Our first stop was Termas de Chillan, described in the book as being “close” to Chillan which appeared to be a suburb of Santiago. Six hours after deplaning, we arrived at a lux resort with a thermal swimming pool, water park, pool with a bar, waterfalls, canals – we looked, were impressed and promptly fell asleep after sampling a Pisco Sour and some quinoa which is like a margarita with an earthquake built in. The Pisco part, the quinoa can go to hell.
The next day we traveled to Pucon. Pucon is on a lake at the base of an active, smoking volcano. It is amazing that anyone would put a town there, but they did. Pucon is apparently the Ft. Lauderdale of Chile and the teens were on summer break. This meant that the beach and the town were packed with Paris Hilton look alikes, complete with mini dogs en bag. Because the place was so popular, we wound up with a “cozy” room. Think child sized beds on a freeway off ramp. Nic actually fell through the frame on one of the beds because he was the tallest guy in Chile. Pucon was great – we went out into the hills and went horseback riding for several hours, did some hiking and attempted to find vegetarian meals for dinner.
Long story short – Chile is not Mexico. Despite the constant Mexican sounding music, they don’t have a taco in town. The food is closer to German only with more meat. The think vegetarians have an illness and are likely armed. I was lucky to survive on cocktails and a few salads.
From Pucon we drove south to Puerto Montt – the traditional starting point for Patagonia. Puerto Montt was refreshingly cold after the 95+ heat we experienced since landing. It was on a large bay with a view of the islands and Andes. We then took a ferry to Chiloe, an island about the size of Long Island that is mainly fishing and basic farming that has houses perched on sticks like fishing boats on shrooms.
We took a side tour to the Penguineria (penguin place) and saw the little guys swimming around and eating fish. After driving 45 minutes down a dirt road with one lane filled with 3 lanes of tour busses, cows and locals, we drove onto the beach at which point some nice people jumped in our car and started singing Nirvana songs when they learned we were from Seattle and sold us a one way ticket to penguin town on a flimsy boat with some drunk fisherman. It was about the greatest thing we did.
After several days in Chile, I broke down and ate 3 shrimp – my first meat in 20 years. I was so hungry for anything that wasn’t crackers and cheese, a tomato or bread and cheese (which is exactly like crackers and cheese) I felt like I smelled like fish for days afterwards and can’t stop thinking about those little shrimps. Then I realized they used recycled ocean water for the bathrooms, so everyone smells a little fishey. Bleh.
We traveled south to the Parque Nationale on Chiloe for hiking on the Pacific Coast which is the only place in Chile where they have any bugs at all. These suckers are about 5 pounds each and bounce when you shoo them off your body and then they call Che Guevera and try to extradite you.
We started north again and stopped in the tourist town of Puerto Varas. Gorgeous setting, beautiful architecture, TWO vegetarian restaurants, cats, everyone speaks Ingles, great craft market – why didn’t we stay there? Not on the interwebs. I suck at travel planning.
We then headed north to the college town of Valdivia. Valdivia is a gorgeous town at the confluence of 3 rivers. The 16th century battlements still stand. It is a typical college town with political graffiti, occult shops, teens smoking pot everywhere, hemp bracelets and buskers. Pretty cool stuff. They also think Alfredo sauce has ham in it. But I guess if you are that high, you think pig is cheese. Been there, bought the t shirt.
Have I mentioned the Jambon? It is what they call ham. It is in everything. Eggs, sandwiches, cereal, fruit, ice cream, die coke, doughnuts. And, I didn’t see one pig in Chile. Or Alpaca. Or Llama. Lots of cows though.
People in Chile use the freeway like any other road. The freeway is actually a continuation of I5 which is 1 block from my house. We drove to the other end. Bikes, ox carts, families on foot – all use the freeway to get around. The weird thing is, Chile isn’t a poor country at all. They just don’t have that many roads. So it is a practical matter to take your ox cart, bike, tractor, kids, for a little stroll down the interstate. Driving in cities is another matter. All you need to do then is drive fast with your eyes closed while blaring your horn and abruptly stopping in the middle of the road for no reason at all.
We then made a heroic journey north to Valpariso. The reason I wanted to visit Chile in the first place was the writings of Pablo Neruda and Isabelle Allende. They are both from Valpo. Valpo is a working class port city made rich during the California Gold Rush. Mansions and ornate buildings decorate even the poorest neighborhoods. Imagine living in relative poverty in a tin house with a $1 million view of the Pacific in the city known as the “Pearl of the Pacific”. It kind of looks like San Francisco on acid. Bright colors, impossible architecture, colorful mansions, cobblestone streets, dogs and cats and cats and dogs. They don’t believe in neutering their dogs here. So there are tons of dogs that are kind of feral, but mostly just belong to a particular business. Cats are rare except in Valpo. The fish market nature keeps them supplied and mewing. I was happy to see those kitties after so many nice dogs. Around the corner from Valpo is Vina del Mar, a wealthy beach town that looks more like Monaco than South America. Beautiful people, gorgeous beaches – it is a dream. Really dull compared to Valpo though. Valpo has 20 stories worth of stairs snaking up the hills to the neighborhoods. Valpo has houses stuck on sticks at impossible angles hovering off the cliffs over downtown, marble staircases, Naval officers in crisp uniforms, mansions converted into artist co-op housing, Pablo Neruda’s house, an overpowering smell of seaweed and fish, helpful people, dare devil BMXers who tear down the 500 or so steps on their mountain bikes for thrills, old people who look exactly like Picasso, and tourists so lost, they ask us for help. We took the long way back to Santiago.
Hola, Chile! Muchas jambons!