Over the Andes, eventually

When I booked all of the flights for our round the world trip, I had been able to get fairly civilised times for most of them. The flight from Argentina to Peru seemed to be a decent enough time at 8:30am but having experienced the traffic around Buenos Aires, we didn’t want to be making the journey to the airport during the morning rush hour. While we would in theory be moving in the opposite direction to the weight of traffic, the lack of arterial routes through the city means that we would be directly impacted by the weight of traffic. Our experience has been that there’s no compunction about blocking intersections or making illegal turns, or any of a myriad other minor traffic infractions, so why take the risk. That’s why we were in an Uber at 5:45.

So it was that we arrived at the airport (variously called Buenos Aires International, Ezeiza International, or Ministro Pistarini International – take your pick) by 6:30, well in advance of our 8:30 take-off time. They broke the news to us that there was a delay, and that departure would be at 11:20. Disappointing news but our travel had been pretty much issue-free until now. I suppose we were due a hitch. We took comfort in the fact that we had access to the lounge and could relax with a spot of breakfast and a cup of tea. We also found out that Latam Airlines had just sent us an email advising us of the delay. Too late for us to have longer in bed this morning, but never mind.

We got chatting with a fellow passenger. He was a lawyer who now acted as an international arbitrator in contractual disputes and he was off to Lima to adjudicate on a municipal public transport contract. It was he who dropped the bombshell that the plane we were due to catch had not yet left Lima on its inward bound journey. Given that this was a 5 hour flight, I couldn’t help thinking this was bad news. I had the cunning idea to check Lima departures and discovered that the plane had in fact just taken to the air and was due to land in BA at 13:30. At the same time, we received another email confirming a departure time for us of 15:20.

On the off chance, I checked my travel insurance policy for flight delays. Sadly, they don’t start giving us money until we experience a 12 hour delay. Ishbel and I took turns amusing ourselves by walking the length of the terminal and browsing the duty free stores. I will soon need a replacement for what Ishbel calls my smelly stuff – Chanel Allure pour Homme. Surely I’ll get a good price duty free in Argentina? No. It’s 50% more expensive than in the UK. I’ll wait.

After a couple of episodes of aimless window shopping, and lunch, we finally got the call to board. We left at the adjusted time of 15:20 and landed five hours later, although the two hour time difference meant we were on the ground at 18:20 Peruvian time. We were in seats 1A and 1C and power walked through the airport to be first to arrive at an empty immigration counter, so whizzed through the formalities there. Peru is the first place we’ve been on this trip that didn’t require us to fill in any kind of landing card or custom declaration so we just showed the passports and strolled on through to baggage reclaim. We had a ten minute wait there for bags to start rolling off and ours duly arrived shortly thereafter.

We trotted outside to be greeted once more by a visible lack of hotel driver. Our Argentina experience had reduced my sangfroid about such eventualities to near zero so I started furiously tapping away on email to enquire as to his whereabouts when a large card hove into view bearing the legend “LEDDY”. Excellent. We packed everything in – even the dobro fit into the boot this time. For the past couple of journeys it has been occupying the front passenger seat.

We arrived at our hotel – Huaca Wasi. This is a lovely little boutique hotel in the Miraflores district of Lima. My advance reading on this part of the trip had created the expectation that Lima hadn’t improved all that much from the time a few years ago when it was the most dangerous city in South America. I had picked this area deliberately as it seemed to be one of the safest around. After checking in and unpacking, we took a short walk around the area and it certainly felt pretty safe. We grabbed a late supper at a place called El Enano, which was a dining counter on a corner.


But it was getting late by this time and we’d had a long day, so we decided to save more extensive exploration for the daylight hours.  We headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

Markets and Parks

Our plan for Sunday was to visit the Feria de San Telmo, the market and fair held in the San Telmo district of the city every Sunday. We would be using the subway to get there, but there appeared to be a problem with our usual starting point on the D-line so we had to walk a bit further to get a train at Malabia Station on the B-line. Undaunted by this minor obstacle, we utilised our new-found public transport expertise to negotiate our way to Independencia station whence we had memorised a straightforward route to our destination.

It transpires that this is a big day for Argentina’s third national sport after football and rugby: political protest.

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Small demonstrations were congregating in various side streets, presumably with the intention of coalescing, or conflicting, at some later point. I couldn’t dissuade Ishbel from taking a surreptitious snap. I’m fairly certain that protesters, in general, prefer to avoid being captured for posterity but in this case, they either didn’t care or didn’t notice.

We eased ourselves in the direction of the market’s epicentre, Plaza Dorrego, but were slightly distracted by a large antique/flea market in its immediate vicinity. There was an amazing quantity of Peron memorabilia – both Eva and Juan. It’s clear that the lure of Peronism and the cult of personality around them remains strong here.

The San Telmo Sunday Market is very popular and we moved along its thronged streets keeping a watchful eye on our belongings. It’s a pickpocketing hotspot here, for obvious reasons.

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Eventually we reached Plaza Dorrego and meandered through the stalls. We stopped at a little restaurant, attracted by the elegantly dressed couple standing outside. Clearly, there was going to be some tango in this place. Having judiciously avoided being corralled into any of the many outrageously priced tango shows available across the city, we decided a little light lunch here might provide our fill of the dance.


We each had a salad while these two performed immediately in front of us on a tiny little dance floor. A stiletto heel whizzed past my ear as a couple of acrobatic movements were performed but luckily neither we nor any of the other diners were at any point impaled. This was a fun little add-on to our visit here and we were pleased to have seen tango performed during our visit. And we got a couple of fun photos out of it.

After lunch and another relaxed wander, we made our way back to the train station, passing yet another demonstration en route. It turned out that the D-Line was now running so we were able to get back to our usual stop at Plaza Italia and make our way back to the hotel.

The rest of Sunday evening was occupied with our previously booked Argentinian wine tasting. We presented ourselves at the JA wine shop at the appointed hour of 5pm and were escorted to their downstairs tasting room. We were the only two official customers for this evening, but our guide for the tasting had invited along a friend of his who is just starting a sommelier course in Buenos Aires. We were treated to a lovely selection of wines from boutique wineries that we would be unlikely to see in any mainstream wine store back home.

They also provided an excellent cheeseboard and cold cuts to accompany the wines. That was a pleasant conclusion to our Sunday evening and we retired to the hotel and made plans for our last full day in BA.

As part of our walking tour on Saturday, we had heard of a sculptor by the name of Lola Mora, an Argentinian woman who had scandalised polite society in the middle of the 19th century through her lifestyle and her works. Her masterpiece, the Nereids Fountain, was her gift to the Argentine people and government. Originally, it was sited just outside the Casa Rosada but was deemed so shocking that it was moved to an out of the way spot in Costanera Sur. As luck would have it, it was our intention to visit the Ecological Reserve in Costanera Sur, so we would be able to see what the fuss was all about.


It’s a wonderful piece of public art and should definitely be in a more accessible part of the city.

We made our way from here to the nature reserve, eager for Ishbel to get the tripod set up and the big lens attached to see what wildlife she could capture photographically. None, as it turned out. Never Trust Google. The place is closed on Mondays. Open every other day of the week, so we could have visited at any point during our stay. Apart from the very day we chose. Oh well, chin up and let’s find an alternative. It turns out that the Botanic Gardens is just outside our usual subway station at Plaza Italia. Let’s go there, instead!

But Ishbel had adventure on her mind. We wouldn’t simply walk back to the subway station where we had alighted. We would take…a bus! She was not to be dissuaded from this radical course of action so I allowed myself to be directed to a bus stop. I made a rudimentary attempt to pronounce Facultad de Medicina as our target stop and touched the travelcard to the reader twice. Amazingly, it worked. It took a while and we missed our stop by one, which wasn’t bad, but we arrived at our destination and managed the interchange with the subway like experienced Argentinian commuters.

We were proud of ourselves and our elation lasted all the way to gates of the Botanic Gardens. Which are also closed on Mondays. There was nothing else for it. Coffee and a slice of cake was the only remedy, of which we duly partook.

Our spirits buoyed somewhat by the tasty comestibles, we made our way back to the hotel and lost ourselves in the ever challenging task of packing for the next leg. Our flight to Lima was scheduled to leave at 8:30am on Tuesday morning, and we wanted to get to the airport in good time to avoid rush hour traffic. We got our luggage organised and headed out for dinner. On the night we had checked in, the concierge had advised us that  there was an excellent Italian restaurant just on the next corner, Il Matterello. For one reason and another, we hadn’t eaten there yet so decided to give it a try. He was right – it was excellent. A cheering meal with which to make our farewell to Argentina. Tomorrow  Peru!

“All through my wild days, my mad existence”

While I strive for some form of originality when cobbling together these blogs, there are some clichés which are just too irresistible. I was always going to fall into the trap of using a line from Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina for one of my Buenos Aires posts, and this is that day.

We had planned Saturday with military precision. We were going to venture onto the subway for the first time and had already identified a nearby shop that sold the requisite travel cards. We would then visit the National Museum of Fine Arts on Avenida del Libertador, then take a look at the Recoleta Cemetery before joining a 3pm walking tour of the city centre starting at the National Congress building.

Things got off to a swimming start when the hotel concierge offered us a travelcard that had been left behind by a previous guest. Buoyed by this piece of good fortune we practically skipped the ten blocks to the Plaza Italia subway station and negotiated our way across the system to our target station at Las Heras.

London creates certain expectations of how subways should be mapped. Specifically, if a station has an interchange between two (or more) lines, that station will have the same name on each of those lines. And the reverse should also hold true: if there are stations with the same name on two (or more) lines, you should be able to change between them. Neither of these rules hold true in Buenos Aires. To complete our journey, we alighted from the D-Line at Pueyrredon, and caught the H-Line at Santa Fe, which is the same station but with a different name. But we managed and arrived at our destination still filled with the joy that can only come from not only getting a free travelcard, but discovering it still had ARS 100 credit on it, permitting us free travel for the day.

We made our way from the station down to the museum. It was reputed to have a wonderful collection of European as well as South American works and, although Google indicated that Saturday was a busy day for the gallery, we still wanted to see it. Ishbel was even more delighted when we spotted a green-barred woodpecker in the park just across the road from it.


Sadly, we had forgotten the maxim that was rapidly becoming the Leddy family motto: Never Trust Google. Upon presenting ourselves at the front doors, we ascertained that the Museum was undergoing a major renovation, and would be closed until April 14th, well after we had departed this fair city.

Abandoning this part of the plan, we made our way to the Recoleta Cemetery, famously the (eventual) final resting place of Eva Peron. There are some lurid tales of the adventures of Evita’s body but her tomb is now secured against any future repetition.


For foreigners, Evita is certainly the cemetery’s best known occupant but her grave is far from being the most conspicuous or opulent. Recoleta is the final resting place of Argentina’s elite, and the monumental sculptures and architecturally extravagant crypts reflect that.

After our visit, we stopped off at a nearby Starbucks where I was too inattentive to notice and prevent them putting hot milk into our tea. We struggled through this horror of a hot drink but didn’t finish it before heading off once again into the public transport system. One change got us to the Congreso station where cheapskate tourists like ourselves were already massing to take advantage of the free city tour. As the clocks around the square struck 3:00pm, the two guides split us up between Spanish and English speakers. Both groups were quite large and I’d guess we had around 25 anglophones in our group. One aspect of walking in Buenos Aires with which we had become annoyingly familiar was the lack of pavement maintenance. The sidewalk is a constant trip hazard, and I’m certain our travel insurers would have preferred us to be driven everywhere. With a crowd this size, I hoped we’d be able to keep an eye on the guide and the pavement to prevent ankle injuries. As it turned out, the pavement-induced wobble if the person in front acted as a kind of early warning system of an upcoming hazard.

Our guide, Martin, started with an explanation of the creation of the Argentine nation, of which Buenos Aires was not originally a part. In fact, it participated in a civil war between Centralists and Federalists to try to retain its autonomy outside the fledgling nation. It lost, but still was made the capital. The city even secured its withdrawal from the Province of Buenos Aires, so that it is now a separate entity from the nation’s twenty-three provinces.

And that was only the start of the tour, outside the National Congress building. Martin went on to cover a vast array of topics, from the fact that Buenos Aires boasts one of only three statues of Rodin’s “The Thinker” that were cast during his lifetime…

DSC_0148 2 …to the power and influence of the Freemasons in late 19th and early 20th Century BA – some of whom appear to have had what verges on an unhealthy obsession with Dante. There are even rumours that they stole his remains from Italy but Italy won’t admit it.

Aside from these unsavoury tales, we heard quite a bit about Argentina’s political turmoil, ancient and modern, together with a first hand account of supermarket shopping during a period of hyperinflation.

The tour ended outside the presidential palace – the  Casa Rosada – on the Plaza de Mayo. Here, we heard moving account of the struggle for justice of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. During the military rule of Argentina from 1976 to 1983, opposition was brutally wiped out. Also at this time, it was illegal to gather in a group of more than two people. If three people came together, they could be arrested for holding an unauthorised assembly. In the square outside the Casa Rosada during this time, many of the mothers of those who had been taken came together in pairs, and walked a silent circuit around the plaza, never stopping so that they could not be arrested as protestors. As a symbol of why they were there, they carried a tied, empty nappy (diaper) representing their missing child.

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Martin also told us that Argentina has one of the world’s most advanced DNA analysis labs for a heartbreaking reason. When dissident women were captured, there was a taboo on killing them if they were pregnant. In such cases, they were imprisoned until they gave birth. Once the child was born, the mother was killed and the baby given to a childless couple in favour with the regime using faked adoption papers. A campaign to track down these children is spearheaded by a group known as the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. I cannot begin to imagine the emotions experienced by the people identified by this process.

Our tour ended on a sobering note as we were made aware that the next day was March 24th, a public holiday in Argentina designated as the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice to commemorate these events.

I don’t speak Spanish, but I know that’s not Castillian

The classic Spanish, like what it is spoken in Spain, is Castillian. The version spoken in South America is different. In much the same way that English at home is different from the US or Australian versions, the language in South America has suffered what is known as colonial lag.  This is a (disputed) hypothesis which postulates that migrants who move far from their homeland tend to preserve their native language in the form that existed at the time of that migration. So although the season used to be known as fall in the UK, the latinate form – autumn – became more popular later while the original persisted in the US.

It would appear that a similar phenomenon exists in South America. This is somewhat annoying for me as it appears to impact the very few words and pronunciations in Spanish with which I am actually familiar. So, when I greet the locals with a jolly and robust “Buenas dias”, the response drops the endings. It appears that the ‘S’ is silent here, so I get back “Buena’ Dia’.” Similarly, I know that the rule is that when a pair of Ls appear in the middle of a word, I should pronounce them as a Y. So if I want the chicken from the menu, I should pronounce pollo as paw-yo. No. Here, the double L is pronounced like a soft ZH, so I need to say paw-zho. Or, more likely, just point.

This is all a lead up to our big Argentinian meal. I had heard recommendations for a place called Don Julio, a grill restaurant or parrilla that is so popular, it gets booked up months in advance. I had actually missed the availability for dinner on any date during our stay, but I had managed to get a 1pm lunch slot with which I was perfectly content. We took an extensive stroll around the Palermo neighbourhood before presenting ourselves at the threshold of the restaurant.


Although bookings are difficult to get, they do also offer a queuing system for the sufficiently patient. You can show up at the door and put your name on the list then wait for the requisite period to get a table. They were quoting 90 minutes to the guy in front of us as we arrived. When booking, they make a point of telling you that your table will be held for 15 minutes only. We made sure to be prompt and felt slightly smug as we gave our name to the host and were ushered immediately indoors and seated at our table for two.

Although smug, we were also ever so slightly envious of the outdoor hopefuls. It turns out that, every twenty minutes or so, small glasses of fizz are distributed to the queue together with miniature empanadas. We weren’t envious enough to stand outside and wait, though.

I had heard that portion sizes here were large and, given what we’d already experienced in Argentinian restaurants, there was no reason to doubt this intelligence. Accordingly, we skipped starters and went straight to main courses. We played it safe and each ordered a sirloin steak. After all, how excessively sized could that be?

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Really quite large indeed, turned out to be the answer. Mashed potato, roasted red peppers, and splendid red wine accompaniments made for an excellent lunch. We also had the kitchen theatre going on right behind me as the chefs worked their magic at the grill.

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This is a place that should be on your list if you come to Buenos Aires.

After that meal, there was nothing to do but try to walk off the weight of food. A small stroll through Palermo and then a relaxing evening sorted us out for the rest of the day. But, have no fear! We did undertake some planning for Saturday so that we would do something other than just eating lunch.



In the absence of an appropriate frog*…

…we crossed the Andes in a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Latam airlines are using this plane on a few of our flights with them, and so far it’s been a very pleasant experience. Ishbel wasn’t entirely happy with our proximity to these mountains, but it was a clear day and the view was wonderful.


It’s only a two hour flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires and everything went smoothly. The immigration procedure was straightforward and the queues were nothing like as bad as they were on our arrival into Santiago. So we emerged quickly from the formalities to be greeted by a disappointing absence of our pre-arranged hotel driver. We communicated with our hotel only to find out we wouldn’t be picked up.  The driver had been unable to make it out of the city due to some major protests and the associated police presence. We made our own arrangements and headed into the city.

We were booked into L’Hotel Palermo for our Argentinian stay. I’d read good reviews of the place and it was situated in the part of town where we wanted to stay, Palermo Soho. Palermo is BA’s largest barrio and has a couple of different designations: Soho is named because it’s alleged to resemble its NY namesake, while Palermo Hollywood is the more upmarket part, with designer shops and achingly cool cocktail bars. We were happy with our choice of area and, when we eventually got there, with our choice of hotel. The rooms were subdivisions of a number of townhouses, gathered around a central courtyard, with a small pool. It was perfect for us. After checking in and watching the poor concierge lug our weighty bags upstairs (there were no lifts and he insisted) we unpacked then headed out for a look at the ‘hood.

What we saw mostly were bars. We were one block away from Plazoleta Julio Cortazar which is bounded on all sides by bars and restaurants. The roads that radiated away from the plaza appeared also to be lined with bars and restaurants. We were going to like it here. We had a couple of beers and a bite to eat at a little place looking out over the square, which my Revolut app informed me cost GBP 13. At the current exchange rate (ARS 40 to one USD) living is cheap here.

From our vantage point, we identified a place we would definitely be visiting. It advertised “Wine Tasting” on a cinema marquee so we decided to make our way over there and find out more. The first thing we noticed was that the legend above the door was actually picked out in wine bottles.


We found out that they offered tastings at 5pm and 7pm, so we booked ourselves in for the early slot on Sunday evening.

Thursday was our first full day in Buenos Aires, and I wanted to visit the Cathedral. Of football. The stadium of Boca Juniors – La Bombonera – was first on our list. The iconic Boca shirt has been worn by some great players over the years – Maradona, Batistuta, Riquelme and more – and they are identified as the working class heroes of Buenos Aires, as opposed to the more refined air that surrounds their great rivals, River Plate. La Boca itself is an interesting area, but not one where the unwary should wander too freely.


They have a nice museum at the stadium, but limited English language interpretation of the exhibits. An enjoyable visit nonetheless for anyone with an interest in the beautiful game.

We used Uber to get to and from Boca and the journey took between a half hour and forty-five minutes, costing six dollars each way. This was very cheap, but as you will know if you’ve been keeping up with our progress, nothing stands in the way of Ishbel’s drive to utilise the public transport systems of our host cities. But that was an adventure for another day. For the moment, it was back to Palermo and another wander around the streets.

Over the course of our travels, we have been pretty much two meals a day people, occasionally taking a lunchtime snack if we’d breakfasted early or planned on dining late. Buenos Aires is designed to thwart that plan. In the evenings, restaurants don’t open until 8pm and stay open into the wee small hours to serve the needs of their clientele. By 6pm we were starving and went on a hunt to find somewhere that might be open. We did eventually track down a place that was accepting diners at this unfashionably early hour so popped in, looked at the menu, and decided what we would be having. We had been warned that you should always ask in BA whether cards are accepted. I’d forgotten to do this on the way in, but had the presence of mind to inquire before ordering. “No. Solo effectivo,” was the response, meaning cash only.

We hadn’t yet picked up any Argentinian money so made our excuses and left. Eventually, we did track down a restaurant that was both open and accepting of plastic. It was a tapas place and we were so relieved that we forgot to ask what size the tapas portions were. They were huge. One of the problems with the restaurants being cheap is that you have an expectation of value in this type of place. While your mind expects a small dish of patatas bravas for two quid, the Argentine reality is that you’re getting a lot of food for that price. Needless to say, there were a lot of leftovers and a lesson learned.

We did eventually manage to find a cash machine and withdraw money, but the charges for doing so are frighteningly high. If you find yourself in need of cash in Argentina, you should definitely convert currency rather than use an ATM.


*If you’re wondering what the title is all about, it’s a reference to an episode  of the Michael Palin/Terry Jones series Ripping Yarns: Across The Andes By Frog.  

At the end of the wristies

As every schoolchild knows, the title of this blog relates to the question, where are the Andes? Sunday was our day for climbing the Andes. Or, an Ande. Or, more accurately, a foothill. The Andean foothill had been selected for us by Pablo, our AirBnB Experience guide, who had agreed to pick us up at the end of Metro Line 1 at Los Dominicos station at 8am. Another early start for us as we booted up for the walk. It was best to get out early as the day was likely to warm up significantly as it wore on, despite the crispness of the previous evening.

We were there on time, and Pablo picked us up in his little Suzuki and drove us out to the place where the walk would start. I was delighted to discover that we would be starting with significant altitude already under our belt and we would only be ascending a further 450m over the course of the hike. Although we were dealing with a mere foothill, in Andean terms, we would be reaching the height of the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis.

The path was well worn and, as a result, very dusty with lots of loose stones. We were pleased to be wearing our hiking boots and using our poles for increased stability. These, incidentally, are another piece of extra gear we’ve been transporting with us. The poles are extendable so fit easily into the suitcases. The boots are what we wear on flights since they would occupy far too much space in the suitcases.

Pablo was an excellent guide and obviously walks the path on a regular basis so was able to keep us informed about what we could see and where we should stop for photos.


We walked up to a little waterfall that it seemed only Pablo was aware of, possibly because the ast section required a little bit of a scramble past a rock and over a path that at first seemed blocked by (non-native and invasive) brambles. But he guided us past that seeming obstacle to a quiet little spot by a babbling brook.


We began our descent, which was more treacherous than the way up and played merry hell with my knees, but we negotiated the path successfully. Included in the trip was a visit to the Baha’i Temple, a recently constructed place of worship visible from many points in Santiago as it perches on its hillside on the outskirts.

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This is a religious group with which I am entirely unfamiliar. The only observation I would make is that, based on the grandeur of this building and the small number of local adherents, they ain’t hurting for money.

After this visit, we were dropped back at the metro station, said goodbye to Pablo, and made our way back to the apartment. It had already been a long day so we grabbed a quick meal and called it a night.

The following day, we decided to visit another place of worship by going up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal, the high hill we could see from our apartment. There is, fortunately for my knees, a funicular that makes the ascent so we walked over there through the Bellavista neighbourhood. Google Maps wanted us to take almost two hours to walk there as, for some unknown reason, it offered us a route that circumnavigated the entire hill rather than walking straight there in 15 minutes. Sometimes, Google is not to be trusted.

The trip on the funicular is condensed into 20 seconds here. I love a time-lapse.

We enjoyed the view from the top of the hill, but it was quite hazy on the day. DSC_0138 2

But we were able to see the tallest tower in South America, the Costanera Center Torre 2. We also witnessed what was likely to be a family of Harris Hawks honing their hunting skills.


We headed back down and undertook another walk around our neighbourhood, with our eyes peeled for more street art.

After this, we had a laundry to pick up – the everyday tasks are still important and need to be managed! This was our second last day in Chile, so we wanted to be prepared for the next leg of the trip.


Visiting a Valparaiso

We had enjoyed tasting wines without travelling to a Chilean vineyard but it would be difficult to see Valparaiso without travelling to Valparaiso. But Chilean transport infrastructure had the answer for us: a bus! Those who know me will testify to my general antipathy to bus travel, but needs must and, still trembling at my memory of the cab ride from the airport, I had no intention of driving in Chile.

Saturday was the day set aside for this adventure as we roused ourselves early and made for the nearby Baquedano Metro station. From here, we travelled westward to the penultimate station of the No. 1 line, Pajaritos. Exiting the station, we arrived immediately in a bus station thronged with people, all buying tickets to various points across the country.


Valparaiso was our aim and we were not to be diverted. There were three bus companies offering tickets for the route and I chose Pullman, simply because it boasted the shortest queue. I mimed the requirement for two return tickets and, miraculously, purchased the correct thing, allowing us to cover the 160km each way for a sum equivalent to GBP 10 per person.

My ticket window mime must have included the phrase “First Class” as that was where we were seated once we boarded the bus. The road between the cities appeared to have been constructed by ancient Roman engineers as it continued on its way largely dead straight, laughing in the face of geographical hindrances. An interesting innovation was a display board in the passenger cabin which showed the speed at which the bus was travelling and informing passengers that the bus was being monitored remotely and excessive speed was reported directly to the Chilean Ministry of Transport. That may explain the steady 97 – 99 kph we maintained for almost the entire journey. The bus was very comfortable and I would not hesitate to recommend this method of transport to future visitors.

Prior research had indicated that one could take a taxi or bus from the Valparaiso arrival point to the city centre. But it was only a half hour walk so we decided that would be the best way to get a feel for this new locale and off we strode. Off we strode straight into a Saturday street market, where all kinds of fresh food and shoddy goods were available. Remember that this is a port town so there was a lot of fish available. Fish that would certainly have been fresh when the stalls were set up that morning, with rudimentary (or no) refrigeration capabilities. The smell of the market was…striking. We weren’t sure if the caged rabbits were intended for a hutch or a pot, and didn’t stop to ask. We successfully negotiated our way towards quieter streets and made it to the city’s main square, Plaza Sotomayor.


On one side of the square is the Queen Victoria Hotel, where we stopped for a coffee and to plan our day here. We decided that we would take one of the free English language walking tours which started here in the square which turned out to be an excellent decision. Our guide, Yasna, showed us a lot of the city we wouldn’t otherwise have seen and clued us up on a lot of its history.

The city grew in importance as a port as a direct result of the California Gold Rush of the mid-19th Century. For Europeans looking for a piece of the action, there were two options: sail to the US Eastern Seaboard and make the treacherous cross-country journey, or sail the entire way to California which, pre-Panama Canal, necessitated a trip round the Horn. Valparaiso, it turns out, is roughly the halfway point to California and an ideal staging point for ships to take on additional supplies for the journey. The city thrived and a number of the Europeans bound for California decided instead to settle here. Fortunes could be made without digging mines.

As a port, it was also the hub for the Chilean Navy. This branch of the armed forces was one of the first to act during the 1973 coup, taking over all of the local and national government offices in Valparaiso and imposing military rule. In fact, the former Town Hall remains a naval building to this day.


Yasna also told us that Valparaiso means Valley of Paradise, and that it is such a common place name that there are 16 places with the same name scattered around the world. I later tried to verify this and it turns out there are actually 29. And only 21 Glasgows.

The city suffered a major economic downturn with the opening of the Panama Canal and even its role as Chile’s main port has been subsumed by San Antonio to the south. It has undergone a post-industrial revival and its main source of income is now tourism, as cruise ships now dock here on a regular basis.

Valparaiso hosted a street art festival in 2013 which was intended to be a one-off event but has become a permanent feature, with many of the world’s best known graffiti artists having works scattered around the city.

We also took one of the ascensores – the lifts that transport locals up and down the steep hillsides that surround the flat port area. Actually, we took the Queen Victoria lift. There really were a lot of Brits settling here in the 19th century. So many, in fact, that, upon exiting this lift, one can see the first non-catholic place of worship built in South America – an Anglican church. The church was constructed while it was still illegal to practice any faith other than catholicism but because of the number – and wealth – of the anglican immigrant community, authorities turned a blind eye to the structure, on the understanding that it did not include any external signs of being a church, so no steeple, no bells, and no cross.

The tour was excellent, and lasted over three hours. We tipped well at the end as we certainly felt that Yasna had earned it. Tours for Tips do a nice job and you should sign up for a walk if you find yourself in Santiago or Valparaiso.

After the tour was over, we refreshed ourselves with a beer before taking one of the trolley buses back to the main station and settling once more into our comfy Pullman seats for the trip back to Santiago. By the time we arrived back in our own Lastarria neighbourhood it was quite late, so we grabbed a late meal at a bar just around the corner from us called Culto. We hadn’t properly appreciated that they had a rooftop outdoor restaurant, nor that they were quite so devoted to excellent British music but we enjoyed both.

Although, for the first time since Japan, we felt cold. As the equinox approached, autumn is on its way here in the south.

Day-coloured wine, Night-coloured wine

Today’s title is taken from the opening lines of “Ode To Wine” by Pablo Neruda, the renowned, Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet. We will get to the wine part of the day later but let’s start with Neruda himself.

Neruda is regarded as Chile’s national poet, having his first works published at the tender age of 13 ad his first formal collection of poems in print by the time he was 20. In a career path somewhat at odds with traditional expectations of poets, he served in his 20s as Chilean consul in Burma, Ceylon, Java and Singapore, and later in France and Mexico. He also found time to be elected as a senator and in later life acted as an advisor to Salvador Allende. He died only days after Allende was overthrown, his death possibly hastened under Pinochet’s orders.

His three houses in Chile – in Santiago, Valparaiso and Isla Negra –  are preserved as part of an art foundation project in his name. We decided to visit his Santiago residence – La Chascona.


The house has been preserved as it was when Neruda lived there. Well – restored rather than preserved since it was vandalised immediately after the military coup of 1973. When Neruda died shortly after, his widow invited the world press and diplomats to his wake in the ruins of the house so that they could bear witness to what had happened. His funeral also turned into the first public show of dissent against the Pinochet regime.

IMG_2349 After our visit, we strolled back through the Bellavista district which is full of bars and restaurants, many of which have staff deeply committed to persuading passers-by to step inside and partake of their wares. We were already booked for our local wine bar that evening so resisted their solicitations.

Apart from time zone calculations, I also find myself consistently adding six months to the date to try to understand what is the current season in the Southern Hemisphere. Mid-March here should be the start of autumn, but temperatures are still around 28°-32°C so long city walks necessitate a shower and change. We relaxed for a while and played some bluegrass before heading out for dinner at Bocanariz.

The restaurant offered wine flights – tasting glasses of three different wines curated around a particular theme. We kicked off our evening with a selection called Chilean Heritage – a range of wines from some of Chile’s oldest vines – accompanied by a selection of oysters. For our main course, we went for the tapas option to sample some different flavours. The morcilla (spanish black pudding) was delicious, but so was everything. The wine flight here was entitled Carmenere: National Emblem. Our waiter, Israel, did a wonderful job of talking us through the wines but also explaining why this is such a uniquely Chilean grape. It was thought to have become extinct as a result of the phylloxera plague in Europe in the mid-19th century but it was inadvertently reserved by Chilean growers. Inadvertently, because it was thought to be a strain of Merlot until it was correctly identified as Carmenere in 1994.


The three Carmenere wines we tasted as part of this flight were all excellent but the middle one, Undurraga Founders Collection Carmenere 2015, was outstanding. We had another glass of this.

Highly content with our alternative to a vineyard tour, we took a short walk back to the apartment and called it a night.

Cheapskate Chile

I had been keen on fitting into our Chilean visit an opportunity to sample the local wine production. To that end, I undertook some research with the aim of sourcing a pleasant, reasonably priced vineyard tour. Such a thing seemed to be unavailable, with prices coming in at between USD 150 and USD 200 per person. I decided that this was more than I was willing to pay to spend all day on a bus being shuttled to three vineyards coupled with a visit to Valparaiso. Further investigation was required, blended with a little imagination.

My thought was that one need not visit a vineyard to taste wine. Perhaps a local wine bar might present a tasting that would meet our needs. I found that there existed, nearby, a place called the Santiago Wine Club. We made our way to their threshold and asked about tastings. They do not offer tastings but pointed us in the direction of Bocanariz, a wine bar and restaurant which would fit the bill. Even on Wednesday afternoon, there were “Reserved” signs on many of the tables and it certainly looked like the kind of thing we were looking for so we booked a table for the Friday evening.

Having used the metro to visit the museum of human rights earlier in the day, we were feeling quite pleased with our new-found mastery of Chile’s subway system. We had acquired the necessary electronic access card – called bip! and pronounced “beep” – and loaded the necessary funds to allow us to travel more widely across the city. This meant that when we researched further how we should visit Valparaiso and discovered that comfortable modern buses ran between the two cities, we decided that would also be added to our schedule, and pencilled in the excursion for Saturday.

The last bit of forward planning we settled on today was organising a hike. We could see the Andes from our living room window, so we had to get into them at some point. We tracked down a guided hike on the AirBnB Experiences section and made a booking for Sunday. The week ahead was becoming quite crowded and Wednesday had faded into history.

On Thursday, we undertook an unusual tourist quest and visited the Cementario General, the cemetery where are interred the great and the good of Chilean history. Almost all of Chile’s presidents are buried there, and it also houses the infamous Plot 29. During the Junta, countless murdered dissidents were secretly buried in this plot, the public becoming aware of it after a tip-off to the press.

DSC_0143 Many of the graves in this section still hold unidentified victims.

The cemetery claims to hold two million buried Chileans, and it stretches over many acres. We went and paid our respects to Allende’s grave, but also saw some interesting things that we certainly wouldn’t have encountered in the UK. The use, for example, of Mayan symbols seems incongruous in a Christian – predominantly Catholic – graveyard.

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And we were struck by the existence of crypts and plots for specific groups of workers. For example, there are communal crypts for Glassworkers and for Railwaymen. The one that leapt out at us, however, was this one:

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This is a plot dedicated to deceased circus workers – hence the big top theme.

As we walked towards the graveyard’s exit, we encountered a funeral on the way in. Naturally, we stepped aside and doffed our hats, showing appropriate respect. More respect than a couple of members of the funeral party who were engaged in animated conversation on their phones as they accompanied the cortege. The tolerance of the bereaved in ignoring this was admirable. If this were to happen at my funeral, you, gentle reader, have full licence to educate the individual forcefully in the value of common decency.

We departed the cemetery and returned to our Lastarria neighbourhood for refreshment and a wander.

There is a lot of street art around and this was an especially interesting work on a corner building just along the road from us. Street art was to be a theme for the next few days and we learned a lot about the works and the artists prevalent in Chile.



Facing up to the past

The military coup that occurred in Chile in 1973 brought General Augusto Pinochet to power and changed the landscape of political discourse in the country. Three years earlier, Chile had voted for its first ever Socialist President, Salvador Allende, who had introduced a series of social and financial reforms unpopular with many people and, more importantly, unpopular with an army that saw itself as underfunded and underpaid, particularly in comparison to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay, all of which had seen military coups over the previous seven years. Pinochet’s coup was tacitly (or explicitly) approved by President Nixon, who had already introduced economic sanctions against Chile as a bulwark against a perceived danger of South America falling into Socialism more broadly. The coup led to the death of Allende, 16 years of military rule, and the brutal suppression of any and all political opposition to the generals.

That’s a lot for a country to deal with, especially when you consider that a great many Chileans at the time were supportive of the military regime, while being largely unaware of its excesses. In an attempt to address the issues of this period, Chile instituted a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (6 years before the same process was used in South Africa). The Museum of Memory and Human Rights was inaugurated in 2010 and tells the stories of many of the victims of the regime while also examining propaganda techniques and the control of the media that the generals used to manage the narrative. Famously, the national stadium was used as a detention and torture centre during this time and it is estimated that over 40,000 Chileans were detained here at some point.


This is a difficult, but important museum to visit.