Chile: where new friends are made

Puerto Varas and around

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Puerto Varas was our first stop in Chile, a lovely old German town on the lake nestled between two towering volcanoes. It’s a charming little town if not a little touristy. Not so many backpackers, more of the older generation. We didn’t feel overly inspired to explore when we got here for some reason, despite there being plenty of activities on offer. After a day of pottering around we decided enough was as enough. We hired a car and hightailed it out of there on an adventure. Doing a day tour to all the sites cost 22,000 pesos each, but hiring a car was only 23,000 per day for both of us, even I can do that maths. We headed straight for Ensenada and the waterfalls and lake views along the way which was a stunning drive. We wanted good views of volcano Osorno but unfortunately the clouds were not on our side. We stayed the night in the lovely Hamilton’s Guesthouse, a beautiful house built by a charming Canadian guy and his wife. It was one of the most welcoming places we stayed on our trips and it had great views to boot.

Ensenada
Ensenada

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Chiloe

The next day we decided to drive to Chiloe, a small island just west of Puerto Varas, with the possibility of returning to Ensenada a few days later when the weather would be better. It was a slightly stressful drive full of missed exits despite using sat nav,but we got there in one piece. They really need to figure out putting road signs up before the exit, not after. Chiloe is a pretty little island with great scenery, if you’ve never been to England that is. I really felt at home amongst those rolling hills full of sheep and cows, ever so strange. Our main reason for coming here was to see the Penguins nesting near Ancund, which was absolutely worth it. We drove right onto the beach and caught a boat that took us around the jagged rocks to spot the Penguins and plenty of other birds going about their business.

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After that we took the ‘scenic’ route to the capital of Castro half way down the island, which was on nothing more that an dirt track in a tiny Hyundai 3 door car. We survived, that’s the main thing to remember. Castro wasn’t the most inspiring town, despite the guide book promising a glorious and uniquely colourful town of houses on stilts. Sure there were a few, but it wasn’t a big deal, no one cared. I don’t even have a picture to show you. We did have some amazing pasta there at Pomodoro, I seriously think it was worth the 3 hour drive to taste that rich tomato sauce. We didn’t love the atmosphere of this island as much as we’d hoped, so we left the next day to Ensenada, a great decision as it was a perfectly clear day and we could see the volcano perfectly. Better than that, you can actually drive most of the way up because in the winter it’s actually a ski station! As it was the summer we just drove up and climbed part of it at the top, which afforded us unforgettable views over Puerto Varas and the lake.

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Pucon

On New Year’s Eve, we decided to head to Pucon. The lonely planet dubs it as a very touristy town but actually I didn’t think it was as bad as Puerto Varas. We thought it would be a good place to spend New Year’s Eve and we were right, they had a spectacular fireworks display on the beach and we were able to get closer to it than any display in England would ever safely let you get. We stayed at an  interesting hostel called Eco Etnico, an incredibly hippy place run by a nice couple with a few resident hippies living there and helping out. They have a dizzying amount of bins in this hostel, around 8 I think, and I found this environmental commitment especially ironic considering the shower leaked constantly. We only planned to stay a day here and booked our bus tickets for New Year’s Day, to keep myself busy while we waited for the bus I decided to play some music with a guy named Javier, as I had a couple of songs I wanted to put to music. The result was magical. We had a musical connection so great that he’d figured out the perfect chord sequence before I had finished singing the song. I was so happy to have finally found someone I could play music with that I asked Mickaël if we could extend our stay, which we ended up doing for 3 days. They were 3 days filled of magical music making, singing together at the back  the garden under the shade of the trees wishing we didn’t live in other sides of the world. Who knows, maybe one day we will reconnect. It certainly gave me the impetus I needed to say I will finally make a go of my music career when I get home, and for that I am totally thankful to him. You can check out the songs here: www.soundcloud.com/laurengold

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Valparaiso

We left Pucon and headed straight for Valparaiso, a colourful, town set on the high hills north of Santiago on the sea. The town itself, down nearly the port, is pretty grim and dirty. However if you go up into the hills you find what some people say is an artists haven of wildly unique and enchanting street art and plenty of cool restaurants and bars to sit at an contemplate the coolness of said art. Mickaël just thought it was dirty and full of hippies. He’s not wrong, but I rather like street art.

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To be fair, they have something wonderfully unique in this town and yet they can’t be bothered to clean it up or wash away the mess that the seemingly millions of stray dogs leave behind. Even so, we enjoyed our time here and I’d highly recommend it for a couple of days or even as a day trip from Santiago, which is where we headed next and where our South American adventure finally and tearfully came to an end.

Santiago

In Santiago we stayed with Celeste, the daughter of my dad’s old university chum. I’d never met her but got in touch on my dad’s suggestion, and she very kindly offered for us to stay with her. They live in a lovely part of Santiago full of tree lined streets, hidden trendy cafes and plenty of fancy houses guarded by ferocious barking dogs. I didn’t have high expectations of Santiago as plenty of the travellers we met talked it down, but having the luxury of being shown around by locals can you make fall in love with any city in my opinion. We ate at great restaurants, visited the best areas, watched some quirky live music and relaxed in sunshine.

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Unfortunately I can’t give you any tips because for once we had the luxury of being led around by friends not paying much attention to where exactly we were. One thing I can highly recommend is the bike and wine tour of the vineyards on the outskirts of the city. It’s something I had longed to do since our botched attempt in Argentina and I was hell bent on cycling through some vineyards whilst sipping on some vino. We got such an experience with Bike and Wine, and had a lovely and informative guide who I may have liked more because she plied me with wine all morning. Yes morning. I was drunk by 11am.

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And so concluded our time in South America. We had a truly wonderful time on this continent, so varied in our experiences and humbled by the sheer beauty we encountered. Of the people, the landscapes, the rhythm of life, it is all so different to how I live my life in England and I feel so lucky to have experienced something out of my comfort zone. Yes we were on the tourist trail seeing the same things millions of other tourists see, but actually you get of it what you put in. You see what you want to see and experience it in your own way, and I was lucky enough to be with Mickaël who always sees things differently to me. There was always another perspective, another voice noticing the nuances of daily life in this world, and I loved to make those observations and learn about their culture and my life in the process. It sounds like hippy generalisations I know, but what’s the point in travelling the world if you don’t learn something along the way? Notice everything, question it and compare it to your life and you’ll learn so much. If you can apply it to your life back in the real world, I’m sure it will only make you a better person. We are the lucky ones after all, I will never stop being grateful for that.

Eating, Drinking and Dreaming in Buenos Aires

This city definitely takes the biscuit for our favourite South American capital, I would move here in a heart beat if I could. The food is amazing, the people friendly, the bars unique and the laid back cool culture permeates everything.

The districts

We stayed in the area of San Telmo first and then moved to Palermo to get a feel for a different area. It was far to posh for us! San Telmo is much more down to earth, rustic and interesting. Less tiny dogs in handbags basically. It’s known as the place to stay if you like antiques, and is also home to the famous Sunday market that takes over the whole of Defensa street. It sells the usual tourist tat mixed in with artisan goods and antiques, but the best thing about it for me was the tiny plaza serving beers and cakes in the sunshine with a fantastic Argentinian band entertaining the crowd. They made everyone so happy, people were spontaneously getting up to dance, and even the waiters we bouncing as they cleared tables. Sitting there sipping my cold beer listening to the sweet sound of Argentinian music is a moment I’ll never forget.

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During our 5 days in BA we mostly just walked around a different neighbourhood each day, it’s enough for us just to soak up the feel of a city on foot, stopping for coffee and steak along the way. San Telmo is a great place to do this if you’re into finding nice little nooks and crannies, Recoleta is also a good choice but had a very different feel. It’s the mega posh area of BA with tree lined streets and mega mansions to gawp at. We also visited the cemetery here which is a very popular activity, not as depressing as you might think, more like an episode of pimp my crypt, if such a show should ever exist.

Recoleta
Recoleta
the giant crypts at Recoleta cemetery
the giant crypts at Recoleta cemetery

We also spent an afternoon wandering around the Puerto Madero area, after seeing some of the government buildings in the centre of town nearby. We walked up to the nature reserve and then got a bit flummoxed by how to get in, so just chilled out by one of the many meat stands there, which I’m told offer up a decent meal. Sadly we’d just eaten a pretty rubbish sandwich.

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The food

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Maybe one of the best things about BA. There’s so much steak everywhere, how do you choose?! Well we tried out both ends of the spectrum and enjoyed them both equally in different ways. We headed to our good friend Four Square to find a well rated steak restaurant, and picked La Brigada in San Telmo, a wonderful choice. The waiters are so attentive and help you pick the right meal. It’s a fancy setting so we freaked out at first that the price would be too much, and actually it was for our backpacker budget. I proceeded to have kittens because it’s was too late- we were already sitting down and this was not the kind of place you could quickly dash out of if the price was too high, like we had done so many times before. Luckily Mickaël put things back in perspective, and reminded me that half the fun of travelling is eating amazing food, and we were going to have a fancy steak and wine dinner in Buenos Aires whether I liked it or not. Well obviously I liked it very much indeed, and just to put it into perspective for you, the bill came to £52. Seriously.

La Brigada
La Brigada

On the other end of the spectrum you have the hole-in-the-wall eatery near the info or antiques market that has a huge grill going all evening, tempting everyone that walks by. You can find it near the corner of Defensa and Bolivia streets. Here you will find the best Choripan in BA (chorizo sausage in yummy white baguette), for a mere 30 pesos, or a huge piece of steak and if you’re feeling adventurous, even a black sausage that is not a sausage at all, make no mistake. It will burst into a pile of black goo when you poke it. Obviously I did not order this, the people sitting next to enjoyed this as their dinner as I looked on, horrified.

yummy street asado!
yummy street asado!

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The entertainment

There is plenty of this here but unfortunately I came down with a nasty cold here and didn’t much feel like partying. We made it to a tango lesson before I got ill, this was a surreal experience. We opted for a dance hall that got going later in the evening after all the classes had finished, but this wasn’t well timed being on a Sunday night. Saturday would have been more lively. We had a great lesson and hung around waiting for the music to start until about midnight, at which point they brought out an old guy on an untuned piano playing pieces well above his ability. Poor guy. Poor us for having to listen to him actually, we left pretty promptly.

There’s plenty of clubs for hard dance music or Latin music in BA so indulge yourself until your heart’s content!