Chile. 11 February 2013.
Seven months today since we flew to South America to begin our family gap year and we arrive in La Serena, Chile, our first taste of coastal Chile, on a rather uncomfortable, but bearable 16 hour overnight bus south from Calama, dropping down 2400m from the heights of the Atacama desert. We’ve finally escaped San Pedro and the floods having missed all the amazing trips we’d hoped to do and having to head back through Calama, seeing evidence of where the road was washed right away as the bus queues to get around the missing carriageway.
Plan A had been to take a bus from San Pedro to Salta – we’d even bought our tickets but got a refund when we knew the pass was going to be closed at least a week due to snow. Plan B is to try our luck with the pass from La Serena to Mendoza.
We had ‘semi-cama’ seats (meaning half-bed). Not exactly what I’d call a half bed but they do recline quite well – and are smart by the standards we’re used to. The kids and Martin (sleep anywhere) slept happy enough – Erika and I found it a bit tough and feel stiff and sleep deprived! ‘Cama’ is a bigger, better recliner, often in the downstairs with semi-cama upstairs. We’re looking forward to trying cama! Maybe next time!
We don’t have any accommodation booked as it’s still Chilean summer holidays and we’ve found almost nothing on-line. So I leave the others with the bags sitting outside a pristine shopping mall (wishing it were open so they could at least go for a coffee and enjoy air-con but it’s too early) and I go off with Jay and Toni, our friends from San Pedro, to look and we find the friendly Hospidaje Los Robles and get a small apartment for 35000 which is about $70, a good price for here! I return for the others and we settle in before heading out in search of a highly rated sushi place – turns out to be a long hot walk and it’s a miracle we find it at all but are rewarded with a great lunch, all 2-4-1’s and a supermarket next door for shopping!
Back at the hostel Oma & kids relax and watch Harry Potter while Martin and I go walkabout round La Serena searching for buses to Argentina etc… We find out that the La Serena to Mendoza pass across the Andes is also closed with snow so we will have to try Plan C – bus to Santiago and try our luck with the road across the Andes to Mendoza from there. For now, the bus companies tell us that it’s closed there too so we can’t book anything. Hmm…
We may have to fly – needless to say flights are really expensive… Grr! We explore a bit around town and go out to eat at a wine bar with poor though pricy food, whilst Oma and the kids eat sausages at the hotel and enjoy a movie! It’s amazing how much of a treat they find staying in. We check out all sorts of trips too but decide we’ve done or will do similar things elsewhere and we need to get moving to make sure we get to Foz de Iguazzu in 8 days! Oma’s homeward flight is drawing nearer and out final goal together is the Iguazzu Falls which are across Argentina on the border with Brazil and Paraguay.
So our next day is a beach day – La Serena has a huge gorgeous beach, big enough for all the visitors we’re sharing it with, as it’s still summer holidays in Chile! We spend a wonderful family day on the beach and in the sea on hot golden sand, spiced up by a dramatic helicopter/lifeguard rescue of some surfers who get in trouble!
Finally a long trek back to town, a browse around the shopping mall (now open, we are still a bit overawed by these pristine Chilean malls – they even have separate kids washrooms with small loos and sinks – very cute!) and find ourselves another sushi restaurant!! Feels a bit naughty, we should be self catering really!
It’s a flying visit and next day we hop on a 6 hour bus to Santiago. This is where we’ll eventually fly out of, our final South America destination but we’re not even half way around our figure of 8, we’ve got a whole loop to do around the south and back before we fly off to Easter island!
We check into a smart apartment in a central aparthotel , the pool on the roof is a big bonus with good city rooftop views. We take a wander through the city centre which feels safe and has some nice little neighbourhoods and indulge in supper at a top Trip Advisor restaurant Bocanariz – (meaning mouth-nose!) specialising in Chilean wines – they have several hundred on their lists and we adults each have a trio of taster wines and the six of us share some tasty sharing plates. Its our most expensive meal since Gaston y Astrid in Lima! Though in fairness this was for 6 and that was for 2!!
Ben and Zoe are developing and enjoying really adventurous palates, Lara is more like I was as a kid and quite happy with a basket of bread and butter and any plain meat and cheese we can salvage from more fancy dishes!
Researching on-line, we find out that the pass across to Mendoza has apparently just been reopened after being closed by snow – at last we’ve found a way to Argentina without having to fly, as long as its correct information! We book tickets for the day after tomorrow, hoping it doesn’t snow again!!
Just one day left to explore… its Valentines Day. Lara has given me a heart shape tin of heart-shaped Lindor choccys which she’s been excited about since she and Martin bought them in La Serena. Having given them to me she steals one of the three sweets inside much to the horror of the other two!
Everywhere in the city, street sellers are selling heart balloons and flowers but that’s not going to work for us! As I’ve failed to get Martin anything, I promise dinner and Oma agrees to babysit. We wander the city streets and plazas some more, deciding to leave museums for our return visit, hopping from shade to shade and checking out an old fish market. Too smelly for Lara – ‘get me out of here, its ‘gustin’ she cries!
There’s a highly recommended restaurant there Martin read about on Trip Advisor but its full and its twin seems to be closed following a food inspectors report(?!!) So instead we’re enticed into a terrible tourist trap of a place whose only redeeming feature is that it has air con and even that is fairly non existent! Martin has written a scathing trip advisor review even before we leave and he heads off to Starbucks and to sulk and do some work whilst the rest of us go up to Cerro San Cristobal, a massive hill with the most amazing open air swimming pool and breathtaking city and mountain views!
It’s an absolutely fab family friendly place (though pricy, at about $40 for five of us, plus rather expensive taxi at around $6!) and we stay till we’re thrown out at 6.30pm, then queue an hour or so for a taxi back down!
So, lucky us… Oma babysits and we are lucky enough to get a table again at Bocanariz for a super Valentines supper.