Chile & Argentina Vacation

From Santiago to the Bottom of the World - 1995.

Santiago, Chile: From Miami to Santiago it took Ladeco airline a bit over 7 hours. While Miami was warm, the Santiago airport was darnright chilly this late October morning. Tour Express, a bus line, took me to near the City Center for 800 Pesos, which I got by exchanging a 20 Dollar bill (Travelers Checks bring less). The hotel I found cost me $42, which was not cheap, but I could get settled in.

From the Hotel Metropoli I could walk to the City Center and then to Cerro Santa Lucia. This is a small mountain in the middle of Santiago. It is the point where Valdivia in 1541 founded the City. Many steps lead to the top of that mountain through well- maintained plantings. There is a beautiful view from the top. Another mountain I went to was Mount San Cristobal which I reached by taking the funicular which states that Pope John Paul II used it in April 1987 to bless South America. There is a large statue of the Virgin Mary on top, and the view over Santiago and towards the high Andes Mountains is fantastic.

Santiago has beautiful and well-frequented shopping malls. Several streets are closed to traffic and full of people, days and evenings. Parks are beautiful with palms, trees, flowers, statues and benches to sit on. I was very pleased to see so many people on the streets. This is very different from the United States, where people are afraid to go out because of crime. At night many of the large, imposing palaces, cathedrals and churches are beautifully illuminated. The TV tower was illuminated with blue, pink, purple and white lights. Really pretty.

Bus trip South to Puerto Montt.
My e-mail friend, Ignacio, helped me find the bus station of Los Heroes. I bought a ticket to Puerto Montt and left in the evening. It was a 14 hour trip. The passengers received coffee and sandwiches. Most of the trip was at night, so there was nothing to see, nor do I know exactly which towns we went through. By morning we were in the "Lakes Region". On my left were the Andes and several snow-covered volcanos like Volcano Osorno. In Puerto Varas we passed a beautiful lake. There were pastures with cattle and sheep, small orchards in backyards. There also were a lot of spiny gorse (Ulex) with beautiful yellow flowers. These are weedy bushes that were imported from France and are taking over.

In Puerto Montt I first located the Tourist Bureau where I got a city plan and leads for a hotel. I ended up with a single room with bath and TV for which I paid 8000 Pesos. Now I could walk along the bay which goes into the Pacific. This was early spring. There were some flowers planted along the beach promenade, but they were not far along. It was rather cool. Volcano Osorno seemed to guard the city.

Next day I took a bus to the Island of Chiloe. A ferry took us across the Canal de Chacao.

Despite a very cold wind, many passengers went outside to enjoy the scenery and see seals following the ferry. Ancud was the little town where we got off the bus. As usual there was a nice central park with rhododendron and other shrubs in bloom. I also saw apple blossom near by. Down near the water were other statues, including one to O'Higgins who is the great liberator of Chile (around 1817). There were fishermen unloading their catches.

Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas:
Punta Arenas is at the bottom of South America. There is no way through Chile to get there by land, so I was surprised that in the bus terminal was a bus to Punta Arenas. I asked and found out it costs 20000 Pesos and takes 33 hours. After changing a travelers check, I bought a ticket. Departure was early in the morning. First the bus went North to Osorno. Then it turned East through orchards of apples, raspberries and green cow pastures. Lago Puyehue was beautiful and reminded me of some Swiss lakes. We arrived a Paso Cardenal Samone where we left Chile and had to clear Argentina's customs. This was right in the Andes Mountains. The dirt road went through forests, snow-peaked mountains, and I took nice photos. There was no snow on the road itself, so we had no problem.

In Argentina we first went through the town Bariloche on a beautiful lake. The bus stopped somewhere for us to buy supper. Later night came. In the morning we were in Patagonia in the pampas. For miles and miles were only small shrubs (similar to Utah and Idaho). A couple of times I saw a few guanacos and rheas (ostrich-like large birds). Fences along the road went on and on. There were some cows but there were more sheep.

It really took a long time till we crossed into Chile again. We followed the Magellan Straits, and after a couple more hours arrived in Punta Arenas. Was it ever cold and windy down there! From the Tourist Bureau I got the direction to the backpackers hostel. It was nice and primitive there, but I met some very nice young people from all over the world. I found a bunk with pillow and covers. But I "stole" four more blankets from unused cots, and was still very cold at night.

A Scotsman and I decided to go across the Magellan Straits to Tierra del Fuego, at the Bottom of the World. First we took the Colectivo which is like a taxi but cheaper (200 P) and takes on several passengers, to the Ferry terminal. Here we waited in icy cold wind till the ferry loaded up and was ready to depart. It took over 2 hours for the crossing, and we could watch one video film.

In Porvenir on Tierra del Fuego we took the bus into town. The Scotchman and I walked around a bit and ended in a fancy but nearly empty hotel-restaurant. I had a good fish with French fries, but no salad (expensive down there) and paid for a bottle of good Chilean wine. After this we decided to walk to the ferry but took the wrong road. In very, very strong wind we walked and walked. There were a bunch of sheep grazing, but no trees. After 4 or 5 km we decided we must be wrong and had better return to Porvenir lest we miss the 4:30 pm ferry. Now the wind was at our backs and really pushed us. We got to town OK, but I had to take a taxi (1500 P) so not to miss the ferry. It took 2 1/2 hour in choppy seas to make it back to Punta Arenas.

The next day I took a tour through Fuerto Bulnes, about 60 km South. It was a reconstructed fort that reminded us visitors of John Wayne and US Western stockades. The view of the Magellan Straits, its many side arms and the snow-mountains was gorgeous. We saw a couple of geese, interesting shrubs (Pernetia) and trees (Nothofagus) .

The same day I decided to take the bus North to Puerto Natales. Here I stayed in another hostel for 3500 P with break- fast. There were guys from New Zealand, Australia and Germany. In the morning I got on the boat "21st of May" to tour the Fjord of Last Hope. That too was fantastic. We saw cormorants, condors, glaciers and lots of mountains. At one of the glaciers (Serrano) the tourists went out for a tour. I went out, too, took a picture, and went back into the little boat because it was icy cold and windy. I only had my business suit and a light sweater underneath. All others were much better clad. We also saw the "Torres del Paine" which are real sensational peaks and could be seen more closely on another tour.

From Santiago to San Felipe and Valparaiso:
Besides being long (40 hours plus) the bus-ride from Punta Arenas North to Santiago was uneventful. I saw the same pampas and Andes pass again. Since it was still early when I got to Santiago, I decided to take a bus north to San Felipe. We reached it in about 2 hours. Here it was a lot hotter than what I experienced before. There were citrus, avocado and other tropical trees visible from the bus. There also were some flower nurseries. The river Aconcagua, coming from the highest peak in South America, was at the edge of town. Some kids were swimming in the brown and fast-running stream. I only stayed one night up there, and got on the bus to Valparaiso. I was lightly clad and was surprised that the locals walked around wearing sweaters in the morning.

In Valparaiso I enjoyed watching ships unloading and loading hundreds of large shipping containers.

It's a nice city, again with lots of parks and statues. There are several ascensores (funiculars) that take you up the hill. The view of the Pacific, the harbor and city center was beautiful. Actually the national assembly has a very large modern building that was right next to my hotel (Mi Casa).

Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, then Mendoza:
In Valparaiso I found the Ladeco office and made a reservation to fly from Santiago to Mendoza. To my pleasant surprise I was told a Ladeco bus takes passengers for free from Vina del Mar to the Santiago airport. A local bus took me to the Municipal Theater in Vina del Mar, past a beautiful flower clock. Again I saw a nice park. There was not enough time to see the rest of this resort city on the Pacific, let alone to try swimming. At any rate, I was told that the water is rather cold.

To fly to Mendoza, Argentina, I was told to pay $8.50 departure tax in Santiago. The flight lasted only about 40 minutes. The view of the Andes just below us was spectacular.

At the tourist office at the airport I got San Remo hotel (23 $). First I changed 20 $ to 19:80 Pesos Argentinas (I think I might have been able to pay with US $ which are valued equal to Argentinas Pesos). While doing this, I missed the bus. A taxi- driver wanted 8 $ to take me to the San Remo Hotel. He refused my 5 $ offer, but later came around and drove me to town. For me the hotel room was quite satisfactory, it had a bathroom and a TV. There were many channels and mostly North American films. From Mendoza I could take 2 interesting tours. The first one was to several wineries. There were lots of large vineyards and also olive groves near Mendoza. One winery was particularly huge. The largest cask contains enough wine to last one person 14000 years! Many other statistics I could not retain in my head. Yes there was wine degustation. Some wine were made in 1995. Grapes are harvested in February, and it was now November 10 (In Europe and North America, October is the time grapes are picked). Later in the evening in town I treated myself to an Argentina steak with French fries and Russian salad plus red wine.

After this I walked to the Independence Park. There is a large fountain where jets are playing. At night it is beautifully illuminated. During the day, of course, there are large, beautiful trees and shrubs to admire. To me it was interesting to see plants from the tropics growing right next to those originating in temperate zones. For instance, I saw Platanus, (sycamores), European oak (Quercus robur) growing right next to large date palms and the native Araucaria (monkey puzzle tree). There also were azaleas, rhododendrons, roses etc. Most of them were in full bloom, this being Spring.

Next day I took the bus to San Rafael, which is 3 or so hours South. I arrived early in the morning, lightly clad and again saw the locals with sweaters. To keep from catching cold, I walked fast! At a supermarket I bought some munchies for my lunch on a bench. All stores were shut closed after 12 noon this Saturday.

Back in Mendoza I checked out a sports store about skiing. I was told that September would be a better time. Mendoza has beautiful trees on every street. It is highly illegal to cut one down! There are lots of buses and a trolley which cost around 60 cents. Next morning I took one of them to the airport and waited in a rather drizzly day. After a few hours we were told that the flight was cancelled due to bad weather. I still had 1 peso and paid 60 cents for a bus back into town. Next morning the weather was gorgeous. The view of the Andes was fantastic, and my pictures turned out good.

Before leaving Chile, I had time to take another bus-ride. This time South to Concepcion. The bus left at 11:30 pm, took 7 hours, and to return I had to leave at 11:20 pm from Concepcion on the same day. All the driving was at night, so I saw nothing of the country side. But I also saved 2 nights' hotel bill! With local buses I went to see the Pacific Coast at Talcahuano. There were a lot of ships there, but perhaps with less activity than I saw in Valparaiso. At the tourist office I was also directed to Lota, about an hour South. There I visited a beautiful park (500 P entrance), saw rhododendrons, Araucaria, roses, large cypress and other plants that interested me as a botanist. The view of the Pacific was also terrific.

Back in Santiago I checked into Hotel di Maurier for 23 $. It was close to Bus Tour Express which later was to take me to the Santiago airport for 800 P. Till then I had time to walk around some more in the Santiago Center. I also went out at night to enjoy the lightened buildings. On several days I had beer and French fries plus an ice cream cone in the City Center. Haiti coffee was supposed to be a treat. One half day I spent with Ignacio, an engineering student and an Internet-friend of mine. With his machine at the University of Chile, I was able to telnet and write to my friends outside Chile. However it took several minutes before my messages were sent because of the distance of my home telnet and Chile.

On November 17 I was at the airport for departure. My Courier contact brought me my ticket to Miami. Also I had to pay a departure tax of 18 $ (US) which I was able to pay with my 20 $ travelers check.

The flight home was at night, so there is nothing more to say. This was a most successful trip, and I am ready to go back!

PS: Some adivice for others: 1. Change only small amounts at airports. They prey on tourists! Cash may be better than travelers checks in some countries. Make the other changes at Money Exchangers (better than banks or hotels) in the city.

2. Check with official Tourist Offices at airports or city centers. You get city maps, information on hotels etc.

3. Take the bus into town and also in town. Some places have colectivos that advertsie the price on the windshield. Taxis are OK in emergencies. Buses are good for long distances, too. Trains may be more comfortable but don't go to as many places. Buy before all places are gone!

4. Hostels and backpackers places are cheap, and you meet many very interesting people from many parts of the world.

5. For emergencies use MasterCard or Visa.

6. Save 20 bucks or so for the exit fee.

Exchange rates: 400 Chilean Pesos per U.S. $ (varied 390-410) 1 Argentine Peso per US $

All materials here are copyright Julius L. Heinis (c) 1995

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