My Chilean Escapades

Truthfully, Santiago itself is not the most beautiful of cities. It lacks the liveliness of Buenos Aires and unfortunately the pollution is the worst I’ve come across as of yet. Saying that though, it does have many good qualities.

I made some amazing friends there, tasted lots of lovely foods and of course visited some amazing markets. Mercado Central and La Vega are an absolute must!

Coming from Argentina where vegetarians can struggle with finding the right food, it was such a treat to be graced with mountains of vegetables – so many varieties to choose from as well. I felt spoilt!

Also strangely enough from my point of view, Santiago is full of Sushi restaurants! Quite incredibly there is at least one on every street!

It has a few nice parks in the city itself and if you like hiking or mountain biking it is a central hub for definite! But because of my work there I traipsed across the city multiple times a day and along with being there during winter (stay away if at all possible, a mixture of rain and smog is a death wish)… I have to say I didn’t really “feel” it.

Saying that, if you get the chance to be in Santiago or Chile in fact for the 18th of September, it sure is a treat!! How to describe it…. like St. Patrick’s weekend in Ireland I suppose.. Filled with traditional foOdstock and drinks (Terremoto or ‘earthquake’ in english is definitely an acquired taste which consists of a certain sweet wine and ice cream, lots of Pisco and of course a mountain of meat and barbecues.  Being in Chile for this weekend really made me fall in love with Chile as it really shows how community pull together and how proud they are of their heritage.

Valdivia & Chiloe…a city girls dream

Valdivia

Having spent nearly 4 months straight in Chile’s capital it was a breath of fresh air to visit the south… literally! I hadn’t realised the effect that Santiago’s smog had on my breathing while I was stuck in the the city centre. Yes Santiago is lovely but get out and leave it and see the wonders that Chile has to offer!

Valdivia is one of the many treasures in the south of the country. It is small enough to walk around all the incredible tourist attractions and it was an absolute joy! From the exquisite Lotus lake to the beautiful botanical gardens and the Fluvial Fish Market (where the sea lions stopped off to say hello and be fed) to the Kunstmann Cervezería.

From the friendly Valdivianos themselves, the the proud fishermen and helpful passers-by to the knowledgeable beer and food merchants (they have a delicious and vast range of beers in the region) it was truly a pleasure to experience.

Being a huge fan of vegetables I was in for a treat with the luscious choice of veg on offer. Having only one full day in Valdivia is surely not enough but it gave me the taste of the real Chile and the ‘amazing-ness’ it has to offer.

I visited a quaint little café called *Cosas Ricas* where they sell a variety of delightful homemade cakes and treats and following advice. I went to ‘La Ultima Frontera’ for beer and a sandwich and it is a must!! Even fussy eaters and non-beer drinkers would leave completely satisfied. The waiter (a lovely Rasta man) guided me through the extensive beer menu and did indeed find the perfect beer for me. The food was absolutely delicious and a lot better value than you would find in Santiago. I ended up having the falafel myself and my meat-eating friend trying the Chacarero (meat loaded sandwich), we left with smiles on our faces.

Although there are Artisanal Fairs throughout Chile I really liked the more laid back vines of the Valdivian vendors and ended up purchasing beautiful Alpaca wool gloves for a mere 2000 pesos and a one of a kind scarf for 3000. I could have shopped all day with the colourful and cheap handcrafted goods.

As an avid market goer, I could not pass up a chance to visit Mercado Fluvial. I loved this most of all. It is fruit/veg and fish market where the vendors are proud of their stock and so welcoming to all. If you are not interested in purchasing it is still well worth the visit for the bustling atmosphere and friendly sea lions.

Top off a visit to Valdivia with a trip to ‘The Ultimate Frontera’

This is a gem in Valdivia. Known for its extensive range of beers and it’s tasty sandwiches, it did not disappoint.
A trendy place with a laid back, simply lovely atmosphere, there is plenty of space for families or solo travellers. The service was superb!! Unfortunately I didn’t get his name, but the ‘Rasta’ waiter was so attentive and knowledgeable on beers – he is a credit to the establishment! As I am not a beer lover, he brought testers for me to try different types that he thought I may like.. mission accomplished 🙂

Another reviewer wrote that upon ordering papas bravas with their sandwiches it came after their meal. It was a similar story for me, but it was no big issue. The portions are massive and we actually had to take practically all the potatoes away with us.  I had the falafel sandwich and it is gigantic. My advice is…leave the bread and make sure to enjoy the falafel and salad-delish!

Chiloe

The journey from Valdivia to Pargua (from where we took the ferry) was like a secret gift from home. The Irish like landscape accompanied by a volcano, lakes, quaint little houses in postcard perfect towns made the four hour bus ride worth every minute.

We spent our first night in Castro and left for Ancud the next day. Originally having booked a hostel (which was more like a pension) for two nights, we quickly realised Castro was not the place to be. Yes it has palafitos, a nice plaza and church, a nice artisanal market but to be honest it hasn’t got much more. As it is the capital of Chiloe this was quite surprising. Similar to Valdivia, the people were extremely friendly, often stopping to ask us if we needed directions.. a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of Santiago life!

Chiloe is like stepping back in time to old Ireland. Quite a closed minded bunch of people.. often women walking behind their husbands and unfortunately it has the highest rate of rape per capita in South America (incestuous). <—— ?????

We were told that if you have a problem with one person in the locality,half the town are bound to follow and if there’s an issue between two people they fight it out (the law is basically non-existent).
Although I didn’t get to see any, there are still aboriginal people (Mapuche) that live on the island and it is from these people the towns are named. It is the island where the famous Trauco legend originates and every sculpture or picture has a mystical tale behind it. One being the sculpture of a woman giving birth which signifies the fertility of the earth of Chiloe.

Ancud – which got its first set of traffic lights just last year (the Leitrim of Chile!) –  is such a beautiful place. Having a mere population of 35000 (40k last census) people it is fairly small but it has an abundance to offer.

It is a town which was struck by a tsunami in 1960 and had to be totally rebuilt. If you look close enough or have someone to point it out, you can see evidence of the destruction to this day.

Luckily for us, we had a connection with a family there and they were kind enough to bring us around the island. Please be advised that without a car, and a 4×4 at that, you won’t be able to explore the island much at all. From Playa de las Aves (beach of birds), to Las Pengüineras (where the penguins come to hang out December-February), to Faro Corona (the most important lighthouse on the Austral Pacific ocean), to Mar Brava, a beautiful beach with amazing cliff surroundings, the surrounds are stunning. Of course along with the local artisanal markets, Chiloe, and Ancud in particular, is definitely worth the visit if you spend time in Chile!

The day we were leaving we were treated to a fantastic lunch ‘Merluza Austral al horno’ which is as you can see below, freshly caught fish baked in the oven with a variety of vegetables. Simply delicious!

The Chilotes (the people of Chiloe) are very proud of their locally produced produce and have a wide variety of  potatoes. They eat potatoes religiously, with every meal, and it just made me question if I was indeed back home in Ireland!!
If I was any bit homesick before i visited, it then vanished… Chiloe felt like a home away from home and somewhere I would definitely love to visit again.

San  Pedro de Atacama

My first experience of an actual desert was indeed an amazing one! Flying into Calama (leave again as soon  as you can!!) And a short bus ride away we arrived in San Pedro. With only 3 days there we dived straight into it by going on a tour to the Salar de Atacama (the salt flats). It was surely very impressive but after seeing salt for an hour and some flamingos in the far distance, it lost its affect on me. Definitely worth seeing buy most definitely not the best San Pedro has to offer.
Day 2 we had an early 4.30am start and headed off to Geiser del Tatio. A must!!!! At -14’C, dressed only in skimpy leggings I shivered my way around viewing such amazing geysers! My first time but definitely not my last to see some geysers. Pleasantly on our tour we were then allowed to go into the hot springs whilst watching the geysers errupt.  Mind you undressing into a bikini it -14’C was no easy feat!  What an experience all in all!
Arriving back to the hostel around lunchtime we had an hour to spare before heading off to Valle de la Luna and Valle de la muerte (valley of the moon and valley of the dead).
This was truly amazing and our tour guide was simply brilliant. It’s funny with valle de la muerte because when it was discovered way back, the translation was lost and instead of calling it Mars Valley which it should be, it was called Dead Valley.  It was so amazing and we waited to see the sun set there which scattered colours across the valley. Just look below to see!
One tip I have for you though.. don’t forget suncream when going to valle de la luna etc. It’s like a joke…Irish girl goes to the desert and forgets sun block! Luckily only my nose got it but super stupid move on my behalf.
All in all, it is an amazing place..magical! If I could do it again I would do an extra day and fit in a laguna too.

Geiser del Tatio –  little bit of swimming
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Sunsetting Valle de la Luna20160813_18133220160813_11172620160814_101852Llama kebabs20160813_172426Salar de Atacama – salt flats 20160814_07543620160814_085742Geiser del Tatio20160814_17013020160814_155132
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