Monday, November 23, 2009

Valdivia-Villarica-Valparaiso/Vina del Mar

Well we finally made our way out of isolated Patagonia to the still quiet but much more 'civilized' lake country region and then right up middle Chile.
So from Coyhaique we had to take a 19-hour overnight bus via Argentina, it sounds awful since it was a normal bus, not even semi-cama (half-bed) but it was actually one of the more enjoyable bus rides if only for the scenery just across the border in Argentina. The border crossing on that side was great, each country just stamped our passports no questions asked. The argentinian side was just a wooden hut with a fireplace and 2 guys drinking mate... typical.
Although only about an hour away the scenery couldn't have been more different: completely flat plains scattered with tons of sheep, cows, geese, rabbits and the odd horse under a gorgeous sunset sky. And..... pools with flamingos!!! Real wild pink flamingos in the last place on earth I expected them, freezing patagonia. Incredible, likely the most remote place I have ever been, we passed through one tiny desolate village.
The border crossing in the morning wasn't such a breeze, well the argentinian side was, then we drove for a half hour through a park and a snowstorm (our half hour of real winter for the year!) before we reached the chilean side where they hauled all of us and our stuff off the bus to wait in the cold. The customs people were intense even though the bus had been sealed on the chilean side the night before they insisted on scanning everything. Luckily I had declared the food we had with us (not thinking about border crossing since our destination was still in Chile and too used to border-less Europe) so they confiscated our cheese and apples (best apples ever too!), the other American girl on the bus wasn't so lucky.
We arrived in Osorno at about 11am and decided to go for a short walk and check out the museum, it was okay. Explained a bit about the Mapuche aboriginal's resistance to the Spanish and then about the German colonisation of the area. (Germans everywhere!) Otherwise, cute church and town but not much to see there. We headed on to Valdivia for the night with the greatest hot chocolate and roasted candied peanuts from the bus station vendors.
Valdivia - Small university town on the river with sea lions (worst looking, sounding and smelling animals ever but still fascinating to watch!) We made a huge pasta dinner, so nice to finally cook something ourselves. The 18th we got up and headed off to see the sea forts, but first checked out the riverside market (fish on the river side and veggies on the land side) down the pier, very nice market! And the indoor craft market too, lots of wood crafts. From there we took a local bus to the village of Niebla (landscape just like the Kootenays, it was so weird to be the other side of the globe!) Well, the fort there was closed so we walked to the ferry terminal and took a tiny boat to a tinier and quainter village, Corral to see the fort there. Neat to see the old fort but there really wasn't much there, just nice scenery even through the bit of rain.
Same route back and a stop for more wonderful hot chocolate (our Chilean staple!). Off to Pucon via Temuco (we went through there 3 times without ever leaving the cold bus terminal). Arrived late in Pucon in the freezing rain and lucked out with perhaps the best hostel we've stayed at so far. New, clean, private bathroom, good breakfast and internet for the cheap only 2 blocks from the bus stations. However, we didn't have so much luck at dinner: worst service ever. I mean, you come not to except much in South America and normally I'm pretty patient but this was ridiculous. I think we waited for an hour before we even got our food and it was 10 mins before we were about to ask her to bring us menus.
Villarica - (19th) Well as you can see we didn't actually stay in Villarica, town next to Pucon, but it starts with a V.... we did catch a glimpse of the Volcan Villarica but that was it because of the perpetually overcast skies. Really didn't luck out with the weather! So it wasn't raining in the morning and we decided to stick with plan A and rent bikes and pray. But not even an hour into our trip, it started to pour. And didn't stop. I was soaked and freezing in no time. But we trekked on to a cold picnic at little lake with a black sand beach 22km away. Then turned to head back along a different route but I managed to get more soaked than in Puyuhuapi (didn't think that was even possible) and riding downhill through the pouring rain nearly gave me hypothermia (not kidding, the weather was awful and not normal for this time of year at all, it's nearly summer. Everyone is muttering about El nino and climate change) So, we decided to find a cafe to warm up and see if it would stop raining but everything was closed, then finally we came across a German 'landhaus' (countryhouse/lodge). So we stumbled in all wet and got tiny mugs of delicious hot chocolate and and apple/almond strudel. My things dried a bit but the rain didn't let up. Finally we decided to brave it and just walk to the waterfall (ojos de caburgua - the eyes of caburgua) and back under the umbrella since we could leave our stuff there. That was worth it. Beautiful waterfalls! And the rain let up for just long enough to wander around the trails in the woods to see the falls from all sides. Walked back to pick up our stuff and found out that what we had paid was only for one person. Our snack ended up coming to more than 13$... more expensive than at home!! Oh well, that's what you pay for real german strudel in the middle of nowhere Chile from a very good chef.
Ended up paying double to take the bus back as the rain had started up again and then changed at the hostel before grabbing a nice dinner and the night bus to Valparaiso.
Valparaiso - (20th) Bus and funiculaire (help me out with English word anyone?) up to the Cerro Concepcion and a dorm in a creaky old place but not bad since we were the only ones in the dorm and cheap. Off to explore the city on foot: Port market with lots of seafood, wild cats everywhere (mom with 12 kittens in a box!), metrotren, then up in the famous hills. Quite a contrast: all the colourful poor houses clinging to the hillsides (but still with satellite TV) covered in often very good grafitti. Perfect for taking pictures. And although cloudy, the weather finally started cooperating for us! After a lot of wandering we had to head down, stopped by a vegetarian cafe (good but expensive and they literally were out of everything on the menu, so common here. Sorry we're out of this, this and this. Then you order and it's oh we're also out of that, that and that.) Walked back to the hostel via the cemeteries that has just closed. And the lax South American security finally caught up with me... We were walked past a construction zone, like everyone else, who were even walking through it, when a big rock shot out from under the wheel of a bulldozer and slammed into my leg. I admit to collapsing on the nearest stairs and having a bit of a cry (more because of the ridiculousness of the situation and the fact that I couldn't walk when there was about a million stairs up the hill to our hostel. But it did hurt like crazy!) And the construction guy did nothing! I was so mad and just got up and managed to make my way down the street clinging onto Simone. So that was why we paid to take our second funiculaire up the hill. And I'm left with the biggest bruise ever just above my knee (so lucky it missed my knee!!) and a bit difficulty walking... and a story.
Good but expensive seafood dinner and off to bed. Next morning up early for first breakfast (re-heated leftovers from the night before) and out for a refreshing stroll around the neighbourhood, to see another Cerro that used to be a prison and the cemeteries that were closed the day before. So quiet as it was early Saturday morning and the sun finally came out! I changed out of jeans for the first time in 2 weeks! The cemeteries were very nice and full of Europeans. Chile really plays up the European side. Back to the hostel for second breakfast (included in our stay) and off the cool antique market and to leave our things at the bus station before heading off to Vina del Mar for the day. (21st)
Vina.... reminded me of Rio or Miami. Super nice and posh. Strolled around the botanical garden/park then across the city (grabbed a picnic lunch to eat in the plaza from a yummy bakery) to the beaches. They were okay, but so busy and the ocean is absolutely freezing there! Tough even to put your feet in and I'm used to cold water! Wandered back through the touristy craft stalls and hunted for scoop ice cream but didn't find any until we got off the metrotren in Valparaiso again. However it was well worth waiting for.
Meanwhile, we had been making and changing plans for the next week.... things kept falling through and finally on the bus on our way to Santiago we came to the tough decision to seperate for a few days. Simone stayed in Santiago where she knows someone with a hostel and I decided to jump on the night bus to Argentina to visit my buddy Kate in Cordoba. (where I am now)
And so ends my Chilean adventures. (until thursday anyway when I'm back, for the third time, in northern Chile and meet up again with Simone) So I'll leave this rant of a post here and add Argentina (and some pictures when I can get them from Simone) in a few days, hasta luego!

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