A Travellerspoint blog

BLOG & PHOTOS: Across the Andes by road

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large_5550_11661311826051.jpgStack of hairpin turns on the crossing from Chile to Argentina. (Scanned photo, apologies for poor quality).
We boarded a direct bus service from Viña to the Chile-Argentina border and onwards to Mendoza [Mendoza-travel-guide-148219]. After passing through kilometres of vineyards, the landscape became barren and rocky before rising into majestic peaks.

We were then awestruck by the stack of hairpin turns that had been built to overcome what was virtually a cliff! While cars slowed down to negotiate these turns, our young driver cruised through with a cigarette in one hand and a cup of leafy maté herb tea in the other, sipped through a silver straw. Many Chileans and Argentines rely on this herbal infusion for energy and to overcome fatigue.

Our esteem for the driver quickly subsided when a car transporter came into view on the same stack of hairpins, fully-laden with Peugeots from a nearby factory.

The journey continued to the highest point of the road, crossing the border near Mt Aconcagua before descending to the Argentine checkpoint at 2800m (9200ft) above sea level. One customs officer was keen to show off samples of female intimate apparel as he checked passenger baggage. Surprisingly, this was taken in good humour by all present.

The remainder of the ride to Mendoza felt unbearably long but that wasn’t due to a lack of interesting scenery. Ghost towns and rift valleys just didn’t seem as imposing compared to the mighty peaks or the stack of hairpins. The thrill of exploring Valparaiso from the previous day felt like a distant memory. Quite simply, we were ill-prepared for the splendour of the Andes crossing and it had left us overwhelmed.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

BLOG & PHOTOS: Chile's riviera

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large_5550_11661311661945.jpgThe hillsides of Valparaiso. (Scanned photo, apologies for poor quality).
The Pacific Coast cities of Viña del Mar and Valparaiso [Valparaiso-travel-guide-263414] are easily reached by frequent bus services from Santiago. The two adjoining towns could not be more different from each other.

Viña is Chile’s riviera with many tall beachfront apartments, casinos, nightclubs and restaurants. This unashamedly affluent city is also known as the Garden City. Beautifully landscaped gardens and beaches make Viña ideal for strolling and relaxing.

In contrast, nearby Valparaiso is a bustling port surrounded by hills packed with a disarray of colourful houses and pockets of shanty-towns. A labyrinth of alleyways and stairs connect the different levels of the hills, supplemented by ascensores built between 1883 and 1916.large_5550_11661311727472.jpgAscensores of Valparaiso. (Scanned photo, apologies for poor quality).

Ascensores are often explained as funicular railways but are more like inclined elevators. No visit to Valparaiso is complete without a few hours exploring and getting cheap thrills riding in these contraptions. Could it be the excitement of being taken somewhere totally different? Like a posh street, the Naval Museum or a picturesque lookout. Maybe it is the anticipation of arriving safely as one rides in the claustrophobic rickety metal box.

The Ascensor Polanco is one with a difference because it’s simply a big elevator built into the core of a hill - one walks into a tunnel at the foot of the hill to catch the elevator to the hilltop-suburbs.

Here are couple of tips for visitors needing a tea break after some hard exploration. Firstly, tea is commonly served black in Chile. Even McDonald’s had no milk but offered snowfreeze concentrate instead - nice vanilla flavour but sickeningly rich. Secondly, ensure that you hold on to your bag even when you’re seated deep inside a respectable restaurant. Our pack started moving on the floor as it was nudged by a foot from the next table!


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

BLOG: Across the Andes by air

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We flew from Miami back to Buenos Aires. From there, our Chilean experience began as our flight to Santiago [Santiago-travel-guide-263188] crossed the Andes. From the air, snowy peaks stretched as far as we could see towards the north and south. It was unmistakable that the endless white sprawl formed the backbone of the entire continent.

Santiago welcomed us with an unseasonally crisp fog-free morning. Next day, the brooding skies added charm to the city’s many churches, squares, museums and stately homes. But deteriorating visibility ruined the much-anticipated panorama of Santiago from nearby Santa Lucia hill.

Small packs of stray dogs roam a few city-centre streets, sometimes resting inconsiderately (yet so adorably) on crowded footpaths. They are nowhere near as mangy as their kin in Bali and do not seem to incite repulsion from passers-by.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

BLOG: Colours of the rainbow

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We spent a couple of nights in colourful Key West. While on the streets, we got given tickets to what was obviously going to be a timeshare presentation. It had all those hallmarks of being a timeshare ... great gifts in exchange for a couple of hours of our time. Despite making it really clear that we were foreigners and weren't interested, our words fell of deaf ears.

Next day, we were shuttled to their lavish timeshare hotel for a tour and presentation. Apart from seeing how other people holiday, we got to see the less touristy parts of town.

And of course, we got what we wanted ... dinner vouchers for two at a very expensive restaurant we wouldn't have otherwise patronised.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

BLOG: Capone and Arnaz

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From Montevideo we flew back to Buenos Aires to connect to Miami [Miami-travel-guide-21433]. Why Miami? Well, the airfare from Auckland to Miami (or New York) was only a tad more than that to Buenos Aires. So we could justify extending the journey to Miami for just a few days as it cost us so little!

For the 15 minute flight from Montevideo to Buenos Aires, we had to check in 3 hours prior. That was because the flight was operated by United Airlines ... and being a good American airline, they take are very paranoid about security at outstations … we were subjected to interviews even before we could check in!!

Upon arrival in Miami, we made our way down to art deco South Beach, staying at the Clay Hotel. This hotel housed Al Capone's gambling den in the 1930s. Later, Desi Arnaz created the rumba craze here too.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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