Leg One - Chile to Argentina

Welcome to our travel blog. This is post one, and we´ve just finished the first leg of our trip. Enjoy! Day One - flight from Auckland to Santiago, Chile.

Flight was long, and we watched movies and slept the whole way. Were pretty glad to arrive in Santiago! Going through customs was a bit of a joke - they hardly even looked at us. We could have had anything with us! As soon as we got out into the terminal, the taxi hecklers were after us and our money! One guy followed us right down the terminal. We bargained him down to a reasonable price (from 26,000 pesos to 16,000) and set off for our hostel.

We stayed at Bellavista Hostel in Barrio Bellavista. Hostel was really nice - clean, big room. After we had a bit of a rest, we headed out to expl0re. We had three aims for our walk - get our bearings, buy tissues and buy a plug adaptor - our SA adaptor apparently doesn´t work in Chile. We got a bit lost and ended up walking for around 2.5 hours, but we got everything we needed. We walked through a huge political parade for a presidential candidate - Frei. Everyone was singing and dancing and waving flags (not us, though!).

Went out for a late dinner at a place near our hostel. Had this huge platter of assorted meats. Quite good, but way too much to eat!

Observations...

  • PDAs galore
  • Lots of men in uniform doing nothing
  • Tons of farmacais (pharmacies)
  • A gazillion stray dogs
  • It´s dirty
  • Nobody seems all that happy
  • Traffic lights and traffic police directing the traffic - overkill?
  • Parking wardens are insane and seem to work 24-7

Day Two - Santiago

Had a great breakfast at our hostel - buns and fruit and cereal. (We later learnt this was the best breakfast we´ll probably get in SA). We headed to Parque Metropolitanas de Chile, which is a huge park complex just down from our hostel. It´s got a zoo, gardens, a big hill and some statues. We took a cable car (or teleferiko) up to the top of the hill, San Cristobal, where there´s a big religious statue and an ampitheatre. It was really hot up there. Took lots of photos of the city - great view.

After a break back at the hostel, we headed out for a sightseeing afternoon. Walked to Plaza de Armas to see all the historical buildings there - presidential buildings, huge church with paintings inside. Went to Palacia de la Moneda, which is a huge govt building, where I think the President lives (at least, that´s what Lonely Planet says). As with everywhere in Chile, there were heaps of police outside looking very serious!

We were pretty tired from walking, so decided to try out the subway. Was actually remarkably easy to navigate and buy a ticket. Got off just near our hostel, then stopped off for some frozen yoghurt (which was a nightmare to order in our mix of Espanol and English!) After a quick break, we headed to Teatro de Universidad to see the Symphony Orchestra of Chile play.

Stopped off for crepes at Patio Bellavista on our way home - not very Chilean, but nevermind!

Observations...

  • Everyone wears pants and heavy shoes. We look odd in jandals and shorts, but maybe it´s just Ryan´s skinny ankles!
  • We were happy to find a NZ $5 note in a gift shop.
  • Apart from the two cellphone companies, there is no advertising in Chile.
  • Everything - grass, trees, streets - gets watered constantly.
  • Everyone wants your money.
  • Don´t take a photo of a police armoured vehicle/tank - they will point the big gun on top at you and will say something in Spanish that you don´t understand.

Day Three - Santiago to Valparaiso

Checked out of hostel, then took the subway to the bus station. It took some gesturing, nodding and pointing, but we managed to purchase our bus tickets to Valparaiso. We didn´t know which bus bay to go to, so we wandered around and asked some bus drivers, but they kept sending us completely wrong! Eventually we found the right bay, but the bus had left! Argh! A nice security man sorted out our tickets so we could catch the next bus. Phew!

When we got to Valparaiso, things got even more confusing - we had to buy our tickets to Mendoza, Argentina and back, but no one spoke English, and there weren´t any buses going to Mendoza on Sunday. Eventually we worked out we could go back to Santiago and then to Mendoza on the day we wanted. Confusing, but finally worked it out!

Got to our hostel - Hostel Girasoles - which was more like a bed and breakfast. The guy who runs it used to live in Auckland. He gave us some good ideas of places we should see in Valpo. We walked around the neighbourhood where we were staying - lots of crazy dirt roads and brightly painted old buildings. Valparaiso is a port town, and there´s definitely a real harbour trade feel to it. Then we caught a bus to Vina del Mar, the next town over. The bus got to Vina del Mar, then seemed to head in completely the wrong direction, so after an indecisive few minutes, we got off - about 5km from where we wanted to be! Long walk back to the beach. Wandered along the beach boulevard - lots of stalls, confectionary sellers and heaps of people sunbathing on the beach. No restaurants along the beach, which is unusual.

Back to Valpo. Walked through the town, then back to the hostel. Went out for dinner and had chorillana, which is basically french fries with egg and onion on top and steak pieces, bacon and sausage on top of that. It´s a real specialty in Valparaiso, apparently! Surprisingly tasty.

Observations...

  • You can get sunburnt in Chile.
  • Chilean people don´t really like you.
  • There are many many many soccer fields in Chile.
  • Subways are better than buses.
  • Crazy men walk onto the buses while stopped at lights or bus stops and try to sell food and ice cream and then jump off while moving. They also walk up and down in traffic on busy roads.
  • You can buy big, yum meals for very cheap prices.

Day Four - Valparaiso to Santiago to Mendoza

A bus day today. Left the hostel and walked to the bus terminal, where we caught our bus back to Santiago. Stopped at a supermarket on the way to buy some food for the bus trip - peanuts and dry bread rolls. Apparently spreads aren´t big in Chile.

Got to Santiago and found our bus bay for our trip to Mendoza. Realised that if announcements were made about our bus, we would have no idea, cos they´re all in Spanish! Checked we were in the right place by asking a bus man. We were quite early, so we bought some lunch - empanadas chicos, which are basically little deepfried cheese turnovers.

Our bus arrived and we lined up to get on. Our first international bus trip! Handed the driver our passports and got really confused when he asked for our visas. Turns out that flimsy piece of paper you get at the airport is actually a visa! Lucky we had them handy.

The bus trip through the Andes to Mendoza was spectacular - snow capped peaks, terrifyingly windy roads. It even snowed as we were driving through!

The border crossing was this huge formiddable building that the bus drives into. Had to stand in a line at a little booth, where a lady took our Chilean visas. Then we went to another booth, where we were issued our Argentina visas. Next a scary looking man looked in our backpacks. Pretty scary place. Not exactly a warm welcome into the country!

Arrived in Mendoza just before 9pm and set off to walk to our hostel. Realised after a few blocks that we really didn´t know where we were going, so caught a taxi from the bus station. Turns out he didn´t really know where he was going either, but we eventually got to our hostel!

Our hostel was really nice. As soon as we arrived, we were shown around. So nice to be there! We booked some activities for the next day. Since we were so close to the Andes, it was only appropriate we should do some adventure activities there! We booked a half day of horse riding and a half day of rafting.

Observations...

  • Think Chilean police are scary? Wait for Argentina!
  • You have to give "tips" to the border officials.
  • So that´s what a visa is! Thanks, bus driver, for freaking us out!
  • Finding other English speakers is nice, very nice.
  • What´s with all the guns? World peace?
  • Trust a good Kiwi boy to be in shorts, t-shirt and jandals at the top of the Andes while it´s snowing.

Day Five - Mendoza, Argentina

Our tour company picked us up and drove us for about an hour into the foothills of the Andes. We were dropped at a cafe to wait for the horses. Our guide and the horses turned up, and we set off for our trek. Great views, lovely ride, great guide.

Back to the cafe for lunch - hambourgesa and coke. Much cheaper than Chilean food.

Our next transfer to the rafting turned up, but there weren´t enough people to fill the boat, so we couldn´t go. Bit of a shame, but it was a Monday, so not exactly peak sightseeing day! Headed back to the hostel.

A guy from our hostel gave us a map and some really good directions. We headed off to walk through the town of Mendoza. Really nice town - wide, open boulevards and pedestrians. Stopped off for some helados (ice cream).

Back to the hostel for an authentic Argentinian asado (BBQ) and wine from Mendoza. Had huge steaks, chorizo, chicken, salads. Met heaps of other travellers there.

Observations...

  • Drivers are not quite as horn-happy as Chile.
  • No one seems to care about emergency vehicles. They drive at normal speed and stop at traffic lights with lights and sirens on.
  • No road markings.
  • Play dodgem with the cars. Go on...
  • Too many people smoke, including children. Don´t they know it´s bad for you?
  • Argentinian people are much nicer than Chilean.
  • NZ plugs work here. Cool.
  • People are obssessed with what sort of cars they have and with cleaning them.
  • A cone or bottle on top of a car means it´s for sale. Weird.

Day Six - Mendoza to Santiago

Walked to the bus station. Didn't know where to go (again!) so headed for the first Tur Bus (company our ticket was with) that we saw. Right one on the first try - there's a first time for everything! This time we had our visas all ready, unlike a guy in front of us - betcha he didn't realise just how important that flimsy piece of paper was either!

First half of bus trip was uneventful. Wendy got pretty sick. Looked up symptoms in Lonely Planet and decided it was altitude sickness. Pretty gross. Got to Los Libertadores, where the border crossing is. Had a three hour wait to get through. That did not help the altitude sickness.

Finally got to Santiago around 7pm. Caught subway to centro. Was absolutely jam packed. Ew. Checked in at Bellavista Hostel. Got an even nicer room this time. Went for a walk and bought some souvenirs. Then had dinner at a very bright green Mexican restaurant. Back to hostel after an early night!

Observations...

  • Bus drivers pass like drunks on a police chase, but it works.
  • The Andes gets better each time.
  • The Andes has cellphone reception all the way. That´s impressive.
  • Things dry so quickly here.
  • 1st December and wow, it´s Christmas time - decorations and music everywhere!
  • Feliz Navidad - every time we say it, we want to break into song.

Day Seven - Santiago to Buenos Aires

Headed straight to Santiago International Airport after breakfast. After a bit of wandering around, we found the LAN check-in counter. Went through security and into the international departures area. Very nice. We´ve got a nine-hour wait here on our way home, so glad to see we won´t starve and there are plenty of shops to look at.

A nice old lady from Buenos Aires told us a few places we should visit and gave us a few travel tips - maybe we looked like we needed them!

Boarded our flight. Had crap seats in the middle, so no views of the Andes as we flew over. Flight was around an hour. Had to wait for an hour in a line to get through immigration. On the flipside, we walked straight through customs and they didn´t even scan our bags - um, hello, we could bring anything through!

Got a taxi to our hostel in San Telmo. You prepay for your taxi at the airport, and then you wait for the next free taxi. Pretty good service.

Nice hostel, pretty good location. Went for a walk to explore after we settled in at the hostel. Walked through a massive protest on the main avenue of the central city. People had tents set up, and they were all waving huge banners, banging drums and shouting. There were riot police surrounding it all. We asked at our hostel when we got back, and apparently that happens all the time!

We walked along Av de Mayo, which is one of the main streets, but there wasn´t much happening, aside from the protest, of course. We saw Plaza de Mayo, where there are some historical buildings. We´ll be going back there in the daytime to see them properly later on.

Observations...

  • Cool luggage-wrapping machines at airport.
  • The car horns are back.
  • The pedestrian crossings mean find a gap and run!
  • I though we learnt the lesson of walking aimlessly around town - sore feet and no real idea of where we are!

So, that´s the end of leg one of our trip. We´ve travelled from Chile to Argentina (twice!), and now we´re slowing down a little in Buenos Aires before travelling north to Brazil. Stay tuned for our next blog!

Ryano and Wendo (these aren´t authentic, but we though we´d change our names so we blend in a little more!)