Penguins and Punta Arenas

15 02 2010

The next day we headed off to our final Chilean destination: Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in Chile; overlooking the straights of Magellan towards the Tierra del Fuego. Our accommodation for the night was the fabulous four-star Hotel Diego de Almagro. Unlike our four-star in Buenos Aires this one actually deserved them: the rooms had two comfy double beds in them; the lifts were modern; there was a swimming pool; and there were always friendly staff behind the reception.

We had about an hour and a half before we had to head off on our next excursion so Per, Jola and I headed off for a quick lunch. En route we looked at the artisan’s market – Jola was still looking for her mate gourd – but the market was pretty tacky. After lunch we then headed to the local supermarket to buy some food for our 10-hour bus trip the next day and then we headed off in the bus towards Otway Sound. Our guide for the afternoon was Tito and he suggested that rather than talk about penguins we might first want to ask some questions about Chile that we’d be dying to know the answer to but hadn’t dared to ask. This of course meant that we eventually got on to politics – which is always a risky subject.

At least this way I finally found out why the extremely popular Michele Bachelet was no longer the president (the Chilean constitution forbids a dual term of office) and thus why suddenly the right-wing candidate Sebastián Piñera was the president-elect. We were also able to talk about the Pinochet years and the “disappeared”.

A lot of Tito’s commentary involved him stating that some of the stuff he said wasn’t his opinion but probably what the majority of the populace believed in. Somewhere along the line (probably because neither of them were native-English speakers), Zoran got really annoyed and started laying into Tito about the fact that he was contradicting himself (I don’t think he was particularly). I even had to ask later if something had happened at the hotel before we got there that meant that Zoran and Tito had already formed an enmity before the trip started. Apparently this wasn’t the case so I really couldn’t understand Zoran’s anger.

At the Otway Sound we got to see loads of Magellan penguins but after hearing Lucille and Carole’s stories on Easter Island about how they’d walked through crowds of penguins I was a bit disappointed: here all the penguins were behind walkways and we viewed them by the sea through a large hide. This is possibly more environmentally sound but I still felt it diminished the experience.

Magellan penguins

After we’d walked around the penguin reserve we headed back towards the van where Tito gave us some his homemade cake and some pisco sours. The pisco sour was a ready-mix so they weren’t the best that I’d ever had but I still indulged in quite a few before we headed back and we were all quite merry. After some singing of respective national anthems (and some Russian songs) we got back to Punta Arenas quite early but decided to head to the restaurant anyway. At the restaurant we discovered that they had some limited stocks of a guanaco salad (probably not quite morally sound – since the guanaco is protected but not endangered within the parks) so I decided to sample one of those and had a proper pisco sour.

Guanaco - aka dinner

After dinner I walked around the beach a bit before heading back to the hotel for bed; ready for our long journey the next day to Argentina.

Grey’s Glacier

14 02 2010

It absolutely tipped it down overnight and the tent sounded like it was going to be ripped away any minute by the wind but our tents had been well pitched and we had no problems. Given the weather conditions I couldn’t really face going for a shower so I just had a French shower (a generous spraying of Axe deodorant). I then looked for my waterproof pants and discovered that I’d lost them somewhere. Luckily by the time I managed to get out of the tent the rain had already stopped and it held off for the rest of the morning.

At breakfast Per mentioned that the rented walking poles that he’d left on the main porch of the refugio were surprisingly gone. Ana couldn’t believe that he’d left them there all night and not put them in his tent but she asked various people around the campsite: all to no avail. Zoran and Gordana decided to stay back at the campsite (God only knows what they found to do there) whilst the rest of us hiked up to first viewpoint of Grey’s Glacier. It was quite a short trek – just as well since we hoped to get the midday ferry back across the lake.

View of the glacier (if you look hard enough it's there!)

On the way back down we came across some geese with their goslings. Here I was able to snap one of my favourite shots of the whole trip. Whilst on the catamaran, Ana suddenly turned up clutching Per’s poles. Apparently one of the other guides had found them and put them somewhere safe.

The gander looking after his brood

We then headed back to the Southwind Hostal in Puerto Natales and got there in the late afternoon. There was a lot of confusion with the rooms after Gordana and Zoran both took a different room key each. This was because there were apparently two matrimonial rooms. Per and I ended up in one of these – luckily it also had a single bed in it too; which I took. It was only the next day that I realised that the single bed was in the shape of a toy car! After a much needed shower I wandered around the town; but being a Sunday there was not a lot open.

At around seven, Per, myself, Jola and Kaśke decided to go to dinner. Jola had picked a restaurant from her Footprint guide which she fancied trying but (like most of the restaurants in town) it didn’t open for dinner until half seven; so Kaśke bulldozed us into going to a restaurant she’d been to a few days earlier. It was quite a nice restaurant with a homely atmosphere. I had king crab and avocado to start (it was only on my return from Patagonia that I discovered that the king crab is overfished there) and I think a Milanese escalope for my main. We walked around town a bit after dinner and finally found the seafront and then headed back to the hotel for some shuteye

The French Valley

13 02 2010

After what turned out to be quite a warm shower, we went to the lodge again for breakfast (our tents were dismantled whilst we ate) and then we set off in the bus. We drove for a little bit to Lago Pehoé where we then took a catamaran across to the next campsite. From the boat I managed to see a red fox on the far bank but it was a long way away and the photo I took from inside showed some steamed-up glass covered in raindrops; by the time I got to the upper deck to snap some pics the fox was long gone.

The scenery across the lake though was spectacular; with waterfalls cascading into it and craggy peaks dominating the skyline. Once we got to the new campsite we headed off almost immediately on our second trek: this time to the French Valley. Gordana joined us that day and we all walked together for a couple of hours up to the Italian camp. At this point Zoran and Gordana headed back towards the camp as planned and, to my utter astonishment, Per (who had been the fittest the day before) also decided that he was too tired to continue and went back with them.

Horns of Paine

Ana, myself and the two Poles carried on towards the viewpoint another three hours or so away. It was a nice walk; perhaps even more vertical than the previous day – we seemed to have to clamber over a lot of rocks and watch our footing around some streams. At the viewpoint, we saw quite a few chunks of ice falling down off the nearby glacier; accompanied by a staccato crack and a slide of crumbling ice. After the viewpoint we turned around and headed back.

Ana and Jola at the mirador

Once we finally reached camp (the walk seemed to take forever) I headed straight to the bar to get some much-needed beers. I was chatting to an American there (mostly about the strange workings of the female brain) for quite a while and when we ordered a new round in he said, “Cheers, I’ve never met an Australian I couldn’t get drunk with”. To which I of course had to disappoint him and say, “Erm, but I’m British”.

Since it was almost the time that Ana had told us to meet, I was just thinking of heading downstairs to find the others when Ana turned up and gave me a voucher for dinner. Somehow her psychic powers had determined that of all the places on the campsite I would be found in the one place selling alcoholic beverages: apparently I’m easy to read.

The dinner was a cafeteria system, you loaded your tray up as you went along. There was no choice as such – although you could choose not to have one of the courses. I of course went for the lot. We actually had our own private room just off the main dining hall which was nice to begin with but I started to get cabin fever after a while in there (hearing the same stories again and again was starting to grind) and was glad when we’d all finished and I could get back to the bar.

Per, Jola and I sat on some comfy couches in the corner of the bar and supped a few pale ales. The others stayed downstairs complaining that the bar was too smoky for them. After a bit it was time to retire once more for a last night under canvas.

Torres del Paine

12 02 2010

We left the majority of our luggage behind in Puerto Natales and stuffed 3 days clothes into a duffel bag and then we headed off towards the Torres del Paine national park. On the bus ride there we saw loads of guanacos (they’re an undomesticated sort of llama) and a rhea.

After a brief stop to pay the park entrance fees we stopped off at the campsite and headed off trekking almost immediately. Gordana decided after her previous experience to stay behind so the five of us set out for a full day’s trekking with Ana as the guide. It was a nice trek through some spectacular scenery but I found it a bit harder than the previous trek at Fitz Roy. The last push seemed particularly tough.

The Torres del Paine

After four and a half hours or so, we got to the viewpoint to see the towers – three dramatic spears of granite – although they were quite obscured by clouds; and then headed back towards camp. Per found the hike quite easy and he practically sprinted back. At least the weather was pretty good and, although I did the usual multiple changes of clothing in succession, I never needed to put my waterproof pants on.

Me goofing around at the mirador

In the evening we all picked our tents – at first Per and I thought that ours had no outside bit (sorry my camping vernacular is not really very broad, maybe you can call it a porch) to put our boots and stuff in. It was only when we got into it that we realised we were going in through the back of the tent (amateurs!). Since everyone was complaining that the showers were cold I decided to chance it in the morning instead and continue with the musky trekking smell!

We all had dinner at the Hosteria Las Torres next to the campsite. This involved crossing an extremely rickety bridge across a stream; which was bound to lead to trouble if we got too drunk that evening. Ana gave us the briefing for the next day (which as usual went in one ear and out of the other) and then we tucked into our lasagna; washed down with a few local beers in my case.

After dinner we grabbed some more beers to go and headed back to the campsite. Unlike most campsites in the park this one allowed lit fires so we decided to give it a go. Per had already chopped some wood (being Norwegian he was very handy with the axe) although someone had nicked it in our absence so he had to cut some more. Most of the wood was a bit damp so it was a major struggle getting it going but after borrowing some lit wood from another fire and a huge amount of blowing on my part I managed to create a nice fire.

After managing to spill one of beers over Jola’s hat (it smelt great for days!) and thus diminishing our meagre stocks it was time to call it a night and head to our sleeping bags ready for the next day.

Thank you for the music

11 02 2010

At four am there was apparently a big enough crisis in the Norwegian procurement department of Coca-Cola that Per had to phone in to join a conference call whilst on holiday. Perhaps an elk was blocking a vital sugar consignment on a Norwegian highway. Still, at least Per had the foresight to take the call in the bathroom which meant that I could hear every word of the conversation with a nice porcelain echo (don’t worry Coke, the call was in Norwegian so the recipe is still safe).

At a much more reasonable hour I headed off to breakfast and then returned to my room to pack my bag. As always it was a major struggle and I was quite late running out to the taxi that would be taking us to the bus station. Since we were going to be on the bus for a long time I decided to fill up my camel pack with water but either I didn’t close it properly or the bottle of water that I also had in my bag was not sealed; before I knew it my daypack contained a sizable lake. My laptop, protected by its water-resistant sleeve came out of the ordeal unscathed but my iPod was not so fortunate and died in its sleep. Despite numerous attempts at revival – including premature connection to a power supply – my iPod never showed the faintest spark of life again. Long may she rest in a place of musical harmony (probably something she never found with my music collection).

The bus journey took us across the border from Argentina into Chile. This involved us getting out the bus twice – once to get our exit stamp and the second time to get our entrance stamp and go through customs. The customs check meant that we all had to get our bags out of the bus and lug them into the immigration office. There was a small table with 2 women behind it and they were opening everybody’s bag to look for contraband fruit, vegetables and meat products. Since there was a coach load of us with heavily laden bags this took a very long time: we must have been there for a least an hour. When I opened my bag, the woman took one look at how tightly packed my bag was; shrugged her shoulders and let me go. So if you do need to smuggle something into Chile across land borders make sure you bag is stuffed full and looks impossible to search through.

Argentina emigration checkpoint

Once through the Chilean border we headed to the town of Puerto Natales where we were free for the rest of the day. We were staying at the Southwinds Hostal which was clean enough but didn’t have the homely ski resort charm of our previous abodes. After we’d dropped our stuff off it was time for a late lunch. We found a basic-looking fish restaurant on one of the main roads: I had a paila marina which is a traditional Chilean seafood stew. It was absolutely crammed full of seafood and I was quite glad that it was all I’d ordered. After lunch Jola and I wandered around town looking for the main seafront but we completely messed up the direction and ended up in the dock area. Some of the streets we walked down looked quite ropey. After trying to enter an area that was apparently sólo los empleados we gave up looking for the seafront and headed back. We then decided to head back out for dinner and went to a loungy vegetarian restaurant called El Living with Per. It was really relaxed but I felt they could have dimmed the lights a bit to really create a bit of ambience.

Old boat down by the dock area

Kaśke was also supposed to join us for dinner but she wasn’t at the hotel when we left. I decided to run back and leave her a note. It took me about 10 minutes to tell the guy that I needed a pen and paper (yep – the Spanish is coming on well!) and then I finally managed to persuade him to put the note next to her key. As I was leaving the hotel I ran into Kaśke anyway so it was a waste of time in the end. She’d already eaten so she didn’t join us. After dinner we headed back to the hostal so we could get a good night’s sleep before the trek the next day.

A long day travelling

5 02 2010

(First of all apologies to any faithful readers of my blog who may be a bit disappointed with the 2-week delay between my postings and reality. This isn’t because I’m now measuring my time zone difference in weeks instead of hours but is due to a combination of no Internet connections, a laptop that sometimes only has a 2-hour battery life and being too busy having fun. I promise I will catch up eventually!)

I had to leave for the airport around 12 o’clock so there didn’t seem to be much point in doing anything in the morning (not that I had any real idea of what to do): I finally managed a leisurely breakfast. After my usual drawn-out packing – I  really think I should have brought a second bag – I headed to reception to pay my bill. Before I left the owner put a wooden moai pendant around my neck which I thought was a lovely gesture – unfortunately I lost it somewhere in my hotel room once I got to Buenos Aires. At breakfast I’d arranged to share a taxi to the airport with a Chilean woman staying there and after much confusion in the taxi as to how much I owed for the taxi (I really need to learn Spanish numbers if nothing else!) we got to Easter Island airport.

After a very quick check-in, I found Kevin (he’d walked the short distance from town) and we had a (soft) drink together before heading through the gate. The flight was pretty uneventful: I managed to watch the end of The Invention of Lying and I stuck to my original assessment that the idea was better than the implementation. I also started watching Paper Heart which was a documentary style film about a young comedienne (who wasn’t very funny in the excerpts of her stand-up) who didn’t believe in love, travelling around America talking to people about their experiences. I got quite bored of it and wasn’t at all bothered when they switched off the inflight entertainment having only watched half the film.

We arrived at Santiago later than expected and my connection time there was already extremely tight. After a hurried farewell from Kevin at the baggage carousel (I was so glad I’d checked my luggage all the way through to Buenos Aires) I headed out of the airport and back in again so that I could get to International departures. The queue here was huge: everyone had to hand in their exit card and get their passport stamped before they left the country. Although a lot of people in the queue seemed to have boarding times on their boarding pass around the same as mine; I think their flights were intercontinental so there was a longer time before they actually flew. Eventually with just 15 minutes before the flight was due to leave, I jumped the queue and went straight to the front. After another small queue at security, I started running for my gate – my belt and jacket still in my hands since I only had 10 minutes to go. As always in these cases, the gate was miles away from security and I was quite out-of-breath by the time I got there.

After I boarded we spent ages on the tarmac before we set off to Buenos Aires which made me wonder why I’d bothered sprinting across Santiago airport. The flight was empty and the inflight entertainment wasn’t individual like the other Lan flight so I spent most of the flight snoozing and listening to my iPod. The flight information screen on the television implied that there was a time difference between Chile and Argentina but I think this only happens in the (southern hemisphere) winter although it still made me set my watch incorrectly and think that my flight was an hour and a half late arriving before I saw some other time sources.

Regardless of what the real time actually was, my luggage and I arrived safely in Buenos Aires – despite the raging storm going on outside the plane; causing some turbulence that would have made my friend Heather ashen-white and creating some rather awesome indigo lightning bolts sparking around the wings. I was now in my second South American country: Argentina.

Bird men and red hats

4 02 2010

My mobile phone failed to wake me up in the morning; apparently the one blob charge that it had left was not enough to bring it back to life long enough to wake me up. Fortunately the girls had accidentally slammed their door when they left their room which woke me up before I became catastrophically late. So once again I had a hurried breakfast. We set off to Kevin’s hostel – this time with Lucille behind the wheel. Once again the girls were complaining of hangovers.

The plan today was to head to the Rano Kau volcano in the far South-west. We walked up the crater wall, looking down at the submerged, reed-filled caldera and headed on to the Orongo ceremonial village. The people here were part of a bird-cult and the warriors of the village would swim out to the nearby motu (islets) to retrieve a bird’s egg. They then had to climb up the steep cliffs with the egg and whoever made it first to the top with the egg still intact was chief for the next term of office. The challenge was made even more difficult by the fact that competing warriors could try to smash your egg.

Motu that warriors swam to to get the egg

We wandered around the village and looked at the petroglyphs depicting Tangata Manu (the bird-man) and Make Make (their god). Once again the etchings were quite indecipherable and the guide in front of us took an inordinate amount of time on the “5-people-only” platform looking at them; so that by the time we left there was quite a sizable queue behind us. We’d timed our trip quit well. It was gone 11:30 by the time we finished and the car had to be back by midday but we decided that we had to visit the other quarry of Puna Pau. This is where the Long and Short Ear tribes had excavated the red stones used for the pukao or topknot/hats of the moai. This wasn’t exactly en route but we’d missed it out the previous day on the way back into town. After this we headed back but our chances of reaching the car rental place by midday (which were already highly improbable) were thrown completely out of the window when we got stopped by the police.

Pukao topknots

Luckily it was just a routine check and not because of Lucille’s aggressive driving (tee-hee!) so after a very difficult conversation (the level of collective Spanish inside the car would have a 3-year-old kid from Madrid put into remedial classes) we were free to go. When we got back to the car rental the guy almost forgot to check the car for any new scrapes but didn’t seem that worried by the fact we were a bit late back.

We then decided to head off for a spot of lunch – apparently I had to choose so I randomly picked a restaurant along the main harbour. They had a great range of fish and seafood spaguetti [sic] dishes which were absolutely delicious – although if it was supposed to be spaghetti it was actually closer to tagliatelle – mine was with a mildly curried king crab. Sated by our lunch, we headed back towards the centre to find the museum. Lucille and Carole wanted a coffee first but since the cafe already had a happy hour on, Kevin and I indulged in a cocktail each.

Finally we headed off towards the museum which was a lot further out of the town than the signs would have led us to imagine. The museum was really interesting, filled with great exhibits and stories about the moai and the bird-man cult and, luckily, English and French transcripts of all the text in the museum so that we could follow it all.

After the museum we headed West to the seashore and so that the others could see the moai that I’d seen on my first day on Easter Island. After wandering around there for a while, we headed back to our lodgings to get ready for the evening. Lucille and Carole wanted to meet some friends of their’s by the main stage so we headed down there again. Their friends weren’t around so we sat down at one of the bars again for a few Escudos and a mixed grill kebab. Eventually their friends turned up – they were a bit late; as most parents seem to be when trying to get kids ready to go out and they didn’t actually stay around long enough to have a drink with us.

The girls had to go diving quite early in the morning and were quite nervous about drinking a lot so we called it a night a bit after 12 (once again we paid almost no attention to the festival going on behind us). Kevin said his final goodbye to the girls and then we went on to Ana Rapu. There I also said my final goodbyes (although I did see the girls briefly the next morning) and I went to sleep for the last time on Easter Island.

Moai, moai and more moai

3 02 2010

I got up a bit late, so my breakfast wasn’t as leisurely as I’d planned. I saw the French girls again; they hadn’t made it to the festival the night before but had crashed after their afternoon drinks and not made it back out. I also chatted to a few of the other guests and then had to make a run for it to so I’d be on time for meeting Kevin.

Whilst picking up my stuff from my room I had another chat with the French. They were thinking of renting a car and wondered if I wanted to come along and split the costs. I said that I had to meet my friend and it depended on what he had planned. When I left them they were going to ask the Finnish girl to see if she wanted to go – although none of us had seen her at breakfast.

I got to the meeting point with Kevin a bit late but he was even later so it was all good. Neither of us had really learned anything useful about what to do. We had both thought about renting bikes and cycling around to see the sights but the idea of renting a car appealed so we headed back to the Ana Rapu to see if Lucille and Carole had found anyone else to share the car with.

Fortunately enough they hadn’t, so we headed off into town to see if we could find some wheels. My reconnaissance trip around town the day before paid off because I actually knew where one of the car rental places was – unfortunately there were no cars available until noon so we went around one of the artisan centres and then grabbed a coffee.

Finally, at a bit past midday, with Carole behind the wheel we headed off towards Rano Raraku, the main quarry for the building of the moai. Along the way we stopped off a lot. Carole and Kevin were quite fanatical about looking for picture opportunities and every interesting new statue; herd of horses or dramatic coastline warranted a photo stop. This suited me fine since I was also keen to try to capture this rugged, ethereal landscape on SD card and we had a lot of hours until sundown.

We had lunch at the picnic area of Rano Raraku and then set off to look at all the moai on the hillside. None of these were on an ahu (altar) and whether they’d been left here ready for transportation to their final location; deemed unworthy of exultation or put there as more informal monuments isn’t really known. One of the moai was still laying down carved into the hill.

At one point, Lucille and Carole suddenly started kissing some random children which Kevin and I thought was a bit odd (and potentially an arrest-able offence) until they did the same with the parents and we realised that these were some French people that they knew. Actually this happened a lot – sometimes it seemed that the entire French Tahitian community had decamped on Rapa Nui. About halfway around the volcano, it suddenly started raining but luckily Kevin managed to find a rocky overhang that we could all huddle under until the downpour stopped.

After we’d explored the outside of the volcano we then took the route that meandered around the inner caldera. The crater was full of water and more wild horses grazed on the grassy inner walls. Here too, the occasional moai stared back at us and the girls nearly got in trouble with some of the wardens when they took some photos pretending to kiss the statues. Apparently we weren’t supposed to get that close – although the signs had only said not to touch them or step on the ahu.

After the volcano we then continued to follow the road to the very impressive Ahu Tongariki: 15 restored moais all in row. There were some petroglyphs nearby too but as with all the engravings on the island they were heavily eroded and I had to use a lot of imagination to discern the original design. After that we continued to drive North; stopping off at various statues along the way but Ahu Te Pito Kura, the largest moai on the island, was quite disappointing because it had not been restored to its upright position so just lay facedown in the grass. Eventually we reached the beach of Anakena but since it wasn’t that sunny and none of us had brought our swimwear with us so we didn’t really stop off for long.

The moai of Ahu Tongariki with Lucille in front

We then returned our car to the hotel and headed into town for a few cocktails. The cocktails were absolutely massive and by the time we made it down to main stage where the festival was being held for an empanada each the girls decided to drink water. Kevin and I, being hardened British Islanders instead of French lightweights, of course continued to drink beer. We didn’t really pay any attention to the festival whilst we were there and eventually headed off back home so that we could get up early in the morning to continue our car journey round the island.

Easter Island

2 02 2010

I slept a lot on the flight to Easter Island although I did wake up for a bit to watch the first half of the Ricky Gervais film, The Invention of Lying. I think I liked the concept (a world where nobody lied or could even understand the idea of telling an untruth) more than the execution. Although there were a few bits that had me laughing out loud (no doubt to the chagrin of my fellow passengers) and I was looking forward to seeing the rest of it on my return flight.

When we got to the airport Kevin and I exchanged phone numbers, since we were staying at different places, although it looked like his provider didn’t have a roaming agreement with Entel (a Vodafone affiliate) which was apparently the only provider on the island. After a long wait for our luggage I found the counter for my lodgings and we headed off.

Also on the transfer with me were two French girls living in Tahiti, Lucille and Carole; a Finn, Maria; and a Japanese girl. The Ana Rapu guest house was quite basic and grubby (I made the mistake of dropping my T-shirt on the floor and when I picked it up it was covered in dust) but I had a private room with a shower which was nice. I also had 3 single beds so if I was feeling particularly decadent I could have used one a day.

After a much-needed shower (it had been a long night!) I decided to head off into the town and was pleasantly surprised to see that moais were everywhere. And the scenery was staggering: bright blue clear seas; verdant volcanoes stabbing at the sky; surf crashing in the rocky bays, and wild horses grazing among the statues. On rounding each hill, I saw with a wonderful new vista to capture on my camera. It was a shame that it was overcast that day and I didn’t really have the blue skies that I would have liked. I kept heading North until Ahu Tepeu, the last statue on the West coast of the island.

The moai at Ahu Ko Te Riku

I was feeling fatigued from the humid weather so I was quite happy heading back to the town of Hanga Roa. Having realised that it actually extended back from the coastal road I explored the town a bit to get a feel for where everything was. I didn’t see Kevin’s hostel so if his phone didn’t work then I had no idea how we’d meet up. I did speak to one of the tour agents but their prices seemed extortionate – $70 for a half-day trip to the caves of Poike and $120 for a full-day island tour. Eventually I headed back towards the Ana Rapu where I collapsed on the bed and had an hour’s siesta. When I woke up the two French girls were around. They were a lot more chatty than they’d been during the transfer: apparently drinking a pisco sour and daiquiri each had lubricated their vocal chords. They had found a programme for the island festival – although since it was in Spanish with a sprinkling of the local lingo it was pretty incomprehensible. In any event the festivities started that evening at quarter to ten so I decided to head into the town again and see if I could grab some food. By the main stage there were a series of bars, so I sat myself down at one and ordered an Escudo (a can this time – no $3 for a litre bottle on Easter Island) and a beef empanada.

After broadening my Spanish knowledge by learning what algo más meant, I had a few more Escudos and was about to settle my bill and head over to the viewing area when the heavens opened dramatically. I moved further inside the bar; cowering under the tarpaulin and ordered another beer. Once the rain finally abated I headed over towards the stage to watch the show. I managed to snap a few pictures but they didn’t come out very well.

Whilst standing there, I bumped into Kevin. Neither of us were sure what to do the next day but we both agreed to ask around at our respective lodgings and meet up at the information office on the main coastal road the next day with a plan. The dancing on stage was then replaced with a string ritual where a girl would make an unusual pattern with some string (like a cat’s-cradle) and then use it to tell a story. What that stories were, I have no idea since the narrative was all in the local language. It sounded very much like the New Zealand rugby songs when they were chanting. Kevin went back to his hostel after the first one, I made it till the fourth and final one and then decided I’d also get an early night rather than watching the remaining dances.

Even though my room was a good fifteen minute walk from the stage, you could still hear the music clearly from there and I fell asleep lulled by the strange sounds of the band and singing.

Goodbye Santiago

1 02 2010

I woke up in the morning with no idea what I was going to do on my last day in Santiago. At breakfast I chatted to a few of the people there about their experiences of Santiago; also trying to work out if anyone had any ideas of what I should do that day. As one of the girls pointed out all the museums closed on Mondays so that was a non-starter.

When I listened to some of them talking about going out till 4am in the night-life area, Barrio Bellavista, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d missed out on some of the fun of the city. Although since I’d been up early for the horse-riding, my trip to Valparaiso, and the wine tour I’m not sure how I would have fit that in. My flight to Easter Island the next day was at 09:30; meaning I’d have to be up early to get to the airport on time so there was be no chance of that happening now… at least that’s what I thought at the time.

That day I got to put some names to the faces that I’d seen around the hostel and also learn a bit more about where people were travelling. There was Julia, a Swiss teacher who was also traveling to Buenos Aires later on but would be there at a different time to me; Laurie, a Dutch girl who was staying in Santiago for a year as part of her anthropology course and was sitting in the kitchen trying to learn Spanish, two older English sisters who were doing a whistle-stop tour of Chile with just a few days down in Patagonia because they needed to get to Rio in time for carnival;  and I also met “the cougher” in my dorm: Kevin from Ireland. It turned out that Kevin was on the same flight as me to Easter Island so we agreed to share a taxi to the airport.

Whilst I was arranging the taxi at reception they said that I still owed them money for my laundry and my extra night’s stay. When I said that I’d already paid it he wanted to see the receipt but at the same time he handed me my receipt for the first three nights I’d paid. It was the first receipt I’d seen in the hostel! I did point out that I thought I still needed to pay an extra night and he agreed so I paid that but I don’t actually know if they ever found the record of me paying for the other night.

I decided to head into town and see what I encountered. I began in the centre at Plaza de Armas and wandered through the shopping streets. I probably needed some new shorts but my heart wasn’t into shopping so I tried to find some of the places that I’d not found on the walking tour the first time. The stock market proved very easy and I then stopped off in a café for some lunch and a coffee. Whilst there I read about the other coffee place from the tour that allegedly in the area and was even more intrigued. It turned out that it was a café con piernas. And to quote the LP: “Whilst literally ‘legs cafés’, these coffee shops have waitresses who often bear a bit more”. Although I’d already had a coffee; this sounded like a convivial way to enjoy a cup of Joe and I determined to locate this establishment – primarily, of course, to broaden my cultural understanding.

Unfortunately, even after looking up and down the building in case this caffeine paradise was on an upper storey and not easily visible from the street, I once again failed to find it and eventually had to give up. I’m not even sure that the street address the LP gives even exists. I then decided to head over to Barrio Bellavista so that I could see what this nighttime spot was like. En route I did find the joke shop that I’d also missed but it was closing-down so I think the LP walking tour definitely needs an update now!

I wandered around the barrio and decided that it would be really buzzing of an evening. After wandering for a bit I decided to stop off for another one of those great $3 for a litre of beer specials. Whilst sitting on the terrace, the two English sisters that I’d spoken to at the hostel that morning pulled up right next to me in taxi. They were heading off shopping and wanted to know where the funicular railway was for later. I didn’t even know there was a funicular there but I looked it up in the LP and, after telling them where it was, decided that I’d go there myself.

When I got to the funicular it looked distinctly closed so, thwarted once more in my efforts to find something to do on a Monday, I headed back to the hostel. There I bumped into Kevin again – he was just heading into town to visit one of the parks and mentioned that he’d be back later because a few of them were heading into town at about 9 and I was welcome to join if I fancied it. I was definitely up for that and decided that I could always sleep on the flight.

I had a few drinks at the bar and asked one of the guys there, Sean, if he fancied a game of pool. He beat me – although both of us were struggling as usual with the irregular surface of the table and the erratic pockets. He also said he was off out later and it sounded like he was going with the same crowd of people. Sean also asked me if I’d visited one of the special coffee houses and then told me about one that he’d been to right by the Plaza de Armas.

Whilst at the bar, Julia, came by and mentioned that they were heading into town later if I wanted to join them. At nine I was the only one ready but, after a bit of a wait for Kevin to get ready; Sean, Kevin, Julia and I finally headed off. The Dutch girl, Laurie, was also meeting us later after she’d had dinner. We went to one of the bars in the inner courtyard of the Bellavista area and had a few beers and pizza there. Sean was telling us how one of the guys in their dorm was masturbating the night before (in a vocal manner) and that pretty much set the bar for the level of conversation that evening. This coupled with reciprocal jibes against our respective countries made for a very funny and entertaining night. When it looked like that place was dying we headed off in search of a new venue.

We walked down the main drag of Pío Nono for a bit but after Sean asked the proprietor of one of the bars which was the best bar to drink in and being surprised when he said “This one”, we walked on a bit further past the park. Eventually we found another bar which seemed the liveliest on an otherwise somnolent Monday evening and settled down for a few drinks. This time even Laurie, who up till now had been on soft drinks, indulged in a pisco sour although I think they must have distilled the grapes from scratch because they took so long making them. After a few more amusing conversations – including when Julia had told Sean that she was a lesbian and he’d spent ages elaborating on how some his best friends were lesbian; and a chat with a merry local student who’d just finished his semester and was interested to hear where we were from (to which we mostly lied: Russia and Bulgaria were mentioned) – we decided to head back home. Although I think we could have gone on to the local disco, Laurie was feeling tired.

An Englishman, two Irishman, a Swiss and a Dutch girl go to a bar... there has to be a joke in there somewhere

When we got back to the hostel it was already 4am and rather than go to bed and get two hours sleep I decided it would be better to carry on drinking so we propped ourselves up on the hostel bar with a few more Escudos. At 5, Kevin decided that he’d just get an hour’s sleep anyway. At six o’clock according to my watch, Julia and I decided to head off to a night shop that Sean told me was just two blocks hence although I’ll never know whether it actually existed or whether it wasn’t open at 6am on a Tuesday morning.

When we got back to hostel the taxi was already there and Sean and, particularly, Kevin were in a bit of a panic. It seemed that my watch had chosen the inopportune hour of 6am to stop working and in my drink-addled state my perception of time was not good enough to notice that it had been 6 for more than half-an-hour. The guys had already loaded most of my bags into the taxi and after quickly grabbing the rest of my belongings from my locker we set off to the airport. Once there we had a very efficient check-in and could relax knowing that we had plenty of time till our flight to Easter Island (at least according to my watch)