Police, Chocolate Cake and ´Weiners´.

4 11 2008

Finally we were on our way into Chile! Unlike all our other bus journeys, we decided to do this one during the day. The reason being that to get to Santiago from Mendoza, you have to go up and over the Andes. We had been assured that we would definitely not want to miss out on the views!

The views were absolutely amazing, large snow capped mountains loomed up, then suddenly we were winding around up towards the clouds. The journey takes around 9 hours, and we were constantly shifting seats in the bus to steal better views. Luckily the bus was near empty so we had free rein of the top level to move about on, along with two other travellers. Eventually we arrived at the border and were instructed to disembarque and get our passports stamped. I had managed to keep mine safe this far; in fact I checked my bag every 2 minutes to make sure it was still zipped safely away.

Arriving at the front of the queue I handed over my pristine passport to gets its first stamp, only to be told that there was no record of me arriving in Argentina. I advised that is states clearly in the passport that’s it’s a replacement and assured them of the dates of my arrival and that I had been out and back into the country three times at the beginning of my trip. They checked and double checked the system and said again there was no record, so I could not leave the country. I managed at this point to also get the help of a kind Spanish family to translate my, by now, anxious/angry assurances that I had done everything by the book and they could contact the embassy if that had a problem. They said they couldn’t/wouldn’t do this, and I could only cross if I could show them a plane ticket. Stupidly though I had misplaced mine in Buenos Aires and had no copy left. They then conferred with each other and ´agreed´ that I could cross if I paid the 50 UK pound ´admin´ fee. This sounded wholly unfair and I told them so (with the help of my translators!) I had no currency on me, sterling or otherwise, and they refused to take card payment. I went out to find my bag to search for more paperwork I was determined to get into Chile today! Right at the bottom of my bag I came across an old stamped ferry stump, from Uruguay of all places, which turned out to save my bacon! My trip there was worth it after all! Ten minutes later, I was in Chile!


We arrived in Santiago that evening and went out for a large Chinese with the two lads from the bus to celebrate! However the next morning things again took a sudden plunge. Deciding to spend a whole day roaming around Santiago, Claire went to her bag to get her camera, only to discover that it was not there! The same panic ensued, with each bag being systematically emptied and searched top to bottom. The last time we had seen it was putting it back into her bag at the Chilean Border. Whilst we were debating with the officials there, a team of guards went on to the bus to search for narcotics and vegetables… Claire’s bag (complete with camera and almost 300 photos) had been on the bus then… Either they or the bus company must have taken it. We didn’t check out bags for the second part of the journey and took the photos with my camera. We called and visited the bus company, only to be told rather smugly that “No camera had been found”…. Luck and Honesty were not on our side!


Yet again we found ourselves at the police station (this time at least in another country) reporting a stolen item. The Chilean police are particularly unhelpful and, to put in mildly, slightly incompetent. (Disclaimer – Based purely on personal experience!) Having spent over 2 hours with a local copper, detailing how and when the camera was stolen, we were then handed a card advising we could pick our report up in 24 hours. We needed this for insurance purposes, and so we could put this episode behind us. The next day our report was still not ready and we were told it could be a week as it had to be ´reviewed and investigated´ by someone…


This was such a shame as Santiago was actually quite a pleasant city. We had heard mixed reviews of the place and most had dismissed the place as not worth visiting. With no report we decided to make the most of it and go around the city, seeing all that it had to offer. The first thing we did was head up Cerro Santa Lucia. This is a small hill in the centre of the city and offers lovely views around. Especially nice is the Darwinian garden at the top. Here we sat with a large ice cream (ice cream is very cheap in Chile!) and a large Mote con Huesillo, a typical drink in Chile, made with peach and containing a whole fruit and lots of grains of barley. From here we headed to the National Library, which was reasonably interesting and then headed down towards the main square, Plaza de Armas. On the way we stopped off at the Teatro Munipal and the Plaza de Consitucion. This was a nice square, with lots of large flags leading up to the Palacio Moneda. Here you can watch the changing of the guard. Plaza de Armas itself is home to the grandiose Cathedral. Here we sat and watched the world go by, before heading back to the hostel to get ready to see what Santiago had in the way of nightlife!


Having spent some time here in Santiago when she first arrived in South America, Claire wanted me to meet some of her friends who she stayed with whilst here on her own. They met us at the hostel and we headed to a lovely bar for some drinks. Not only was it lovely to meet them, it was also a great chance to work on my Spanish. You sometimes get to comfortable conversing in the hostels in English, and only using Spanish whilst out shopping or site seeing. It was lovely to converse normally and chat about variety of different things. Their English was near perfect, but I insisted that we conduct most of the conversation in Spanish where possible as it was only right in their own country. It was a great chance too for Claire to show off all that she had learnt since being with them last.


We had lots of sushi, which is definitely not backpacker budget friendly, followed up with some amazing cheesecake. I just couldn’t resist! We had already spent too much; we may as well do it properly! It was here that I also tried my first Pisco sour. Pisco is the main Chilean spirit, and is basically a grape brandy. A Pisco Sour is made from Pisco, mixed with lemon, lime and egg white. Sometimes it is topped with a bit of cinnamon. I’m not too keen on them at all, but Claire and the girls loved them.


The next day we headed across the nearby neighbourhood of Bellavista. This is Santiago´s ´Latin quarter´ and is where most of the street artisans are and also the bars and restaurants. From here you can head to Santiago´s main sites, Cerro San Christobel. The summit here is home to large statue of the Virgin Mary and offers unparalleled views of the city. On the way to start the climb up we walked past a bar to hear someone shouting my name from the other side of the street. Looking across we saw that it was Jake who we had met in Mendoza and climbed (literally) up the hill with. He was with Emmett and Clara who he was travelling with. We headed across for a large beer before heading up the Cerro together.


Yet again we found ourselves listening to Jake, and opting to not follow the main route up and take a ´short cut´. Yet again we found ourselves walking up a steep dust slope, in the hope that it lead to the summit. Rounding a corner near the top we found ourselves not at the summit, but in fact in the middle of a building site, being stared at by several builders, probably wondering what these sweaty, red faced gringos were doing on their fenced off site. Luckily the care taker of the site was a large friendly man, who invited us over and fetched a chipped builder’s mug for us to fill from the tap. Refreshed, he pointed us in the right direction and we eventually found ourselves at the summit. The views were amazing and we spent a while, basking in the sunshine and taking in the panoramic before us. The view should be amazing, with the city perfectly nussled in the foot of the Andres, their snow caps looming way up the multiple high rise buildings. However, as the mountains are there, they serve to keep all the pollution concentrated over the city. There is so much smog. It is such a shame. Not wanting to walk back down, we decided to head down in style in the cable car. First though we stocked up on some ice creams, then began our descent back to the city below. That night we all headed out for a night in Bellavista. The guys from the hostel also joined us, and we had a fantastic night, ending up in a particularly ´interesting club´!


There was still no sign of getting a police report so with a certain important date impending, we decided to up and leave the city behind us and head to the coast. We hadn’t really been on a proper beach since leaving to South America so were very much looking forward to it. The important date mentioned was in fact my Birthday! Whoop! In order to celebrate properly we spent a while choosing the best location. We settled on a rather picturesque location named Dunas Hostel, on Ritoque Beach. It is situated around one hour and a half from one of Chile’s most visited seaside cities, Valparaiso. Ritoque beach is a 10 minute taxi ride from the small unattractive town of Quinterro. It was an absolutely perfect choice!


We arrived on the Friday before my birthday to discover two small brightly coloured A frames, a small collection of small beach retreats and a surf shack/bar. To top it all off, there was also the most amazing waves breaking on the shore, crying out to be surfed. There were a number of guys who had answered the call and were paddling out back to enjoy some of nature’s finest creations. Settling our bags down to take in the sea air and view, we were greeted by Ian, the owner of the hostel. He was a tall man, with a weathered complexion, complete with long grey hair and beard. He looked like a man who had seen a lot. When asked where he was from originally, he replied that he was ´a citizen of the world´… you can make your own minds up!


However the place he owned was perfect, showing us to our room, we headed into the smaller blue A frame, complete with decked patio, kitchen, wood burner and an amazing shower! It also had a perfect view of the headland and sea. We put our bags down, and then headed down to the surf shack to meet the other people staying at the hostel. I was truly blessed for my birthday weekend, not only was the place perfect, but the people I would spend it with were absolutely lovely in every way. (Colin and Molly, Ben to name a few – thanks by the way!) That night we spent it sipping Pisco Sours and then headed up to the first of many amazing sunsets. We sat on the headland and watched as the sun slowly said its goodbyes for the day and headed down to its ´waterbed´, casting amazing reflections across the seas surface.


The next morning I awoke to find that I was a whole year older, and a tiny bit wiser. I bounded out of bed to see what the surf was like to discover that it was one thing that would not be perfect on my birthday. It was too late the night before by the time we got settled and had resigned myself to going for surf first thing. However the winds were against me and the waves were coming in all messy and blown out. Ah well! I headed back in for an amazing birthday breakfast provided my lovely girlfriend! I then opened the card from home and my large card from Claire, which was full of mini replicas of every stamp that I had had in my lost passport! I also became the proud owner of a shiny harmonica! I decided that I needed to get an instrument that I could easily carry with me when I travel! Unlucky for every one else, I now also needed to learn how to play the thing! (Any tips/pointers would be much appreciated!!!)


Heading up the main A frame everybody wished me happy returns, before we all headed down to the beach for some bat and ball and dip in the sea. Around midday I had more surprises when Jake and Co decided to rock up to the beach to help me celebrate! Jake and I had so many similar interests and got on incredibly well, it was so lovely for him, and of course, Emmett and Clara to head down to see me. The rest of the day was passed in a lovely relaxing manner; the only exertion I made was to walk into town to treat myself to a bottle of gin and some chocolate! The walk in fact took longer than expected and we were passed on our way by randomly large procession of Harley Davidsons (over 100 bikes) and then had to wait for an equally large number of Ducks and Ducklings to cross over further down the road!


That evening, after another beautiful sunset, we sat down to a large Asado provided for by Ian. It was fantastic! The only problem was that it was tradition to put a large amount of salt on the meat. The meat is served up in sections, working through each part of the cow, saving the best meat until last. However after each lump was cut up it was sprinkled with salt before being passed round. I had to resort to hiding the salt. The whole thing was washed down with, you guessed it…lots of red wine! The best was saved till last though… after the meat was finished and we were set about tackling the flagon of red wine, Claire disappeared and came back with an absolutely amazing home made chocolate cake, complete with rich chocolate icing and fresh strawberries! She had been slaving away unbeknown to me, most of the previous night! I was truly spoilt! After dinner and a generous slice of amazing birthday cake each we headed down to the bonfire and spent the remainder of my birthday singing and chatting. It was perfect and an incredibly memorable day!


The next day was Sunday, and again the surf conditions were pretty bad. The day was spent in a similar fashion, mixing the bat and ball up with some volleyball and beach football. We had also befriended a local stray dog. We named him fidget as he couldn’t sit still. He followed us everywhere, and fetched stick, and dug huge holes. When we slept, he stayed on the decking sleeping on the door mat. In the afternoon, feeling a tad peckish after all our beach ´exercise´ we headed to the surf shack, where we were treated to some absolutely delicious seafood. It was fresh out of the sea and tasted great! Jake is a chef at home and very into his food. Unable to settle on one choice, he opted to buy the whole menu and set about sharing it with everybody, complementing each dish in turn. It was the first ´lazy Sunday afternoon´ we had had… don’t get me wrong, we had had lazy days before, but this was the first time a Sunday felt like a Sunday should. A day to relax, eat well, and truly reflect on how fortunate we all were to be where we were!


That evening (after watching the sunset, this time from the sand dunes) we all headed up to the main A frame and cooked a massive meal together. Nobody was exempt from kitchen duty, and between us we whipped up a mean veggie spag bol, with garlic bread and a fantastic salad, complete with a great cherry dressing (courtesy of Jake!) After, we headed back to the fire for our last night together. Conversation flowed as usual and the tunes rolled on one after the other. The night was completed when Jake and Emmett whipped out a large bag of mixed ´Weiners´! This started a long debate over what they should be called, as we all sat about with our Sausages nicely cooking on our skewers! A fantastic end to an amazing long weekend!


The next day we said our goodbyes (and thank you´s) and headed back to Santiago, to hopefully pick up a police report and start the journey up north, towards the Atacama Desert!




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