Kim's brilliant attempt to hide the eye-sores surrounding Santiago's most famous landmarkSo after 45 hours on a bus, we arrive in Pucon – the adventure capital of Chile! We are pretty beat and kinda starving, so we head to a burger place that is (surprise surprise) still open at 11:30pm at night!

After 45 hours, you can imagine how desperate we were for a shower. But low and behold, after running the water for 10 minutes, it’s still icy cold. And I mean ICY – far too cold to even contemplate showering in it! So we head to bed instead and as soon as the sun is up, we try again to find it nice and toasty :)

After doing some boring things like washing and organising, our very friendly host (at La Bicicleta Hostel) drives us and a French couple to Lagoo Caburguar with bikes so we can ride back into Pucon via a gravel, scenic route. So we spend the next 4 or so hours dodging huge boulders, weaving up and down hills along a very pretty river with many rapids.

puconWe stopped for lunch at a rapid that was easily accessible and I went off for a pee. Thinking the coast was clear, I do my thing and then head back to where the boys were sitting. They point out the man across the river who was fishing and I was ok with that, because he was a fair way from where I was and wouldn’t have seen me. Kim joked about the other guy further down who would have saw me, but we all laughed as he was just kidding. Until we looked closer and found one. Doh! Then a few minutes later and another one appears! Ninja fishermen everywhere!!

After lunch, we were back on the bikes where Kim and I constantly complained about our sore bums. We were pretty sure they were bruised through and through! But we made it back to town ok – but glad not to sit for a while!!! We then wandered through town to the lake front where there was a remote control sail boat competition happening. I was kind of shocked to learn that there were adults controlling the boats, not kids! And Kim and Ben were joking about B6, to which I laughed but had no idea what they were talking about. They explained to me it was a reference to battle ships (the game).

So for the rest of the afternoon, I was obsessed with the clouds that were permanently covering Mt Villarica, the volcano I climbed a few years back. It was pretty obvious that we were not going to be able to climb it. I think we were all secretly relieved given it’s one tough climb taking around 5 or 6 hours to get up.

So the next day, we checked out and had every intention of going to the hot springs. But given the trips were 6 hours in duration, we weren’t too keen and it was cutting it fine for our overnight bus to Santiago. So instead, we found a cozy cafe and had brunch and afternoon tea in there! It was so warm and toasty and we were having a good chat, so we just stayed there!!

After we felt we outstayed our welcome, we went for a walk down the street where a stray dog attached himself to us and followed us everywhere. We wandered by some markets where we found a nice small Domino set and an elephant figurine (don’t ask). We then headed back to the hostel where we waited until our bus was due to go.

After a few games of dominos and some calls home to Oz, we packed up again and headed to the bus station to wait for our bus. This time, we ordered PREMIUM seats and boy were they premium! These things were better than first class on a plane – they rocked! We lay completely flat and the conductor came along and put an extra mattress on top for you (Kim and I were extra glad because of our bruised bums from the day before) and then tucked you in with a pillow and blanket! Nice!!!

So we had a great night’s sleep and got to Santiago at about 7:30am (we think daylight savings started because the Metro opened early!). I was searching for internet to see if we had a bed for the night when I finally found one and confirmed. We dropped our stuff at a luggage store and headed into town for a walk around some of the sights. The boys laughed at me, calling me the surly tour guide as Santiago is not one of my favourite places in the world. I guess working in a place can do that to you!

santiago2We had to wait around while some places opened, but we saw the Biblioteca Nacional, climbed up Cerro Santa Lucia, continued to Parque Forestal and past Palacio de Bellas Artes before heading to Plaza de Armas, checking out the cathedral and Ex-Congreso Nacional and Tribunals de Justicia.

It was about here that I mentioned there was a TGI restaurant at Parque Araque shopping mall and the boys were definitely interested. So we headed there and spent some time shopping around for a camera to replace mine that was lost/stolen. I then convinced the guys to at least see some of Santiago, so we decided to hire a taxi driver for an hour to drive us around all the sights that a bus tour did. He did it for a fraction of the price and he was really sweet so we tipped him generously for taking us past a whole heap of things, including the Teatro Municipal, of which he asked the guards to let us in for a looksy! We had asked, but the guy had said no, but our taxi driver begged and got us in! And we were glad too, because the building was beautiful and the guy let us on stage and everything! It was pretty cool!

Lastly, we got our driver to take us to the finicular to go up to San Cristobal where the guys got to see exactly what was meant by the ‘smog issue’ in Santiago! Typically, the cable car was down for maintenance, so we had to rush to the finicular again to go down and get to our accommodation. We did get a chance to eat fairy floss and walk a tiny part of Bellvista beforehand though :)

So we raced to get to our apartment that we had reserved only to find we were going in the wrong direction and we were running late. It was now 8.10pm and I had to call the guy to find out which building as he didn’t give us an address. We finally get inside and the doorman has a phone call for us, where the guy tells me the room is getting cleaned and it won’t be too much longer. So we wait… and wait… and I go up and knock on the door, noone replies. So we wait some more until about 9pm and I ask the doorman if he knows any hostels in the area. He brings us the yellow pages, so we have a look and he shows us one nearby. So we head off, telling him we’ll be back if the hostel is really bad.

We can’t find the hostel (stupid Santiago street numbering), so we decide to go back to the bus station, check out somewhere to sleep at the internet cafe and take a cab to wherever we find. Given that by now it is 9.30pm.

We get there and ring a few places that are all full, so we give up and get a taxi driver to take us to the Crowne Plaza. It was Ben’s birthday in 2 days, so that’s how we justified it! After telling the taxi driver it’s been a long day, I start begging with the concierge for a good deal on the room. He reduces the rate by US$5, and given we are so tired, I took it. In the end, it wasn’t TOO bad – US$50 each per night – the same rates as Europe I guess!

So we finally get up to our room and it’s the luxurious delight we had hoped it to be! We chill out and order room service (where I accidentally tipped 20,000 pesos or US$35. Luckily we got a phone call to confirm it!! :)

Given I had already been to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, I had told the boys that I wanted a day off the next day, but that they really should go, because it’s great. So I headed off to bed while Ben researched away on the web. Next morning, I woke up early and got the boys up at 8am because they had to get going. Only to discover that they had a case of the lazies and had decided not to go!

I was eager to hit the gym, so Kim and I went for over an hour (it was awesome). The boys played table tennis then headed to the shopping mall while I caught up on emails, business stuff, travel insurance and international phone calls to banks and airlines. It was such a relief to get all that stuff off my mind!

Given it was Ben’s birthday the next day (and we were leaving for Calama at 3.30am), he got to decide where we had dinner and TGI’s it was :) We had a late night – staying up to say happy birthday to Ben at midnight and giving him a shockingly pathetic birthday card on the back of a Crowne Plaza coaster type thing.

We were at the airport within 20 minutes (thanks to an awesome taxi driver who we went with after ditching the hotel guy who didn’t even seem interested who also charged twice the price) only to have LAN move us from queue to queue and wait for 30 minutes before they would open the check in desks. Nice birthday present for Ben :) But we did all get some sleep on the flight to Calama! And watching the sun rise over the Atacama desert was pretty awesome.

It wasn’t until we stepped off the plane that I remembered how COLD the desert gets at night/in the morning! We got our bags, rugged up and found a taxi to take us to the bus terminal to get to San Pedro. Silly me forgot to negotiate the price before we got in, so we ended up paying far too much for the trip! Once there, a bus was departing in 20 minutes, so we bought tickets and off we went.

san_pedro2When we got to San Pedro, we realised that we didn’t have the address for our hostel, just the name. And low and behold, noone had heard of the place! We eventually found a lovely German man who sourced out the address and gave us directions. So off we go with our packs, walking for about 15 minutes when we realise we are clearly not in the right area. So we ditch the bags and I get nominated (for my pathetic but get-by-able Spanish) to go back to the last hostel we saw and ask for directions. The boys start playing bocci with rocks and entertaining themselves while I finally found someone who knows where the place is. I returned to the boys with softdrinks (it was getting pretty hot by this point) and after another rest and a lot of laughing (we were pretty tired), we set off again.

We were just about to walk down a long barren road, when I glanced back up another street. Ching ching! Bingo! We found the place! And Silvia (the owner of Hostal Solor) was so lovely! She let us into our rooms early and was simply delightful. We had a few drinks, checked some emails and then headed into town for some lunch. Ben’s choice, as it was his birthday (and we all seem to be having 2 day birthdays this year), we find a cruisy little place with a courtyard that served strawberry juice. Sorted! We kicked back while we contemplated just how lucky we were to be living this kind of life!

san_pedro3We spent the rest of the day wandering around town and checking out the iconic church, before heading back to the hostel for a nap. We got up after dark and wandered back into town for some dinner before calling it a night.

Next day we were up early for breakfast and then started our mission to find a tour to Uyuni. We went straight to the tourist information office that keeps a book of travellers reviews of the tours. This book is extremely handy and we narrowed down our choice to two. But it seems these tours are all hit and miss with it all depending on the driver. There were horror stories about accidents and drunk drivers. We went to Cordillia, who seemed quite robotic and impersonal. Next stop was Estrella del Sur, who were a completely different kettle of fish (and who I also went with last time, 3 years ago). The guy was really friendly (calling Kim and Ben my body guards) and quite excitable. So we decided to go with them!

san_pedroLast thing for the day was a tour of the Valley de la Luna (or Moon Valley). we jump on the bus and get taken to a lookout point, then through a valley (that we got sandblasted walking down) while we watched some sandboarders at work. Next stop was the national park, where we went to a few places before stopping at some sand dunes to watch the sunset. There were a couple who parked their butts directly in the spot that every single tourist wanted a shot. Not happy Jan. We didn’t get any information as it was all in Spanish, but we were happy enough with the sights!

Next day we set off for Uyuni!

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