Chile (1)

31 December 2002: El Calafate, Argentina

It's time to update you all on what I've been doing for the last while. It looks like I haven't said anything at all about Chile, and I'm already in the next country! I've got some catching up to do.

San Pedro de Atacama

Once we finished the overland trip from Bolivia we spent a couple of nights in San Pedro de Atacama, a pleasant small touristy town about 2500m up - practically at sea level compared to what we'd been used to, and it was hotter too! All the people who had arrived from Bolivia were making comments like "Ahh, paved roads" - which wasn't really fair since Bolivia does have perfectly good paved roads, and "Ahh, nice shops and food and places to stay" which was a bit more fair. But they were also saying "How Much???" a lot - Chile is a lot more expensive than over the border.

We then took a bus to Antofagasta, via Calama - buses are quite cheap in Chile. This whole area makes its money from mining and outside Calama is the world's largest copper mine which is something like 17% of Chile's economy. Antofagasta is a port through which the copper and other stuff is exported, and we saw a train loaded down with big lumps of copper rolling through the streets towards the port. Christine saw some sea lions in the harbour, but there wasn't much else to see there so we made our way pretty quickly to Santiago.

Santiago is a big modern city, indistinguishable from a European capital city. We spent a couple of days there doing the usual tasks like visiting airline offices and shops. We did visit a couple of tourist attractions; one was a palace built by a family who got rich through mining, vinyards and shipping. It has been owned by the state for a long time now and is well preserved (quite a contrast to the place we went to in Sucre, Bolivia). The most memorable thing was the tapestry, all made in France by Nuns!!! We also visited the Botanic Gardens, whose botanic interest was not that great but benifited from a lovely location on a hill overlooking the city and reached by a cable car and funicular railway.

I left Santiago after a couple of days and waved goodbye to Christine, who was going to spend a little longer in Viña del Mar on the coast improving her suntan before flying home. She got home on Christmas Eve and wowed the family with exotic Christmas presents and thousands of photos.

Punta Arenas

So I flew from Santiago all the way down to Punta Arenas, almost as far south as you can get on the South American mainland. It is on the shore of the Magellen Straits, on the opposite side of which is the island of Tierra Del Fuego. At first I had been planning to go to the Torres Del Paine national park for Christmas, but I was still a bit weak from my Bolivian Belly and I wanted to wait until I was 110% before going there. So I have decided to do Patagonia anticlockwise, getting to Torres Del Paine last.

Punta Arenas is a fair sized city, but there is not a lot going on. On a Sunday there seems to be less than nothing going on. Even the breakfast cafes were shut. So finding somewhere more interesting for Christmas seemed to be a good idea. Anyway I did a couple of excursions from the city; first one by boat to see an island penguin colony, which was fun though not for those who dislike boats.

Then I went for a walk in the Parque National Magallenes. This was my first chance to see some of the Patagonian flora and fauna, and the forest is quite unusual: short trees, presumably because of the wind and cold (right now there is plenty of wind but it is sunny and sometimes really quite warm) and some interesting smaller plants. I'll wait until I have scanned in some pictures before saying any more about the orchids. Anyway I spent a pleasant day hiking in the national park with someone else from the hostel where I was staying (pleasant apart from the bit where the coloured sticks ran out and we thought we were going to have to climb down a cliff...), and the next day we both got on a bus to Ushuaia, over the straits on Tierra Del Fuego and over the border in Argentina.