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Graham Williams & Louise Jones Travel Blog This is our journal logging our trip through Central and Latin America from July 2005 to the present date. We update it and add new pictures every two to three weeks. At the moment Will is travelling in South Africa, while Lou is living in Buenos Aires.For more background reading on our travels go to - http://journals.worldnomads.com/will/

Over the Andes to Chile

CHILE | Sunday, 17 September 2006 | Views [2006]

Looking towards the pass ahead.

Looking towards the pass ahead.

This week we crossed the Andes twice, going from Mendoza in Argentina to Santiago in Chile and back again. The snow covered mountains dominate the views in both cites and the route between them is one of the most spectacular in the world. The road climbs up from the Mendoza plain, up a river valley with a great view of the highest mountain in South America - Aconcagua, until it confronts a rock face through which a 3.2km tunnel, ‘Christ the Redeemer’ has been cut. The road then emerges on the Chilean side and Chilean customs which are very thorough, as the Chileans are very paranoid about any food, particularly fruit being bought into the country. This is all done in a very chilly (sic) shed at 2,800 meters surrounded by snow drifts and ski lifts. The road then drops straight down a hillside, the bus tackling 40 bends with no crash barriers before following a river to the central valley of Chile. A railway line follows the same route, much of it now covered with snow and rock. A few weeks ago the two governments agreed to reopen it to aid trade. When its working it will be one of the worlds great train rides.

We went to Chile with an open mind, this is one of the richest countries in South America with a growing GDP based on copper sales and of course it’s wines and apples. The reality was something of a surprise; it’s certainly one of the most Americanized countries with a large disparity between rich and poor, huge mansions out in the countryside but lots of beggars on the city streets. The quality of life was also lower than we expected considering how expensive it is, the food is particularly dreadful; Santiago is the fast food capital of the world as well as being in the top ten for graffiti. The cold and murky weather didn’t make it look much better. Many people are in a sort of time warp, the Salvador Allende 70’s intellectual look is still very popular for young men, long hair, wispy beards and thick glasses; while Punks and Goths are commonly seen.

We did a day trip to the Pacific coast and the city of Vilparaiso. This is port city where the docks are right in the centre of the town, while the land rises steeply up around them. Many of the houses on the surrounding hills are brightly painted giving the place a cheerful, seaside feel. In the last century several funicular railways were built on the hillsides to transport people up and down and some are still functioning although few people apart from tourists travel on them. They are now very rickety and the cars and buildings are made from wood, Health and Safety haven’t been around recently. The short rides are great fun and the views across the town and port are wonderful.

We chose a bad time to go to Chile as the forthcoming weekend was the National Day holiday, four days off and all the buses to anywhere booked up. Given the topography of the country where you can only go up or down this meant we were stuck in Santiago, an expensive and unpleasing prospect. So we decided to head back to the comforts of Mendoza. On the return trip the weather was bright and clear, a very memorable journey.

We are now back in Mendoza, where we have been followed by hoards of Chileans on holiday who are filling empty suitcases with cheap clothes. As it’s such a lovely town we staying here for a few more days before heading back to Buenos Aires. Spring has arrived and the weather is wonderful, ideal for sitting outside and drinking coffee. Real coffee - not Nescafe which is what they serve up in Chile, say no more!

Written by Will

Tags: On the Road

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