Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pichilemu Horses!

Angie fulfiled a long-held ambition today, and I was lucky enough to go a long for the ride...(boom-tish). We went for an absolutely stunning amble along the beach on the back of a pair of horses. The experience began with a driving lesson, Chilean style. We were motioned to get up on our respective horses, and our instructor then demonstrated a quick left/right/up motion on the reins. Lesson completed (it really was that quick), test passed and we're off! The ride was fantastic, it was late afternoon on a overcast day, and our route took us along the beach, up through some sand dunes, past a lake (higly polluted, and thus a beautiful green colour- with pink flamingoes) and through a little patch of pine forest and then back onto the dark grey sand of the shore. Angie's horse wa a little too obedient and actually took her where she directed it- which was straight into some bushes at one point- more lessons may be needed for the future.

Yar, yar

Escape from La Casa Roja

Finally, we left our home of two weeks, riding on the Pachamana bus heading south. We rounded the first corner and I realised my wallet and passport were still on the coffee table in the foyer of the hostel- the bus turns around to retrieve them, and a check of my backpack reveals that they had snuck in there without me knowing. Onward!

First stop, a Real Chilean Town....

Concerned Chilean perro with clay pigs

The little tour bus pulled into town and our guide, Niko, assured us that this is a real, authentic Chillean country town. I'm sure he was struggling to keep a straight face as those words left his mouth. As we walked down the main street we saw where the locals bought their ceramic souvenirs and marveled at the rate at which children in this town go through clay piggy banks (the manufacture of which has made this town authentically famous). We checked out the town's authentic fake church, a lunch of traditional empanadas was served in a local restaurant, then we journeyed back into the landscape, leaving authentic Chile behind....


Front view....

Rear view.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Angie tries to blend in....

Blondes are a rare species in Santiago, and Angie's golden flowing locks tend to attract a little too many stares for our liking- especially since people here are not afraid of being caught having a good long perv (they call it machismo here- giving it a name seems to be justification). So, Angie decided to colour her hair dark in an attempt to blennnnnnnnnnd. Being dyed blond, she needed to colour her hair red first, so that the black dye didn't turn her mane green. But in the hustle bustle lifestyle of La Casa Roja, its easy to get sidetracked, and she only made it as far as the red step of the process, so now she tends to stand out even more, with her bright curls glowing like a fiery beacon in the dark follicular landscape.

A typical Chilean chica

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Trapped in La Casa Roja

Three Fitzroy locals, meeting for the first time in Santiago

Not really trapped, but the atmosphere here (and the pool, bar and pounding sunshine) make it hard to leave. Were doing EspaƱol lessons, so thats a good excuse to hang around for a little while longer, but soon we head south for big nature of Southern Chile and Argentina, and to have a taste of Patagonia. It will be good to get going; there are an inordinate number of Australians here, and sometime it feels more like we are in a northern NSW coastal caravan park than the heart of Santiago. The other night there were four of us, all from within a few streets of each other in Fitzroy, along with another couple from the Dandenongs, a few Sydneysiders and a couple of girls from Tasmania. Chile?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Santa Lucia

Santa Lucia is fortified hill in the centre of Santiago. Apparently, it has some spectacular views of the city, but the smog tends to obliterate the distance, and bleach out the foreground. The day we climbed up, the niebla contaminada was thick, but the view was still fantastic, in a different way to the usual tourist lookouts. The smog makes for a sunset more picturesque than nature can turn out unassisted, with super-saturated yellows and unnatural reds.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Enter La Casa Roja

Its nightime, but even in this little suburb there are people everywhere, mostly families. I find a little place to buy a pizza and a coca-cola light, we sit out on the street in the warm air. We go for a quick walk around the place, go to a supermercado and buy some water to brush our teeth with and a bottle of wine to get them dirty again. Back at the hotel, we're too tired to try and get into the bottle, so we go to bed. Our first night in South America. Completely exhausted, we go to sleep around 11. I thought this was a good sign that we had manged to trick our bodies into local time by forgoeing sleep back home and getting in just a little on the plane.
Barrio Brasil

We wake up at five in the evening the next day. At least it was a cheap day. A quick walk and breadroll later, we're back at the hotel and fast asleep- with an alarm set this time. Not before one shocking discovery is made however. The lonely planet says that in south america it is customary to dispose of used toilet paper NOT in the toilet but in the little basket next to it. A quick check of the bathroom does indeed reveal a basket in said spot, but it still doesn't sit properly with me. Off to the internet cafe to send emails and check up on this 'basket' thing. The internet reveals that, yes, this is the thing to do in South Amercia, but it seems that this is how people deal with toilet paper all over the world! Even some places in Europe! How did they manage to keep this a secret for so long?

Barrio Brasil

Sleep is still a game of chance- the dice is rolled when you shut your eyes and you can come in and out of consciousness at any time. A breakfast of bread and jam is served after an erratic nights rest and then we pack up and leave the quaint Hotel Los Arcos. La Casa Roja is a backpackers hostel around the corner that has popped up in research, and we decide to spend at least a couple of nights there.

La Casa Roja is a huge mansion that has been renovated and converted into a backpackers lodge by a cricket-mad Australian. After clip clopping down the long floorboarded hallway, we came out into the backyard, which featured a lush green lawn, a bar and a pool with a spa. Plus practice nets for the cricket of course. The next few days are spent in the tail end of recovery, and soon sleep becomes a natural activity, rather than some bizarre forced (or unwanted) period of lying down.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Leaving and Landing

Goodbye Australia... Our final night in Oz began after an afternoon of frantic last minute camera purchasing- Angie had left that part of herself in the North Gong a couple of evenings prior. Dinner was at the Wollongong golf club- a massive meal was exactly what we needed to recover from a couple of days skipping meals because there was too much else to think about. After dinner was done, we went back to Angie's mums place where we were 'sleeping' that night. I managed to collapse in a pile and snuck in a couple of hours rest, but angie spent the whole night packing and organising. We loaded up our tired bodies with enormous backpacks and bundled ourselves into the car. Onto Sydney airport....

At the check in desk the scales informed us that angie's pack weighed in at over 18kg- the same weight as mine, which I had believed to be far to heavy to be comfortable even for me! Before Angie had the chance to say 'should i leave something behind?' the packs, along with my board were out of sight down the conveyer belt to undergo whatever mysteries await international baggage. Families began to show up to take part in the great goodbye and goodluck photo oppurtunity. We had a taste of the life of travelling celebrities as flashes erupted from all directions and a thousand pairs of eyes seemed to be trained directly on us- the fact that we chose the departure and arrival screens as the backdrop for our triumphant adios may have contributed to this phenomenon of unnatural amounts of attention. Tears threatened and then escaped as we finally said goodbye and headed off down the hall to customs. An hour later we were on LAN flight 800 (who said this was a qantas flight?).

On the plane a curs-ed seat holds me. When you're staring down the barrel of a 14 hour flight, one of the few things that can hold any consolation is the pospect of some decent in-flight entertainment. The small screen staring back at us as we sat down in our seats seemed to promise this- games, movies(james bond and the queen) and even an episode of the simpsons! (it was a season one episode but at least it wasn't friends) Everyone got seated and the plane trundled off down the runway, built up some speed, shook violently and manged to finally get it's nose in the air- followed closely- and apparently reluctantly- by the tail. It was about this time that my little tv system decided tht this was all too much and froze into a state of hibernation- not to be woken at any point during the next 14 or so hours i spent staring at it. My seat seemed to go out in sympathy with the tv screen as it jetisoned its headrest, and also, no-one told me I needed to contact the airline 24 hours before takeoff if I wanted a vegetarian meal. I really didn't want to be a problem passenger but sure as god didn't intend man to fly i felt like one.

Holy Crap!!! We're going to South America!!!

I mean new zealand. A quick stopover to pick up some extras was all we needed to discover why most kiwis seem to posses some sort of inferiority complex under that patriotic costume they all seem to wear- twisties that look like cheetos and feature a penguin on the blue packet? say no more. (PS I love you even more bimber.)

Holy Crap!!! We're going to South America!!!

This time for real!!

[Insert 11 hours in small seat, with a rude man in front of me that reclined his seat ALL the way back, cabin staff uninterested in passengers, leg room designed for people the size of Angie (not me)]

Hola South America!!!!.... One hour after we took off, we landed. Why can't I gain 14 hours doing something fun? This is no time for thoughts like that- I have 18 months of fun things ahead of me. But first I must leave this plane and get through Policia Internationale. We found our feet, got some bloodflow back to the legs and retrieved our bags from the carousel. Onto customs and now I would find out if all those Spanish lessons had paid off- the bags came through the x-ray machine and the customs lady uttered something so incomprehensible I was sure she must have been chinese. But no, apparently she was telling me I could remove the bags from the table. Even when she said so in English i was at loss as to what to do and it took a quick game of charades for the message to compute. So I hadn't picked up much Spanish in those classes, and had actually lost some English somewhere over the pacific ocean.

On the other side of the frosted glass customs walls, a scrum of taxi drivers and bus operators screamed manically at us. To my dismay, the loss of spanish wasn't temporary and I still did not understand what they wanted or if they were shouting at me. Using the luggage trolley as a plough, I separated the sea of drivers and all of a sudden found myself and angie outside in the heat staring up at grey/brown hills that rose up out of the horizon and seemed to encircle everything. A driver caught hold of us- 'Santiago?' he said. Good. I understood that much. Putting on my hardest haggling face a asked how much. '40,000' he said, Then I realised I had little to know idea of how much these strange notes I'd picked up at sydney airport were worth. 'Sounds good' I replied and gave him the knowing look of someone who recognises a bargain... He led us to the taxi, and i just managed to stop myself before getting in the drivers seat- its the other way round here. Angie jumped in the back seat and could not find a seatbelt anywhere- its ok- small cars are safer anyway aren't they? Out of the carpark and on the highway and those magnificent hills are still all around us. The earth here is flat desert and the feet of the hills that separate the land and the sky cannot be seen. The sky has the yellowish tinge of polluted city, the rich live on one side of the road in lego houses and the poor live on the other side where the walls aren't rendered. The road is clean and wide but the edges are dirty with rubbish. Our taxi driver gives us a quick rundown of the country as the city creeps foward to meet us, all of a sudden we're in tiny little cobbled streets lined by terraces of muddy pastel paintcoats. The driver pulls up outside a hotel in Barrio Brasil, a suburb of Santiago close to Centro. He tells us this is a good place, but the lp tells us its one of the more expensive roofs we'll find over our heads. After we've unloaded the gear from the boot, I go to pay the driver. My attempt to pay him what I thought was the original fare (which is actaully in the range of $120 AU!!) is foiled and he requests just 15000 pesos, closer to $45, but still double the maximum the drivers can charge when their meter is tired.

smog city santiago- (click to enlarge)

The LP recommended a little place just around the corner, so we walked a couple of blocks throught the streets to get there. The city is brimming with cuteness- all the buildings are painted in those colourful muted tones, and dogs and cats co-exist peacefully on the pavement and in the park. Looking closer, the dogs seem to have some sort of skin/fur condition, so angie promises not to pat every single one of them. Still, those mountains peek over the top of the tightly packed streets. We find the hotel easily- everything is in nice square blocks. Alas, once inside the hotel I realise i still have not managed to master the spanish language. We manage to communicate that we need a room for two for two nights. The room they show us is big, has a private bathroom and is 8000 a night per person. How much is that? Tiredness hits again- we pay, collapse on the bed and when we awaken, night has clambered up over those hills.