New Year to Santiago and Mendoza

Jan 5th 2013

Karen didn’t quite make the top of the Volcano, simply exhausted. 2 others in the group (who had completed the daunting W-trek) didn’t make it either. Those that did, all much younger/fitter than us declared it a seriously tough hike. Karen said the support and encouragement of the guides and fellow travellers in particular Duncan (and thanks for the photo) was amazing but it was just too hard.

Still she was delighted to have tried and no regrets in that she simply could do no more. Said sliding down from 1,800 metres she reached on her plastic sheet, controlling speed and direction with an ice pick was the scariest thing she has done. Ever. I am very proud of her.

Mountaineer Karen

Pete did three sorts of raost  – pork, lamb and beef – for New Years Eve celebration accompanied by a raft of vegetables.  Drinking appeared modest by New Years Eve standards but then judging by the empties next morning maybe not! Anyway Karen and I enjoyed our bottle of fizz to toast the New Year in. Up with a clear head, showered by 7.30, which proved a wise move as it was the last hot water seen for some hours, to greet 2013.

After a leisurely New Years Day chilling a dozen or so of us went to the thermal springs. It was a series of pools in a valley next to a glacier fed river. The pools varied from tepid to scalding hot, with cold showers, or at one point the seriously cold river to use, as a plunge pool. Kudos to those that did it, teasing jeers for those that didn’t! (I did, Karen didn’t).

All in all a genuinely relaxing couple of hours and whatever is the magic of mineral waters it worked on various minor injuries collected by the group over the last few hectic activities, although Karen did manage to collect a seriously bruised toe – stubbed on a rock at the bottom of one of the semi natural pools (natural materials and ground but manmade walls and temperature control ).

Although nothing compared to the injury sustained by tour leader Pete when attempting to catch a plastic box he was trying to throw on the roof, it caught him on the lip, nose and required 4 stitches and a bill of US $200. Ouch.

A leisurely couple of days meander up to the capital of Chile, Santiago stopping en route at a campsite next to the Salto del Lujao waterfall. A stunning backdrop to the excellent Thai curry conjured up by the crew and cook group.

Next day a run through the Colchagua valley – a premier wine growing area of Chile and so of course a couple of stops for wine tasting tours. The first a family ran (3rd generation) winery of relatively small scale, Balduzzi which had some excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and then the much larger Montial winery which was an impressive insight into large scale production / bottling. Owned by a large conglomerate the winery group accounts for about 40% of all Chilean wine production.

Both wineries were badly affected by the Santiago earthquake of 2010, Chile losing abou15% of its annual production, Balduzzi had one of the 700,000 litre stainless tanks that had collapsed like so much tissue paper in the garden as a reminder.

The price of the 2nd wine tour was originally $9,000 pesos to include 2 wines, with some negotiation from Pete this was 3 and after the tour where the PR person was clearly taken with the group as that became 4. The tour was extremely informative and some glorious views into their ancient wine cellar built in 1868 using egg whites, sand and lime as mortar. and apparently earhquake proof.

Highlight of the day came when finally back in the tasting room Pamela (PR person) is pouring the tasting which is arranged in 2 glasses in front of everyone so we can compare 2 wines. Ken, a man known to be fond of a drink, reaches for the glass to be politely but firmly told “Please wait” general hilarity all round and new catch phrase for the group of “Ken, wait” whenever he has a drink. I guess you had to be there but it was funny.

Excellent Campera wine for which Chile is famous and only really available in Chile, nice but personally can’t wait for the Malbec in Mendoza. Asked the slightly naughty question of which is the better – Chilean or Argentinean wine – Pamela says the countries compete in many areas and both produce about a billion litres of wine a year, Chile exports about 70% and keeps 30% for domestic consumption, percentages reversed in Argentina. So in answer to the question “I don’t know which is the best wine but they are drunker than us!”

Small, tiny in fact, campground for the evening more picnic spot, bar than campground as we pitched tents on the half size football pitch. Played kick about with a 9 year old girl who wore me out, but amused with her gleeful celebrations of a “goal”.

5.30 Am wakeup call from our friendly tent neighbours Tony and Geoff “lovely day” in his broad Australian twang, for the easy 60km run for our only night in Santiago and our first hotel in 16  days. Pete not a particular fan of Santiago although it has its attractions. Hustle and bustle like all capital cities. We were amused that at major pedestrian crossings they have an animated green man with a count down clock, the animation running faster as the time expires. Another attraction that would go down well at home is “Coffee and Legs” coffe shops with attractive young waitresses wearing extremely short skirts. For some reason most of the clientele seemed to be middle aged men …………

We had a nice meander seeing the old colonial buildings and the great park in the centre with an old fort to get views across the city. An excellent lunch in the central sea food market (now more restaurants than market) with a cast iron roof made in Birmingham in 1868 as we were proudly told.

In the evening we took a taxi to the Bellavista area where all the restaurants are, there are 3 parallel streets Rio Punto in the middle full of cheap eats and happy hour deals. Each bar/restaurant trying  to outcompete its neighbours with the volume of their stereo installation. We went to Menzano – one of the more sophistacted restaurants in the neighbouring streets. There were simply thousands of people eating and drinking and its hard to say where one restaurant ends and another starts.

We took a stroll down Rio Punto and the place was jumping, in particular an all girl samba band was entertaining a crowd with a real thumping rhythm, impossible not to tap your feet to join in and a great vibe. Reminded us of Stomp the musical. Great fun.

The taxi meter was a bit elastic $2,170 out and $8,350 home, well pre midnight! Driver definitely on the fiddle and one of those occasions where your limited Spanish is frustrating. Its not the money which in the scheme of things is peanuts its being taken for a ride (literally) and knowing it!

Saturday The road from Santiago crosses the Andes reaching around 3,200 metres with the peaks still towering above us. The switch back road up to the border crossing was simply amazing – check out the sat nav photo – the border crossing simply disorganised and inefficient, basically 3 hours to get truck and 25 people across a border we have already done 4 times in the past month. Ho Hum.

Long and winding road.

One pleasant bonus we are staying in a hostel in Mendoza for 3 nights rather than the expected camping, although to be honest we are such old camping hands now it wasn’t such a big deal. But the wi fi and en suite facilities are a bonus.

Photos here.

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  1. Jim January 9, 2013 at 4:12 PM #

    Taxis in Chile are a bit like buying cheap beer in Mexico then…

    • admin January 16, 2013 at 8:27 PM #

      It was that incident I had in mind !

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