26 Apr From Mendoza to Santiago via the Andes, and onto Llanquihue and Valparaiso
We took a taxi from Chacres de Coria into the Mendoza bus station and then a 7-hour bus trip across the spectacular Andes. The border rigmarole between Argentina and Chile took about an hour but the bus itself was very comfortable and the scenery was once-in-a-lifetime stuff.
Coming down off the Andes was a series of 29 switchbacks in a steep descent. It might have been scary except that we were too busy trying to capture “the shot”.
We spent 2 nights in Santiago in a pretty basic AirBnB, the best feature of which was a stunning view over the city and mountains surrounding it. We both found Santiago to be pretty soulless and uninteresting and were pleased to move on, flying off to Puerto Montt. But we did have a wonderful sunset from our balcony in our ultra cheap digs.
Santiago was also filthy with pollution, to the extent that views from the top were masked by the stuff.
We had planned to catch the Navimag cruise from Puerto Montt, through the Chilean fiords, to Puerto Natales in the extreme south, but we discovered a week out that we wouldn’t be able to take the trip because they’d changed their sailing schedule for April, and so we had to rejig this portion of our trip, deciding to book an AirBnB property near Puerto Varas overlooking Lake Llanquihue and all the way to a stunning snow-capped volcano. We took way too many shots of the volcano but it was just amazing.
While in the area, because we’d hired a car, we were able to go to the nearby national park where we walked around some spectacular waterfalls and rainforest.
We did another day trip to the small town north of us, Frutillar which was incredibly pretty and had an amazing concert hall built out over the lake. The concerts at this beautiful building attract many thousands of people every year.
The day we said farewell to our very friendly hosts and their old dog, we set out on a circumnavigation of a lake area which would include a ferry crossing to ultimately end up in Puerto Montt where we needed to return the car and catch an overnight sleeper bus to Valparaiso. Indeed it was a wonderfully scenic trip, but we only got part way before we realised the road had deteriorated from tarmac to a potholed bone shaker. After about 15 kilometres on this we arrived at a stunning lakeside village, Cochamo. We were faced with almost 2 hours more on this shocking road, and although we had the time to do it, we were worried our rental car could be badly damaged or incur a punctured tyre (probably against the rental conditions in any case). It was definitely 4WD material, so we turned back and after 15 km retracing our route on the bad road, returned to bitumen to reach Puerto Montt where we returned the rental car (Google maps stuffed up — stress) and grabbed an Uber to take us to the bus station.
At the bus station we boarded our overnight bus (with proper sleeper seats) to Valparaiso, departing 8.15 pm and arriving about 10.45 am next morning, to be picked up by our next AirBnB host, the lovely Raul.
Valparaiso is world famous because of its hills, funiculars (acsensors), harbour, restaurants and seafood, and of course its street art. We were so lucky to land in an excellent AirBnB in Baron II with such a great host (Raul, just so friendly and helpful and a dab hand with Google Translate) and views across the bay from the balcony that words can’t do justice to.
Because we had more than a 180 degree view of this magnificent piece of Pacific Ocean, we got to see both sunset and sunrise.
Day 1 saw John take off alone (Christine had “hit a wall” and elected to stay in the apartment) and explore local buses and some scenery in order to build a plan for the next few days. Earthquakes are not unusual here, and therefore there is apparently a tsunami risk. Luckily there are 42 hills immediately within reach.
Day 2 was a rickety bus trip down the hill (mountain) and across the city to an ascensor that was known for the restaurants and street art at the top. We had an excellent lunch and enjoyed a leisurely stroll back down the hill, with lots of opportunities for photos. We dropped into a natural history museum and really enjoyed seeing the diversity of animal life because we’d been wondering if Chile had any.
Day 3 was a trip back into the old city centre and a ride up an elevator which was accessed through a walking tunnel through a mountain. There was a lift operator who was playing Janis Joplin and we all sang along to Me and Bobby McGee as we ascended.
Varaparaiso is such an interesting city, but definitely has problems that disadvantage the inhabitants greatly, including a street dog problem. It’s quite densely populated and as well as dogs that are obviously street dogs, you get the idea that there is nowhere for pet owners to put their dogs during the day but the street. We even saw a kennel on the actual footpath outside a house. They shit and urinate everywhere – every street and path is a minefield of poo, stained with old doings. They bark and howl 24/7, all roughly 30,000 of them! (Roughly 74 street dogs per square kilometre.)
This is a city with incredible old buildings, really stunning street art, situated on a massive sparkling harbour. The port is big, modern and very busy. It’s a major hub for the Chilean navy. And the views! It should be booming. However something is really amiss because there are not many tourists. Looking closer perhaps we can see why. Crime is apparently on the rise along with unemployment. Mindless graffiti is even more prevalent than the clever street art. Dog shit is everywhere but there is no will to do anything about the massive street dog problem because so many locals think they’re as important as the street art. This is a strangely romantic view of the mass of animals who are uncared for, underfed, ill or diseased, and often injured, and responsible for thousands of dog bites every year. I don’t know how locals can really look at these poor animals and think it’s in any way, shape or form a good thing.
What should be an incredible place to live and to visit because of the history, culture, architecture, and geography is instead a dirty, poor, fading metropolis. We loved it and despaired for it at the same time.