave Diego our contact details, gave him and Adriana a hug and jammed myself into the window seat on a much smaller bus than the one we had arrived on. Sarah had suggested we would practice spanish words on the way to Puerto Natales but the bus was full and we were at opposite ends of the seating arrangement. The sun was on my face almost the whole time and I tried to create a tent with hiking poles holding my jumper up. I then lent against my new expensive chaqueta (thats spanish for jacket remember). It was still hot and I did not feel entirely well. We stopped at Puerto Natales and had to pack a quick lunch to eat on the way as half of the passengers needed to catch a plane. I also had a mission given to me by Marilyn from Canada – run across the road and buy calafate jam. Others on the bus told me the shop across the road was closed but as the door was still open and I could see jam in the window I tried my luck with friendly Spanish. Nope not closed for jam just no-one available to serve to tables. Suddenly everyone off the bus was back in there ordering take away coffees and I was forgotten by the manager and subsequently was the last one back on the bus. And wouldnt you know it – no Calafate jam!

Anyway another couple of hours with the sun on me and I definitely did not feel 100% – so we checked in to our hotel and didnt wander too far, ate some peruvian food which wasnt too bad and went to sleep. I awoke in the wee hours feeling a little worse for wear with stomach cramps etc. In the morning I loaded myself up with a few drugs and we eventually checked out and checked our luggage in early for our boat trip so that we could find this shopping centre which might sell accessories like those left at home for husband’s gopro. Found a store selling some but thought we’d better check out the competition – this was 12.50pm – then we realised all of the shops were closing at 1pm – many not opening again until 6pm when we were due onboard our boat. So we rushed back and bought the new gopro back which the store lady recommended only to discover it was really only meant for the earlier models without the lcd back. Lesson learned – consumer rights do not apply in Chile! Wallace Bishop would have a field day here!

At this point I was feeling quite unwell and I suggested I sit and wait whilst my beloved circumnavigate the remainder of the centre. No sooner had he returned to my side then I felt the rise of an uncontrollable wave of nausea and I threw up all over the floor – this was just after I managed to get the anti nausea tablet on my tongue. I had only ingested water and sprite that morning so it didnt look as bad is it felt. Chileans are really so nice. I directed husband to the Kiosk near where we were sitting and to just say the word ayudah and point. (I think it means beware or help or something). Frankly I felt so bad I didnt care what it meant. Security visited, centre management visited and finally the cleaning lady. She was so thrilled to be talking to an Australian who by this time had learned some Glaswegian that she didnt seem to mind why she was there. I felt like the tablet which had stuck to my tongue during the throw up process had actually worked but I needed to go to sleep somewhere fast and we werent boarding the boat until 6pm. So we caught a taxi back into town, liaised with the farmacia for some more drugs and went back to the cafe below our hotel where there was a nice soft lounge I could relax on. Not too long after our Canadian friends Ginger, Gail and Carol arrived with Calafate Jam in hand Yeh ha! and waited with us for the boat. We just love these Canadians too!

So here we are now – night three after day two on board. The first night was okay because I drugged myself up and slept and although I awoke with a fever and aching all over, after taking drugs I was okay to take on the trips to shore.

Due to feeling under the weather, particularly so on the first day, we chose the slow option hike first up. The first trip quite frankly was so goddamned slow we almost fell asleep and died of boredom at the same time. I quickly realised how painful it must have been for the experienced mountaineers to follow behind me in the towers of pain. But, it also made me realise that our experiences there were not for the faint hearted – or those week at the knees. These people on this slow walk truly were going slower than lichen grows on a patagonian boulder. This was even with me feeling feverish and a little out of sorts. I was so bored I started observing our comrades and developing stories about them. First was Colonel Sanders, he looked like he had eaten a bit of chicken in his time and he had grown an impressive white beard that would have looked good on a chicken ad. Then there were the ladies, gingerly stepping between blades of grass I think. The lady that impressed me most was shaped not unlike a penguin and her profile suggested a bird like tendancy. I had to chuckle to myself later when I saw she had the birds of patagonia book (extended edition) and binoculars to match. She was a bird lady! Every time I saw her after that I tried to identify which bird she most looked like. Yep that was one slow hike!

Our friend Ginger had taken the “difficult” trek first up and we realised there and then that after Torres del Paine “difficult” may never be difficult again! So, day 2 we took the “difficult” option up the side of Pia Glacier. Still after all the torment I have not metamorphasised into a mountain goat. It was only 1/2 an hour – it was through mud where the melting ice from the glacier was feeding into very fertile soil and then, yes you guessed it, over boulders and another “moraine” that the glacier had left. I have to be honest I did not complete the last 20 metres of this one either. I could see all that I needed to see and my knees have become precious commodities that allow me to get around – I aint gonna destroy them unnecessarily! But the hiking – it was easy peasy!

We passed the afternoon away cruising through Glacier Alley and observing some of the most beautiful glaciers in the world. The italians were singing when we passed theirs and the germans when we passed theirs. At least I think thats what was happening. There was clearly no Australian glacier so we just accepted the drinks and toasted to whatever they were saying ducking out on deck every now and then to snap a couple of photos. The sun was out and I realised also that we would never be as cold again as we were when hiking in the winds of Torres del Paine. This was summer in the sub Antartic and I can assure you we aint coming back in winter!

So I finally ingested some antibiotics this morning after waking up mi duele todo (aching all over) again… Miracle of miracles for a while there it seemed they actually worked and I could eat a meal. Then the aches came back again and I think I took one more dose in the hope of getting well. My new friend Ginger (who just happened to also be a doctor) gave me moral support during my meal time whining and aided my return to health with laughter and some Patagonian encouragement.

I did perk up a bit knowing that Husband was asked to model for this evenings fashion parade and, we gathered around to provide whistling and jeering as required. Our son would be proud – he always wanted to be a German backpacker after a holiday on Fraser Island a few years back. We had reliably informed him that he could be a backpacker but not a German one. I realise only now that you can really be whoever you want to be if there is a bit confusion – even a German backpacker. Tonight his father became an Austrian model. No matter how many times we informed the host he was “Australian” he was still Austrian to her and therefore also to everyone else. He was given a stuffed penguin for his troubles (for being an Austrian model) and won another playing bingo shortly after.

Anyway we go to sleep tonight knowing that we may wake at 3 or 4 to a large swell. At dawn we will be at or near Cape Horn and by 7am we will know whether or not we can land and explore the most southerly point of the americas El fin del Mundo – The end of the earth. If the sea is too large there is no way we would want to disembark after experiencing the swell last night when we ventured out from the Magellan Strait into the open Pacific – it was to say the least a little disturbing as we are not on one of those big cruise liners that takes people around the cape. We will be in the most dangerous water on earth where over 800 ships have sunk and where the Altantic meets the Pacific. I have it on good authority we will not see any change in the colour of the water nor will we see a clear dividing mark or border line so you will just have to trust me when I show you the photos.

Apparantly we are 2400km south of the cape of good hope in South Africa and over 1000 km south of the Southern most point of New Zealand. Another 1000 odd kilometres across the treacherous Drake Passage to Antartica – the area we are in is known as Sub Antartic and if survive Cape Horn, I am reliably informed by my cousin in the Navy that we will be able to put one elbow on the table when we eat. I am so thrilled to be so close to being granted this great honour and will have to post a photo at dinner tomorrow night all going well and assuming we can find some internet somewhere!

 

 

 

 

And onward to the Towers of Pain!

Firstly let me apologise for the many typo’s and errors in spelling and or grammar. Whilst I am usually somewhat of a perfectionist in regards to correspondence etc I am typing this on a bluetooth keyboard often late at night or on a moving bus so I just want to get the blogs out there for you all to read. Secondly, if you have only just joined the blog and read Time to Tango before arriving at this entry, I beseech you to scroll down, if not to the beginning at least to two entries back to get some context as to where we are now. Finally if you are enjoying the read then please like, follow and share.

Okay now as you will recall yesterday was somewhat of a long day. We were beyond tired and sore upon returning to Ecocamp. I managed a quick shower before dinner so that i could rub voltaren in some of the more tender spots on my feet and legs. Thank heavens those darn blisters had retreated! Anyway down at the dining tent we were to choose our option for the following day. Remember, I was eager to do the hardest hike in the park from the beginning – the Mirador los Torres. 22 kilometre round trip, ascending and descending along the way and ascending rapidly in the last 2 kilometres.

After the bus back from the French Valley I informed Adriane that if I could not physically undertake the trip to the Mirador I would not feel bad as the French Valley hike was without a doubt a challenging achievement. I was aching, I was tired – frankly I was exhausted. Husband and I discussed the possibility of taking the easy option. We catch a bus, take a gentle stroll through some native vegetation and along a lake or something and then view the towers from the comfort of a barbeque spot on blue lake. What then was I thinking when I sat down to dinner and encouraged Ginger to take the hike? I would be slower than her so she need not worry about holding anyone back! Honestly am I insane? Husband was happy to follow me whatever the choice as it was my plotting and scheming that had brought us to this god forsaken place! I could barely get out of my seat – how could I possibly back up for 22 kilometres on steep terrain in the conditions we had encountered over the last few days? The only thing I can say is that I had in mind that if I awoke on the morrow unable to move I would not and indeed could not go on and the decision would be made for me.

As it happens I awoke a little worse for wear but not too bad all things being considered. Perhaps the stairs in Valparaiso had prepared me better than I had thought. I left husband to sleep in and went off to yoga for some stretching. It was here that I discovered a rather sharp pain above my right knee whenever I tried to bend it. This is not the knee that I had had surgery on to realign the kneecap last year. I know you are thinking thats it – shows over you can all go home. But again some hidden level of insanity drove me on. After breakfast Diego provided me with a knee brace just in case and I put strapping tape everywhere that I thought might need some extra help. The twisted ankle had not caused too much trouble, the blisters were a fading memory but the knees were keen to show who was boss. I am not an old woman so I can only assume the knees obtained much of their deterioration during my youth when dancing all night every night was an important part of life – I should clarify that this was not professional dancing but social dancing to some of the best bands around and at discos where nutbush city limits was a good stretch for the knees. Oh well – they were not going to get the better of me today. We were off!

Out came the pacer poles — my hiking poles of choice – and off came the layers of warmth. Would you believe the sun was out! I cant pretend it was genuinely hot but the wind had died off, the horizontal sleet was nowhere to be seen and we could not have picked a better day for walking the track along the steep ravine that lead into our destination. We had a relatively easy walk out of camp and down the hill past the only true hotel in the park. We were glad to be staying where we were- it had character and charm.

Anyway over a bridge or two and then the ascent began. Our favourite guides had chosen the barbeque option with the glass of wine overlooking the towers and the blue lake so we had a new guide named Sarah who was from the States. There is no doubt Sarah was very safety conscious and extremely knowledgable – we were just not sure that she quite got our sense of humour. That was really neither here nor there really as walking up hill in Patagonia did not lend itself to great conversation on our part yet Sarah was clearly able to chatter on and provide us with many interesting stories about the land and its history and she proved to be a great hiking companion for this particular day. Of particular note was the story about the Patagonian bushranger after whom the valley was named Ascencior or something. I was also given the lead role due to the fact that I was clearly the slowest. This provided me with a level of guilt but also a level of motivation to keep up the pace so as not to annoy others. Ginger informed me quite early on that I was actually setting quite a demanding pace (at least in my terms demanding). The Germans decided somewhere around this time to go it alone and sped off in front. I would totally have done the same if I was used to this type of terrain and did not want to linger all day. The nice couple from Victoria, Shane and Tricia and Ginger happily followed along behind. All at times gasping for or complaining about butt muscles or tother! Husband preferred to go at speed and rest whilst we caught up – it all worked well so far.

I guess it seemed like hours before we reached the top and the views all around were spectacular. But reaching the top in these parts is not what it seems – no – you follow the narrow trail around the edge of a fairly steep drop maybe 400 to 500 metres and then you descend before ascending again and descending again. You can see people off in the distance with huge backpacks on and you wonder how on earth you can possibly do this. Something I had not actually mentioned to anyone at this time was that I was also absolutely terrified of the height and frightened I would fall off if someone passed me on the wrong side. Particularly after feeling like I was going to take flight the day before. Thankfully it was the only day we had been there where it wasnt windy. In fact we had come to believe that it was always windy and it would be only a brief period in time where we might not be subjected to such terror so I had this fear of wind always in the back of my mind.

The body was holding up but it was hurting. I had been told that after our stop at the refugio it was a relatively easy walk until the last kilometre where it was a near vertical ascent. This “easy” walk was known as Patagonian flats – but dont let the word “flats” fool you. It was certainly a busier track than the French Valley but it was by no means an easy stroll. I think the Chileans must have a great sense of humour to translate this part of the hike into the words Patagonian flats. It was up and down (but mostly up I think) through streams, across narrow bridges over rocks and beautiful forested areas with tree roots and finally out into a definite windy part at the foot of the mirador where some comedian had decided to place camp ground! Husband kept asking me if I was okay and I know now he was secretly hoping I would turn back. He had a blister forming on his heel due to the fact that his hiking boots had sat in the cupboard for some months back home rather than go out on hikes and get broken in! I think the compeed he put on at one of our stops had given him some reprieve so he too soldiered on valiantly being there to protect me.

So now we could see the mirador (that’s spanish for lookout by the way) well, we could see where it was supposed to be and it felt close. The only problem was that it was a near vertical hike mixed in with a climb to reach it. No dont go home yet – the show still isnt over! I soldiered on with a bloody cough tablet song singing in my head! Up up up. Did I mention it was up? Yes over rocks the odd stream and more rocks. Sarah suggested we may be getting a little too considerate letting everyone pass and that some of them could just wait if that did not say “Con permissio”. Well we were finally out on the bare face of the mountain when I first muttered the words “I think I’m done”. A little of that Patagonian encouragement from Sarah “but you are so close” so I kept moving – then Sarah also said that people need to stop when they know they should. So a few more metres clambering up the rocks and I knew if I went any further I may be staying up there forever as my knees would not allow me to come back down this rather verticle hike! I also knew that the 10 kilometres or so back were going to be pretty darn tough anyway and even though there were horses at the refugio, I had been thrown and dragged as a child and was terrified of horse riding. The fact that we had at one stage kept a Welsh Mountain pony that our kids rode had never encouraged me to lose that fear.

So husband immediately agreed to accompany me down the mountain and we were to wait for the team back at the refugio. We sat for a short while and Timotie the French photographer who had accompanied us on day one with Diego and Adriana arrived. He had been hoping to catch us up the top. He was a little sad for us because we were so close but seemed to understand the dilemma as he bid farewell and descended at great pace. I have to say I was glad I did not take one step further because every step down from this point was excruciating. But with hiking poles to lean on, the odd tree to grab for support and the man of my dreams to catch me I was destined to make it back. The alternative was to stay on the mountain and freeze to death – no roads, no air ambulance and no RACQ rescue chopper. The alternative was a tad bleak!

It seemed hours later we arrived at the refugio and I took my boots off and lifted each leg with my hands onto the bench seat to allow them to rest – we still had at least two and half to three hours to go with an extreme downhill at the end. I had no longer put my boots back on when our team arrived from a successful visit to the mirador. Shane had very kindly taken one of my little camera’s for the climb and Ginger confirmed that it was very hard and I was right to turn back when I did. So off we went again! Back up the narrow path following the very steep ravine then down then up then the big down. I was slow. I was slower than moss growing on a garden path. I was careful and I was in pain. But I was laughing. I think i was also going insane – oh no thats right I must have been insane already to have selected this option rather than the barbeque. Strangely I was not even remotely disappointed. Had I not done the French Valley the day before I still dont think I could have done the last 100metres or so as it was so steep. I actually felt quite proud of myself.

Sarah very kindly arranged for the bus to pick us up at the Hotel at the bottom of the descent. By this point I was near crippled. It was very much like I was walking on all fours with my hiking poles extensions of my arms. Dear husband was concerned that I looked so bedraggled and offered more than once to carry my little day pack. I declined on the basis that it was extra weight to hold me down should the wind pick up an want to carry me off to Antartica like Mary Poppins!

Well even the Germans informed me that they are used mountain hikes and this was a hard one. We went to the bar after dinner as it was to be our last night in camp and all of our friends were to be there, including the bus team who had been out at the refugios. Sarah got out her violin and one of the managers played his guitar. I was constantly commended for the effort I had put in especially when people realised I had had knee surgery less than a year ago. I was equally commended for knowing my limits and turning back when I did. Husband was commended for his harmonica playing and the red wine tasted very fine!

I may always be remembered as the one who almost made the Mirador but thats okay with me. I have another badge of honour not dissimilar from Mount Sinai many years ago. A friend and i were to climb it and sleep on top to watch the sunrise – desafortunatemente it was a desert heat wave and Barb got heat stroke and started vomiting half way up so we went back down and slept at the bottom – an equally unique experience I can assure you but I will save that for another day.


 

Torres del Paine

I actually thought that Torres del Paine meant towers of pain in spanish. I was however mistaken. It seems the indigenous folk down this way use the word paine (or something like it) to describe the colour blue. So there you go another fact that you probably didnt need or want to know – I have many of them! Personally I will forever remember them as the towers of pain as blue does not adequately explain the experience – read on!

So we were picked up from our hotel in Chile’s Southerly most city Punta Arenas at 10.30 am precisely on Monday for our trip to Ecocamp Torres del Paine. Had I known at that point that we would be driving all around town picking up others and then driving straight past our hotel again, I would have asked for the extra half hour to shop and obtain that warm weather gear I was clearly lacking. Apart from the fact that you can never have enough time to shop anywhere, here I was in a bit of a quandry. You see I had wandered back into town seeking thermals again at 9am only to discover that the shops dont open until10am. I had walked backwards and forwards numerous times past a gentleman in the street who was politely holding his hand out and smiling. Eventually after I had managed to ask my question in Spanish to a friendly looking lady about opening times I thought I should simply head back to the hotel and wait for the pickup. As I passed the smiling man one last time I felt the need to contribute to his dental fund so on my final pass by I handed him 2000 pesos. You can only imagine how big the smile got then and I have to say I was glad to have made the contribution as the bigger the smile, the more obvious the need for dental work.

Anyway we were fortunate to have stumbled onto a bus with a great team for the trip up to torres del Paine – Ryan, Jill, Richard, Christina and finally Lloyd and Marilyn – the grand partners of adventure – they have done Killamanjara, the Camino and even Base Camp Everest – all since retiring! Our team was a mix of mostly Canadians with three of us from Oz. Yet again this adventure into the unknown wasnt great – it was fantastico! Well if this was going to be the class of people in Ecocamp we were very pleased to have decided on glamping rather than camping! Desafortunatemente (you know my favourite spanish word by now) we were all going to go our separate ways the next day. But for now the bus was filled with laughter and travel stories, comparative shopping analysis and, without a doubt, a shared feeling of awe as we marvelled at the grandiosity of Patagonia. We met up with Juan (whom I later discovered was Joan pronounced more like Juan) who was to take the others on their W Trek the next day camping at refugios throughout the park. He was a wealth of information and helped me make a very quick and expensive purchase of a warmer coat and thermal base layer in Puerto Natales before once again heading into the great unknown. At least I was no longer facing the fear of freezing to death in this wild untamed land however credit card bills on our return home may prove equally as traumatic! Oh well…

 

We had a brief stop at a rather large cave that I believe was formed a few thousand years ago when a glacier melted and the water was washed in to the mountain. The cave was the place where someone discovered the remains of a dinosaur/sloth that looked very much like a bear. Well at least we all thought it did. We wandered into the cave in the hope of seeing some evidence of the bear however we were only greeted with manmade replicas and stalignites or whatever tthose things are that drop from the ceiling. I would like to point out however that bear or no bear the cave was pretty darn impressive and I do not think the stop was wasted at all. Anyway the shop outside had one pair of gloves available that would fit my beloved and we went back in and made this purchase just before departure which would prove life saving for him especially up in the French Valley in a day or two (or at least finger saving.)

 

On arrival at Ecocamp we thought we were about to have another experience where I had misread the reviews and we should have stayed elsewhere. First we were walked to tent number 6 which looked perfect as it was at the end of the track, very private, great view – oops someone is in there, then tent number 5 -sorry not this one either, then the girl ran back to the office and came back saying tent number 7. We walked down the track past the disabled sign and we were disappointed to see a) we were taking the disabled tent from someone who might need it and b) we would have big handrails taking up the already limited space in the shower cubicle attached to the tent. Little did we know how useful those shower rails would be after 9 and 10 hour hikes into the mountains! The tent was muy bueno with its own little fire place and super warm bedding and even though the wind was to howl all through the night – we were in the perfect Patagonian sanctuary with a view out of our tent window to the towers of pain.

We headed down to the dining tent before dinner as instructed and met with another Australian couple and our allocated guide Adriana to find out the next days itinerary. Another near disappointment was to be told that we could not do the Mirador for 3 days as differrent programs were running. This disappointed me as I felt I might only have one good hike in me and it had to be Mirador del Torres. Desafortunatemente – what will be will be.

So day 1 in Ecocamp the winds were howling, rain/snow was coming and going and we were making full use of all the warmest gear we owned. We selected the Grey Glacier visit whereupon we got to know our favourite guides. Adriana and her “friend” Diego – later known as the cousins! Enroute to Glacier grey or whichever way you say it, we were able to stop off at a couple of places, firstly the condors nest where Diego took a photo of us and suggested it would be great because we are married for us to be kissing. After the big kiss and posing for the photo I informed him we were not married but we were cousins! Ha ha poor Diego nearly had a heart attack. I have to admit it was a good laugh.

 

Anyway no sight that they took us to that day was more interesting than the waterfall stop where we were warned that the wind can be so bad that we may not even be able to complete our walk. Furthermore, if our guides were to signal with a dropped hand, we should drop to the ground immediately as we may be swept to our death by the wind. Because we had already visited the condor’s nest look out where we started to learn to fly and we had spent a night in the howling wind so loud that for me it required earplugs, we were finding the wind somewhat challenging but also kind of fun. Well were we in for a shock here. What happens is the stones get whipped up by the wind and you need your jacket more for protecting your skin from flying gravel than anything else. I think it was here that I first had the pleasure of sleet blowing horizontally into my ear also. I would grow used to this phenomenum after a day or two. Thankfully beloved husband remained close too my side in order to ensure I did not unexpectedly fly off the cliff!

After struggling only a few hundred metres we were able to cling to the guard rails and grab a few snapshots of the waterfall. Only after being there do you realise it is not the waterfall that is the attraction, very nice but we have seen a few of them in our time, no the wind is the attraction – a bit like a ride at Luna Park where you are unable to move due to centrifugal forces. Here it was the wind that pinned you and if you were able to hit the ground without being blown away you were clearly unable to rise again until the gust had passed! Had she been here Mary Poppins would have been swept up and arrived in Antartica before you could say supercalafragilisticexpealadocias!

Eventually we arrived at our boat at Lago Gris or Grey Lake. Nothing is boring in this part of the world. I felt like we were given a trip through the Perfect Storm! I eaven had my personal George Clooney at my side! Beloved husband, upon noticing my knuckles turning white as I clung to the seat in front, informed me that “you know it is perfectly safe” as the boat nose dived through what I consider a 6 metre wave rolling straightt towards us. I may not be the best estimator of wave height but whatever way you looked at it the weather was wild and the front window of the boat was under the water. My guess is we were in a 54 footer or larger – husband suggests at least 15 metres – do your own calculations – it was wild. After what felt like hours and the lady in front having to move up the back to vomit, the waves finally calmed down and icebergs everywhere came into view and there it was – the face of the grey glacier. Once the boat pulled up close enough we were able to climb up to the top deck of the boat, the wind was still extreme but I guess the waves hadnt had time to form yet. As you might have guessed out comes the pisco sour. This was interesting drinking in the wind. One gust hit so suddenly that my pisco sour sprayed over my camera and all through my hair. Luckily my genuine attempts to communicate with the boat crew lead to my being offered another, and then just before heading back, another. Yay to pisco sour – at least I could relax a little for the return trip.

Anyway day number two saw us agreeing to undertake the second most difficult hike on the menu. I was concerned that I would wear myself out or cause great pain to my knee, which might prevent me from doing the Mirador Los Torres which was scheduled for the next day. But by the same token, the weather may close in and the hike tomorrow may be cancelled anyway. Furthermore the hike to los Torres today was not appealling in strong wind and rain. So we committed to a hike up into the French Valley to the base of a great glacier. This was apparantly to be a15 km round trip but first we had to catch another boat from the windiest part of the park would you believe! Oh boy we really were having some fun. Funnily enough this boat did not even vaguely come near to the thrill ride of the day before. Before you knew it we were disembarking and having a brief stop at the refugio and camping ground to visit the toilet and get our hiking poles out.

I felt totally safe with our guides Adriana and Diego with one at the front and the other at the rear. On this hike we got to know our new German friends Heike and Ulrich and our new Canadian friends Gail and Ginger (what great names eh?). We were still with Heather and Peter from Oz who were also with us on the previous day. I think it was here that Diego taught me my favourite Chilean farewell. Chow Pescado – pronounced something like Chow Pescow meaning Goodbye fish! I know you may all be wondering what the hell am I talking about but another girl on the boat over to the French Valley hike informed me that it was like saying see you later Alligator because it rhymes. But I said it doesnt rhyme! It was at this point I realised how badly Chileans speak spanish as Chow Pescado in no way Rhymes unless it is said in Chilean. So Chow Pescow it is!

This hike into the French Valley was impressive – I recorded the GPS track from when we boarded the boat so when I get time I can update this blog with the track and statistics. Let me say it was hard work. Initially there was rain and wind so we all (except husband) had our waterproof pants and jackets on. Husband did have his thermal tights on under his trekking pants however and they looked so good I thought he was going to a pirouette for me before we had left our tent that morning. Anyway the wind again whipped so hard that sleet or snow was going sideways into my ear canals until I pulled up my new buff which I had bought with my other expensive gear on the way at Puerto Natales on advice from our new friends Marilyn and Christina (the Cuban Canadian) . That was excellent advice ladies – thankyou!

 

So we hiked for hours and eventually stopped for our packed lunches under the protection of trees in the camp ground. I have no idea why we stopped in that god forsaken spot or how cold it was but frankly it was too cold to pee and everyone who had their gloves off found fingertips freezing within seconds. I dont think we had seen the sun for days.

I think the ranger told Diego that the weather was too bad to go all the way but Diego had a plan, we would go up the centre of the Valley following the waterway and if we were lucky we would make the base of the glacier. After another couple of hours, up and down up and down, we were lucky! It was definitely worth the pain! More photos, a bit of a rest and then time to head back. Okay I was aching – actually we both were – surely we all were. It was during the last stretch back to catch the boat that I came to the realisation that I may need to eat more and I may actually be too light. I had told my beloved I was fine and he progressed ahead with great haste whilst I plodded along the last five kilometres or so. At some point in time I will admit the wind almost had me beaten. Ulrich very kindly offered to assist me for some of the climbing where the wind had grown strong again. It was only when I almost fell off the side of the mountain I realised how fantastic our guides were. Suddenly both Adriana and Diego appeared from nowhere and escorted me over the windiest section of the trail. Always encouraging me with its only a short way, about 15 minutes, just over that next hill – well practised in stretching the truth to encourage success I would say. Finally – the refugio and camp ground where we were to catch the boat for home was in sight. This where it all went pair shaped however!

The wind was so strong that we needed to stand behind a wall just to obtain some reprieve. Thankfully we were able to use the facilities at the camp site and buy a couple snacks to replenish our energy. Sadly the temperature had not improved at all throughout the day. We were then told we had to line up for the boat that was to come in 40 minutes. So 40 minutes standing in a freezing cold 40 knot wind fresh from the Southern Patagonian Icefields. Well it could have been 50 knots – how would any of us know really? Again it was an opportunity to cling to the fence and hope that one wasnt one of the unlucky ones whose body was flipped over the edge into the freezing cold lake. After withstanding this constant force we were excited to see the boat finally arrive. We were not however excited to see the boat take on passengers and then leave again – without us!

At this point Adriana and Diego insisted we go back to the refugio and wait in the bar and they would mind our spots. I know you are thinking why on earth would we want to sit in a bar by a fire place and drink red wine when we could continue to stand out in this once in a life time wind! Well we had to suffer this misfortune with a heavy heart! One positive was we were able to see our good friends who had caught the bus with us from Punta Arenas. Another positive was we had time to actually talk to our hiking companions and share the left over snacks we had carried with our packed lunch. The red wine was unbelievably welcome.

Husband sat watch perched atop the lounge arm peering out towards the far side of the lake with his binoculars. Finally around 8.30pm the boat arrived – its hard to keep track of times when the sky doesnt seem to get dark until midnight. Anyway in the rush to get back to the wind swept lineup my beloved left the said binoculars for someone elses pleasure! We arrived back at the camp site, my hair was so matted I could not even brush it, my legs were so sore I could barely raise myself from the sitting position – but we felt damned good – that was one hell of a hike and we had made it to the face of the glacier we had made even more new friends and were pleased to have chosen the hike and even more pleased to have made it back! Muy bueno!

The bear caveThe bear cave

 

 

Loyd and Marilyn and the bear
Loyd and Marilyn and the bear
Kissing cousins lol
Kissing cousins lol

 

Adriana and Me learning to fly
Adriana and Me learning to fly

 

More photos to come when internet allows – stay tuned

Leaving the land that time forgot

The bus trip out of Vina and Val (as the locals like to call them) was like a journey out of a movie set. At 7 in the morning the the sky was still dark and the city was cloaked in fog. I could imagine how in days of old the pirates would have slowly appeared through the mist and ransacked the towns. Apparently Francis Drake ransacked the town of Valparaiso more than once and I didnt even think he was a pirate! As we meandered through the hills one last time my mind wandered and I pictured boat loads of Johnny Depps appearing through the haze with bright coloured coats and shiney swords. Yes we were in pirate land and there was no need for a film set to be built at all! Adios to Valparaiso.

So this bus trip took us to a station on the outskirts of Santiago where we had to change to another (otra) bus to get to the airport for our plane to Patagonia. Despite concerns from the non Spanish speaking side of the partnership (apparently due to my dawdling again as I repacked my pack), everything worked in complete synchronicity as my ability to get around and communicate with the Glaswegians had developed over the week, hence we made the plane in plenty of time.

This flight was an interesting flight for a couple of reasons. Firstly I had noticed that much of the population in Chile was somewhat shorter than your average Aussie but this did not really hit home until we were seated in the plane and our knees were somewhere near our foreheads! Given the difficulty I have had with one knee over the last year or two (including surgery) I thought that the complete inability to move for 4 hours meant I was going to leave the plane hobbling along with one leg immobile for days and me needing to utilise one of my hiking poles just to keep balance for standing – let alone hiking in Torres del Paine national park! Secondly a family with four boys sat beside in front and behind us and I thought we were going to have screaming children invading our quiet time for the entire trip. Thankfully I was wrong on both counts. We were able to move around quite a bit and thankfully the screaming children were actually quite fun. Phillipe was able to practise his English on us and the one nearest me was having his sixth birthday and was the focus of attention of the Air attendants which meant we were too! Felice compleanos Ricardo!

So after viewing the massive glaciers from the aire we finally arrived in Punta Arenas Patagonia – destination perfecto! Well perfect if you are fully prepared for zero degrees with an unknown wind chill factor blowing in off the Magellan Strait! I realised I was going to need some serious thermals under my high tech warm gear and we wandered into the town in search of supplies. Desafortunatemente (my favourite spanish word really) there were no shops open. Nothing nada! Sunday evening in Patagonia it seems, is not shopping time. What was I thinking? Well I was thinking these people keep strange hours. We were getting sunburned at 8.30pm in Vina del Mare, it was pitch black at 8.30am and people seemed to take siestas from around 3pm until 7pm. It meant we had no idea of when shops or anything was opened. Well fortunatemente we are staying in the only hotel in town that has its own cafe opened for food, hence we ate, watched the people get ferried to the massive cruise liner just off shore, walked again and passed out with exhaustion. It was a long day!

 

Bucea Quintay

Well this was a fun morning. My beloved was about to have his first diving experience in South America and we had to catch the local bus to the departure point in Valparaiso for a collectiva – a share taxi to Quintay. He was in high stress mode as nothing was happening on time (read I was moving too slowly) and he was sure he was going to miss the boat. I was confident he would be fine. Theory being that we have learnt over the last few days that Chile time is akin to island time anywhere in the world – only we are not on an island. We arrived at the bus stop just as the 612 was arriving, we knew it was the right bus because it was the number of 612 ABC at home and we found it exactly where our tour guide had told us it would be. The drive in the collectivo was just over half an hour and we arrived at Quintay at 10.15am – 15 minutes before schedule with a new friend from Brazil named Terese. The dive boat didn’t leave until 11.30am anyway. Beloved husband was happy!

This trip allowed me to stroll around the small village on the waterfront and sit back and relax on the dive shop sundeck whilst my beloved was under the sea. I believe this is the first time I have sat down for longer than 30 minutes the entire time we have been away – other than to eat or sleep. Having said that it was not the most relaxing wait as the newly constructed deck seamed to sway and shake whenever there was movement on the level below. At first I thought I was experiencing one of the legendary Chilean earthquakes but then I realised I was simply located on a deck that was probably rebuilt annually due to the use of wonky timber for its entire frame and decking and the haphazard way it was put together. Meanwhile Thomas was 30 metres under the water and the temperature was only 10 degrees! No sea lions at this location but I guess that means no orcas either! So then the challenge to get out of Quintay.

By lunchtime loads of tourists had arrived there for the day to have lunch and as there were only five restaurants the price was double that of the local bar we had eaten lunch at in Valparaiso yesterday. In self denial mode about being tourists we decided to return to Vina del Mar and eat a locals lunch somewhere again. But how to find our collectivo or any collectivo was the question. The english speaking dive instructor had gone back out in the boat and the girl in the dive shop understood enough of my words to get the drift and asked the old man out the front to give us directions. He mistook us for Europeans asking somos de Europa? and was very impressed when I explained we were from Australia and did not speak much Spanish. His directions were back in that Glaswegian accent but I understood enough to suggest to my beloved that we walk up this large hill (again) and then turn left at the police station. Well we walked up the hill almost enjoying it after yesterday and, as you might imagine – no police station. There was a post office however so we jointly decided that post office must have sounded like police station – this did perplex me a little as post office is (in my opinion) supposed to be officina de correa and I was sure the old man had said policia – thankfully it didnt matter as we spotted a yellow car a couple of blocks up the dirt road to the left and low and behold, a collectiva! A nice young driver with broken English entertained us with stories on the way back to Valparaiso.

Now some comparison between drivers. On the way out to Quintay our driver was, lets say, elderly. He drove with great care at an acceptable speed and also took a couple of back roads through the country side giving us a tour of sorts. Our nice young driver on the way back however, was quite a conversationalis and entertained us with stories all the way but he was something of a speed demon. The speed itself was not of great concern as beloved husband had noticed a freeway sign suggesting a limit of 120km per hour on the way in from Santiago. What was of concern was the fact that his head kept turning around to look at us as he spoke and glimpses of the speedo suggested he was doing nearly 140km an hour! You will be pleased to know we made it back to our hotel although my knuckles were a little white for sometime after the journey having grasped the Jesus strap with great vigor for the entire journey. Interestingly we noticed numerous shrines for the dead along the freeway and he confidently informed us it was from the young people on Friday night who drink too much and then decide to drive. He was completely unaware of the possibility that anyone driving at 140km per hour on a Saturday lunchtime might also meet such a premature end! Next time it will be mas dispacio por favor! (more slowly please!) – I think I didnt say it this time because I was frozen with fear!.

After a brief rest in our room we decided to venture out early this time and make lunch our dinner as well – this 10pm eating was getting a bit much.

We dropped into the Casino to donate some small change to the barman for a pisco sour and a cerveza and then headed off along the water front to find somewhere to eat and see how the locals live. There were many entertainers, some with not so impressive skills and some quite interesting. The jugglers that run out in front of cars when the lights turn red, particularly the one with knives, were quite impressive, however the old man with the untuned guitar who seemed to have had one too many pisco sours not so impressive. Anyway husband decided to entertain the masses with his harmonica as we strolled back through the crowds to find our food – muy bueno – his repertoire has improved and he sounded quite the professional. We were tired however as all this was occurring at 8pm at night while the sun is still burning and our stomachs are grumbling. Home we went and eventually found food exactly where we had left it and then we were early to bed for on the morrow we were off to Patagonia!

 

 

Santiago on foot!

So another day in Santiago saw us walking, walking, walking. We caught the subway to Plaza de Armas, the point from where all distances are measured in Chile. We circled around this main square and through one of the museums and then headed for the mercedo central (thought I should test out security on my new bag). All went well but the bag was proving quite a nuisance to get things out of so my camera stayed in my hand and we stayed alert and finished the visit without incident

Before leaving the centre of Santiago we found an arcade that specialised in sharp things and we were botth impressed with the number of manicure kits. Strangley enough it is almost impossible to find a good quality manicure kit in Australia these days – maybe because there are nail bars on every corner and we arent supposed to file our own nails anymore. Anyway for whatever reason I was impressed and managed to communicate my desire to have the address written down so that I can return an maybe purchase before returning to Australia.

The walking really began when we headed up to Barrio Bellavista to see Pablo Neruda’s house. I told my beloved we must see Pablo Neruda’s house and he agreed saying “absolutely I could not imagine a visit to Santiago without a visit to Pablo’s house – who exactly is Pablo Neruda?” Well he was a Nobel prize winning poet who wrote under a pseudonym so as not to upset his dear old dad. After a stint in Spain and one in Paris he was a strong member of the Communist party which was most recently overthrown in the early 70’s when the country was taken over by a military dictator by the name of Pinochet who seemingly liked to torture and kill his detractors. Prior to this Pablo had also spent some time in exile around the time he expressed support for Stalin and complained about an earlier Chilean regime. Anyway the Pinochet dictatorship lasted until the early 90’s when Pinochet died and the next guy decided to see if the people would prefer a democracy – at least that’s what the taxi driver said. Apparently as Pablo died soon after Pinochet had taken over, his funeral turned into the first real protest under the Pinochet regime and many Chileans (but not all) still hold him in high regard even today. The question most asked by my beloved husband and I was how the hell did a poet manage to travel the world and live a life of luxury whilst writing love poems and political critiques – especially if he was a true communist and not a capitalist in any way? The answer – I should have known – work for the public service.

Clearly the accuracy of my historical facts can be checked against wikipedia (cause obviously that is a more reliable source) or you can just accept this as enough information and go and read some of Pablo’s love poems which he wrote for his lovers and wives over time. Communist, adulterer, poet, party animal – it was an interesting visit anyway you look at it as he had quite an eclectic collection of items which he used to entertain guests – including a salt and pepper shaker marked as morphine and marijuana. The house also had a view over santiago (fast disappearing with new construction in front of it).

Whilst wandering around on foot we discovered a couple of little known facts about Santiago. 1. There are dogs everywhere just sleeping around and seemingly owned by no-one. 2. There are private hospitals on almost every corner. 3. There is a high proportion of the population that seem to smoke. Not sure if any of these three points are related but there you go, interesting facts on Santiago that we didnt read in a guidebook. Perhaps the number of hospitals is a direct correlation to the number of smokers and I am convinced the dogs are lying around because they are so hungry and thirsty that they dont have the energy to bark or annoy anyone.

Our wandering took us to a local eatery which we decided to try for lunch. This again was a challenge for my language skills but I impressed myself with my ability to be understood and we decided on the Menu of the day which included 3 courses and was exceptionally good value. For under $10 we had the mandatory bread with salsa, ensalada and a chicken and a beef dish – we declined the included postre (dessert) as we were so full. The tastes were unique again using herbs and spices that we could not identify. I will assume those flavours are unique to Chile as neither of us could identify flavours we had ever tasted before.

(Photos will have to come later as the internet here is somewhat lacking and we are going  out of range for about 5 days – remember to follow this blog and I’ll up date it when we come back.)