Again our bus journey was pretty epic; entering Chile from Argentina involves crossing the Andes which makes for some incredible views and super windy roads. We also passed through what would be ski resorts in the winter giving us inspiration for another holiday. Luckily for us Catherine had decided Valparaiso was a great New Year’s destination and came along for the journey.
We were pleasantly surprised by Santiago, it doesn’t have such a good rep with the backpacking community, it’s green, clean and the locals are friendly. The city is divided into a number of distinct neighbourhoods each with their own style. For example Barrio Bellavista is known for its trendy restaurants and nightlife. In fact Santiago in general is known for its amazing restaurants. Not wanting to miss out we treated ourselves to a Mexican which was fab (a Burrito that could feed a small village). This, however, was not enough for Mike who couldn’t resist joining Catherine at the hostel BBQ and drinks. The same evening we met up with Roos and Hemmo (a couple we had all met on the Salt flats). They were renting a sweet apartment with a roof top pool and terrace where we had drinks looking out at the amazing city view. It was a great evening.
The following day we decided to embark on a free walking tour. This involved three hours of wandering around Santiago learning about the history and culture. We also walked up to the top of Santa Lucia hill where we had great views and an ice cream. This was about the only tourist activity we managed; the hostel had an amazing pool and bar that took up most of our time! Saturday’s pool party with live music was too good to miss and led to a night out in a big club in Bellavista and a serious hangover the next day.
Valpo is Chiles cultural capital and is one of the coolest cities we have visited. Its location, a port with beaches only a short bus ride away, only adds to the draw. We decided to make this walking tour destination number two. This turned out to be a great decision- our tour guide was great. The city is covered in graffiti, not your average train tunnel tut; this is all Banksy level stuff. Although graffiti is illegal in Chile artists will ask locals if they fancy a paint job on the front of their house and 9 times out of ten they say yes. Valpo is also seriously hilly and the different hills define the neighbourhoods around town. Walking up to these can be a serious pain in the arse so during the tour we were taken on a funicular for some amazing views. The icing on the cake was dropping in to an old locals house for a taste of his freshly made biscuits, a Chilean favourite, chocolate covered biscuits with dulce de leche in the middle- delicious!
Something we weren’t expecting from the tour was to bump into a guy we met in Mancora, Peru, nearly two months ago. Darren had also thought Valpo was a great idea for New Years and was there with a friend from home and some others- small world. Later that evening, Catherine, Mike and I met up with them for ‘dinner’, drinks and some live music- a very drunken night. Dinner was a shawarma (similar to a kebab) that became a favourite over the next few alcohol fuelled days.
New Year’s Eve
The next day the three of us hit up the supermarket for some NYE picnic food- error! Valpo is world famous for its NYE firework display meaning locals and travellers alike flood here at this time of year. This meant the shops and the streets were rammed. It took us over 2 hours to pick up a bit of ham and bread. This effort may have been justified if we were to eat this picnic at the sunny hill top location we had envisaged, however, it wasn’t to be. We had been expecting some wind (after all we were high up near a coast) but this could have been a start scene to Twister 2. We retreated back to our hostel communal area only to find that it was full so opted for a dorm floor picnic instead- perfect. At least we won’t forget it!
After we zipped up our beer jackets we headed back to the hill, cringe NYE glasses and yellow pants in tow (Chilean’s believe they promote happiness and love in the new year), to find some friends we had met back in Santiago. We set up camp and drank a £2 litre bottle of rum until midnight hit when the fireworks began. It was a truly spectacular display. The whole coastline lit up. The synchronised display stretched over ten miles and we were in a prime position to see it all. After this we hit up some of the many street parties, every inch of Valpo was covered with people drinking. Some squares had even been purposefully set up for DJ’s and dancing. By far the best part of the night was the locals. Everyone was super friendly and eager to get us involved.
By far the worst part of the night (or for me anyway) was what Catherine and I aptly named the poo story….We were desperate for the loo and being the more unlucky of the two sexes had to find an actual toilet rather than a street corner. The only option was a small, rather choice bar and the toilets left a lot to be desired. Catherine was the first to enter and almost turned straight back out but with no other option we both manned up and decided it was necessary. But this is not where the story ends. I had not taken a bag out with me so had been using my leggings to hold money (for some reason in his drunken state Mike had given me rather a lot) but forgot about this when I pulled them down to go to the toilet. I looked in terror as I saw the equivalent of 50 quid plop into the diarrhoea filled toilet. I screamed for Catherine who rapidly came to my rescue. Was it too late? Had the notes disappeared under a pile of poop forever? I quickly ran and asked the bar for a sieve but this was too much to ask. I settled with a plastic cup, wrapped my scarf around my mouth and nose and attempted to fished the notes out. It wasn’t working. My only option was to use a finger to guide the notes over the lip of the cup. Success! From there I ran the notes (and my hand) under cold water (some Chilean Pesos are waterproof but unfortunately not the 10,000 bills) but there was no soap to assist the disinfection processes. We then wrapped the soggy notes into a plastic bag and went to drink away the shame- not before we retold the story to a puzzled group at the bar. This went something along the lines of “dinero en mucho caca” (money in much poop).
The next morning I was up early (as usual on a hangover) but for some reason I was feeling kind and left Mike sleeping. I decided to go for a wander and catch some rays before the hangover truly kicked in. The streets were a mess, with piles of bottles almost knee high. There were also a few stragglers making their way home (it was 9 in the morning) which lead to some interesting conversation. I also made friends with a cute pero who used me for shade while I read in the sun. It was a nice morning- then the hangover hit and the rest of the day was a total write off. We did make it out for a lush meal with Catherine, it was our last night together as she would head to Buenos Aires in the morning. As it was New Year’s day the restaurants were pretty busy and we took ages to find one we liked that wasn’t full but we made a good choice. Catherine and Mike informed me the steaks were brill and my tapas (including a Spanish omelette type thing) was amazing.
The next day we said an emotional goodbye to Catherine and then decided to see a bit more of the city. We visited Pablo Neruda’s eccentric house with an incredible selection of art and antiques which he called adult toys and collected from around the World. He was also lucky enough to have panoramic views of the city. Pablo was a noble prize winning poet, a great host to many parties and also played a part in Chile’s communist revolution- an interesting fellow. We then took an ascensor to Graffiti Barrio- an area of town which 70 world famous graffiti artists had recently decorated. It was pretty cool to see although we did rush through it a bit after being told by the guy operating the ascensor that if we detour too far to the left or right we will be shot in the head (he lacked English but his mime made it perfectly clear)….
We headed back to Santiago the same day.
Back in Santiago we had a brain wave and decided it was a great idea to rent a campervan to travel Patagonia. Unfortunately we had to wait around a week before we could pick it up. We decided this was not such a bad thing as we had sun, a pool and it meant we could save a bit of money. Our only slip up on the money front was when Darren and Ian (his friend) checked into our hostel and what started as two diet cokes by the pool ended in a seriously drunken night. The blame lies mostly with a Chilean drink nick named the earthquake (terremoto) a concoction of white wine, pisco, grenadine and pineapple ice cream floating on top- lethal. The night ended with me standing on Ian’s shoulders trying to reach my very stray dart (missing the board by a very impressive four feet) and Mike incapable of speech!
Bring on the camper…….