Santiago – Coffee With Legs

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Here’s a bit of a funny story for you. Don’t have many pics to go with it but thought it was a good yarn.

Our walking tour guide told us that Chilean coffee is the worst in the world, which means that no one would buy coffee from a coffee shop.

But then, a very smart guy who wanted to open a coffee shop came up with the idea of opening a store where you can buy a coffee from a waitress in a very skimpy, tight dress who flirts with you while you wait for your order. These shops don’t have chairs because otherwise people would hang around all day sipping in their coffee.

As you can imagine the popularity of coffee increased exponentially and stores opened all over the city. The concept is called ‘coffee with legs’.

But, then another very smart guy decided to take it one step further, where the waitresses wear even less (bikinis and g-strings). The store fronts are generally blacked out but we were able to take a peek inside one and it was unbelievable! Guys standing around in what looks like a strip club complete with disco lights and hip hop music while bikini clad women bring them coffee.

The outside of one of the coffee shops.

Our guide also told us that every now and then the stores have what is called a ‘hot minute’ where the doors to the shop get locked and for one minute the waitresses take off all their clothes and dance on the tables. After the minute is over the clothes come back on and the doors are unlocked.

Apparently the hot minute is a bit of a rareity though, our guide said he’s been drinking coffee from these places for 10 years and he’s only ever seen one hot minute.

What a way to sell coffee huh!?

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Valparaiso

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Valparaiso is a two bus ride from Santiago on the coast. It is a port town where the waters edge is lined with colourful cargo boxes and the steep hills leading down to the water are covered in colourful houses. The hills are so steep that a number of elevators were built to make access to the neighbourhoods higher up easier. These elevators are similar to the funicular in Santiago but were built in the late 1800s, which made us a little nervous about them falling off their tracks and us plummeting to our deaths. However, we made it up and were able to get a great view of the city and the port.

Valparaiso is a very bohemian town with artwork everywhere you look, including murals and graffiti art on almost every street. We visited the house of famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda where we could see the eclectic mix of collections he accumulated over the years. I even bought some of his poetry (translated into English), it’s really good, and gives you a sense of the man he really was.

We also went on a boat ride where we could look back at the city spilling down the hillsides. We saw some sea lions playing amongst the ships in the harbour too.

I really loved Valparaiso, it had a real energy about it and felt like the real South America – colorful and artistic but with a rough underside.

We stayed at Casa Valparaiso which I’d recommend – very relaxed and a good kitchen.

Santiago

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Alan and I arrived in Santiago on the 10th of September just in time for the 11th of September which is a very important day in Chilean history because in 1973 a military coup began on this day. It resulted in many of the main government buildings being bombed including the Presidential Palace. The president at the time (Allende) shot himself rather than be captured. The next 17 years involved about 3,000 people disappearing because they had socialist views or were sympathetic to the fallen government. On the 11th we visited the Human Rights Museum to learn more about what happened on that day and afterwards. It was really sad to hear some of the stories from people who were there on the day but also really interesting to see how it has shaped Chilean culture – apparently the population is still divided on the matter, so the 11th was a bit of a crazy day as half the people celebrate the downfall of the government while the rest mourn the loss of life that occurred during the Pinochet dictatorship – which meant that there were quite a lot of clashes in the street.

Rebuilt Presidential Palace

Statue of Allende

September is also the month that Chile celebrates their independence day. The actual day of independence is the 18th however for the whole month leading up to it there are Chilean flags everywhere, and I mean everywhere! They practically cover the majority of the buildings in the city. On the 18th every house has to have a flag outside, and if they don’t, they get fined! And, if they don’t hang the flag correctly, with the star on the left (because that’s where the heart is) then they also get a fine! Crazy huh?!

While we were in Santiago we also went to a futbol match between the University of Santiago and the Montevideo (Uraguay) National team. My friends Jenna and Angela from back home were in Santiago so they came along too. The game was nuts! The crowd stand on their seats and chant for the entire game. There were flares going off, people chucking toilet paper and the biggest drums I’ve ever seen being beaten by the biggest Chileans I’ve ever seen. The atmosphere was amazing! At the start, and when Chile scored a goal, the biggest flag I’ve ever seen would be passed down over the heads of the people in our stand so it covered the entire section. And Santiago won, so the crowd was ecstatic, every one left the ground chanting and singing at the top if their lungs.

And then the real fun started – trying to get a bus along with the thousands of other fans. People would stand in the middle of the road and flag down buses, that would generally just keep driving straight through the crowd because they were already full. At one stage a riot vehicle came past and started beeping at everyone to get off the road because they were holding up traffic, they had the water cannon on top whizzing around looking for someone not obeying but everyone just went piss bolting behind the bus stand and then started yelling and gesturing at the truck. It was a very scary looking vehicle, all black with protective metal wiring around the windows and the menacing barrel of the water gun on top. It had dints all over so it looked like it had copped a few bullets in it’s time or something else being launched at it. I wasn´t game enough to get a photo unfortunately.

Eventually we managed to get on a bus with what seemed like 200 other people, we were crammed in like sandines and people were hanging out the doors. Then they all started singing and clapping, at one stage the bus was jumping up and down with the passengers! What an experience!

A few other things we got up to in Santiago that were really good were:
– did a free walking tour of the city ( it was really informative and I learned a lot about the city and the history of Chile in general).
– took the funicular up the 870m San Cristobal hill which gives amazing views of the city and the mountains behind.
– visited the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino which has artifacts from all the pre-Columbian civilisations from 4,500 years ago until the Incas. Very interesting and it had signs in English which is rare.
– walked around Santa Lucia hill which is a little refuge in the middle of the city with nice gardens and great views.
– had a seafood dinner at Mercado Central. Straight from the ports of Valparaiso, the seafood is amazing – I was brave and had what was basically a seafood stew, I barely had a clue what I was eating but it tasted pretty good.
– tried the local student cuisine called chorillana (spelling?) in the hip neighbourhood of Bellavista which is made of beef chunks, onion and served on chips. Was pretty tasty but as you can imagine it was pretty greasy too!
– tried the local beverage called a Terramoto (which means earthquake) at the roughest bar I’ve ever been in. It’s a drink made of wine, Pisco and pineapple ice-cream (no wonder it’s rough!). Towards the end of the night there was a bar fight between some locals that turned into an all in brawl, even the girls got involved, one threw a chair at someone else. It was intense! After three earthquakes we were all walking like there was an earthquake taking place!
– went to what is apparently the hottest bar in Chile called Bar Constitucion where all the celebs hang out. Didn’t manage to meet any of them but had a good night nonetheless.

– went to a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. It was awesome!

– hung out in the Parque Forestal in the afternoon pretty much everyday, enjoying the sun and making friends with the locals (well  local dogs anyway).

– drank a LOT of red wine. At $4 for a 1.5 litre bottle, how can you say no!

The ride on the funicular

The view from San Cristobal

The mountains overlooking the city (it was a bit smoggy)

Santa Lucia

Enjoying the view from Santa Lucia

Seafood dinner at Mercado Central

Chorillana

Support Act for the RHCP

Alan…a true fan

Our spot in the park

One of our new friends

 

Bahia Inglesa and La Serena

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Alan and I were both heading in the direction of Santiago but had no idea which towns to stop in on the way there and neither of us were keen on doing the 24 hour bus ride in one go.

I got out my huge map of South America and Alan got out the Lonely Planet and we found a couple of towns that looked quite nice on the coast of Chile that we thought might be worth checking out.

The first place that sounded nice was Bahia Inglesa. To get there we needed to take a 10 hour bus ride, via Calama where we changed buses and then to Caldera where we took a 15 minute taxi ride to Bahia Inglesa. The bus just dropped us on the side of the road at about 7am and we had no idea where we were so it was lucky that a cab came past not long after.

Bahia Inglesa is a tiny town that apparently gets quite busy in summer when Chilean vacationers take up residency, however it seemed like we were the only people there at this particular time. There was a beautiful little beach and when the sun came out in the afternoons it was quite warm.

We thought since we were on the beach we had to go swimming so we headed on down, jumped in, nearly had a heart attack it was so freezing and then went home. Good fun!

The beach front is lined with restaurants but most of them were shut at this time of year but we managed to find a place where we could get a glass of red wine and a dessert after dinner.

The next day we headed back to Caldera to organise a bus to our next stop, La Serena. Another six hour bus ride and we arrived at about 10:30pm and eventually found the hostel recommended to us by Lonely Planet – El Hibisco.

La Serena is another lovely beach town , with a population of about 150,000. We ended up staying three nights and two days and in that time strolled along the beach, had a look at the Chinese garden, the Arqueologico museum and the zoo in the local park and generally just wandered around the streets. It was a really nice town and the weather was great while we were there, so we spent quite a bit of time just lazing around in the sun.

Next stop Santiago.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

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After leaving the salt flats tour group I jumped on a bus which took me to the border of Bolivia and Chile. In the line for immigration I met an English guy called Alan who seemed to be the only English speaking person in the area (although he does speak Spanish rather well also) which was a relief because my Spanish is still pretty ordinary. After immigration and customs it was only a few minutes on the bus before we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama.

Alan and I decided to seek out a hostel that had been recommended to me by my friend Ed in La Paz, it was a bit out of the way and therefore cheaper. For once I followed his directions well and we came a across hostel Cabur.

It is a quiet place with a nice shady courtyard, a hammock and a fireplace in the evenings. After three days in the desert I enjoyed a nice hot shower and then we headed back into town to check out the main attractions – and of course we found the pub where a futbol match between Chile and Spain was about to commence.

San Pedro is a peaceful town that caters solely for tourists. It is only small and is made up of restaurants, tour agencies and Internet cafes.

There are an abundance of tours you can do, mainly involving lagunas and geysers, however we felt we’d seen enough of those on our Salar tour so we opted for sand boarding in the Death Valley instead.

I was pretty worried I was going to hurt myself (especially after Will stacked it in Huacachina) but it was really fun and when I did stack it I didn’t hurt myself – just got absolutely covered in sand! Only bad thing was having to trek back up the hill to come down again.


Alan showing off his mad skills.

After the sand boarding we went to a lookout point so we could watch the sunset over the Atacama desert. The landscapes there are just amazing, they look like something from Mars, red dirt that has formed into rugged hills and gullies and then surrounded by the ever present Andes on one side and another mountain range on the other.

I also went stargazing at the observatory of a French astronomer where I learnt about all he different zodiac constellations and the makeup of our galaxy. I absolutely froze but it was really interesting.

We ended up staying four days and three nights in San Pedro and didn’t really do all that much, which was kinda nice. Alan had to srt out flights and I wanted to get my blog up to date but apart from that we just cooked for ourselves and hung around in the hammock in the hostel. It was lovely!

(Sorry about the lack of photos of San Pedro, I was a little bit lazy in this town as you can probably tell.)

Salar de Uyuni (Bolivian Salt Flats)

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I decided that after about a week in La Paz I would begin my journey south towards Chile. I booked into a tour of the salt flats in the south of Bolivia and took an overnight bus from La Paz to Uyuni where the tour was to begin.

The bus trip didn’t get off to a good start when the proper sleeper bus wasn’t available which meant we had three hours in a normal bus before swapping to a cama bus in a town called Oruro at around 1am in the morning. It was bloody freezing!

I was pretty excited about snuggling up and going to sleep however not long after the trip recommenced we ran out of tarred road and we hit the bumpiest dirt road ever! There wasn’t much sleep after that.

We arrived in the dusty town of Uyuni at about 8am the next morning where I had a chance to get some breakfast and stock up on snacks and water for the next three days. And then at 10:30am we were off, first to the train cemetery, which is just outside Uyuni. To me it was just a bunch of rusty trains but I’m sure it had more significance than that, however with a non-English speaking guide who was being translated into French and then into English, I think that quite a few things got lost in translation.

From there we headed to the Salar (salt flats) where we saw how the locals harvest the salt; piling it into mounds to dry and the shoveling it onto the back of their trucks.

The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world and is located at 3,600 metres above sea level.

We headed to Isla del Pescado (or Incahuasi) which is a rocky hill in the middle of the Salar and is covered in huge cacti.

After lunch we had time to take photos on the Salar, because it is so white and flat and the horizon is so far away you can take some cool photos using perspective.

That night we stayed in a hotel made of salt, we played shithead, listened to a local band and then we were off to bed.

The next day we headed further south across endless deserts with snow capped mountains on either side (they are actually active volcanoes). We stopped at several lagoons to see flamingos including Laguna Colarada which is a bright red colour because of the algae in the water.

We had minor car troubles on the way.

That night we stayed in a very simple hotel where the six of us stayed in the same room. It was expected to get down to -25 degrees that night so I was very worried – I don’t handle the cold very well. In preparation I rugged up and when I went to bed I had on woolen socks, thermal pants, tracksuit pants, two thermal shirts, a jumper, my beanie and my gloves then my sleeping bag, silk liner, two doonas and three blankets. I could barely move but I didn’t get cold!

The next day it was an early start at 5am – it was freezing! – and we headed off Sol de Mañana where we were able to see geysers and then onto Aguas Termales where you were able to swim in the hot springs – unfortunately I hadn’t packed my swimmers so I had to settle with watching the others enjoy the 35 degree water and then freeze when they got out (even though it was a hot spring there was still ice around the outside).

Then we were off to Laguna Verde, which is often a dark green colour, however because it was such a still day the sediment was all at the bottom. It was spectacular nonetheless.

From there it was a mad dash to drop me off at the bus stop where I was to catch the bus to San Pedro de Atacama in the north of Chile – the rest of the group were heading back to Uyuni.

Overall, a great trip. If you go, take warm clothes and a good sleeping bag!

The World’s Most Dangerous Road

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Even though my mother forbid me from doing this, I couldn’t visit Bolivia and not take on the Death Road – I would’ve regretted it forever.

For those of you playing along at home, the ´World’s Most Dangerous Road´ or ´Death Road´ is a narrow track that snakes down the side of a mountain just outside of La Paz. It used to be the main road between the towns in this part of the country and is a gravel path generally only wide enough for one vehicle (just!) with sheer cliffs on one side that can drop up to 600 metres. On average 26 vehicles disappeared over the edge each year. However, they’ve now opened a replacement road which means the WMDR is mainly only used for cyclists and support vehicles.

The 64km ride began on a tarred road to give you a chance to get used to the bikes and then we began the infamous road. There was just one other girl, Ruth, on my tour (Pro Downhill) and we were given full suspension bikes, protective pants, vests, gloves and full-face helmets. Our guide rode at the front and the support vehicle followed behind.

At the start I was pretty nervous but it didn´t take long before I relaxed and was able to enjoy the spectacular views,  soon I had a smile on my face that lasted the whole way down.

Really the road isn’t that dangerous if you go at a steady pace and don’t panic, although I can see how accidents occur as people could start going too fast and lose control or see the steep cliff to the side and break too fast, sending them flying over the edge.

It’s difficult to describe how amazing it was; the vistas, the track itself and the steep mountains were incredible. We passed under waterfalls and the forest-like landscape was just stunning.

We stopped every 10 minutes or so to take photos and take in the views but all too soon we arrived at the bottom of the mountain, 3,600 below where we started, where we had lunch and a swim in the pool – it had been freezing when we started but by this time it was boiling hot!

And then it was back to La Paz via the new road.

What an experience! It was so exhilarating and I couldn’t believe how beautiful the landscapes were.

I definitely recommend it to everyone, just tell your mum about it afterwards like I did!

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