Sunday, March 11, 2007

5th - 11th March (Travelling south by bus)

So you lot thing this is all just a big relaxing holiday? Well, I´ll have you know that it is very stressful, hard work. There are two reasons for this; 1. things are done differently and it is not always obvious how things are done, 2. not knowing the language too well obviously makes things difficult, this exacerbates the first problem! Some examples: 1. The nightclub where you have to go to one booth to pay for the drink of your choice, collect a ticket and then go over to the bar to collect said drink. 2. The department store where I went to a counter to look at a watch and decided I would take it, not so fast! The woman kept hold of the watch and gestured to a counter where I went to pay the 10,500 pesos, I was given a slip of paper which I was about to take back to the first counter, too easy! The woman gestured me towards another counter where I handed over my slip of paper as the first woman arrived with my watch. 3. The restaurant where I wandered in and wondered do I order at this little booth or is that just for paying at the end? I decided on the latter so sat at a table (should I have waited to be seated?) and waited for someone to bring me a menu. I waited a while before walking out never knowing if I should have just ordered from the woman in the booth. 4. I am currently trying to organise a bus south to Coyhaique, this involves a 30 minute minibus followed by a 21.5 hour journey (bad enough!) but it is quite difficult to organise the second journey as I have to deal with the bus station that is 30 minutes away. In Oz/NZ you can do these things on the net, I´m not sure if you can do that here but the websites are only in Spanish. My phone call over a bad skype connection went nowhere so I ended up taking an hour round trip just to book my ticket. So now do you appreciate that soon after I return to blighty I am going to need a relaxing holiday?!!

Anyway, my bus from Santiago left at 23.00. There are several standards of bus and several different companies (especially in Santiago), I went for the 'Jet Sur' salon cama which was cheaper by far than the bigger companies but provided total luxury in a fully reclining seat with leg rest (like a lay-ze-boy), pillow and blanket for 12,000 pesos. I arrived in Pucon at 08.45 having had at least four hours of sleep. The 'hostel refugio' which I had booked online, was right next to the bus station and very comfortable and quietly sociable.
The town is very pretty with great views of the snow topped volcano although it looks like it was built purely for tourists. From midday I hired a mountain bike, cycled about 24km over mostly bumpy dirt track then fell asleep by the lake. The 22km ride back along the main road seemed to go on for ever.
At the hostel I watched Liverpool and Chelsea get through to the next round of the champions league.

Up at 06.20 for a guided hike up the volcano, sky looking iffy. By the time I and about 20 others got to the base of the volcano the sky was still dodgy so we waited a while before given the option of going back and getting a refund of our 38,000 pesos (quite expensive I thought) or giving it a go and possibly not going all the way to the top.
Everyone went for the second option and sure enough the sky got worse so after climbing up 800 feet we slid most of the way down on our arses on ready made toboggan runs in the ice which was great fun if a little chilly! If only I could have gone yesterday, the weather was perfect. Spent most of the rest of the day watching more champions league action.

During the night there was thunder, lightning and heavy rain. It was still raining in the morning. I spent the morning talking to a couple from South Africa who had travelled in the oppsite direction to me and gave me some useful advice on where to go and how to get there. At midday, almost everyone from the hostel jumped into a minibus and went to the hot springs. There were several pools of different temperatures and with the rain falling on our heads they were absolutely lovely. We sat in the pools chatting and relaxing all afternoon until my hands resembled shrivelled up prunes.

The next day started quite leisurely, breakfast, shower, a stroll to the bus station to get some information. There was a bus leaving for Puerto Montt in five minutes so I ran back, grabbed my stuff, paid some money and ran back, catching it as it was leaving the station. 5,900 pesos. Six hours later I wandered around the Puerto Montt station to find a bus to Castro on the island of Chiloe, that too was just about to leave. Another four hours and 4,300 pesos including a ferry ride. The weather had got progressively worse as we travelled south. The landscape of green farmland, trees and cows along with the grey skies and drizzle reminded me of England. I tried to get into a hostel from my book but it was full so as it was getting dark I was invited into a 'Hospadaje' which I´m sure was just this old ladys house. Not a word of English was spoken and there didn´t seem to be any other travellers although there were plenty of rooms. It was nice and clean, the woman (Judith) seemed friendly, I had a nice little room to myself and breakfast was included for 4,000 pesos a night.

It seems that stray dogs are not just a Santiago thing, the barking made an unwelcome interupption to my otherwise good nights sleep. In the morning I walked along the seafront and around the town, more of a fishing port than a seaside resort, there is a steep drop from the town to the sea and the slopes are filled with brightly coloured stilted houses. The dogs bark constantly and there are a lot more cars than I expected (I guess I just think of islands as being tranquil places). All kinds of things are sold from wheelbarrows in the street, including tuna. I sampled 'milcaos' from a street stall, fried potato cakes with some kind of meat in the centre, tasted like corned beef hash. Only 500 pesos and not particularly tasty or healthy! I took a short bus trip south to Chonchi where there was plenty of tranquility. Actually there was nothing there but a brightly coloured church and drizzle so after walking around the town twice I returned to Castro. I had planned on finding a nice seafood restaurant in the evening, but Judith fed me some warm bread cakes and the weather was pretty horrible so I just stayed in and read my Martin Amis book which I think is aimed at a more intellectual reader than me!

The clocks went back an hour so I ended up on the 07.50 bus to Puerto Varas instead of the 08.50.
On the trip back over the channel I looked out to see seals jumping out of the water and Pelicans flying. Just over four hours later I arrived and checked into the 'Compass del Sur' hostel, walked around the sunny and cloudy pleasant town, and stopped at a restaurant to sample 'Congria' fish as recommended in my guide book. The texture was similar to cod and tasted ok but not as good as the salmon I had recently. Afterwards I looked up Congria in my dictionary and found that it was Conga Eel.

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