Posted by: glenswatman | December 1, 2009

20091120-30 CHILE

Oscar sees us off in a shared taxi to the bus station, CS$500 (65p)
pp.  The bus station appears to have a
resident population of dogs, we see over 20 hanging out there.  Stray dogs do seem to be a big problem in
Chile but at least they seem placid.  Our
bus arrives a little late but is a very comfortable 2-storey one.  We have the panoramic seats at the front but
the view is obscured by the “Elqui Bus” sign across the window directly in
front of us.  Heading out into the desert
the scenery is very similar all the way to Antofagasta.  This is a large industrial city but our first
view of the Chilean coast.  Onwards the
scenery gradually changes from sandy desert to stony then dirt and finally nice
granite rocks.  There are many shrines
along the way, often very large ones dedicated to saints.  Just outside Caldera we are stopped for a
drug inspection.  A dog comes on board
and sniffs our bags then also the luggage compartment.  We comment on what amazing obedient and well
trained dogs they are.  A few minutes
later we see him running off into the bush with the handler having a hard time getting
him to come back to the amusement of everyone on the bus.  In Caldera our Couchsurfing host lives just a
block from the bus station and we are soon in Andres home.  He speaks very good English and works with
the schools setting up libraries.  His
home is directly behind the fishing beach and we have a separate room with 2
sofas and mattresses to sleep on so will be very comfy.  His girlfriend Priscilla returns from doing a
big shop in the city of Copiapo, about 1-hour away.  She speaks no English but understands
some.  We pop out to pick up some drinks
and get a quick orientation walk of the small town.  It is after 10pm by the time we eat and midnight
before bed but Andres & Priscilla are then in full flow and head off to
party leaving us to retire. 



Andres has suggested we go out and buy fresh fish.  We lie in until 9am but they don’t get up
until after 11am having had a good night on the town.  Of course by the time we get to the port
there is no fish to be bought directly from the fishermen.  However there is a fish market nearby.  We begin with Steve & Andres taking
scallops, CP$200 (25p) each and sold ready prepared and with lemon.  Next we have cups of cerviche, 2 for CP£1500
(1.90) and I really enjoy mine which is sea bass whilst Steve has one with
mixed shell fish.  Finally Andres selects
a large fish which we pay CH$2000 (£2.50) for. 
Finally compared to San Pedro we have found something that is reasonably
priced in Chile.  Andres shows us a
little more of town including what was an impressive railway station built by
the British, apparently we built many of the railway lines here for getting the
minerals to the ports.   There is a newly
set up town beach which is hardly used and lots of nice quiet streets to wander
– we like it.  Back home we drop off Steve
to sit on the balcony reading then pick up Priscilla for a walk to the big supermarket
“Unimarc”.  Here we buy more supplies for
our picnic.  Taking a colectivo we head
around the bay to a place where Andres knows we can buy fresh scallops and also
do a BBQ.  It is a strange spot out on a
headland by a seemingly abandoned house and restaurant.  The scallops are still CP$200 (25p) each but
they are pulled out of the net when we order them and so fresh that one snaps
at Steve’s finger.  In addition the owner
throws in free a chunk of “piura” a sort of red spiky looking blob with lots of
cells containing seafood.  Locals know of
this place and arrive here with their knives, lemon and beer and stand at the
overturned cable holder s that are used as tables.  Today we have been the only customers so when
the seller needs to pop out she leaves Andres in charge.  Minutes after she has left the cars roll
up.  3 car loads arrive and Andres and
Priscilla eventually sell out.  The owner
is very pleased and now that business has picked up she pulls in another net
and the people continue to flood in – seems like everything happens late
here.  The closed up restaurant has a
nice patio with the remains of a few cinema seats, sofas on the beach and a
BBQ.  Here we cook the fish and a huge
piece of meat.  The preparation and
cooking is all done at a leisurely pace and it is after 8pm when we are
finished.  Watch a movie in the evening.



The others don’t get up until 1pm so we spend the morning doing
onward travel research.  Priscilla and I
go to the shop, I think for things for a picnic on the beach but once we get
back they begin cooking hamburgers to take with us and that is not what we
bought!  Take a taxi over to Bahia de Inglesa,
CP$800 (£1) pp.  This is a really
beautiful bay with the main area interspaced with rocks then a long empty beach
running down the side of the bay.  The
water if pretty chilly but many people do brave it.  Of course by the time we get there it is
almost 4pm so it is not long before it gets windy and too cool to stay.  Once we get back Priscilla goes straight to
bed with a sore throat.  Late in the
evening Andres cooks us all pancakes spread with something they call “El
Manjar” a kind of toffee version of thick condensed milk.  Yummy but oh so sweet.



Andres goes out to work around 10am but Priscilla is off work sick
following a car accident.   Here the
weather seems to always be cool and cloudy in the morning with the sun finally
breaking through at about 2pm then you have about 3 hours of hot sun before the
wind gets the better of it.  Not much
point in heading down to the beach early. 
Andres brings in lunch, a typical dish of beans, pumpkin and spaghetti
and it is made by the local church people each Monday.  Mid afternoon we check out our onward bus
options then head to the town beach.  It
is really quiet with just half a dozen people there.  The water is not as nice as Bahia de Inglesia
but as it is too cold to go in it makes no difference to us.  In the evening I cook up a variation of
chilli pasta which we all enjoy.  Follow
this up with an evening of doing logic problems, playing the coin game spoof
and telling jokes and funny stories.



For the first time Andres and Priscilla are up before
us.  She is going to Copiapo to see a
Doctor.  I head out to book our tickets
to La Serena tomorrow with Tur Bus, CP$8,000 (£10) pp.  Calling in at the supermarket I pick up
groceries then return to make a shepherd’s pie. 
We spend the afternoon on the beach directly in front of the house.  Part way through we get a helicopter flying
past.  It is a military one and they
begin practicing landings at the beach, the only problem is that it causes a
lot of dust and sand to fly around. 
Andres and Priscilla arrive back just after us and are really hungry so
I cook the shepherd’s pie immediately and they really enjoy it. 



Andres and Priscilla get up to see us off.  Our Tur Bus arrives a little later than 8.10am.  It is a single deck bus but with plenty of
leg room and reclining seats.  As a bonus
each pair of seats have a separate control for the speaker directly above.  One movie is in English with Spanish
subtitles but stops half way through at a bus station never to be
continued.  The landscape is much the
same for most of the journey with just barren desert.  La Serena is a large modern city and quite a
culture shock.  Couchsurfing host Antonieta
meets us at the bus station.  She speaks
excellent English, having lived in the States and being married to an American
first time around.  Having taken the
afternoon off work she takes us home to drop our bags and have some lunch.  She has mentioned that we are having a
special vegetarian meal tonight and we ask if they are all vegetarians.  Apparently not but she read our profile, saw
we were naturists and translated into Spanish this means people who only eat
natural and healthy food.  The vegetarian
dish is a concession to us!  We explain
the real meaning and have a good laugh about it.  Next we go on an orientation tour.  La Serena joins Coquimbo in a large bay with
a long sandy beach.  This is the main
holiday resort for people from Santiago and the 14km promenade is backed by
many high rise holiday apartment blocks. 
It is a glorious hot sunny day with blue skies but she tells us that
normally it is cloudy here.  Walking the
streets of the town centre we soon get our bearings with churches on each of
the main corner squares.  Returning home
we pick up her 9-year old daughter Tonita. 
She is having a birthday party this weekend and wants to shop for party
things.   Back home we meet her son Michael who has been
out playing rugby then husband Julio. 
They all make us welcome and we soon feel part of the family.  Their cat had kittens a week ago and the 4
babies are absolutely gorgeous.  Over
supper we chat more.  Julio comes from
Coquimbo and wants to take us on an evening tour.  The city is most unusual as one of the mayors
was a big traveller and tried to show people things from abroad.  He had a mosque built by Moroccans, a huge
cross on the hill like in Rio and an area of the town known as Little
Britain.  The promenade is backed by palm
trees a bit like in Nice.  Unfortunately
he died before completing his plans. 
Steve is also impressed by the World Cup football stadium on the
hill.  Unfortunately Antonieta is away on
business from tomorrow so when we get back to their home we have to say
Goodbye.  She has arranged for us to stay
in the house with Nanny Maria and for a taxi to take us down to La Serena at
lunchtime.  Shame we could not have spent
longer with them as they are great people.



Maria prepares us breakfast and it feel like we are in a
hotel.  The taxi arrives Just after 11am,
CP4, 000 (£5) for the comparatively short journey down to the beach.  Our Couchsurfing host Leo lives in an
apartment just behind the beach.  His
English is about on a par with my Spanish but we all want to understand and
make out that he is in the middle of a 5-year university course to become a
Doctor.  He has a class at 1.30pm so we
agree to meet later in town.  Walking
along the seafront promenade we realise how deceptive the distance is.  At least we manage to find a nice place to
stay tomorrow night.  Up a side street
are some cabins with a double en-suite at CP$15,000 (£19).  We still have a very long walk to get up to
the centre of town.  At least much of the
avenue is lined with interesting statues. 
We don’t spend long in the free archaeological museum as it is all
similar to what we have seen before. 
After meeting up with Leo we check out our options for a bus to San Juan
in Argentina and find out it is just a local man who puts on the service as a
block booking by locals so not for us. 
We have been walking for well over 2-hours so take a bus back to Leo’s
although it is quite a walk to the bus and then from the stop to his home.  It seems that in La Serena you have to decide
whether you want to be at the beach or near the town as they are very far apart
with no buses connecting them.  Not a
difficult choice for us though.  Leo is
keen to chat and shows us pictures of his family holiday in Buenos Aires.  At 6.30pm he goes out for another class.  He returns with a friend from college who
also wants to practice his English.



When we get up Leo has left for uni so we are surprised to find the
breakfast table laid for us.  We head off
to our next lodgings and part way along the promenade spot a German motorhome.  I recognise it as the one we saw last December
in Mexico so we knock on the door.  It is
the same one but we didn’t get chance to meet the owner before.  Dagmar suggests we call back to see them in
the evening.  Arrive at our cabin and
within minute Steve is checking out the sports channels on TV.  At lunch time we get a snack at the café near
the lighthouse then spend the afternoon reading by the paddling pool.  Out of the wind it is really hot and at one
stage I sit on the edge of the pool with my feet in the water.  In the evening we walk up to the motorhome
where Dieter and Dagmar suggest we go out for a meal so settle on Mama Mia
pizza nearby.  We hear all about their
epic 8-year motorhome journey, initially across northern Europe to China then
down to Malaysia to ship to Australia. 
From there they shipped to America and spent 1 year in Alaska.  Since then they have made their way down to
South America.  After changing the truck
a couple of years ago they have had little problems but we still feel that with
our lack of mechanical knowledge it would be a different story for us.


CP$15,000 (£18.50)


With a quiet room and dark curtains we don’t wake until
almost 9am.  Mornings are cool and chilly
here so we fester in bed watching TV until 1pm when I make a break.  Steve is impossible to shift until after 4pm
when the football has finished, meanwhile I sit by the pool reading.  Steve wants to stay another day to watch
football tomorrow so we need some food. 
It is an hour to walk to the Mall where we first visit the bus station
to research onward travel.  There are
many companies offering buses to Santiago with fierce competition on prices, so
much so that once company reduce theirs from CP12, 000 to CP$7000 when they see
we have had a lower quote.   Within the supermarket is a stand selling ice
cream cones and I am tempted until I realise they have the system where you
queue once to pay and get a ticket then again for the goods.  Walking back towards the beach we are enticed
into a café with a 3 course menu for CP$1,600. 
In true Chilean form the bill is wrong; they charge CP$2600 for the set
menu saying the lower price is for students. 
There is nothing on the board to say this and she could clearly see we
were not students when she told us the price so Steve protests and just leaves
the amount we were told.  Many times here
the bill is higher than it should be and it sure gets frustrating.  The other thing that happens is if you don’t ask
the price of something it turns out to be very expensive.   Back
in our cosy cabin we watch movies until late at night.



Can’t believe it when I wake up and see it is almost 10am, just in
time for Steve t o watch the Liverpool v Everton match.  Unusually there is no afternoon wind so we
join hoards of others to spend a couple of hours on the beach.



Typical that the day we have made arrangements to move on we wake to
clear skies and no wind.  Antonio and
Cecilia who own the cabins are really nice people and Antonio has offered to
take us to the bus station.  We book on
the Norte bus to Santiago, CP7, 000 (£9) leaving at 12.15pm.  Our journey takes us past many beautiful
beaches that invite exploration.  Before
Santiago we stop behind a bus that has broken down to take their passengers on
board.  Shortly after we pass an accident
with a bus that is a real mess, reckon we got the right bus this time.  Santiago is the capital of Chile and appears
to be a very modern city.  The bus station
is huge and leads into a big Mall.  It is
about 15 minute walk to our Couchsurfing host. 
Juan Carlos and Gabriel share a flat close to the city and at the moment
Juan Carlos’s niece and friend are visiting so tonight we have to share a
single bed.  They make us very welcome
and even though Juan Carlos speaks no English we overcome the language barrier.



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