Saturday, 8 February 2014

Chile - January 2014

What better way to start off 2014 and to escape the dreary European winter than to fly off to the southern hemisphere. So it was that we decided to spend a month travelling in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Long standing invitations from friends in Montevideo and the presence of Luis and Maruja in Chile were major considerations, and the fact that we had never been in these locations made it easier for us to choose these destinations.

Us with Maruja in Santiago
The Santiago Cathedral
Our friends Maruja and Luis were waiting for us at Santiago airport, it took a while for our luggage to show up but it was a relief to get to the end of a 12 hour flight and not have to think about anything. Luis had arranged transport, hotel and thought of everything we might need. All we had to do was to go to bed to wake up the next day fresh and ready to get going with the sightseeing and to enjoy the company of our friends.
The first Pisco Sour
An ancient calculator
Me and Balbir Singh

Santiago town centre has a few monuments to visit, but it does not take long to get around most of it. There was an exhibition at the Cultural Centre and the Museum of Mayan cultures was splendid. In the evening as we walked back to the hotel after dinner, a young man with what appeared to be a turban approached us. He introduced himself as Balbir Singh and was a Chilean youth who had taken up yoga with famous Yogi Bhajan. However the majority of our time in Santiago area would come later in our visit to Chile and after a day of seeing the sights we all took a flight to the city of Osorno, about a thousand miles to the south in the lakes region. The LAN baggage handlers  must have practiced destruction techniques because two of our four cases arrived in a state of distress and could not be carried any further, however LAN appear to keep a stock of new cases and we were given a splendid replacement when we presented our complaint.

At Los Guindos
The missing Mount Osorno Volcano behind me!

Osorno itself is hardly a tourist spot, but the surrounding lakes are spectacular, and it comes as no surprise to see so many Swiss and German origin people living in beautiful locations, since it must remind them of European equivalents. We spent two days at a boutique hotel Los Guindos on the shore of the Yanquihue Lake. The Osorno Volcano is supposed to provide a spectacular backdrop to the whole region, however such was our luck with the weather that it was cloudy and raining through the whole of our stay and we never saw the volcano. Oh well we will have to come back again! We did have a rental car so we drove around the whole region and enjoyed the beautiful scenery even though it rained virtually the whole time. The waterfalls and the lakes everywhere were beautiful. Back in Osorno we came across another (this time a whole family) Sikh group, who were also converted Chileans. They had never been to India and were so happy to see another Sikh actually from India.
The taxi with the contents (including Marisol) and the fort at Coquimbo

The next stop on our itinerary was beach resort of La Serena where another hire car awaited us. How we managed to get the four of us and our seven pieces of luggage into the tiny car needed to be seen to be believed.

The Millenium Cross at Coquimbo

The view from the top of the cross
From La Serena we drove around everyday in a different direction for a variety of experiences. On one of the days we headed to the nearby town of Coquimbo, which was only because we could see it from our hotel across the bay and at night looked spectacular. During the day alas it was not anything like that, but was redeemed by a couple of nice features. These were an old fort now recreated and an amazing concrete cross which overlooks the entire town with a spectacular view all around from the viewing gallery at the top.

The cactus and us at the Atacama

Thousands of years old Pictoglyphs
On other days we drove to the edge of the Atacama Desert, a hilltop observatory (at night) where the stars were a fantastic sight due to lack of any light pollution. There were also outings to some ancient rock carvings which are to be found in many of the areas around here and other nice valleys and towns which Luis and Maruja thought we would find interesting.

Easter Island statue at a museum

House of Pablo Neruda
Then we headed back to Santiago and spent a couple of days exploring the nearby Valparaiso and the Isla Negra home of Pablo Neruda. Valparaiso had seen better days though the port city is still a big commercial centre. The hilltop homes were interesting but were in need of some economic recovery. The home of Neruda was really great, a trip down memoty lane and a window to an intersting and eccentric life.


Soon it was time to say goodbye to Chile and a fantastic two weeks had come to an end. Having truely enjoyed the company of Luis and Maruja it was hard to take our leave, but Buenos Aires and Iguazu falls awaited us on the next part of our trip.

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