Welcome to Santiago, and our first hitch into a capital city during this adventure.
At this precise moment, we are sitting rather shell-shocked at the BBC news report on a massive forest fire threatening the beautiful coastal city of Valparaiso. So many people have insisted that it is an absolute “must see”, and as it is only 110km from Santiago we were anticipating a straightforward hitch there. It is difficult to keep up with the news, being on the move so often, and without keeping to our weekly Sunday internet appointment we presumably wouldn’t have found out until trying to get there on the morrow. The pictures are a very sad sight indeed, and it leaves us with a very odd sense of skirting these natural disasters.
Of course we will now change our plans and most likely head back to Argentina, from whence we came on Tuesday. We had stayed three nights in Bariloche, it being Jo’s veintisiete-eth birthday on Monday. This was a most enjoyable and decidely British event: it was as wet in Argentina as it was in England, and thus the day was spent wearing full waterproofs and striding forth. One of the choicest highlights was taking a chairlift up a nearby cerro to view what was rated by the National Geographic one of the top ten views in the world. As you can tell, we were not to be disappointed.
We duly undid the benefits of a three-night rest stop by embarking upon a border day on Tuesday. There is something in the switch between currencies and accents, alongside the formalities and the occasional threat of a $200 fine for a very innocent orange that you’d forgotten was in your rucksack, that is completely draining. Furthermore, once we had passed through the customs point on the Argentinian side we were hitching in the rain for well over an hour, looking steadily more pathetic, before a couple of other hitchers advised us (much to Steve’s chagrin – us needing advice? Pah!) that we should go back to the building and approach drivers. This was instantly succesful, and the next Miguel to enter our lives took us all the way to Valdivia.
Of all the quirks we encountered during our two-night stay – feeling like we were in Berlin, for example, because of the German heritage; the crazily sloping floors in our hostel caused by an earthquake in the 60s – the best by far was the enthralling presence of a squadron of sea lions. Having not had the pleasure of previous acquaintance, we can summarise that they are, well, truly disgusting, and yet delightful in equal measure. We spent a happy hour or so laughing childishly at their grunting, flopping, snorting, sneezing, sun-bathing figures. How evolution allowed them to be so incredibly ugly is a matter we will ponder for a while yet.
With this part of Chile being endowed with something that Patagonia is yet to be bequeathed – a motorway – our progress to Santiago took only two days. The first night was spent with new friends Hugo, Kahrin and Rodrigo in a flat they were decorating in Chillán (chee-yan). We shared a giant pichanga together, whilst being serenaded (/squawked at) by a local musician, and disturbing the other punters with our screeches of laughter as Steve confused a statue of a country bumpkin with national hero Bernardo O’Higgins.
Our ambition to get to Santiago for the weekend was dealt with by a trucker called Rodolfo and we shared the ride with three Chilean hitchhikers. With a recommendation from Walter (of Chile Chico-to-Cochrane and Puerto Aysén fame) of a hostel that is located in a really lovely part of town, we have done our best to get a flavour of the capital over the weekend. This has been with the help of our next friend-of-a-friend connection, Miguel, and his pal Joaquin, and also Federico from the hostel, who have been wonderful hosts. We’ve ascended no less than two viewpoints, went to a service in the cathedral, tasted mouth-watering seafood in the central market and had a close encounter with rock-throwing football hooligans, who were chucking large stones for laughs following their team’s league victory. Football fans: the same the world over.
Did you know?: The concept of ‘elevenses’ has made it to Chile! Just don’t be caught out by the serving time.
Total number of lifts: 32
Week Four distance travelled: 1294km
Total distance travelled: 4620km