4th - 11th April (Full circle - Mendoza back to Santiago via Valparaiso)
I felt pretty tired after my long journey which was a good excuse to sit in the hostel all afternoon drinking beer and watching the first leg champions league games of Chelsea and Man.U. I went to bed early and later awoke to the sound of a girl farting in her sleep - nice! The hostel is okay apart from there is only one working shower so had to wait a while in the morning. Later I paid 30 pesos for a bike tour of the city which was really crap. The guy just led the way as two other guys and I followed out to a nice park, up a hill to a crap view and back to the shop. I think we were expecting to take in some of the sights of the city and be told some mind-blowingly interesting facts about them. Ate lunch with the Argie and English guy from the bike tour and hung around chatting for most of the afternoon. I felt pretty ill for some reason though and thought I was coming down with something but it was fine the next day. I tried to get on the Mountain tour which I was told was very good but it was fully booked. Cooked pasta and watched Goldmember.
The next day I took a local bus to Maipu, where I picked up a bike and a plan of the area for 35 pesos and rode around all the bodegas (vinyards) and a wine museum with a very good guided tour. Of course there was some unavoidable tasting involved. The sun was hot but we are quite high above sea level and there is a gentle icy breeze coming off of the mountains. The bodegas are lovely and the mountain backdrop very picturesque but the town itself is scruffy. I learned a little about wine production and tasting techniques and enjoyed the day despite the only restaurant on the route being full and having nothing but wine and fruit to keep me going. Back at the hostel there was a nice BBQ consisting of salty chunks of beef and some bread which I washed down with a bottle of red. Wine in Argentina is even cheaper than in Chile so it is mandatory to pick up a bottle every time I go to the supermarket!
Managed to find a second hand bookshop at last and bought Bill Bryson's 'Neither here nor there - travels in Europe'. Got my ears lowered for 20 pesos by a bloge whose hand was shaking when he used the scisors, still he managed a good job. Steak and chips for 17pesos then a bus across the border at 13.15 to Valparaiso, Chile. Unfortunately I had forgotton there was still fruit in my bag from yesterdays bike trip which nearly landed me in jail at the border crossing. The woman really wasn't very happy but I had no idea what she was saying! My Spanish had also let me down on getting information about the journey as I thought they had seventeen hours when it was actually seven so I arrive late at night and not early in the morning as I had thought. I phoned the hostel I had booked for the following night and they had space and sent a taxi to get me from the station. The hostel is a little scruffy but fine and the dutch girls were there as well as an Irish fella called Keith who I got on well with.
The town used to be quite grand but apart from one or two impressive buildings the whole place looks like it's falling apart, it has suffered from pirates, fires and earthquakes destroying most of it's colonial past.
The centre is the dock area and from here there are 42 hills rising up in a crescent formation with old buildings (mostly diapidated) and slum huts intermingled together on the steep slopes. There are a lot of beggars, drunks and ne'erdowells around and this is the first place in South America where I have felt a little bit wary and kept my hand on my wallet, especially at night. A lot of the smaller streets stink of piss and at one point I had to check my pants as the stench seemed to be following me around! Keith has been here a while waiting for a credit card to arrive and he really likes it here. After a while I decided I quite like it as well, it is grubby, smelly, graffiti covered, scruffy, littered and full of dodgy characters but it has real character, a real change from some of the places I have been that are just like a little tourist village. There are beaches at nearby Vina del Mar which is supposed to be more upmarket and my plan had been to laze around there for a couple of days but the weather was overcast a lot of the time so I never made it. The bars look really nice; small, cosy and a bohemian atmosphere.
There is an area of seafood restaurants (which is also the red light district at night), where i sampled the local wares (that's wares, not whores!)
I had a lovely paella that had an ocean full of seafood, chicken, chorizo and beef one lunch time and some nice salmon the next. Discovered that 'American Pie - the wedding' is terrible. One night Keith and I decided to go out for a couple of beers which ended up being a pisco cola session in a night club which somehow went on until gone 05.00. The next morning I felt surprisingly well and hung around waiting to watch Man.U's 7-1 demolition of Roma and Chelsea getting through against Valencia. As soon as that was over I got on a bus to Santiago where I stayed at La Casa Roja, a lovely big building with too many young idiots getting drunk, making noise and puking up - I was never like that! I ate at an empty Chinese restaurant and spent the following day just killing time. I have an early flight to Lima tomorrow