23.12.2010 - 02.01.2011 27 °C
Getting to Santiago was a very drawn out affair. The 12 hour wait in LA airport wasn't too fun; I got out my sleeping bag and got a few hours sleep on the floor of terminal 2... The next two flights (to Bogota then Santiago) were fine - I was in a state of semi-zombification by then. At midnight on Christmas Day (flying over Peru), all of the plane's lights were switched on and Christmas music was blasted out, to many people's amusement (and annoyance.) I met an American/British couple on the Santiago flight who offered me a lift into the centre of the city, which I gratefully accepted. So, at 6am on Christmas Day I found myself sitting on a bench in Plaza de Armas waiting for places to open up. Predictably, there was nobody about, except for a few sleeping tramps and lots of birds - a really surreal experience and certainly the weirdest Christmas morning I've ever had!
Later that morning I booked myself into the Andes Hostel, in the centre of downtown. This was a friendly place with lots of foreigners, a bar, pool table, great showers and a rooftop terrace. Christmas afternoon I spent exploring the Cerro Santa Lucia, an attractively landscaped hill in the centre of the city which was visited by Charles Darwin and has good views of the city. Santiago lies at the foot of the Andes but, although the towering mountains are visable, a layer of smog makes their outline rather hazey.
Another day I went to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. There is a funicular but I decided to walk up to the top, it took about an hour. This hill was pretty high and the panoramic views were even more impressive from the summit. There is a statue of the Virgin Mary at the top as well as a small church and a Nativity scene. On the way back down I decided to take a different 'path' which gradually petered out into steep sandy banks, streams and lots of cacti... After much scrambling however I managed to get down!
There are many bars in the Barrio Bellavista area of Santiago, just over the river, at the foot of Cerro San Cristobal. Along with various people I met at the hostel (Chilean, American, Canadian, Argentinean, French, Brazilian - lots of, Australian, South African) I went out every night and experienced the night life. The best place was a salsa club.
My three Brazilian roommates and I decided to make a day trip to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, on the Pacific coast. We teamed up with two Argentineans, Juan and Gaston, who had their car and drove us all. Four people in the back of a Ford Focus for 2 hours there and 2 hours back... well I guess roughing it is what it's all about! Vina de Mar is basically a beach town and Valparaiso (very close) is Chile's main sea port. Valparaiso's ascensores (funiculars) are famous and take you up to the hills surrounding the town.
The next day Juan and Gaston tell me that they are heading back home to Buenos Aires and that I'm welcome to join them. What luck! The drive from Santiago to Mendoza, Argentina crosses the Andes and the scenery is incredible. Apparently Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside the Himalayas, can normally be seen clearly from the Chile/Argentina border, however the cloud and rain meant that it was pretty obscured.
Our hostal in Mendoza, in the heart of Argentina's wine growing region, was very smart and had a pool.
I had planned to spend a few days in Mendoza however the guys I was travelling with suggested we went to San Rafael, about 200km south. We camped in the valley of the Atuel River, right by the river in a very scenic spot. We spent two nights here and, in the days, went white-water rafting (some of the best in Argentina, apparently) and drove up into the Atuel Canyon to get some beautiful views. The whole area was very quiet, we almost had the place to ourselves which was great.
On New Year's Eve we went out for a massive four course meal at a restaurant near our campsite and ate asado (traditional BBQ, so much meat!), drank the local wine and toasted (outside, in T-shirt and shorts) with champagne at midnight.
Yesterday we drove the 12 hour journey to Buenos Aires, arriving after midnight. Juan and Gaston had to go back home (and to work) so I booked into the Sudamerika Hostel in the centre of the city, right near the famous obelisco. This was, however, not before being told by another hostel that there were no beds available. And the taxi driver tried to scam me - if a trip costs 23 pesos and I pay with a 100 note, I think I am due more change than 6 pesos! He didn't seem to mind when I pointed this out and quickly gave me the proper change; just trying it on I think. I may be a tourist but I'm not stupid or about to get cheated!
Right, off now to get my head around where I am!