Chile is a long long long country, as it thins out towards the most southern tip at Cape Horn the country breaks up into fragments of isolated mountain ranges and icefields separated by spectacular fjords and lakes. This region is almost entirely undeveloped and uninhibited except for small rural towns sparsely scattered along the Carreterra Austral, the long road which travels from Puerto Montt in the Chilean Lake District into the depths of Chilean Patagonia.
“Are you sure you want to go to South America. I hear these countries are very dangerous”, if only mum could see where we are now! With just a jump over the border from “little Germany” in the Chilean Lake District you will land yourself in “little Switzerland” and the city of Bariloche in the Argentine Lake District. Our “little” slice of Europe just grew tenfold. Not only is this part of South America safe and friendly it is a sophisticated – by European standards – tourist mecca in an enchanting setting amongst bountiful lakes and snow capped mountain peaks. The Argentine Lake District has the best of everything; be it hiking, boating, fishing or indulging in some of Argentina’s finest food. We knew straight away that we would be more than able to satisfy our desire to hike within the world renowned Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. And of course in order to gain sustenance for said hike we arrived ready to eat.
Over the past few months our travels have predominantly been spent in hot, dusty, arid destinations with endless blue skies, so it was a shock to the system when we awoke in the morning on our overnight bus journey from Santiago to luscious green fields and rain, lots of it. We had finally begun our journey south towards Patagonia.
The Chilean Lake District is a large region some 800km south of Santiago. Pleasant towns and quaint villages lie scattered through fertile fields and hugging the shorelines of vast pristine lakes at the foothills of the Andes. In the 1850’s the Chilean government underwent a major immigration drive encouraging German’s to colonise the undeveloped lakes region to exploit the abundance of agricultural opportunities. Due to this there is a strong German influence in the architecture and cultural makeup of the villages dotting the landscape. Coming from the desert, as well as Bolivia and Peru, this wonderful European charm was a welcome change of scenery.
Valparaiso is a unique colourful city by the Pacific Ocean in middle Chile. Once upon a time when the Panama Canal did not exist, cargo ships would have to travel south through the Atlantic almost to Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America, through the Megellan Straits and north along the coast of Chile using Valparaiso as a major transportation hub for the region and for access to the rest of the world across the Pacific. Now that the Panama Canal exists this transportation route is virtually non-existent leaving all of the old world ports of call, in use for over one hundred years, defunct the moment the canal opened its flood gates. What is left behind is a city rich in culture and history told now through the once decadent buildings, this place is an Architect’s paradise
Located in the Chilean Central Valley, between the Andes and the Chilean Coastal Range, Santiago is a grid of streets sprawled across the flat valley floor. As Chile’s capital the city seems very much on par with any Western city, with tall modern buildings, tree lined streets and an underground metro system. Chile is considered as South America’s first developed country, a status gained after many a year of tough austerity measures originating from the dictator Pinochet’s era of dominance. The country is now considered to be well into the light and its capital the figure head of this prosperity.
Argentina is famous for three things; Wine, Beef and Football, and Mendoza just happens to be pretty good at all three. Mendoza is a sprawling, cosmopolitan city, in the heart of Argentine wine country. They say the best wine in the country is produced here, and so of course we had to come and find out if this is true by exploring the vineyards to sample fine wines, and get a taste of some local gourmet food and of course we hoped to catch a football match – Iain needs to get his fix of his beloved sport.
The ten hour bus ride from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile across the border to Salta in Argentina was by far one of the most spectacular bus journey’s we have ever taken. The bus made its way over high altitude lunar landscapes, passed flamingo filled lakes, volcanic peaks, and rolling Andean mountains. As the bus navigated its way down the windy roads on the Argentine side of the Andes, we were mystified by the rainbow coloured mountains and quaint little mud-brick villages. It was certainly worth every penny of the AUS$56 we forked out for the trip. Sadly our faces were too busy being stuck to the window, in awe of the view, to bother taking photos, unlike the guy in front of us who was snapping away constantly the whole trip. Click, click, click!
Our arrival into San Pedro de Atacama came with a bit of a come down ending in a bump – a bump the size of a Volcano. After the confusion we had gone through with Oscar and Dennis, at the Bolivian-Chile border at the end of the Salt Flats Tour, we finally found our ride to San Pedro, only to learn they had one less seat than we needed. Travelling in a group of four (including our tour buddies Laura and Phil) there was only 3 seats left so one of us had to make do with a cool box/esky as a seat, Phil volunteered for the cool seat.