What started out as an innocent 'drop-in' to Chile to check out the desert, the stars and get an extra stamp on our passports, in fact turned into a much longer stay than anticipated. The same snow that had prevented us from crossing over to Chile at the end of our Salt flats tour, later prevented me from crossing into Argentina in the north. The snow had reached so far down the Andes that the the next open crossing point was 1000 miles to the south- in Santiago! Which was just as well in the end, as what with deserts, mountains, skiing and european-esque cities, Chile turned out to be one of my favourite countries.
|A proper mountain!|
God was not happy with us. (And we were not happy with God)
Not to be deterred, we booked an alternative tour the next day and had a great time exploring the desert and the 'valley of the moon', and watching a beautiful sunset over the Andes.
|The valley of the moon!|
|Sunset over the Andes|
And all of a sudden, after 2 and a half months, I was traveling by myself again.
Feeling very sad and very lonely, albeit very determined not to let that spoil anything, I went to the star tour. This started disappointingly, with a professor speaking very fast Chilean Spanish (which is probably the most incomprehensible form of spanish there is!) Luckily after about 5 minutes another guy turned up who asked if anybody needed an English translation- for which I gratefully accepted. It was a really interesting talk- he pointed out loads of constellations, including all the signs of the zodiac, and pointing out the 13th sign of the snake which was abandoned by the Church. He complained that Scorpio should have scrapped instead as it spent less time in the sky, so being a scorpio I should really be a snake! Anyway he then pointed out the southern cross and explained its four elements, and told the story of why Orion and the Scorpion never appear in the sky at the same time. Orion was the best hunter the world had ever seen, and Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, fell in love with him. Artemis's twin brother Apollo was jealous of her love, so sent the Scorpion to kill Orion. Artemis, finding her favourite hunter dead, honoured him by placing him in the sky. To keep peace in the sky, Zeus decreed that the Scorpion and Orion must never share the sky; they are instead in an endless cosmic chase. Just as the scorpion rises above the horizon in the winter months, Orion descends below the horizon.
Anyway it was really beautiful as the pictures below show!
So I hopped on a bus to La Serena, a little place by the coast, where I met another english pair, classic 'gap yah' types but nice enough. It was a long long bus journey, but some of the most beautiful comfortable seats! There were even curtains you could draw around your seat for more privacy!
|Luxurious Chilean buses!|
I then pressed on to Santiago where I struck lucky with another great host. Beny lived in a cool part of Santiago in a beautiful apartment where I had my own room, and took me out for drinks and dinner when I arrived. Unfortunately he worked during the week but recommended some good places for me to go, and once he found out I was interested in skiing, offered me one of his early bird passes to a ski resort near Santiago so I could ski for half price! My task now was just to find some people to go with, as skiing by yourself isn't that fun.....
The next morning I wandered into the centre to have a little mooch around, starting to feel a little bit lonely again. Passing through the main square I noticed a group gathering for a free city walking tour. I wandered back through and started to hover as it looked like there were some nice people there, and these walks are usually so great for getting to know the city and meeting other people. So I tagged on to the end feeling quite pleased with myself as the guide gave a great first impression by being able to not only talk loudly, but being able to talk loudly about interesting things. Great qualities in a guide! It was also there that I started chatting to another English couple, Clare and Tom. Finding out that we spell our names the same way naturally meant we could become immediate friends, but what really sealed it was finding out that not only were they booked on the same fight as me back to England from Rio (somewhat spooky!) but that they were really hoping to go skiing but weren't sure if it was possible. BINGO! I had found my skiing buddies! Straight after the tour we went straight to a hire shop and booked in for a session for the next day.
Santiago as a city was one that I initially really liked. Perhaps it was the combination of being on an interesting tour and having met some nice people, but it had a very European feel and many interesting different areas, including a very cool student district. One of the most bizarre things about the place was the 'Coffee with Legs', or 'Cafe con piernas' phenomenon. At some point in the past, the only coffee that Chile was able to import was pretty terrible. So, in order to distract the men that drank it from the terrible taste, a coffee franchise was started up that hired beautiful young girls, dressed them in miniskirts and high heels, and let them serve the coffee. This was such a success, that different 'Coffee with Legs' popped up all over the city, and even now that the coffee is good, remains very popular. They are now apparently trying to entice more women in, to compete with the giants such as Starbucks, by offering women a free biscuit! My host warned me however that there was 3 distinct levels of the Coffee with Legs, and to now wander into the wrong one. Most are the innocent ones where the girls merely walk around with their legs on show, usually with a raised platform behind the bar for a better view. But there is then another type, with blacked out windows and advertisements covering the front, where the girls might walk around in alot less clothes, and a 'happy minute' every hour where the girls all dance and take their clothes off. And then there is another level where they'll over coffee-go-ers more than just a cup of coffee... A bizarre insight below the conservative facade that shrouds Chilean culture!
|A more traditional 'Coffee with Leg's establishment|
|Skiing in South America!|
The next day I got up early to make my way to Argentina, first stop Mendoza!