Mendoza, Argentina, Santiago & Valparaiso, Chile
A lot of travellers will tell you that the best part of their trip was the hospitality they experienced, offered to them by complete strangers. After a luxurious meal, a night full of drinks and laughter and a good rest you are left with a warm feeling and a ever growing trust in the goodness of humankind. Moreover, you are a little bit more enlightened about local culture, different world visions and alternative life-styles. On our way from The Netherlands to Nepal we met a lot of people from the communities we traveled through. However, traveling from Chicago southwards we mainly met a lot of other travelers, bikers, bicyclists and backpackers. While, in general, these people couldn’t inform us about local customs, they did have interesting views on lifestyle, helping us to shape our plans for the future.
At the campsite in Mendoza, we organized our own asado (BBQ) together with Silvio and Krina from Romania. They had just started their trip and we could help them out with some travel hints and tips, while they inspired us with stories about their life and struggles in Romania. Since Christmas was approaching soon, we decided to stay at the campsite for this celebration. Our Swiss neighbours invited us to join them for a Christmas dinner and pretty soon we had a whole posse together: Argentinians, Spaniards, Swiss and us Dutchies. So in the summer heat we shared stories around a plastic garden table filled with BBQ pizzas, fresh salads, steaks, wine, Fernet (sort of Jagermeister) with Coca Cola and as a dessert we were treated to real Swiss chocolate: A perfect Christmas celebration. Cedric and Evelyne from Switzerland travel with their four children (between 4 and 10) for two years. They were tired of the stressful life at home and had decided they wanted to spent more time together, five months in the trip they weren’t regretting their choice. You only live once!
After fourteen(!) days at the campsite, we finally managed to get our stuff packed again and we left for Santiago de Chile (385km). Paso Internacional de Libertadores is one of the most beautiful border passes between Argentina and Chile, but one of the most busy borders as well. On the way we we were treated to a thunderstorm, luckily the sky cleared soon, so we could skip the international tunnel, and take the old gravel road winding it’s way up up to 3832m. Here we encountered our second Cristo Redentor statue (Christ the Redeemer) since Eureke Springs, Arkansas. A reminder of the peaceful resolution of the Chilean-Argentinian border dispute in 1904. After a tricky descent, we joined the queue for the border: Four hours waiting in line to have our passports stamped, our temporary vehicle permits arranged and our luggage checked for highly illegal fruits and vegetables. Luckily there were enough people to talk to, even two other bikers (a couple from Brazil and one from Colombia/Russia). One guy even wanted to take our picture, which surprised us a bit, since we hadn’t had that since Central-America. Then another queuer solved the mystery by asking us if we were a race team from the Dakar (which would soon start from Mendoza); we didn’t know we looked so professional!
Santiago is a very clean and safe city, with wide lanes, lots of parks and a nice hotpotch of old baroque mansions and postmodern office buildings. It seems to be a mixture of American and European influences; lots of serious business people in fancy clothes, a manhattan grid, many Chilean flags, but at the same time they have wide sidewalks, pedestrian areas, people on bicycles and an excellent public transport system. We enjoyed wandering around, seeing one of Pablo Neruda’s (Nobel prize winning poet) houses, watching all sport activities in the park (e.g. slacklining) and visiting the arts museum. The sports activities had inspired us, so when we encountered a Skechers shop in the “largest shopping mall of South-America”, we decided to treat ourselves to some new running gear. Now that we were “back in civilization” again we could finally pick up on our cardio training, which we had departed from ever since Iran (as running with a headscarf on is not as comfortable as it may seem). Back at the hostel we enjoyed the swimming pool, and the international company: Americans, Australians (on motorbikes), Israeli, French, and even some Dutch!
We didn’t really have plans for Newyear’s eve, but we knew that Valparaiso is one of the best places in Chile to celebrate this event. Another reason to go here was Villa Kunterbunt; a German/Chilean owned bikers hostel from where they organize bike transport to Europe. We would like to get some more info about prices and dates for shipment and since it wasn’t too far from Santiago, we put on our riding gear and enjoyed the excellent highway to the coastal port town. Valparaiso consists of several small hills (cerros) connected with each other through the central boulevard and steep escalators. While it is still a bit of a rough port town, including lots of graffiti, it is perfect to wander around, admiring the colour-full houses in Adam’s family-style and the beautiful views over the moon-shaped bay. Cerro Playa Ancha, where Villa Kunterbunt is located, has a lively atmosphere with lots of small specialized shops, where you can buy great wines, cheeses, fresh bread, fruits and vegetables, and even the ingredients for Dutch ‘oliebollen’! Three Germans had arrived in the hostel as well, who were about to start their three month motorbike trip around Chile and Argentina, great company for Newyear’s eve. December 31st we enjoyed a dinner of pasta salad, fresh bread rolls and German sausage with the five of us. At 23.30 we headed out to join the crowds to see the 20 million-worth firework show all around the bay. „Chi, Chi, Chi, Lee, Lee, Lee, Chile”, the locals were shouting. As the clock stroke twelve, the 30-minute show started and pretty soon the whole sky was filled with twinkling lights and loud bangs that seemed to be fired from all around the bay, a beautiful sight! Everybody was wishing each other, including us, weird gringos, „Feliz ano” and champaign and beers were shared in the streets. We enjoyed the live stage show in the center, after which we ended up in a local pub, where the owner and his wife entertained us with stories about Valparaiso. Around 4 we stumbled into our beds again. Our Newyear’s resolutions for 2014? The past year has been excellent, so I don’t think we need any :-). Best wishes for everyone,
may make your dreams come true!