2nd to 9th March

Sunday 2 March

After a wonderful night on a real bed, we have a big breakfast. And after going to the market to buy fresh food, let’s have a small lunch! Wonderful!

Then, we go out in the city, with Pablo and Blandine as guides. We first go to the Palacio de la Moneda, the presidential palace (air-bombed during the coup in 1973, but since then repaired). Under the palace, there is a modern art exhibition centre. For the moment, it’s about Italian design. We walk in the neighbourhood of Concha y Toro: it used to be, at the end of the 19th century, the neighbourhood for rich people, with an urbanism quite similar to European. It has not been much changed since yet, and it’s now for normal people.

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In Plaza Brasil, we discover the Chorillana. It’s a wonderful dish to share: a mountain of French fries, with onions, small pieces of beef and chorizo, and a fried egg on top.

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We pass by the Plaza de Armas, where stand the city cathedral, and also the central post office and the History museum! we’ll come back here in the following days.

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And we taste a wonderful ice cream, in Emporio de la Rosa (elected as one of the 25 best ice cream shops in the wordl according to a website). In fact the ice cream are very good, taste homemade, with original tastes (lemon mint basil, honey, orange ginger, !). On the way back home, we pass in front of the house of Pablo Neruda in Santiago, which looks quite original. Cannot wait to visit the inside (for the next days).

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Monday 3 March

We get up not so late. This morning, the first thing we do is to go to the technical service of Panasonic here in Santiago, in order for them to repair the camera (the zoom is not working, probably due to the dust). Apparently, they can dismount it there, and in 2-3 days, it should be ok.

In the afternoon, we change the oil of the Rohloff. You know, the gearbox we use on our bike (see here: http://vertlhorizon.com/preparation/bike/). It’s the only maintenance we do for it, after 5000km! As we don’t remember how to change the oil, we check for the video on Youtube. It takes us a couple of hours, one old box (to protect the floor), and that’s it! Ready for 5000 more km.

In the evening, we go to meet Sebastián, a former classmate of Federico (our host in Mendoza), also ME3 student a few years ago. We have a very nice evening with him and his wife. First, they bring us to a sandwich place, where you choose your meat, and the complements (a little like the chain Subway, but homemade, and with real good meat). And then we visit the surroundings in the city, till the central train station, built by Gustave Eiffel, in the modern style, of the end of 19th century. Afterwards, as the cafés are closing, they invite us to their house, in order to have a chat with Sebastián about his job with the CDM. You can find the summary of our meeting here.

Tuesday 4 March

Today, we had planned to visit the city of Santiago, but we stay at home, in order to organize the months to come. We have several reasons to do it now: first, in one week, we are on our way to Uyuni, with a desert to cross. Also, we must see when we finish visiting Colombia, in order to buy a plane ticket to Mexico as soon as possible, before the prices are too high. Today, the main part of our research is to find the places to obtain water in the region of Uyuni. Thank God we have internet now! it makes the researches so much easier!

In the evening, we go out with our hosts. We go to a nearby square, to try the typical alcohol Pisco Sour. It’s a quite strong alcohol made from grapes, but here it’s prepared with lemon juice, sugar and some ice. The result is very good and refreshing. We appreciate a Chorillana with it (although not as good as on Sunday).

Wednesday 5 March

We get up at 7, and prepare rapidly our stuff. We go to take the bus, at 9, for Isla Negra. And we’ll spend the night in Valparaíso, to come back tomorrow evening to Santiago. Isla Negra is a village, on the coast, in the South of Santiago, where the poet Pablo Neruda bought a house in 1938. It has been his favourite house, and till his death, in 1973 (12 days after the military coup of Pinochet) he has kept modifying the house, and furnishing it with any kind of “toy” he could find. The house looks like a boat, because Pablo Neruda was in love with the sea. There are many rooms, with each of it a strong personality. We can admire many figureheads, collections of masks, bottles, snails and seashells, ! and also a replica of a horse, he liked when he was a child, and could buy 50 years later. We visit also his kitchen, dormitory office where he wrote many books (always with a green ink pen). Pablo Neruda is buried here with his third wife, Matilde, just above the sea, in what seems to be the bow of a boat.

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We eat lunch on the rocks of the seashore. The weather is quite chilly, with a lot of fog brought from the sea. We see many flocks of pelicans crossing the sky, in groups of 10 to 50 individuals.

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In the afternoon, we take the bus for Valparaiso, where we arrive around 15h. The house of Pablo’s parents (Pablo, Irma and their daughter Gabriela) is some 5km away from the station. No problem, it’ll make us a walk. We stop several times, for Mick to cut his hair (for only 3 euros!), for visiting some fortifications made during the Pacific War (1879-1884 between Chile and the alliance Peru-Bolivia), for refreshing our feet in the cold sea water.

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Once at the house, we are offered a “once” (the snack of the middle of the afternoon)., made of chicken, beef and potatoes. And we spend the rest of the afternoon talking with Irma and Gabriella. The dinner is quite light and fresh, with some sandwich of avocado purée, cheese and ham.

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Thursday 6 March

After the breakfast with the family of Pablo, we go out to visit Valparaíso. And we are lucky to have a guide: Gabriela, Pablo’s sister. There are many colourful wooden houses on the hills that are in very bad conditions, and being restaured. They were originally built by the wealthy merchants coming to Valparaíso, mostly British. Valparaíso used to be a very important port during the 19th century: all the boats passing the Magellan strait used to stop here before continuing further South. The city became cosmopolite, and till now, Valparaíso has kept an image of exotic port in our imagination. Now, Valparaíso is not so important economically, since the Panama Canal has been open. And it is not anymore the first port of Chile.

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Having been declared Heritage Site by the UNESCO, the city is now been restaured, but slowly! There are some forty hills, and many of them have lifts, built one hundred years ago, to bring the people up and down the hills. Some of them are still working.

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The city is full of Murales, walls beautifully painted, with generally a call for more equality in the society, or to show the pride of indigenous.

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On many hills, there is a promenade, with a beautiful view on the city. Gabriela shows us the main places of the city, and then we go to eat at the J.Cruz, the very typical place to eat Chorillana.

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In the afternoon, we go to the naval museum. There are many reproductions of the boats, especially from the 19th century, when Chile had a lot of naval wars (with Peru and Bolivia twice, with Spain twice). It’s with some regrets that we leave Valparaíso to take the bus back to Santiago. This city was very nice to live in.

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Friday 7 March

Today, we retrieve the camera we had left to the technical service. The technician told us the reparations would cost 170 000 $ (around 230€), and it would take 6 weeks. So we refused to continue the reparation and we get back the camera. We’ll see this afternoon if we can find a solution in the city.

We go to the bus terminal to buy tickets to go to San Pedro de Atacama. There are some direct buses, but they don’t have enough space for the bikes. So we have to change in Antofagasta. We buy the bus ticket to go there, and once we arrive in Antofagasta we’ll see how to go to San Pedro.

We have lunch next to the Palacio de la Moneda (presidential palace).Then we visit several electronics shops in the Paseo Ahumada nearby. None of them sells a camera similar to what we have. Disappointed, we go back home, to look for more information.

In the evening, we go out with Pablo and Blandine, in the restaurant La Burguesía, to eat some gourmet hamburgers: with blue cheese, or avocado, or green paprika filled of cheese! It’s original and very good. Some friends of Pablo and Blandine join us for the dinner. We go home around midnight and fall asleep quickly.

Saturday 8 March

We leave early in the morning to go shopping! Let’s find a new camera to replace the Lumix FZ200. We go to the Costanera shopping mall: it’s a huge mall, in the West of the city (among the richest neighbourhoods). The mall occupies the first floors of the Costanera tower, the highest tower in Latin America, built by the richest man in Chile! After visiting several shops of electronics and cameras, we decide to buy the Sony Cybershot HX300: it has a zoom 50X, possibility of manual focus, and the lenses seem of good quality.

On the way back home, we buy food for lunch, for the bus, and for the next days on the way to Uyuni. Back home, we pack our things, eat lunch, and finally leave Pablo and Blandine’s house. It’s a pity to leave already, we had a very good time here with them, and also, we did not have time to visit much of Santiago. As we always say, it’ll be for our next trip to Chile.

We go to the bus terminal of Santiago. Our bus has had a problem, and so it comes one hour later than expected. We pay an extra of 10 000$ for the bikes, but there is no problem to load them on the bus, along with our many bags. We just turned the steering bar to make the bike flatter. We head North, on the same highway as we took to arrive to Santiago from Argentina! it brings us some souvenirs.

Sunday 9 March

We get up in the bus, speeding through the North of Chile. Around us, the landscape is quite like a desert. Some sandy and rocky hills, the colours are mostly yellow, reddish, brown. And also, sometimes, a sign of life, we see huge installations for the mining, or even a jail. We arrive in Antofagasta around 12h, much earlier than expected. We can take a bus half an hour later, for San Pedro de Atacama. Here too, we can take the bus without problems, just pay an extra of 7000$. It takes 5h to reach San Pedro.

We arrive in San Pedro, it’s like a town of a Western movie. Only small houses, square, with flat roof, white walls, surrounded by the desert. Far away, we see mountains all around. But none of them seems as high as the 5000m that we will reach in the next days! We ride a little in the city to find the agency of an astronomical observation, organised by a French living here. But in the end, it’s really expensive for our budget (18000$, i.e. 25€), and it’s impossible to get a discount, or even to sleep over there in a tent. So we prefer not to go. We look for a place to stay. San Pedro is full of hostels, shops for tourists, ! We’ll stay tonight in Hostelling International.

We go to have dinner with Sangin: he’s a Belgian cyclotourist living in San Pedro for the last half a year. After the restaurant, we go to make the stock of water: we buy 30 liters. I don’t know how we’ll put them on the bikes, but at least, we have enough water for a few days! Also, we change some money: as soon as we arrive in Bolivia, we’ll enter a natural park, where we have to pay, and there is no change office after San Pedro.

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And sorry, for this time, with all our problems of camera, we did not take any video… don’t worry, next entry will have a lot of them!