It was almost time to leave Argentina and pass over to the other side of the Andes in to Chile, we booked a bus for the afternoon and had a walk in the morning to a small waterfall and scenic area that our guest house had recommended and shown us on a map. The lady at the guest house had assured us it was about twenty minutes walk away, and that buses ran that way so we could get a bus either way.
We set off walking, a bus never passed us, and we eventually arrived over one-hour and about 6 kilometres later, then quickly realised that it was an hour walk back, our bus left in two hours and we hadn’t eaten yet today. We had a very quick look around the lake-front, then set off and walked the full hour back, of course, five minutes before we arrived back in town, the bus passed us for the first time.
We made it for the bus on time and set off towards Chile, we passed the Argentina border point, got stamped out, and continued on in neither country for now. As we climbed up the Andes on the winding mountain roads, it became apparent that the bus had a problem, it would slow down to the point of walking speed on some corners, then after a minute or so, speed back up, and keep repeating this for the next hour until the border point of Chile.
The border guards pulled every persons bags off the bus, laid them on tables outside whilst a sniffer dog ran up and down sniffing for anything that shouldn’t be there. We went inside to get stamped in to Chile, and the dog came in and checked all hand baggage too.
After about an hour, everybody was back on the bus, ready to go, but the bus wasn’t, it had broken down and wouldn’t start. We sat there for another two hours whilst the driver and his assistant attempted to fix the bus, eventually getting it started, then began hurtling down the other side of the Andes at speeds that would scare a formula one driver.
We eventually arrived in a small town in Chilean Patagonia called Puerto Varas, at 8.30 on a Saturday night, got dropped off on a dark street with nobody around, in the pouring rain, more than a kilometre from our hostel and not a taxi in sight. We had to stop under some shelter, put our rain coats on, put the rain covers on the backpacks and by the time we got to the hostel we were absolutely soaked.
The hostel then immediately told us, that all the shops and restaurants in town close around 9pm, even on a Saturday, and because we hadn’t eaten since lunch, we had to go out again in the pouring rain, to find a cash machine and a restaurant. We found some food, stopped by a shop for a bottle of wine and sat in the common room drinking our first Chilean wine in Chile from tumblers and laughing about another long but funny travel day.
Puerto Varas is a small, pretty town, with architecture similar to what you might find in a small town in Germany, due to the German immigrants that arrived here, even the food was very much German, lots of meat, sausages and kuchen (cakes).
The main draw to here is the views of Volcano Osorno over the lake from the town, unfortunately, as is normal around here, the weather wasn’t great so we didn’t see much of it from town. We did meet an Australian girl called Terena and got a bus with her out to Saltas de Petrohue, a waterfall, closer to the Volcano. It was raining on and off for most of the day, but the couple of hours we spent going out there and back, the sun came out, and we got an amazing view of the Volcano.
On the way back, the bus driver even pulled over at the roadside in a clear area, so that the couple of tourists on the locals bus could get off and take a picture of the Volcano with no clouds obscuring the view. The waterfall of Petrohue was also an unforgettable sight, and it was a great day.
After a couple of days in Puerto Varas, we set off north in Chile towards Santiago, so that we could go out to the coast and Valparaiso. It was a 12-hour overnight bus from Puerto Varas to Santiago, and we mistakenly believed, that it would be just like that Argentinian overnight buses, where you get a meal when you get on. Therefore, we didn’t have any dinner, got on the bus around 8pm, for the overnight journey, and they immediately turned all the lights off and everybody went to sleep, needless to say, I was starving and complained about it for pretty much the whole journey.
We got to the central bus station in Santiago, after what was actually a decent sleep in comfy seats on the bus, we bought two tickets to go to Valparaiso, the bus left ten minutes later, and in a couple of hours we were there, in a taxi and at our guest house, all before 11am.
Valparaiso is a UNESCO world heritage site, the central town area is pretty coloured houses on cobbled streets, artwork and small boutique stores, it is also built on one of the steepest hills it is possible to build a town on, making the walk from the bottom, to where we were staying, at the top almost heart-attack-inducing.
Colectivos (shared taxis) run up and down the hill all the time, but there was always a queue for them, so we very often just walked it, which took well over half an hour and climbed about three hundred metres, I think we would get much fitter by just living in Valparaiso.
We walked around the streets day after day just admiring the town, ate some nice food, although the best food was in a Peruvian restaurant, and explored the local sights.
On one of our many climbs back up to the top of the hill, we walked past a small dog, that took a liking to Stac straight away, we called him Jack, and he walked with us all the way up to the top of the hill to our guest house, we didn’t let him inside the gate though, and we went inside, got showered, changed and relaxed a little before going out about an hour later.
We walked out of the guest house, opened the gate, and he had waited for us outside the whole time, he crossed back over from the other side of the road and came straight back to next to our feet again. We walked all the way back down the hill again, and he walked with us the whole way, until we got to the bottom, where we had met him and he went off again with his other dog friends. After that we never saw him again. We liked Jack 🙂
There is another town close to Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, which is a beach destination for Chileans and foreigners, but also has a football team called Everton. We decided we had to try to see them play, considering Everton is my Dad and Brothers’ team, and fortunately, they were playing at home whilst we were staying in Valparaiso, and the tickets were cheap according to what I could read in Spanish on the internet.
We went down to Vina del Mar during the day, bought tickets from a local shopping centre and then went down to the sea front for some time before the match. We were going to walk a few kilometres from town, to the stadium, but we set off and the streets got a little more dodgy and quiet, so we ordered an Uber and arrived at the stadium as, I am pretty sure, the only foreigners there.
It turns out, not all the surprisingly, that Everton de Vina del Mar, aren’t very good, and they don’t even half fill their stadium, although the fans that are there, are pretty enthusiastic about them. It wasn’t a great game, the play acting of the players when they were fouled, and the passion of the crowd were definitely the highlights, and the game finished 1-1. I have now been to as many Everton games in Chile as I have in England.
We left Valparaiso and headed towards the capital, Santiago, for our last few days in Chile. We booked an apartment for six days, expecting Santiago to be somewhat similar to our other experiences of South American big cities, in that, we would love it.
Santiago is very different to Buenos Aires, because, although we didn’t know before we came to both, Argentina and Chile couldn’t really be more different. Argentina is much more European, friendly and passionate people who like to have conversations in the street and stay up late eating, drinking and chatting.
Argentinians greet almost everybody with a kiss on the cheek and will chat to you all day even if you have only just met them. Chileans on the other hand are much more formal and conservative, a hand-shake and a formal greeting are normal here, or they just completely ignore you, which is far more common.
The language is different, the food is different and the therefore the experience is different.
Argentina is independent restaurants and coffee shops, with a few national chains, Chile is more fast food and American chains, Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts are the norm here. These countries might be next to each other, but in terms of social culture, they are very far apart.
We had a great time in Chile, and wouldn’t rule out returning, but for both of us, we enjoyed Argentina much more. We spent six days in Santiago, saw the sights, ate the food, and probably could have left after three, in contrast, we had spent ten days in total in Buenos Aires and could have easily stayed for many more. We don’t think this is a negative for Chile, just a positive for Argentina.
Now it was time to fly to Peru, but only for a few days…