The flight to South America marked the beginning of the end for us. The last continent, moving into the last month of the holiday. Surely it will never end...
It was a very long flight to Santiago on Lan Chile Airlines.
We even crossed the International Date Line! Which means we left Auckland at 5:50pm on July 23 and we arrived in Santiago at 12:30pm on July 23! Very strange.
In fact we didn?t take that into account when making hotel reservations months ago. We arrived a day early. Oops!!!! But also good because technically, we gained a day.
First impressions of South America were not so nice on the drive from the airport. Lots of low income housing, litter in the streets and rivers and pollution. Then we drove through a very long tunnel. The other side of the tunnel was like a completely different country. It was clean and we saw a skyline of high rises like every other city, only with the snow capped Andes Mountains in the background.
We arrived at the Sheraton Hotel where we spent the next 4 nights for free again. Fortunately, they moved our reservation up for us so we didn?t have to find a place to stay that night. (Must happen all the time!) We spent most of the day sleeping to get over the jet lag.
We were happy to be in a country again where English is not the primary language. Presents a challenge and a new culture which we love. I did wish that I had paid more attention during the 10 Spanish classes I took last year after work. I have forgotten most of it. But I thought I remembered enough to get by.
Our first full day we took a cable car up to the top of a mountain. The ride had seen better days, probably about 20 years ago. The cars looked weathered and so did the cables. But we figured if families with small children were taking the risk, so would we. Now, I am not afraid of heights. But I couldn?t wait for this ride to be over. We were suspended very high, with a huge drop to the trees below. Had we fallen we would?ve been history. But we made it safely. Phew.
First stop was to a small vendor that sold empanadas con carne - a meat pie with veggies in a dense pastry crust. It cost less than $1 US and was so yummy! We then climbed up the steps to see the huge white statue of the Virgin Mary. This place was packed and had your token Hare Chrishnas singing and playing their drums in the benches below. It was also a Sunday, so we figured people probably make the pilgrimage every week to see her.
We took a very steep funicular back down to the bottom. This place was like a carnival. Abut 20 vendors selling balloons, masks, blow up cats, puppets, etc. Every kid in the area had something from there in his or her little hands.
From there we had a late lunch at a cafe on the street. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day so we enjoyed people watching over a pizza. We then walked forever and finally took the metro back to the hotel.
As there is not a whole lot else to do in Santiago itself, we went on tours the next 2 days.
The first tour was a bus ride to the Valle Nevado, high up into the mountains. A word about the tours... we were picked up at 9:20 but by the time we had picked everyone up and stopped at a convenience store to buy water, etc, it was after 11!
The drive up into the mountains was more than an hour. We thought we had seen long and windy roads in NZ. This ride consisted of 40 hairpin turns up a very narrow 2 way street. Enough to make one sea sick, but it was so ?beautiful I didn?t mind. We passed over the Maipo River which was a beautiful green color. Came to find out the river is polluted and the color comes from the copper deposits found all through the mountains. The copper mines in the area also add to the pollution. Also learned that Chile is the world?s largest producer of copper. Go figure!!!
We finally made it to the top - more than 3,000m (9,000ft) above sea level - and stopped at a resort called Valle Nevado. Guess I didn?t read the brochure close enough. I didn?t realize we were going to a ski resort! Not that that?s a bad thing, but we spent the next hour watching people ski! We desperately wanted to hire snowboards and get out there, but there wasn?t enough time. It was like dangling the carrot in front of the bunny. We rationalized by the peace of mind that we would leave there in one piece, though, Knowing me I would?ve broken something coming off the lift.
We stopped at another ski town called Colorado. This resort was bigger and much more crowded. Once again we were forced to be spectators for an hour. I commented that the runs looked so wide and long. Considering the amount of people there there was plenty of space to move around. Then L realized that there were no trees or steep drop offs to be seen! Now that?s my kind of ski slope!
Though the tour itself was nothing special, we were glad to have gotten out of the city to see a bit more of Chile. Well worth every penny just for the views.
The next day we took a wine tour. Yes, it had to be done. And this time L didn?t have to drive! Different from any wine tours we had been on before, this one consisted of visiting only 2 vineyards with lunch in between. It also included tours of the vineyards, rather than just drink and leave which was our usual habit.
There were 7 people on this tour including us. The first place we went was the smallest vineyard in the Maipo Valley, Aquitana. We first had a tour of the grounds and the caves. After the tour we sat around a table to taste 3 wines. All very civilized.
We then had about an hour drive to the next vineyard. We stopped for lunch at a fabulous Authentic Chilean restaurant, with the red and white checked tablecloths. Had a meat feast and enjoyed being serenaded by the hombre on the guitar.
We then went to the largest vineyard in the country, Concha y Toro. Talk about difference. Where we were the only people at Aquitana, this place was covered with tourists. We joined an English speaking tour and tasted 3 wines as we walked around the grounds and toured the caves. This place produces 40% of all of Chile?s wines, so you can imagine how big it was. But all very well done and beautiful grounds.
We met a lovely Aus/American couple on that tour, Michael and Connie. We ended up going out to dinner with them that night to a Vietnamese restaurant. (they were craving Asian). We arrived at the restaurant at 8:00 and were the only people in the place. We left at 10 and were still the only people in the place. We only left early because L and I had a 6:30 flight to Lima the next morning.