From Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina: Border Delays, Snow and Beautiful Andes Scenery

I planned to leave Santiago on the 1st of May and take a bus to Mendoza, Argentina. The only problem was the high altitude Andes Mountains border crossing’s exposure to snow storms, landslides and other road-closing events.

On the 1st I caught the metro and eventually found the correct bus station (Santiago has several). There I was told the border was closed. As I had bought my ticket online, I could not change it at the bus station and needed to telephone the website operator for a refund.

The next day the border remained closed.

The border reopened on the 3rd of May so I packed up again and took the metro with Noe and Santiago (the person) who were returning to Cordoba, Argentina. At the bus station we met Aivy, a Lithuanian materials scientist going home via Rio. Aivy had accepted a post-doctorate position in the USA researching adhesives for climbing robots on a project funded by NASA. Together the four of us bought tickets, visited a nearby supermarket and waited to catch our van.

From Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina

Andes Mountains on the Chilean side Continue reading

Valparaiso: a Colourful City for the Arty and Fit

On the Pacific coast a few hours from Santiago, Valparaiso is famous for its incredible street art. The town is also very hilly. Valparaiso residents would have to be some of the artiest and fittest people around as I found out in April.

Valparaiso has an excellent produce market and one morning I met up again with Cami and Sara to wonder around both the permanent market and nearby street market.

Valparaiso, Chile

A green vegetable stall at Valparaiso’s produce market with outer leaves and husks discarded on the street Continue reading

A Rainy, Flooding and Sunny Santiago, Chile

Santiago de Chile is a big city, several times larger than Chile’s next largest and thus dominates the country’s discourse. Although not a must-see tourist attraction in its own right, the city has enough culture and sites to entertain one for many days. In April Santiago hosted me for two weeks, with a trip to Valparaiso in the middle.

With a semi-arid climate, Santiago usually receives little to no April rainfall. 2016 was different. Substantial precipitation fell during my first days in the city causing significant consequences. Businesses and homes flooded and most of the city lost their water supply after it was contaminated by catchment area landslides.

Santiago, Chile

The fast-flowing Mapocho River in front of a mural depicting people attempting to cross a water course Continue reading

Chile’s Home of Pisco – Pisco Elqui and the Elqui Valley

From La Serena, on the 10th of April I travelled 100km west to Pisco Elqui in the Elqui Valley. The Elqui Valley has a desert climate with steep mountain sides and is watered by the Elqui River. The Elqui Valley is famous in Chile for producing Pisco, a type of brandy and the key ingredient in the cocktail Pisco Sour. Pisco, like many topics in South America, is subject to dispute with both Chile and Peru claiming rights to it. In fact, in 1936 the town’s name was changed from La Union to Pisco Elqui to reinforce Chile’s rights.

Pisco Elqui and the Elqui Valley

A German shepherd posing in front of my accommodation’s swimming pool with mountains in the background Continue reading

The Chile Adventure Begins – La Serena and Coquimbo

Following the Salar de Uyuni tour, in early April I crossed the Bolivian border and took a bus down to San Pedro de Atacama. Chilean border procedures are conducted in San Pedro, not at the isolated border itself.

Chile’s quarantine regulations reminded me of Australia’s with no fresh fruit, vegetables, meat or plant products allowed in. After immigration formalities, incoming passenger bags were lined up for a quarantine dog to enter and sniff. On this occasion the dog didn’t find anything suspicious although it did pick out a bag planted later by the customs officer.

Desert town San Pedro de Atacama is a major backpacker destination and outdoor activity base. After seeing many amazing landscapes on the Salar de Uyuni tour, I wanted a change of scenery and travelled onto La Serena via Calama. On the overnight Calama-La Serena bus I slept my best in four days as previous nights were spent at sleep-disrupting high altitude (~4,000 metres).

Founded in 1544 La Serena is Chile’s second oldest city (after Santiago). The existing buildings are however newer as the original city was destroyed by a 1730 earthquake.

Chile is noticeably wealthier, tidier and more organised than Bolivia. Chile also has some of Bolivia’s former coastline, won in a 19th century war between the two nations. The lack of coastline is controversial in Bolivia and subject to dispute. After being landlocked for two months, I was ready for seafood!

One evening I visited Jack Fish, a Peruvian inspired ceviche and sushi restaurant with fellow hostel guest and Pearl Jam fan Natalia. The restaurant owner was also a rock music fan, naming different menu combinations after bands and that night playing music from Touring Band 2000.

La Serena and Coquimbo, Chile

Rocking on with pisco sours and ceviche at Jack Fish, La Serena Continue reading