The road to Chile

When we took the bus from Mendoza in Argentina, across the border to Chile, we were expecting the worst. A friend we’d met in Mendoza had made the crossing the day before and it had taken the bus double the time you agree to when you buy the ticket to get through Chilean immigration.

Prepared for a long ride, we were pleasantly surprised by the ease of the crossing and the six hours it took for the bus drive across the countries. With exceptional views of the Andes as you meet the Argentinian-Chilean border the weather was distinctly cooler and you felt like you were in the middle of nowhere. It made me wonder what happens to people that are rejected from entering Chile. Where do they go and how do they leave this place? Shudder.

When we entered Santiago in the late afternoon of the same day it was hot and sunny, quite a contrast, and were encouraged by the simplicity of its metro service, its street food, and its modern amenities. It’s an extremely modern city. We were staying in the Providencia neighbourhood, which was a short walk from Bellavista – one of the main hipster neighbourhoods of the city. We mostly avoided getting the subway unless we had to, and managed to walk from place to place.

We noticed as soon as we arrived how quiet the city was. We guessed it was, like many other southern South American cities, quiet in the day and crazy at night. And we guessed right. On the Sunday we did a bike tour with Le Verde Bicicleta tour company (another tour provided by Green Toad bus company). It took us through Bellavista and the local famous markets, neighbourhoods and landmarks, and our young female guide was extremely knowledgeable about the history of the area and its people.

It was a hot, fun day, which we finished with an introduction to Chile’s nightlife. We met up with “Tobs” – our friend from Mendoza – who was spending his last night in the city and invited us for dinner and drinks in Bellavista.

After a few drinks, we’d lit the fire in our hearts for a South American night, and at midnight we were wandering the streets looking for karaoke. Sadly, nothing was open – we guessed they observed the religious Sunday rituals so many places do – and so we proceeded to walk Tobs back to his Airbnb in Bellaartes, until…

We spotted a Salsateca. None of us had ever really been in a proper salsateca (not like this anyway) in the heart of a neighbourhood, frequented only by locals. We paid just 2,000 Chilean pesos each to enter, and felt like we’d found the only part in Santiago that was alive that night. Couples were dancing salsa officially and together on the dancefloor, while men sat around drinking aguadiente. It felt a lot like Colombia.

After two stiff JD and cokes I headed out on the dancefloor alone. I tried dragging the boys (men?) out but they kept abandoning me at the last minute. After they’d enjoyed a third drink, and a local began questioning Tobs, they finally arrived on the DF. The enthusiasm of our small group was palpable. At first, people didn’t really know what to make of our out-of-time and unashamedly abysmal moves. I genuinely don’t think they knew if we were being funny or deadly serious. To be honest, I’m not sure either.

Tobs’ main aim was to grab a lady for his last night in SA and we felt totally prepared to help him do that. Once he’d snagged her on the dance floor with his moves, and then proceeded to lose her on the dance floor with his moves, he made one last attempt to dance her into submission in front of her car before she drove off into the morning at 4am. It was time to say sad goodbyes to our friend Tobs, drunk and exhausted from backing dancing.

The next day we visited Valparaiso – a two-hour bus ride away. Valparaiso is a port town with beautiful scenery and a couple of attractions. Our hostel was way up in the hills, and was definitely the best place to stay. The bottom part of the city smelt like wee all day and had a typical hot and heavy South American city culture – but the top was more like a quaint holiday destination. We found ourselves wandering the tops of the hills and stopping for wine at rooftop bars. One of the nights our hostel held a delicious asado (BBQ) and we ate to hearts content for a small fee.

For our final day in Valparaiso we got another very short bus along the coastline to Vina del Mar – a beach town known for its beauty. Sadly, the waves were too strong to swim and I encountered a classic travelling mishap – my flip flops finally decided to break for good. So, instead of enjoying the beach, we spent half of the day looking for some flip flops.

We found a huge, and very expensive mall, after asking a number of people. I found tons of pairs I liked, but they were a lot more than $1.50 I’d paid for the pair I had in the US. We pressed on until we discovered a “Lider” – the Walmart-owned supermarket of South America (that we hadn’t seen anywhere else in South America).

Here they had a bin of classic rubber flops for around the equivalent of £1. Perfect! Except… After spending half-an-hour searching through the bins for my size, it started to become evident that they didn’t have my size – just men’s and small children.

So, in a stressful traveller-decision making moment to make sure we actually saw Vina del Mar, I bought the smallest men’s flip flops I could find. They were huge and added an extra layer all the way around my feet – but they didn’t flip off, so they would do.

For our final few days in Santiago before flying to Australia we booked a horse ride into the Andean hills. The full-day ride started early and was led by a company called Ando Andes. I had a slight girl crush on the owner of the ranch, a lady called Terese from the US who had been running the ranch for 35 years. She wore an amazing tan poncho, cowboy hat and boots. She looked the horse’s knees.

We all scrabbled onto our horses, but felt completely safe under her guidance. The tour also had three professional guides and they were very attentive if our horses started to stop wanting to move.

Going up the mountain was fun, when my horse wanted to go – I felt bad kicking it. But it was the coming down that frightened me. It was a steep, dirt track we took down the mountain on one side. I could see the hooves of the horses in front slipping in the dirt, and I could feel my poor horse struggling in the terrain.

Thankfully, they all made it – no one came off. And apart from a few scratches from the bushes when we lost the trail slightly – still love you Terese – we all made it back unscathed for a glass of wine (or three) and some sandwiches. A fabulous end to a perfect day.

The only thing we had left to do in Santiago was climb the famous San Cristobel hill in the largest urban park in South America. Just around the corner from us, we’d tried it the day after the ride but it was the weekend and super busy, and I had horse ache. So we tried instead on the Monday.

The park is so big that it has two swimming pools and plenty of other parks and ponds etc all within it. I had agreed to climb the mountain if I could jump in the pool at the end. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. Another South American tradition is closing everything on Mondays (as sometimes happens in England, too). And today was one of those Mondays. Still – we climbed as high as we could go and got some fantastic views of the city.

Now – we are starting our year in Australia. And what a year it should be. Horrendously jetlagged, let’s just hope we can start the new year awake and alive again!