Oh, Sweet Chile O’ Mine
It was just a short bus journey over the Bolivian border into Chile to start the next part of our adventure, and we were in for a treat. Although just a couple of hours away, Chile is such a contrast to basic Bolivia, but it showed in the prices too! Our first stop was to the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama, where we felt like we’d entered the opening scenes of a Western movie. It was full of quaint looking shops with rustic wooden signs, supermarkets disguised as tiny saloons and tour offices galore. The overall look was misleading however, as our first lunch (which consisted of two sandwiches and two juices) came to around £30. Ridiculous! Anyway, rant over, it was time to do some exploring.
San Pedro de Atacama is best known for its stargazing and is home to some the world’s most renowned observatories. Given that we’ve seen the milky way a few times on our trip so far, as well as easily being able to identify constellations such as Orion’s Belt (or “Tres Marias” in the Latin world) and the Southern Cross (which you can only see in the southern hemisphere, naturally), we consider ourselves quite the astronomers. San Pedro de Atacama and its surrounds, however, provide something completely other-worldy! We took a stargazing trip to the outskirts of the town, where we were able to use a giant telescope to stare endlessly into the sparkling night’s sky, looking closely at clusters and planets (we even spotted Jupiter and its moons lurking around!). It was a beautiful experience so anyone considering a trip to Chile should not miss out on this.
The other appeal of San Pedro de Atacama is its stunning landscape, with endless mountains and rock formations resembling something like Mars. We visited the Valle de la Luna to get a better feel for this magic, and it genuinely felt as though we were walking on another planet. The photos will give a better idea of what I’m talking about, as it’s difficult to describe in words just how unique and alien this landscape felt.
We also visited the town of La Serena, a nice little town perched on the raging shores of the Pacific Ocean. Whilst the town itself is not much to write home about, the surrounding landscape is, and it is conveniently the starting point of the eponymous “Ruta de las Estrellas” meaning “Route of the Stars”. We hired a car and decided to explore this gem of a route ourselves, and we thoroughly enjoyed the journey. Winding through the Elqui Valley, it seemed as though there was a new and stunning view after every corner. Even better was that the end of the route leads you to the village of Pisco de Elqui, which is home to a beautiful little pisco distillery, where we sampled one of their Pisco Sours and had a lovely lunch. On the way back, we waited for darkness to fall and drove to a spot around halfway down the route, where we sat for almost two hours gazing up into the starry night, once again meeting with our old friends Orion’s Belt and the Southern Cross.
If you ever travel to South America, you’ll notice pretty quickly that it isn’t always straightforward getting from A to B. We’d landed at Santiago airport no less than three times previously on this trip, but never left its confines (it being one of the few places you can actually fly to most other South American countries from). This time however, we thought we’d dare venture beyond the wall and actually see what the city had to offer. Well, I have to say it didn’t stand out to me as being particularly unique or interesting, but we did take a fascinating walking tour through the old parts of the city, and were greeted with some gorgeous architecture and stunning views from the various hilltops. The main reason we wanted to visit though was WINE. Only an hour’s drive out of the city and you’re in wine-making country, in particular it is home to one of the largest vineyards in the world, Concha y Toro. This establishment is set in stunning grounds, and we were let loose amongst the vines to try the different grapes making up their huge variety of wines. Chile is best known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, and so after taking a tour of the wine-making powerhouse, we decided to try a couple of glasses of the ruby-red deliciousness, which was definitely worth the effort of going there.
Our next stop was to the colourful hippy town of Valparaiso (or “Valpo” to the locals). We stayed in the middle of one of the coolest areas of the town, where the buildings are decorated with beautiful graffiti-style murals, each one with its own story. Valpo is known for spanning across several steep hills, and unique funiculars are used by the town to get up and down without breaking a sweat. We wandered around the streets, admiring the colourful architecture, watching sunsets and making new friends (this is why walking tours are a must do for travellers, it’s a great way to meet new people!). It’s also known for being Chile’s main naval base (it being the closest port to the capital city), so we took a short boat ride around the port to gaze at the ginormous container ships, scary looking military boats and even a submarine.
So far, we were loving Chile, and didn’t think it could get much better. But it did, by a long way (almost 4000 kilometres in fact). We headed into the direction of Polynesia, to the mysterious island of Rapa Nui (otherwise known as Easter Island), and it was MAGIC! We were greeted at the airport by our friendly host, who promptly placed fragrant garlands around our necks as a welcome gesture, and served fresh fruit juice from the local guavas once we reached the guest house. The real reason we were there was to explore the island and its hundreds of ancient “Moai” statues for which the island was famous for. Feeling nostalgic for our favourite mode of transport from Asia, we decided to give it one last go, and hired a motorbike for our journey around the island. We were handed a map and left to our own devices to discover all the various Moai dotted around the place, all facing the direction of sunset. We explored jagged cliff edges and roaring seas, discovered hidden Moai statues and headpieces amongst rolling hills and cruised around on almost deserted roads, excited to see what the next site had in store for us. It was a truly magnificent experience (in fact, it’s probably going to make it into the RSBA top three) and to top it all off, the food was incredible (think the freshest seafood, delicious sushi and tasty VEGETABLES, the latter of which are almost mythical in the majority of South American countries).
Thank you for reading this week’s instalment loyal followers. Can you believe how quickly time flies? We only have two more blog posts to go before us weary travellers have to say goodbye to the nomad life and return back to reality, but as the saying goes, “it ain’t over till it’s over”.
The Resignated Survivors
Highlight of the week: Easter Island, couldn’t you tell?
Other notable things: The Concha y Toro winery is the producer of the famous wine “Casillero del Diablo” (“cellar of the devil”), likely found in most supermarkets near you. We visited this very cellar, and legend has it you can meet the devil himself when down there. We can confirm this is the truth, although this was probably after our third glass of wine. Spooky!
Lessons learnt: Chile may only be that sliver of land cowering in the shadow of its big bro Argentina, but it sure packs a punch when it comes to stunning scenery – Mother Nature at her finest.