**We are currently in the New Zealand’s North Island. We have been thrown off Maori Land by an aggressive local, we’ve visited the volcanic White Island and crossed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
We have also learnt that NZ is expensive and it seems we were spoiled by free WIFI across South America. That’s why the blog is getting behind but we’ll catch up soon, promise! For now here’s our post about our last weeks in the wonderful continent of South America.**
Having been delayed in Mendoza for 3 days we now had less time to explore Chile as our flight out of Santiago was on the 18th of September. We decided that it would be nice to go to the coast for a couple of days. We read that Valparsio was a good place to visit and it only took about an hour and a half by bus so we left the day after we arrived in Santiago.
We arrived in Valparasio and booked into the Angel hostel near the harbour, a small hostel but quaint and with helpful friendly staff and a good breakfast. We ate at a fantastic little hippie cafe which served traditional Chilean food, we thought it best to try the local wine too. The streets in Valapraiso were covered with street art. When we walked into our hostel the walls were also covered with bright vibrant images of space aliens and space ships. The whole town has an artistic laid back feel to it. We took a small boat trip around the harbour to see the town from the water and to see the Sea Lions that are situated just off the harbour walls. We were concerned that a Sea Lion grazing on an oil drum at sea had been placed there for tourist purposes but the next day we witnessed dozens more Sea Lions jumping out of the sea on to higher resting places on to derelict stone monuments just off the shore. On the second day we walked along the coast heading for Vina del Mar about 14km away. We were joined by a friendly local stray dog, it’s amazing to think in England Paul runs a mile if a dog comes near him but whilst travelling he’s become like Dr Doolittle, all the animals love him.
We left Valparasio to head back to Santiago briefly before heading south to a city called Rancagua, The city holds the National Championship for Chilean Rodeos, the area it’s also known for its vineyards, and the “O’Higgins professional football team”, apparently one of Chile’s best teams plays from there. Rancagua’s most notable claim however is that Manchester City manager Manuel Luis Pellegrini was from the town and we enjoyed letting the locals know that we’re from the red half of Manchester. The locals are very proud of him and they found it funny when we said we support United.
We had a nice few days in Rancagua and found a brilliant restaurant, El Restaurant Haiti tucked away from the main shopping area to eat at on our first evening, we befriended the owner Ricardo. Ricardo had travelled the world pursuing a career as a sommelier and he entertained us with stories of his life working and playing in Canada and the USA. Ricardo spoke good English and he helped us to locate Paul’s mountain marathon, which was 2 bus journeys away near Lake Aculeo, without his help we might still be looking for the race start! Paul completed the Mountain Marathon a few days later and his race report can be found here . The food in the restaurant was so good and it was one of the only places to eat so we went back the next evening to have some more lovely Chorrillana (a plate of chips covered in meat, eggs, onion and sausage – good hangover food) and hear some more of Ricardo’s entertaining stories.
The day after we made our way, for the second time, back to Laguna Aculeo for Paul’s race. The Aculeo region was beautiful, a grand lake sat proudly surrounded by high mountains that provided a challenging race day route. After leaving Aculeo we headed back to Santiago to spend the last 5 days in the city, before our flight on the 18th to Auckland. Like all the South American cities we’ve visited, Sundays are quiet, most of the shops shut and people seem to spend time with their families but it was pleasant to stroll around in the sunshine and as Paul’s legs were stiff after completing the marathon, the slow pace was welcome. Santiago was getting ready to celebrate Independence Day on the 18th September, the city was decorated with colourful flags and bunting everywhere. The next couple days followed a similar pattern, getting up a little later than normal, enjoying breakfast at Don Santiago hostel, then off site seeing.
A chance encounter in Dunkin Donuts resulted in a very kindly invitation for us to celebrate Independence Day with a Chilean family. Paul was struggling to pronounce the doughnut that he was trying to order but a local (who we now know as Maximiliano) stepped in to help. Paul & Max had coffee together and chatted amongst other things about economics and emerging markets. We exchanged e-mail addresses and later that evening we received our kind invitation from Max which we accepted without hesitation.
It was a great pleasure for us to met Max’s parents Olga and Manuel they made us feel so welcome first picking us up at the station and then taking us to their home for coffee. The family took us to a traditional Chilean Fonda, not dissimilar to an English country fair. The Fonda’s take place across Santiago in each different administrative district. WE travelled to Provedencia, stopping on the way to take photos of Chile’s national sports stadium. Max and his family explained all the local traditions and showed us (with some expertise) how to do a Traditional Chilean dance. The park was a buzz with people celebrating independence, singers sang on stage, stall holders sold handicrafts and the food areas were particularly impressive . After a lunch of ribs and salad Max and his parents took us into Santiago to show us some more sights and we enjoyed a cup of Mote con Huesillo, a refreshing corn and peach drink before we said our goodbyes.
We were so grateful for the hospitality shown by Max and his family, especially as Max took time out four days before he himself left Chile to travel to Austria to begin his Masters – good luck Max. It was the perfect end to our time in South America.
We flew to New Zealand a few hours later.