Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Getting a bit behind

You may have noticed that I have been getting a bit behind on the blogs this past few weeks. I was hoping to catch up with a few over the last code of days, but I went out eating and drinking instead! We are off to Torres del Paine in the morning for six nights and I don't anticipate that there will be any Internet access there, but I hope that I can get a few blogs ready to post when we get back to civilisation in February. Don't give up on us just yet - we will be back!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Puerto Montt and boarding the Navimag

From Valdivia we got the bus to Puerto Montt.  We didn't leave until midday as we had gathered that it wasn't the most interesting place to be.  We were only going there so that we were quickly on hand for the ferry in the morning.

Aboard the Navimag in dock, Puerto Montt

Arriving in the town it felt a bit like being back in Bolivia.  Many of the buildings we passed were little more than shacks of wood and corrugated iron.  Ramshackle and down at heel are the words that come to mind in describing it. As we neared the docks area, comparing it to Bolivia seemed generous and the words grubby and decrepit were more appropriate.  Many of the windows were broken and there seemed to be little care taken of the buildings, all of which made it a less inviting place to be.

Our hostel was really more of a house that lets out rooms, and gave no outward appearance of being a hostel at all.  Inside it was actually OK, but it still wasn't the kind of place to stay long or to be able to meet other travellers.  Uninspired, we really couldn't be bothered to look around the town for dinner, so just went to a chicken and chips place close by.  When we ordered the chicken, they said they didn't have any, but she could do a burger egg and chips.  We accepted this, and then watched in amusement as she went out to buy some burgers.  It appears that despite showing a sizable menu, heavily focused on chicken, the only things they actually had on hand were eggs, chips and some rather limp lettuce.  Weird. The food was OK, but I won't be including it on my recommendations page.

Chilean fjords from the Navimag

At beakfast it was quickly apparent that everyone else at the hostel was getting on the Navimag too.  We arrived at the terminal halfway through the 9-11 check in time and dropped off our bags.  We were told to be there for bus at twelve, others were told one o'clock, but in fact we were all hanging around until gone one, when they gave us a security and safety briefing. This had essential information like someone will check your tickets' and 'hold onto the handrails on the ship as the steps are steep and slippery.'  We would never have worked that out for ourselves!

When we finally boarded at about two, we found our cabin.  We were sharing with a young Romanian couple who seemed very nice.  We had seriously wondered if fate might put us with our 'stalkers', who we knew were also on the boat, but not this time.

We found the bar, met up with our stalkers, settled in for the journey, and then just sat in the docks for a few more hours.  We finally set sail at about six pm, when we all had to go for another briefing, which actually did tell us about life jackets etc, as well as the important information about meal times.

Chilean fjords from the Navimag

The scenery during the evening was pleasant, but not as good as we were anticipating for the next few days.  What we hadn't reckoned on though was the entertainment.  Tonight it was karaoke.  This clearly was not a strong point for most of the passengers, and after some terrible renditions of karaoke classics like Total Eclipse of the Heart and Wonderwall, and some lively if strange Spanish songs that were about our start and end port towns, they thankfully reverted to just playing music.

Long distance goodbyes

This isn't the happiest of postings, but I said that I would include some of the lows of our travels as well as the many highs, and this certainly counts as one.

In the just over six months that we have now been away, I have now had two people pass away.  The first was one of my mother's cousins.  He wasn't a close relative, and in fact I have only known him at all for the past seven years or so, but I liked him. Had I been in the UK, I would have gone to the funeral, and it seemed strange and a little sad that I couldn't.  Others in my immediate family did go though, so we were represented, if I can use that term, and so it didn't seem so bad.

Now I have found out that one of my friends has also sadly passed away from cancer.  She was someone with whom I spent a lot of time at one stage, and while changed circumstances meant that we saw less of each other recently, we were still good friends and I am incredibly sad to know that I will not see her again.  Her husband said when he contacted me that he knows I would not be able to make the funeral, and he is right of course.  But I find that aspect of being away very hard.  It feels quite wrong to me that I will not be attending the funeral of someone who was important in my life.

In part I suppose that is about believing that a good attendance at a funeral helps to show that people - and specifically you - cared for that person, and the knowledge that this can give some comfort to those who were closest to them and will feel their loss most acutely both immediately and in the years come.  And to that degree the idea of someone representing you, or the sending of flowers or donations can help.

But in fact there is a far more selfish reason than that.  When we lose someone we cared for we feel a bit helpless, and if it is someone that you do not see very regularly, it can be hard to believe that they are no longer around.  The funeral doesn't just allow you to pay your respects to the person and their spouse or family.  It also gives you a clear point at which you mourn the loss of the person and allows you to say goodbye.  Whilst you may still at times find yourself thinking about the person as if they are still alive, that single point in time is when you start to accept that you won't see them again.  To use that terrible american phrase, it gives you a kind of 'closure'.  I dislike the phrase because it suggests that you no longer give the person any thought, but the basic concept that it brings home to you the fact that they are in fact gone is, I think, very important.

So if I feel like this, have I considered going back to the UK for the funeral?  Well yes and no.  In the first place, Nic and I agreed when we came here that realistically we could not go back for funerals as a rule, and that probably we would have to limit it to our immediate family - always hoping of course that it would never happen.  So that should have ruled it out straight away, but it didn't stop my imitial thought being that I want to go.  But then I also considered what my friend's response would most likely have been.  She was about living life, not following conventions and the expectations of others, and I feel fairly certain that she would have thought it mad to go back.  Maybe that is just what I want to believe to feel better about not going, but I don't think so.

So I have decided that I won't be going back, but I know when the funeral is, and I will join in with them here in my own way to mark her passing and say my own goodbyes.

Lastly, while it is times like this that most make me wish I was back in the UK, it is also times like this that make me remember how important it is to take the opportunities to do the things that you want to do while you still can.  My friend took some time away from work a while ago to have a bit of a holiday and to write the book that she always wanted to.  It makes me glad that she achieved that and I like to think that it gave her and her husband some comfort that she achieved it too.  And you never know, I might see her name on the bookshelf yet if her husband decides to publish it one day.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Gardel the duck, Valdivia

From Pucon we caught a bus south to Valdivia.  It is another fairly small town, but we feel that it is right to see some of the smaller places as well as the big cities, as it gives you a better overall impression of the country that you are in.  Much as I like cities, I don't think you could really say you have got any idea of what England is like if you just went to London, Manchester and Liverpool.  We know we don't see even nearly enough of any country that we visit despite being here for so long, but at least we can add in a few Whitstables, Brightons and so forth along the way.

Sea lions at the fishmarket, Valdivia

We stayed in a good hostel here that was pleased to advertise its apparently very socialable duck called Gardel.

Sea lions at the fishmarket, Valdivia

Sea lions at the fishmarket, Valdivia

Valdivia has some nice parks, but Nic was feeling a bit under the weather with a cold and as we are heading to the frozen lakes of Patagonia, it seemed best to give him a chance to kick that, rather that look at more trees and lakes, even if these didn't require a few hours of hiking to get there.  Similarly - and I realise that this may be a shock for some of you - we decided not to visit the local Kunstmann Brewery.

Sea lions at the fishmarket, Valdivia

We did take a look around the town.  The highlight, aside from the smell, was the local fish market on the riverside, where it is not only the cormorants and other birds that are on the lookout for scraps.  They are also visited by a number of huge black sealions, who sit up on the concrete edge of the market and wait for handouts.  When we were there there were often four or five on the ledges and more in the water.

Nic with girly drink, Valdivia

The other thing that Valdivia specialises in, like a number of places in this area, is chocolate. We didn't sampple the chocolates themselves, but did stop for hot chocolate and cakes in one of the cafes. Nic as ever ordered the most girly looking drink on the menu, while I had a rather larger than expected piece of chocolate and mint cake, but it was all very tasty.

In the evening we found a bar that was quite good, if crowded with people whose average age must have been somewhat younger than ours, where they actually make you pay up front because they have problems with people running off without paying. It took us by surprise as we have got so used to paying afterwards.  We were amused to see that at a certain point in the evening many people who had previously been drinking beers etc, suddenly moved on to having a float.  We have subsequently seen that apparently beer and ice cream is common around here, so we assume it was a beer float.  Maybe next time!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Location, location, location...

I have gathered from some people that it is all very well me giving you the names of all of these places we are going to, but often you have absolutely no idea where they are.  Whilst some of you may not care where they are either, others have said they would like to know.  So as some places can be quite hard to find on a map, and frankly I am sure you have better things to do than spend time looking for them, I have found and started using the little location gadget on the blog.  Therefore from now on you should be able to click on that to see roughly where we are talking about.  Normally general posts like this won't have a location, but to give you the idea I have included the place that I have written it from, which is Valdivia.

Pucon and kayaking

For our next day in Pucon, we had arranged to go kayaking. Our Antarctica trip may give us the opportunity to do some sea kayaking to get up closer to the glaciers, so we figured it might be an idea to get some practice.

We arranged a lesson on the lake, but only after I had been absolutely clear that I wouldn't be doing any of this capsize drill stuff, as I have no intention of voluntarily putting myself under the water. So I wasn't too happy when the instructor said the first thing we would be dn was just that. Refused point blank and after a few attempts to persuade me, and me telling him I had been capsized in a canoe once and got out of that OK, he gave in.

We weren't in sea kayaks, but in white water river kayaks. The diffence being that whereas sea kayaks are intended to go in a straight line, these things turn at the drop of a hat. The instructor warned us that we would spend much of our day turning in circles and he wasn't wrong. But he showed us how to use different strokes to keep in a straight line, and we persevered, and gradually we got a bit better. However there is a point in a white water kayak where, unless you are somewhat more experienced that we are, it is not a good idea to fight the turn, you have to just go with it, and carry on again afterwards. The trick is learning which is which.

Sadly, part way through the afternoon session, I discovered I hadn't yet learned the difference and overturned. What was undoubtedly only a matter of seconds felt like an eternity as I pulled off my splash deck, released myself from under the kayak and got myself back to the surface. The instruction was there to help me, but it was still some while before the panic subsided and I could regain control of my breathing! The instructor towed me and my upside down kayak to the shore and once we had both managed to negotiate our way up the very slippery rocks onto solid ground, we emptied out the kayak, got back in and carried on.

Strangely, my paddling after the capsize was better than it was before, and we were doing OK until we started to round the headland and we had the waves to contend with, especially as the wind was getting up pretty strongly too. Before long, Nic and I were both turning in circles all the time. Me in particular, as having gone in once, I wasn't taking any chances and was tending to be rather overcautious about it. We soon realised that going right around the headland wasn't the best idea and we should go back the way we had come instead.

We still had to contend with some reasonable currents and winds, as well as huge great flies that kept trying to bite us and some seabirds that weren't happy that we were paddling past their nest, but we got there in the end. Tired and aching, we dragged the kayaks on shore and collapsed into the van for the drive back. Both of us agreed that a beer was definitely in order! Some after sun was also needed as we had both managed to burn despite having put sun screen on?

On the way back into town we spotted an old friend, Cameron the Dragoman truck that we were on from BsAs to La Paz. She was empty, so we checked with the hostel she was parked outside who the crew were, but it wasn't the people we had had before.

The next couple of days we took it easy. Nic had hoped to try to climb the volcano (I was going to sit and drink hot chocolate, eat cakes and read a book instead), but the weather had turned which meant he couldn't go. In the end, we had the first real rain that we have had since Bogota, and ended up just chilling out at the hostel for one day, and in town the next.

Overall we quite liked Pucon. It is a great place to sit out with a drink or a meal and just watch people passing by. And we did quite a bit of that, but we also did a few more energetic things as well.

Pucon and Parque National Huerquehue

Villarica Volcano, Pucon

From Chillan, we got another day bus south to Pucon. Pucon is considered the adventure sports capital of Chile. It is a tiny town nestled on Lake Villarica and at the foot of Villarica Volcano, the second most active volcano in South America. In the surrounding areas are two more volcanoes, various other mountains, and a few lakes and national parks. With all of these natural resources available, there are plenty of opportunities to find ways to do yourself damage!

Being focused on activities like volcano climbing, rafting, paragliding and so forth, the city if very tourist based and highly seasonal. Come here during April to August and the place is empty, but in the high season it is full of tourists looking for a combination of nature and adrenaline rush.

The main street in Pucon

Given the type of place this is, we were expecting the place to be a bit trashy and full of people trying to sell you something. Certainly the place is full of tourists and tourist based businesses. Everywhere you look there is a hostel, a restaurant or somewhere offering activities. But actually the town itself is quite nice. It has big wide streets, nice looking buildings, and what little traffic there is is very pedestrian friendly. And no one is trying to sell you things. Everything is there for you to buy if you want, but there is no hassle or hard sell, unlike Cusco where every second person was either offering you a massage or trying to get you into their restaurant. 

Our first day here was spent looking round the town and organizing a few activities and some of our onward travel.  As we came out of the municipal buildings where the tourist information office is, we were accosted by a very keen looking man with a big camera.  He rattled something off to us in Spanish and started beckoning us to follow him.  We followed slightly bewildered.

We were fairly sure that he had said he wanted us to have our photo taken with Pucon's mayor, so we were a little surprised when we were greeted by someone in a giant beaver costume.  Then the mayor did turn up as well and it turned out that they were trying to promote fire prevention in the national parks.  So we agreed to the photo.

We later took a trip out on the lake in a converted 1905 steamboat.  That was quite pleasant and gave us an excellent view of the Villarica Volcano.

Fire risk warning at Huerquehue

The second day was a bit more energetic, as we took a bus to the Huerquehue National Park and did one of their treks. I don't know why I agree to doing these things. It seems like a good idea at the time, but I always end up with my heartbeat racing, not being able to breathe properly and with pain in at least one part of my body! The trek was through the forest to some lakes.

Start of the trek at Huerquehue

It was supposed to take three and a half hours to get there, but it took me nearly four and we didn't go all the way to the end. The overall climb in altitude was about five hundred meters, which doesn't sound too much compared to some treks but was more than enough for me.

View from halfway up in Huerquehue

Part of the reason for going was that the park is supposed to have a lot of monkey puzzle trees, which I quite like as trees go.  Well, we were three quarters of the way through before we saw any, and then there weren't that many, so I wasn't overly impressed.  And really, the lakes we pretty, but I've  seen better without having to knacker myself to get to them. There wasn't even a bar at the end! And then you've still got to get back again.  I don't think trekking is really my thing!

Monkey puzzle trees in Huerquehue

At least the way back was a bit easier being mostly downhill and a bit quicker. Annoyingly, although Nic had been stumbling over tree roots for most of the day, whilst I was rather more careful and surefooted, I was the one who ended up flat on my face after falling over nothing at all. That hurt. And when I got in the shower later, the lower half of my legs were completely black with the dust that permeated through my trousers when I fell. But I got back up and carried on down the trail.  Keeping a careful eye on the pathway did mean that I spotted a lot of lizards along the way though.

Lizard in Huerquehue park

We met up with a couple from Northamptonshire towards the bottom of the trek and had a chat with them for a while, swapping travel stories and so forth. We left them a the bottom as they were kayaking back across the lake to where they were staying nearby, whereas we has some time to kill in the bar before our bus back to town. We later got a text from the friend of Nic's that we met up with in Santiago and Mendoza, asking us had we enjoyed our day in the park. This was rather weird as the last we had heard they were heading north and should have been in Peru by now. Turns out they were staying at the same place as the couple we met and in talking they realised that it was us they had met. Meeting up with them later, it appears they are now following basically the same route through Patagonia as us - we are now considering a restraining order to stop them stalking us!!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Food market, Chillan

From Valparaiso we took a day bus to Chillan.  It went back via Santiago so took about seven hours to get there. I can't say I was overly reassured to hear the conductor type person asking people for what I believe was their medical insurance numbers, but we did manage to make the trip without mishap!

Our hostel picked us up at the bus terminal and Samuel gave us rundown of where things were.  What he didn't mention was the possibility of a siren going off, so when it did shortly after he left, we weren't sure what it was for or what to do.

Food market, Chillan
As he had mentioned that the door tended to stick a bit since the earthquake we thought that may be an option, equally we knew there was a volcano nearby so that was a possibility.  Add to that the fact that we had just heard about a large number of fires across Chile, including one that had resulted in a fatality not so far away, and we had a third option.  None of which were overly reassuring.  However no one else seemed to be doing anything particular so we carried on and hoped for the best. NB we later added a third option of a prison escapee after walking past what we assumed to be a prison.  Anyway, nothing bad happened so we assume it was all OK after all.
Cathedral, Chillan

After a brief settling in period - and allowing time for the earthquake /volcano/ fire/ escaped prisoner issue to settle - we went out for an early dinner, having so far that day shared only a big packet of crisps and a banana.  The town is only small, so after wandering around for a while we hadn't come across much, but we did spot a little parilla restaurant and went in there.  Despite an unremarkable exterior, it was actually fairly decent, and we had a reasonable meal.  I had a piscola afterwards, which is a Pisco and coke, and he basically let me decide how much Pisco I wanted.  Needing to allow some room to add the coke, I only let him half fill it, which presumably wasn't enough, because later he came back and asked if I wanted more; it seemed rude to decline, so I didn't. 
Cathedral, Chillan

There is not a great deal to do in Chillan, but it was a reasonable stopover on the way to Pucon and is the birthplace of Bernardo O'Higgins, one of Chile's most famous sons.  Bernardo was in fact part Irish as he was the illegitimate son of an Irishman working for the Spanish, and a local woman. He gradually went on to fight for Chilean independence with San Martin and became the Supreme Director of the country, improving the country's structures and military and founding the Chilean Navy. There is a road called O'Higgins in most Chilean cities and there is actually an O'Higgins square in Richmond, London where he spent some years of his life.
Earthquake memorial cross, Chillan

Chillan also has a well known artisanal market and general covered market, so we spent some time wandering around those on our full day here. We didn't buy any of the knick knacks, but did buy some food to cook for ourselves that evening.
Our other bit of sightseeing here - there isn't that much aside from a couple of museums, was to see the cathedral in the main square. It is arch shaped to resist earthquakes, and is a bit reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House.

But the main sight here is the huge cross next to it. The cross is around thirty meters high, and each metre represents a thousand people who were killed in the huge earthquake of 1939.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Feliz Año - or Happy New Year - from Valparaiso: part 2

Origami birds, Valparaiso
We had agreed with the lady at the hostel that Nic would be allowed to sleep on the floor of the single room that we had booked, and when we moved into it, she happily showed him a piece of foam mattress that he could use to sleep on. It was only half size but would at least support his torso, and was better than just the floor. All Nic could focus on though was that it had childlike pictures of cats and mice on it - for some reason he found ths especially amusing and had to take a photo of it. In the end, we both squeezed into the single bed for the few hours sleep that we had, but it was good of her to try to help.

We spent some time in the hostel in the morning working out where we were going next and looking up the fire in Torres del Paine, which I have already posted about. We found a late lunch in a little place that looked a bit down at heel initially, but where the food was actually quite nice. It had lots of little origami birds hanging from the ceiling, which we assumed were supposed to be pelicans as we think that was what the name of the restaurant was.

New Year's Eve fireworks, Valparaiso
We were supposed to be going of to sightsee for a bit after lunch, but as Nic for some reason was finding it impossible to keep his eyes open, and as we were expecting a late night for New Year's Eve, we went back to the hostel so he could take a nap. When he resurfaced, we went back up to Conception.

Our meal that evening was in a restaurant called Cafe Vinilo. As is almost always the case for me, I couldn't eat the appetizer and starter on the set menu, but the guys were very helpful and made me alternatives that I could eat. And each course came with wine, so we were well looked after. The fact that the main course came with a bottle of red to share, which meant that Nic had to drink that himself while I bought an extra bottle of white was obviously most unfortunate, but we coped! As we sat in the restaurant, we could see all of the locals gradually making their way to find somewhere to sit and watch the fireworks, most taking with them food, lots of the with a big cool box presumably full of drink. We finished at about 11:20 pm and walked in the same direction the locals were.

New Year's Eve fireworks, Valparaiso

By about twenty to twelve we found a suitable spot to watch the fireworks down a side street where we could see down across the harbour and along the seafront. Nic accidentally walked in front of a few people trying to take a photo, which immediately prompted them to get us in the photo too and start a conversation. There was a group of about seven people, some of whom were already a bit worse for wear, but all were friendly and chatty. As usual they were interested in where we were from and where we were travelling, and we soon had some new, albeit it only very temporary, friends. One of the guys who had definitely had too much was very keen to share his drinks with use, so we had a few from a coke bottle that definitely had some alcohol in it, but not sure what, and some beer. We drew the line at the joint though!

New Year's Eve fireworks, Valparaiso

As we got to midnight, the countdown started, then the party poppers went off and the bubbly was sprayed, and everybody started wishing everybody else Feliz Año. Lots of hugs later, we settled into watch the fireworks. They were supposed to be the best in South America, and they probably were. There were certainly a lot of them, as they went on for almost twenty five minutes and huge numbers were set off at once. There was no attempt to put them to music or anything like that, and they focused on the big starbursts, but there was a nice variety of big bang ones, pretty glittery ones, ones that looked like planets and so forth. It was also good to be able to see along the coast, because as well as the ones right in front of you, you could see the neat round bursts of other displays in the nearby towns too. You really got the impression that there  were fireworks everywhere and I guess that was true.

We said goodbye to our new friends and set off back to the main bar area, expecting that although everywhere had closed for everyone to go watch the fireworks, they would now reopen. But nowhere did. So we slowly made our way back down the hill and through the town back to our hostel, watching the revelry as we went. We did manage to pick up some additional drinks on the way as the bottle shops were open, so we still ended up staying up until pretty late.

New Year's Day cake, Valparaiso

Obviously New Year's Day was a late morning, but we were given breakfast by the lasy at the B&B.  She was clearly very happy to be sharing breakfast witrh us, including the traditional , and rather sickly, New Year's Day cake.  Not sure it's the best thing after a night drinking, but we appreciated it nonetheless.

New Year's Eve leftovers, Valparaiso

After buying our bus tickets for the next day, we went back up to Cerro Conception and found a nice German cake place for a small late lunch, and just chilled out until our dinner booking at a French place that we hadn't been able to get into the first day.

Happy 2012.

Christmassy garden, Valparaiso

Feliz Año - or Happy New Year - from Valparaiso: part 1

Square in Valparaiso

We decided to spend New Year's Eve in Valparaiso, on the coast of Chile because it is said to have the best firework display in South America and possibly the world. Unfortunately we left the final decision on this bit late, so we had some trouble booking accommodation. We ended up with a double room for 30th and 1st, but only a single for 31st. But we figured we may not end up spending that long in the room on 31st anyway, so we would be OK.

Cerro Conception, Valparaiso

We took a day time bus from Santiago, which only took a few hours, so we arrived at the hostel with time to take a look at the city. We had seen 'marmite reviews' of the place, with some people loving it and others hating it, so we weren't too sure what to expect.

Valparaiso was an important city in its day as a naval and merchant shipping port. The city is built up into th surrounding hills and, like Lisbon in Portugal, it has a series of old elevators to help with the climbs. Though it has an impressive past, Valparaiso lost its importance when the Panama canal was built, and suffered damage and decline after it was hit by a big earthquake in the 1930s. It has never really recovered and although it is supposedly the countries cultural centre, it is a city of faded glories and the highest unemployment rate in Chile.

Cerro Conception, Valparaiso

The flat area of the city, which is where we were staying is not the most pleasant. There were a few nice parks in this part of town, but generally it was not a attractive area. Even the harbour is a industrial looking one rather than being picturesque. Most of the buildings are shabby and a bit grubby, the roads are busy and noisy, and the place just has that kind of perpetually dark look that you get in a town that is run down. In the UK it would be like one of those high streets that has a lot of pound shops and other shops boarded up or temporarily taken over by those people selling knocked off perfumes and 'designer' handbags. In fairness the shops weren't really like that, but that was the impression the place gave me.

Hill in Valparaiso
You also have the main roads full of people selling stuff on the streets. With it being new year, many of them were selling metre long party poppers, silly string, foam, party hats, masks, plastic ties and so forth. There were also stalls selling plastic champagne flutes and others selling cheap sparkling wine. The most interesting ones though were those selling the knickers. Big knickers, little knickers, plain knickers, frilly knickers, lacy knickers, knickers with messages on - all sorts of knickers. But all of them bright yellow. Every single pair, bright yellow. The reason is that Chileans have a tradition of wearing yellow underwear on new years eve to bring them happiness and love in the year. We didn't check whether people really were, but the stalls were mostly sold out by the afternoon of 31st, so I guess a lot must have been.

But back to the city. We made our way up one of the hills to an area called Conception and this was an entirely different story. This area looked like the kind of traditional seaside town that you hope for. Many of the houses have the traditional clapboard facades painted in a variety of cheerful colours, and others are art deco or art nouveau designs. The cobbled streets and interesting little shops and restaurants make it a really pleasant place to wander around. Here you can see why some people love Valparaiso.

Cerro Conception, Valparaiso

We enjoyed strolling around this area, looking in the gallery and generally being touristy. We saw a few nice places to eat and booked one of them for New Year's Eve. We then found a nice little Pisco bar. It was a small place that had a part retro, part modern look to it and most obscurely a little clothes shop to the side. As their name suggests, they only sold drinks made with Pisco, but it wasn't the usual Pisco sours, but rather other cocktails. The bar was empty when we went in and the girl was friendly and helpful in helping us to pick our cocktails - mine a bit like a mojito but with Pisco and celery, and Nic's with honey and ginger - and dealing quickly with the power cut at the same time. The place soon filled up, but we went off to get some food in a bar down the road.

Painted building, Cerro Conception, Valparaiso

The place we ate in was good but at one stage our attention was somewhat distracted by the sight of a man outside who looked just like Father Jack from the Father Ted series. In fairness he was a somewhat cleaner and less gnarled version, but he did have the white straggly hair and the general look about him. The clincher that really made it though was that he was wearing all black, but had just the edge of a white collar peeping out at the neck, which looked just like he had on a priest's dog collar. Nic did try to get a picture but 'Father Jack' went off round the corner for a cigarette and so he missed it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Lousy border crossings

What is it about the Chile/Argentina (or vice versa) border crossing?  It is terrible, and certainly the worst that we have encountered in our travels in South America so far. 

We have done it three times now.  The first was while we were on the truck and we crossed from Argentina to Chile at San Pedro de Atacama.  We had arrived for approximately when the border opens, to try to beat the rush, and we were about fourth in the queue, but it still took us about an hour to leave Argentina and another hour to get into Chile.

The second was the daytime bus journey from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina a couple if weeks ago.  That took us two hours despite there being virtually no queue.

But this time took the biscuit.  If you have read the posting called Santiago stopover, you will know that we got the night bus back from Mendoza to Santiago.  We got to the border at about 1:30 am.  We had hoped that crossing at night might be a bit quicker than the two hours that it had been during the day, but no.

Having hit the edge of the border point, and I do mean within a hundred metres,  we crawled up to the crossing itself for about an hour. We then all got out to go through the two passport control points, first out of Argentina and then into Chile, which took about forty five minutes.  After that we sat in the bus for another forty five minutes doing nothing and going nowhere.

Then the bus drove about fifty metres and we all got off again for the customs control.  they took our customs declaration forms from us and then we had to wait at tables with our hand luggage while they took all of the bags off the back of bus and put it through a scanner before it could be reloaded. Then we all had to put our hand luggage through the scanner too. That all took another thirty minutes.

So three hours after our arrival, at just after 4:30am, we finally left the border. 

It wouldn't even be quite so bad if there was an obvious queue of people going through in front of you, or if there weren't many staff on duty, but neither is the case.  You have a few people ahead of you and loads of staff apparently doing nothing, but nobody goes anywhere for ages.

It isn't even that the actual process takes so much longer at these borders than at the others, or that they seem to be that much more stringent.  It is just all of the waiting.  Why? Why make everybody wait so long, when there doesn't seem to be any reason to? Do they just do it to exercise power and wind people up?

And we have another three more border crossings to do between the two countries over the next few months.  Aaaarrgghhhh!!!

OK, sorry, rant over!