Chile: heading down and right (The Sweden of South America)
Once Upon a Saga: Chile, country #56
This is as far as I'll take you in the southern direction. In South America anyway.
As I write this I feel completely embarrassed. The Facebook video event is on Sunday and I managed to screw up the date (September 21st) in every possible way having to send out 3 corrections! That's 4 emails!! Stupid. But I'm frankly really tired after coming across the Andes last night to Argentina. Furthermore I realized that I forgot to do some video in Chile for the South America video I'm putting together. So what to do? Fake it? Find a place in Argentina that could be Chile? No, I'm not like that. I may make mistakes. But I see to it that they are corrected and I'm not planning on duping anyone - so I'll head back to Chile and return to Argentina. It's only 5 hours each way :(
The Atacama desert is still to be explored in my case
Never mind that right now. When my girlfriend and I entered San Pedro the Atacama we were not impressed. But shortly after getting out of the bus we found ourselves in a very charming village that was hiding behind some ugly buildings. San Pedro the Atacama is much more than a border town although quite touristic. It could have gone for a few more night there but it was very expensive and we only had a few more days left before my girlfriend was flying home from Santiago. So we only stayed a night.
Modern day "jesters" gathering in San Pedro de Atacama town square
Next stop was La Serena which had been recommended by some lovely guests at the last hostel. La Serena lies in the lowlands at the pacific coast and we immediately felt the relief of being able to breathe easily again. For the most part of the previous 2 weeks we had been up in the mountains of Bolivia and the altitude had ranged between 2,500 and 5,000 meters above sea level. Getting down to sea level was both warmer and a nice change of scenery. How I do love the ocean...
La Serena sealed the deal. We already expected that Chile was both more expensive but also much more modern than many of the countries I have ventured through lately. I remember meeting a guy from Chile while I was in Panama who told me that Chile is the "Sweden of South America". Whatever that means nobody has ever heard that saying before and it sounds silly.
Faro Monumental de La Serena built in 1948
We enjoyed walking the charming streets and avenues of La Serena and during the evening we found our way to a healthy meal of sushi which we followed up with a movie at the local movie theater. In some aspects having my girlfriend by my side for 3 weeks has been much like being on a vacation. And in some aspects I almost forgot what I was doing.
La Serena is somewhere between San Pedro de Atacama and Santiago. Chile has an amazingly long coastline: 6,339 km. but it is just averages 177 km east to west. So by staying a night in La Serena we broke the long journey south into 2 pieces which I found appropriate while traveling with a lady :) I could definitely spend more time there as well investigating museums and cafés.
This mural represents a great many things about Valparaiso. The hanging vehicles symbolise that you won't need your car in the city.
But on we went down to Valparaiso which is on level with Santiago and only 1,5 hours away although a completely different city. I love Valparaiso! It could easily find it's way to my top 5 list of cities worldwide. It's a city where I could see myself living out my life and I do not come across those cities all that often. The entire city is a UNESCO world heritage site and it's absolutely charming. Although it looks quite large it only serves as home to around 350,000 people. The trolleybuses from around the 50's have been kept in service along with the modern forms of transportation. Six of the funiculars (a kind of elevator that doesn't run entirely vertical) are still actively in use for those who find the stairs to be out of fashion. The city has been artistically liberated and many of the city walls are covered in spectacular murals of which you can get lost in looking at for hours if you had the time.
A trolley bus and a funicular as seen from below
I can go on about that city but it's a lot easier if you just go there :) We had 2 nights at an excellent Bed & Breakfast of which the owner happened to have a restaurant just a short 5 minute walk away. We decided to have a look at it and what do you know? My new favorite restaurant is neatly located in Valparaiso just a few thousand kilometers from my apartment in Copenhagen. I need to speak to the Copenhagen metro line about an idea I have...
Mmmm...great Italian food at Allegretto - my favorite restaurant :)
That is the way to end 3 wonderful weeks with my girlfriend. Walking around holding hands and pointing at stuff left and right. Being Danish we have a "secret" language between the Spanish speaking population and can openly express our opinions about what we see without having to worry about anyone eavesdropping (although you should always be careful with that).
A short bus ride got us to Santiago which stands in contrast to Valparaiso as Antarctica might stand in contrast to Hawaii. I wouldn't know. I've been to neither place although it remains on my list of "things to do". Santiago has a population of somewhere between 6-8 million citizens which makes it another city that is much more populous than my entire home country. And they were all getting ready to celebrate their annual "we became independent a long time ago" party. The Chilean flag was on display: EVERYWHERE. To be sold at street corners, mounted on cars, hanging in windows...you name it...all over the place. It all seemed a little fanatic although joyful at the same time. Party on! :)
Unfortunately everything closes down and hotels and hostels get massively expensive. Public transportation becomes impossible to book I've heard so it was time for me to get out and get going. I rather like Santiago although it is really big. It's a very modern city with a nice city center and plenty of parks. The metro system works perfectly and I became a frequent user of it until I boarded a bus to Argentina. Something is missing? Oh yeah...I escorted my girlfriend to the airport and saw her disappear behind the glass walls into security. There is that special feeling you get when you stand in the airport waiting to pick up someone you haven't seen for a long time. Especially the feeling when they finally walk out and become visible in front of you. Seeing someone you care about leave is also an emotional situation.
I remember hearing a story about an old married couple that lived together until death did them apart. The man died and left his wife in a now empty house. That must happen all the time and that did not make much of an impression on me. But then I heard that after so many years together the wife would now catch herself standing at the window and speaking day to day comments out into the room before remembering that she was alone. Things like: "ah, the mailman is here" or "the neighbor's dog is doing that thing again".
Now, it's nothing like that for me. I have not lived 40 years with my girlfriend. But riding the bus back from the airport I saw a puppy in the front window of a car passing by...and had no one to tell about it. I'm on my own again. I do not need to wait for anyone and can decide when and where to sleep, eat, go, stop, rest, push through and so on. But much goes lost in between the lines and there is nobody that I can say "do you remember that time..." to. Traveling alone is wonderful in the aspect that you meet much more people - but traveling together certainly also has its very fine aspects.
After 3 fantastic weeks I'm ready to get working on "beard 2.0"
Crossing over the Andes mountains to Argentina is a short 7 hour bus ride from Santiago to Mendoza. It's bloody well cold to stand in the snow dealing with customs and immigration somewhere in the mountains but fairly organized and not very time consuming.
So apart from my "screw-up" leaving me in a situation where I need to return to Chile for a short while, the Once Upon a Saga is now turning east across Argentina and towards Uruguay...and then north again. Let's kick this baby into gear! 147 more countries to visit and surely their culture, history and food will be as spectacular as the previous!! ;)
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - kicking into gear ;)