And so the longest bus ride of the trip so far begins… 18 hours Iguazu to Buenos Aires, 16 hours BA to Mendoza, 9 hours Mendoza to Santiago. Painful yet necessary after the expensive return bus to Iguazu, the next two buses total £60, so it’s a cheap way to cover some serious milage. Plus for every overnight bus you save on an overnight stay. Bargain travel strikes again. There is a six hour wait in Buenos Aires so we store our bags for around £3.50 each and head to the nearest Macdonals to freshen up. Macdonalds, love it or hate it is the perfect lay over lounge for the budget traveller. Wifi, chargers, toilets and the staff couldn’t care less if you purchased some McNuggets or not.
On the next bus and the next hero is born. A large Argentinean fella wheezes onto the bus. He sits directly in front of us and his personal hygiene status isn’t exactly what you would want for the confinement of a 16 hour bus. However when the mid journey film starts (Bad Boys entirely in Spanish) and he sings along “Chicos malos, chicos malos” and with an infections thigh slapping giggle, he has the whole bus in sitches. Somewhere along the line I fall asleep and wake up in Mendoza with the big giggle monster replaced by a young Argentinean woman. We groggily stumble from the bus.
While waiting for our final leg, we get chatting to two young British girls. They have been travelling for three months and their trip is coming to an end. Their previous stomping ground had been South East Asia and Australia, and so they note how difficult travel had been for them though Latin American, as neither spoke a word of Spanish. This was to become a recurring theme of our trip, we would meet many people cramming expensive two week Spanish courses to aquire the basics. Suddenly the painful choice by a 16-year old me to study A-level Spanish over the more socially rewarding drama was paying dividends.
The girls head off and a tattooed man in a snap-back sits next to me. Naturally there is a mix up with the buses (just because you ticket says one bus name doesn’t mean that’s your bus – always check at the agency) and it appears he is on the same bus as us. I feebly start to converse with him in Spanish to inform him of the change, before quickly establishing that he is American. A chef from Miami, he moved to Santiago eight years ago to open the Hard-Rock Cafe, met his now Argentinan wife and now lives in Argentina with has a daughter. He was heading to Santiago to settle up his apartment and see his English-bulldog. He is hilarious, a natural conversationalist, and he stays with us for the final stretch.
The bus leaves and its up onto the mountain road through the Andes. Our American friend describes how the border crossing can take up to 9-hours depending on traffic volume and so we thank the travel gods when we sail through in only an hour. Another quick note, Chile have a strict policy when it comes to bringing any organic produce across the border and your bags will be searched. A little Russian girl took across a small machete, however her nuts and raisins were confiscated. You will also receive a 90 day visa on a little receipt as well as your normal passport stamp. Keep this safe as apparently losing this can make for a long and expensive exit from the country.
The scenery is as to be expected, breath-takingly beautiful. We arrive in Santiago, grab some cash from the bus station – the bus station is in a poorer part of the city and so it is wise to grab some cash here as it is packed with armed security guards. Following the American we head down to the metro and buy our Bip! card (Chile’s answer to SUBE). He sets us on route to get to Bella Artes, the stop nearest our Couch-surfing hosts place, and we are off on our way.
We arrive at Leonardo’s apartment. The area has a Shoreditch hipster vibe and we greet the receptionist of his building, our home for the next 5 nights. We head up to his floor and meet the wonderful Leonardo and his crazy little white and ginger cat.
That evening Leonardo takes us to his favourite local restaurant and treats us to some Pisco sours (pisco, lemon juice and egg white) and traditional Chilean food. Pisco, made from grapes, is the national spirit of Chile, and so it would seem Peru. There is a long standing rivalry between the two counties about the originator, and Leonardo wastes no time in informing us that of course Chilean pisco is superior.
After a crazy long bus ride, surving on snacks, two pisco sours are weighing heavy on the eyes and I leave Ste and Leonardo chatting. The next day – of course – we head out to the afternoon walking tour. Meeting at 3pm in the Plaza de Armas we arrive a little early and so wander up a bustling street to hunt down cheep sunglasses (I have somehow broken two pairs already). As we are waking a big splat lands on the top of my head. A little dazed I look at Ste, this doesn’t feel like the standard but also gross air conditioning drips, this feels like bird poop. Suddenly a Chilean woman in a neon pink top is in front of us, her face screwed up yelling ‘Dirty! Dirty! I help!’. She takes out tissues and a water bottle and grabs my arm pulling me to the side. I note this green slime is everywhere; in my hair, on my bag, on my jeans. I’m in a daze as she pours water over my hair and grabs at my bag ‘Dirty!’. Ste is stood beside me in a complete trance. He has a small dot of the stuff on his shoulder and looks at it. Suddenly as the woman is trying to take my the bag off my shoulder, Marten’s (our Argentinean walking tour guide) advise about new pick-pocket techniques pops into my head. ‘They cover you with fake bird poo and help you clean it whilst stealing you bags’. Shit. I demand at Ste to grab my bag and don’t let it go. He snaps out of his trance and grabs the bag inspecting it. It’s mustard. The woman tries again to grab the bag and when it’s clear Ste isn’t having any of it she storms off in a rage. We look and each other, me completely covered in mustard, and Ste stood with my rucksack victorious in his game of tug of war. Another couple near us are cleaning themselves too. How lucky we are to have met Marten!
Back at the plaza we meet Felipe, our tour guide. We tell him the mustard-bomb story and he’s seriously pissed off. He tells us that there are only two types of people in Chile, God’s or Demons. We shake off the last half an hour and start the tour.
Pint-sized Felipe is part-time tour-guide and part-time actor and he has a flamboyant and expressive manner of telling stories. He takes us on another wonderful city tour, ending in Bellavista – the party central. After the tour we are all about to head back to our respective accommodations when Felipe decides we should instead head to his second favourite bar (the first is being refurbished).
We spend 3 hours in the afternoon sun drinking with the entire tour, Felipe and some of his friends. We get chatting to an Australian couple Sophie and Julian, who like me and Ste, quit their jobs, their houses, their cars, their everything and headed to South America for a year. We pin them down as drinking buddies and once back at Leonardo’s I realise Sophie studied in Brisbane with one of my best friends… Something about a small world.
The next few days are filled with free museums, street art, climbing to city view points and delicious Chilean wine and food with Leonardo. Then on Saturday Leonardo has a trip planned for us. We bundle into the car and head to the coast. It’s off to Valparaíso and Viña del Mar.