Chile – Valparaiso
Before arriving in Chile, I would have never have guessed another country would be as strict as Australian customs with smuggling a banana across the border.
In a ‘police-esqe’ line up – everyone in our bus shuffled into 2 rows watching our luggage being X-rayed and dog sniffed. Unsuspecting tourists had to explain the ‘no food products’ tick on their declaration form when the very cute Labrador pounced on their rucksack happily finding a crunchy Argentine Apple hidden deep inside.
It was a public name and shame approach. Our backpack was pulled aside and raised into the air asking who it belonged to. Laurent nervously made his way out of the line up, claimed the bag as ours and, luckily passed the scrutiny of the customs man and as we had forgotten about the rice we had tucked between pairs of socks. Rice not bananas were okay to pass – who would have thought?
3.5 hours later, (yes, it was a long process) and slightly jumpy we hopped back on the bus and continued to Chile : the beautiful thin country which is naturally partitioned by the Andes.
First stop, Valpariso (or Valpo) a former thriving port north of Santiago. Funnily enough, the locals are also called Porteños, just like our Buenos Aires friends.
Quiet during the day and with a vibe of ‘muggings’ down each alleyway at all times, we kept on the beaten track, taking rides on all the ascensores and taking in the graffiti clad walls which varied in artistic talent. From ugly tags to majestic murals we were struck at the colour which this added to an otherwise dirty, dark and sinister (also smelly) town.
During our stay we also visited the beachy town of Vina del Mar which was filled with swimwear clad Chileans who were forbidden to set foot in the water. King waves often crashed onto the shore catching people off guard and life-savers were having a hard time (blowing their whistle) keeping everyone a safe distance from the dangerous tides and rips in this small stretch of beach everyone was flocking to. The tsunami signposts and evacuation routes were a reminder of the ever-present threat – although on this hot summers day, no one had a care in the world, trying to sneak in a quick dip before the lifeguard caught them.
It sure was great to see the ocean again but after a few days it was time to set off down this skinny country and the Panamericana (Ruta 5) all the way down to Chiloé also knows as Penguin country (only to me).
Our journey took us to the quaint market town of Chillan where the produce looked like something out of a photoshopped fruit and veg magazine. The supermodel strawberries really stole the show, but nectarines and peaches which were also in season and were equally good looking (and tasty). Suspiciously perfect, we did wonder if they had more than a little help with non-sustainable methods. Ruta 5 was not shy in advertising fertilisers, growth supplements and moth killers on billboards. So apparently even our veggies need help these days in looking fresher and younger …
The 2500 kilometre round trip on Ruta 5 (there is only one road in Chile) took us to some special places. Note: we did make it as far as Ruta 7 but had to return north (sad face).
We spied on some Penguins in Ancud, ate cheap fresh oysters at the market, sampled wine in and around Curico and surprisingly got to visit a German Bierfestival in Valdivia – go figure!
We stayed in traditional cabanas at people homes, felt the earth tremble whilst in bed, avoided all the highway police on the Ruta 5 and had the best raspberry cheese cake ever in Frutillar – we even returned on the way back up for seconds.
With the backdrop of the Andes and the myriad volcanos scattering the Lake District, it was an eye-catching journey and really another week and some hiking boots would have provided us the opportunity to discover more of the natural beauty Chile has to offer.
So with our 4 wheels returned, we are settled in modern Santiago for the next few days exploring the sites and taking in the vibe of this very spacious city.