Chile is the home to great wines, great scenery and great dogs
From Mendoza we bused it through the Andes to Santiago. This was our first land border crossing which alone took 3 hours, definitely the longest time we spent at any border point. Crossing into Chile is very strict as you are not allowed to enter with any fresh food. All the bags are removed from the bus and laid out onto a make shift table and their contents and the bus examined by sniffer dogs while everyone stands around watching.
We spent almost a week in Santiago, which coincided with their National Independence Day, where we went to a fiesta in a local park and drank lots of the local cocktail, terramoto , which is Spanish for earthquake – how you feel after you have drunk a few! We also visited the zoo which is situated on San Cristobel Hill overlooking the city. This hill is incredibly special to us as it where Joey proposed to me in 2018.
We did the Tours 4 Tips walking tour, a free walking tour which allows you to tip as much as you feel the tour is worth. In our experience this walking tour set up is much better than those which charge a set fee, possibly because these guys have to work for their money. The tour takes you through the Mercado and onto the General Cemetery which is mind blowing and worth a visit. The attitude to death in Latin America is completely different to that of the West. They believe that you can still enjoy life after death, so you will often find families sharing special occasions, such as weddings, with the deceased. We met one man whose son had sadly died as a child, and who visited his grave most days and at his birthday he would leave invitations in the graves of other children so that they could have a party together. This story still brings tears to my eyes.
There was also a woman who used to enjoy a beer with her husband on a Friday night and now every Friday takes a beer to his grave to enjoy and leaves the bottles there. Joey has requested that I do this if he dies before me!
One of the days that we were in Santiago we opted to take a day trip to the quirky UNESCO World Heritage site of Valparaiso. This port town is formed of 14 steep hills and covered in spectacular street art everywhere you turn. We spent the day exploring the winding streets and taking hundreds of photos. We also visited the home of Pablo Neruda, the Nobel prize winning poet who wrote so eloquently about the town:
What a crazy insane Port
Your mounded head
You never finished combing your hair…”
His home is of course set at the top of one of the hills and is as eccentric as the port itself with sweeping views of the city and full of odd belongings.
After Santiago we diverted south to stay just outside the wine town of Talca. We stayed on a remote ecolodge with the most beautiful sunsets over the valley, which was also home to the most friendly dogs, here after known as dogs number 1, 2 and 3. It was also home to the hostile one footed guard goose aka Stompy. The ecolodge was run by a lovely family, the lady was Swiss, now married to a Chilean man, and really in the middle of no where. There were two freezing stone bedrooms, where it took 30 minutes for the hot water to heat up once you had started running it, as well as an outdoor kitchen area with no roof, windows or door. We absolutely loved it there. One evening the family had gone out for the evening and we had the place to ourselves, when a local man wandered up the track and started what seemed like an earnest rant, as though he was trying to warn us about something, but of course we didn’t understand a word. Then a short while later after it had got dark we heard loud noises and banging come from the kitchen area. I was very quick to head to the bedroom and away from whatever monster was lurking in the shadows! I sent Joey to make me coffee and investigate the next morning and luckily it would appear that it had just been the dogs rummaging in the bins rather than any coyote.
We took a 20 minute local bus (during this journey I fell asleep) to Balduzzi Vineyards and Winery. They run tours on demand so we had a guide to ourselves which was amazing. During the earthquake of 2010 one of their vats was destroyed and is now on display in the grounds.
After Talca we headed north to La Serena, we had to change buses at Santiago but it was straightforward and worked well. We had time to pop to the supermarket to grab some more snacks and we got some very odd looks as we pushed our rucksacks around the store in a trolley. La Serena has one of the Easter Islands statues in its museum so well worth a visit. From La Serena we took a bus for 17 hours to San Pedro de Atacama. At the bus station I met the cutest, friendliest dog (now fondly remembered as doggy number 4) who curled up on my lap for a sleep and a bit of chicken. Once on the bus I slept for about 16 of those 17 hours (my bus sleeping skills are now legendary) which pleased Joey as he got to eat my sandwich. Oh, if you do go to South America you will need to like ham and cheese as every sandwich is that flavour.
San Pedro is beautiful and set in the Atacama desert. I’d always had this preconception of the desert being sandy, San Pedro is rocky, stony and dusty and our first real encounter with warmth! In San Pedro you can take various tours such as Moon Valley at sunset, a salt lake and the geysers at sunrise. Bear in mind that in the desert the temperature drops like a stone at night. You can also hire bikes and cycle to the archaeological ruins.
In San Pedro we booked one of the many available 3 day and 2 night trips to the salt flats of Uyuni. I’d like to tell you to prepare yourself for the altitude, but you can’t really. Just drink lots of water, take it slowly and maybe drink coca tea. Find out more about that here.