Corrugated City

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Renovations-making the floor

Just before leaving to head up to San Pedro we had to head over to the factory where they make the old-style mosaic tiles we're going to use in the kitchen and bathrooms. We'd miscalculated the square metres and had ordered a couple of hundred thousand pesos worth too much. Whilst there, the saleswomen asked if we wanted to go see the tiles we'd designed (you get to choose the design and then the colours). We'd read in the leaflet blurb that they were all 'hand made' but assumed this was more along the lines of a person setting the machine and then a conveyor belt doing the rest. We were wrong...every single tile is handmade from scratch. Here are a few photos taken from the work floor (taken from my phone so the quality's not fantastic).

Each tile is made using a frame and paint is poured in by hand

The finished product

San Pedro de Atacama

This is a particularly photo-heavy post. San Pedro de Atacama and the surrounding desert is a spectacular place and i took so many photos-the landscapes just lend themselves to pretty picture taking.

This was our first stop from Valparaiso. We flew from Santiago to Calama and then took a mini-bus to San Pedro. It was my first visit to the town since January 2004...i can't believe it was so long ago. I think i was expecting it to be completely different, too over-developed these days but it's not at all. There are more hotels and a few more restaurants but it's not OTT, with the exception of the huge ENTEL signs in the main square. Muppets. Actually, i was expecting not to find a town at all as we got there just a few days after the big earthquake in Tocopillo and Antofagasta. Luckily San Pedro got off with minimal damage although the quake was strongly felt there. We also missed the 2 big after shocks by a day at each end.

Anyway, San Pedro is a stunningly pretty little town, all adobe houses, situated in a little oasis, 2400m above sea-level in the middle of the world's driest desert (it rained last time i was there...). There's so much to do up there-trips to the Andean lakes, little villages around, the Salar de Atacama, geysers and more. We only had a weekend so decided to do a tour to the Salar, a few lakes and a couple of villages. Except i was ill so i couldn't go. I wasn't too annoyed as i did the 4 day tour of the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia a few years ago and that place is way more incredible than anything around San Pedro (you can start that tour in San Pedro, although i did it the other way around, starting in Bolivia and ending in Chile). My mum, her friend and Lore did all do the one day tour and came back happy so i'd probs recommend doing it if you're up there.

There's quite a lot of local craft and stuff to buy in San Pedro-there's a market just off the main square. I thought it was a rip-off last time i was there but prices haven't risen at all in the past 4 years so it's all pretty good value these days. You can get all the gloves, hats, scarves and blankets your little hearts desire in a one-stop superartesaniamarket.

Why, Entel? Why?

One thing that i can't recommend enough it the tour to the El Tatio Geysers. Allegedly the highest geyser field in the world at around 4300m (altitude sickness is a common problem for tourists-take Acetazolamide if you can) but i have my doubts. On the aforementioned tour in Bolivia, we went to a geyser field at 4800m...

The trip starts with a 3 hour drive from San Pedro at 4am. You have to get there early as it's when the sun rises that the temperature changes and triggers the huge gushing geysers that everyone wants to see. The idea is actually to get there before sunrise but we didn't make it in time. Last time we did. It's around minus 8C when you first arrive, so wrap up warm. The drive back is more leisurely and you get to see some incredible scenery. I'll stop waffling now so you can just enjoy the photos. I reckon San Pedro is an essential stop if you're visiting Chile.

As a final note-if you order wine anywhere in San Pedro, make sure you know what you're ordering. I saw in a few restaurants really crappy wine that costs a couple of thousand pesos in the shops being sold for over 20,000. Absurd. Stick to beer.

It's chilly up north

Hot milk for breakfast

That's a Vicuña

Those 2 blobs are ostriches


This little church was so cute i almost became religious

The Salar de Atacama in the distance

Santa Cruz

Our second stop on the trip was Santa Cruz. I've already written a couple of posts about Santa Cruz and the Colchagua Valley but this time we finally got around to doing some things we'd be wanting to do for ages.

The first was take a tour around the Viña La Cruz. This vineyard is owned Carlos Cardoen. He's wanted by the US on some pretty serious charges so he can't leave the country-for this reason he has to spend his money in Chile. Leaving aside the fact that he earned his money from, let's say, a rather unpleasant business, Cardoen has had a fantastic impact on Santa Cruz (the town of his childhood) and the Colchagua Valley. He's pretty much singlehandedly dragged a boring little cow-town from its knees and created the Ruta del Vino, an astonishing 5 star colonial style hotel and a pretty decent vineyard of his own. He's the one responsible for the increase in tourism from virtually nothing to what it is today and has helped countless local vineyards in the process. The work he's done has created thousands of local jobs where there were none before. Money of dubious origins indeed but at least the guy's done something really positive with it, instead of just hoarding it like a lot of the rich do here.

So back to the Viña La Cruz. This is a kind of wine-o fantasy land. The tour costs 15,000 pesos and you get shown around the vineyard, get a ride on the bubble lift, see various reproductions of Chilean art and artesania from all over the country and then get to taste a few of the wines produced there. It's well worth the trip.

Another thing we always wanted to do but never got around to was to visit the museum in Santa Cruz, also part of the Cardoen Foundation. I'd heard it was impressive but i honestly didn't think it'd be a good as it was. It's an incredibly eclectic collection of artefacts, fossils, antiques, guns, weapons, cars, carriages, trains, jewelery and tons of other stuff covering the history of Chile from pre-historic times to the present day. Pretty much unmissable.

We also went to the hotel for dinner on one of the nights we were there-it's supposed to be one of the best restaurants in Chile...unfortunately, our meal was awful. it was just one of those dinners when everything was just bad. We even had the chef come out twice to apologise for the particularly terrible food. The service was good though and they reacted perfectly to our complaints, something that's not common in Chile. I think that on another night, we would have had a great time. Still, i won't be going back to try it out.

We will be going back to Alma Campesina though. This place was fantastic-really good food, well presented, decent wine list and absurdly cheap for what it was (around 3500 pesos for a main, us$7). Highly recommended.

Viña La Cruz

Main Square, Santa Cruz

Hotel Santa Cruz...pricey

Santa Cruz Museum


Due to time constrictions, we couldn't make it all the way down to my favourite Lakes town, Puerto Varas. We had to make do with the kind of entrance town to the region, Pucon. Pucon and the Lakes District are all about the scenery. If you're a city lover and don't like the countryside then stay away. I'm actually not a huge fan of Pucon or the lake it's set on. I don't find either of them as charming or attractive as Puerto Varas or Frutillar or Lagos Todos los Santos or Puyehue. It's still a beautiful part of the country though, my favourite part actually-if it didn't rain so much i'd happily live down there.

One thing that is pretty cool about Pucon is the fact that it's got a big, live, smoking volcano just a few miles from town. When the thing eventually blows big time, it'll take the town with it, just like Pompeii. Up to now, there have only been a few lava overspills, nothing major...supposedly...

We stayed in a cheap (8000 a person) cabin complex with a view of the volcano. I'd definitely recommend Cabanas Altos del Lago-the cabins are clean, centrally heated, in a pretty decent location between Pucon and Villarica, there's an indoor heated pool and the grounds are pretty nice as well. And it's cheap.

We didn't actually do very much-just relaxed, read books and ate. We did make to the beautiful Termas Geometricas, the ones i mentioned last time we went south. We also drove up to the volcano, a nice scenic drive up to what looks like a cross between a pikey camp and a bomb site (the ski centre's wonderful welcome for its clients). The Volcano is as impressive as ever from up there though.

That's a condor.

And that's a mountain shaped like a fat man lying down.

One thing we did do and something i'd recommend to everyone who goes down to Pucon was a meal at the Bauhaus masterpiece, the Hotel Antumalal. The place is beautiful and the restaurant serves really excellent and not too overpriced food. Go.

And that's the moon, one night off being full.


So we'll start our mini-tour of Chile backwards, kicking off where we ended our 12 day trip: Santiago.

As anyone who's been reading this blog for a while can tell you, i'm not a big fan of Chile's capital. It's a big, smoggy hellhole actually. Still there are a few redeeming features.

One of them is Cerro San Cristobal. The bubble lift ride up is fun and the funicular down the other side is quite cool as well. When you're actually at the top, you can sometimes get fantastic views of all of Santiago. This depends on the smog. This was the view we got yesterday. Smogolicious.

The top of the hill is a religious sanctuary. There's a big virgin up there pleading with God. "Why Santiago? Why? Why? Why? I give birth to your son-he gets Rio and i get Santiago??? Not fair."

They're currently doing some renovations up there and there are loads of these posters up, urging Catholics and, particularly Catholic Priests, to do their Catholic duty. "A Coger!"*** Look at the hand trying to grab me. Saucy.

When you go down the funicular, you end up in Bellavista. It's been over 3 years since i went to the area. I always liked Bellavista-it has some fab architecture and good restaurants and bars- but it used to be a bit flaite and penca. However, in the last few years, it appears to have really moved up a notch and there are now some really nice parts. It actually reminds of Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires and has much the same feel. Definitely worth a trip over if you happen to get stuck for a day in Santiago.

Next stop on the backwards tour: Pucon.

***Ok, it doesn't actually say "A Coger!", it says "Acoger". This means something else entirely.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Back in the Val-para-iso

Got back to Valpo today...lots of exciting travel posts to come in the next few days with loads of cool photos...followed by another silence as i head off for a couple of weeks solo-travelling, something i haven't done for almost 4 years and something that i've really missed. I'm a solitary person sometimes and i need to be on my own with a few good books, some top scenery and a beer. No friends, no family. Just me on my ownsome. Next year we've got a couple of pretty big projects to get on with so i need to recharge my batteries (sorry for the cliche)'s been a busy couple of years and i'm pretty exhausted. Not sure where i'm off to yet...either another manic, knackering trip around Bolivia or a visit to Cordoba and Rosario in Argentina to see places i didn't get around to visiting during my 3 years living there. D'oh. So keep checking in for the next 4-5 days and be richly rewarded with a mini-travel guide to San Pedro de Atacama, Santa Cruz, Pucon and Santiasco.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Valparaiso again...

So, my mum's arrived (she already loves Valparaiso) and this will almost definitely be my last post for a couple of weeks. Here's the image i wanted to figure in that last post (again). See you in a short while. Keep the comments coming though! :)

Saturday, 10 November 2007


My mum's arriving for 3 weeks tomorrow morning so this will probably be the last post for a while. I've posted a lot over the past 2-3 weeks so if you've not read this blog for a while (shame on you), have a look back through the archives. I'll still keep checking in for comments and stuff so feel free to have your say. When i'm back, i'll have photos of San Pedro de Atacama and also some Lakes District ones for your viewing pleasure. For the time being, here's an artistic impression of Valparaiso, Chile.

De Vuelta Al Campo

So this time i remembered to take photos of Cerro La Campana. And here it is, in all its hilly glory...

I really liked the way the cloud hovered just above- it looks like a smoking volcano or a speech bubble.

This is obviously not La Campana, but a view from where the house will be built

A non-cloudy view from a neighbouring house