Reflections of Chilé

We were leaving Argentina heading to Chile when we last posted something and it feels like just the other day, counting the days it was 3 weeks and 2 countries ago!

I am sitting here on the veranda of our little beach shack in Costa Rica – this is our rest stop for 12 days after a rather busy but fun time in Chilé and Perú. We ended off the last blog not being sure what Chilé would hold for us. In a nutshell – we really loved Chilé! To not make this missive too long, I’m going to break this blog into 2 parts, Chilé first.

Where to begin, the bus ride was a good experience and after reading all sorts of negative reviews we had a pleasant trip (no crazy driving and overtaking as mentioned in so many reviews) with a quick border stop and sensible speed down the winding pass down the Andes on the Chilean side. Andesmar Bus Services were good again, the previous trip was overnight from Buenos Aires to Mendoza. Were we lucky compared to other reviewers or are we less precious or just used to crazy driving in South Africa? Who knows. In short we didn’t find the trip the nightmare we’d been told to expect.

Santiago was a great city with the bustle of a big metropolis without losing any of the South American and Spanish charm. We stayed in a relatively central area called Providencia in a Santiago was a great city with the bustle of a big metropolis without losing any of the South American and Spanish charm. We stayed in a relatively central area called Providencia in a self-catering apartment which really worked well & their service was amazing, Fransisco was very organised and able to answer all our questions and even gave us some tips for Santiago. The roof top pool was a bonus too. Santiago is easy to navigate, the Metro (underground) gets you pretty much anywhere you want to be, avoiding the slightly crazy traffic above you… driving in a single lane is optional, everyone straddles lanes and bobs and weaves in and out with lots of hooting and tooting! Like Cape Town it is very close to lots of wine regions and so a day exploring one of them was definitely on the agenda.

We hired a driver and off we headed about 1 hour out of Santiago to a wine region called Casablanca. What a way to kick off the day with a visit to Emiliana

Wine Estate. The tour was an education, very little about how they made the wine or the blending, the focus was on the viticulture and vineyards and the benefits of caring for them using biodynamic farming principles. Our guide, Wilson was so knowledgeable and above all, passionate. The highlight for Charlotte was meeting the resident Alpachas that are sent into the vineyards on occasion to eat weeds! The wine was good too, my favourite was the Adobe Reserva, Carmenere – a varietal similar to Cincault. Worth a visit if you are in the area.

A tour and lunch at Casas del Bosque was nice, it’s a highly recommend estate and lots of bling on their bottles and write ups for the restaurant. We were not blown away, we preferred the ambiance and wines of Emiliana but if you want to taste a wide range of wines, this is a good choice. Maybe as South African’s we are spoilt for choice when it comes to wine and restaurants on wines estates! We ended the day at Indomita estate for a wine tasting their wines plus a few others of the Casablanca valley. The flight of wines was interesting and again the Carmeneres and the Malbecs topped the list for me!

Although it started with some grumping from junior, we had a fabulous long walk from the apartment up to San Christóbal Hill and then down in the cable car and home again. It gave a perspective to see this HUGE city which is home to 5 million people spread out in a valley with the snow-capped Andes in the distance.

We toyed with the idea of Easter Island but after pricing it up, we gulped and looked for other places to see, the Atacama Desert looked interesting. Flights booked and a search for a place to stay and we were off for 3 nights to San Pedro de Atacama. We hired a car from EconoRent at Calama Airport and off to San Pedro De Atacama we drove. It’s about a 100km drive after a short while St. John was feeling comfortable driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, I was not brave enough to try driving. San Pedro de Atacama lies at 2400m so quite a change from the 500m we’d been at in Santiago. St. John and Charlotte felt slight effects of altitude sickness, tight chest and headaches but thankfully, not too badly. The next 2 days were great fun exploring the area from the surreal landscape of the Valley of the Moon (see the pic below left) , to the natural warm springs of Thermas Puritama (pic below right) and finally my favourite, the salt ponds at Languna Baltinache.

Valley of the Moon (Atacama Desert)

Early on the first morning we headed off to Thermas Puritana, a 1000m climb out of the San Pedro de Atacama valley. A queue of cars showed us we’d found the right spot. Hats off to the local tourism and nature authorities, they limit the number of people in the hot springs area at any given time preserving the very special place it is. We sat back, played a few rounds of rummy in the car to while the time away, and ½ hour later we were in the park. The guide books don’t mention the dusty walk down into the valley and for St.John and Charlotte feeling the effects of altitude sickness this was not much fun, luckily about 1/3 of the way down one of the caretakers came down in his truck and we got a ride the rest of the way down. A lazy morning siting on the pools and soaking up the health benefits of sulphur (not sure my costume has been the same after that!), a picnic lunch and it was time to head up the hill, no truck this time so it was slow going at an altitude of 3500m!

Languna Baltinache is a relatively newly discovered set of salt flats and pools and for some reason it’s like trying to find the map to Nirvana. Everyone has pictures of the place but no-one will tell you exactly how to get there. The tour guide companies obviously want you to go with them at a huge USD pricetag. St.John was not going to be beat, he followed all sorts of internet rabbit holes on TripAdvisor and some random blogs and found some vague directions on a road we’d seen on the way in to San Pedro de Atacama. So early one morning, off we set in our Nissan X-trail expecting hectic roads and desert driving…well the road was better than most South African rural roads and quite frankly and small car could have made it easily. (PS – I’m starting to read these reviews with LARGE doses of suspicion, or the hope that maybe the Bungeys are tougher than we think!!). I digress, what a fun morning. There are 7 pools but you can only swim in the first and the last one. Swim is exaggerating, like the Dead Sea, it’s so salty you float. We had a dip and a snack at the designated picnic area and then headed home to get the saltiness off us and hydrate at our hotel. I won’t talk too much about the hotel, it’s only redeeming feature was the pool.

Back to Santiago airport and a right turn to Viná Del Mar, a big town on the coast, basically it’s like Hermanus but with insane traffic and lots of hooting and not nice beaches! On the positive side, we stayed in a nice apartment that had a pool with a huge slide and as a plus a communal braai area, of course we had a braai one night!

On a more ‘real life’ side, the other added bonus was a laundry area – I have learnt not underestimate the pleasure of finding a washing machine and washing a pile of clothes that dry properly and actually smell like they’ve been washed. Handwashing is not my forte! The realities of living out of a suitcase with a limited wardrobe have become very apparent to me after about 6 weeks on the road.

We spent a morning exploring Valparaiso, a town nearby famed for its graffiti art and winding streets, quaint houses and lots of artists displaying their art in these houses as you wind you way up a hill, where you find more art shops and restaurants with great views. I’ve added some pictures of the amazing street art in the slide show. After that morning, I wonder if some places in South Africa should not be encouraging positive street art instead of fighting it. Allowing young people to express themselves in a way that adds character to an area that would otherwise be soulless in many instances. Being the Bungeys, food was of course high on the agenda. We had a fabulous lunch at a restaurant at the top of the hill in Valparaiso called, Pasta e Vino, delicious food, good wine and attentive service – who could complain!

We’d planned a bit of beach time in Viná del Mar after the Atacama desert but it really wasn’t what we expected and the beaches were not great in our, again very spoilt South African view, we have fabulous beaches in South Africa! Viná del Mar was a bit of disappointment but on the upside, we had chance to regroup and get organised for the next leg of our trip, Perú.

All in all, we really enjoyed Chilé, Santiago was a highlight for us, both St. John and I would definitely go back and explore the city and wine regions more and definitely head south to Patagonia.

Off to the land of llama’s and Incan ruins, Perú. Machu Picchu was one of my big bucket list items for this adventure so this was very exciting for me, and for Charlotte, she could finally find that llama to hug!

More about that in our next blog, for now. It’s time to sit back and take in the incredible sunset from our beach shack that we are calling home for now!