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.


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.



Scream if you wanna go faster

Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to visit many different countries, sometimes for pleasure and sometimes for work. The corollary to this is that I have also had the misfortune to experience many different approaches to best practice among the world’s taxi-driving communities. Nothing prepared me for my drive from the airport to the centre of Santiago – not even India.

We arrived from New Zealand on Monday, three hours before we left. The international dateline is a confusing thing. Already befuddled by this, we were treated to an immigration process worthy of Heathrow at its finest, as we spent 90 minutes waiting in line to present our credentials to those worthy men and women who guard Chile’s borders against an influx of mountebanks and ne’er-do-wells. After eventually negotiating the border, we changed some money so that we had walking about money in Pesos and avoided the many unofficial drivers to ensure we booked an official, fully licensed Santiago taxi to get us to our AirBnB.

Our driver proceeded to demonstrate his Formula 1 credentials as he weaved between and across traffic at high speed with millimetres to spare. I spent the ride with a fixed smile on my face, radiating to Ishbel a confidence I did not feel on the inside. I was delighted when we reached our destination and departed the cab with unseemly haste.

We were booked into a flat on Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins in the city’s Lastarria district. The entrance to the block was unprepossessing and the door didn’t open fully due to some hinge problem which also produced a painful, grating screech as its lower edge dragged along the floor. Despite the unpromising first impression, our sixth floor flat turned out to be lovely. We had a large living room with a small kitchenette in one corner, and a snug bedroom. Perfect for our needs.

Google maps was, once again, our friend as we located a nearby supermarket and launched a sortie to acquire necessary supplies. Tea and milk. We also bought ingredients for a simple relaxing meal. We decided to eat in as we couldn’t make up our minds as to whether or not we should be jetlagged. The bottle of Carmenere helped.

The following day we had a relaxing start to the morning. With lots of tea, despite the barriers thrown in our faces by science. Santiago is at about 600m elevation above sea level, which means water boils at 98°C (150m = 0.5°C). This means we don’t get quite the full infusion necessary for a perfect cup, but it was adequate.

Replete with tea, we decided to start our exploration of the city slowly and visit the most local tourist attraction to us: Bellas Artes – the National Museum of Fine Arts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There were some quite striking works on display in here, and we started to get our first taste of Chile’s determination to meet head-on certain sensitive eras of its past, from the Conquistadors to the Pinochet regime, through art and other media.

The building itself was very impressive, and we were also able to see an exhibition with a splendidly punny name: From here to modernity. I can only assume that the old movie ‘From here to eternity’ had a literal translation as its Spanish title.

After the gallery, we had a walk around the neighbourhood to get our bearings and came across a park slap bang in the middle of it. Not so much a park as a miniature hill that climbed steeply straight up from street level to be topped off eventually by a shrine. This was the Cerro Santa Lucia. By this time, however, we had gone several hours without a cup of tea so headed back to the flat to rectify that situation and to play our instruments for the first time in a few days. There were clear signs of rustiness there, so we spent  while trying to improve our respective techniques.

Eventually, we headed back out to the park to ascend the hill and see what the view was like from the top.

IMG_2320 Flights of stairs led to the peak, but they would have been condemned and shut down had they been in the UK. The uneven steps and low barriers added an unnecessary element of excitement to the climb but the view from the top was magnificent.

After this, we once again called into our local supermarket. We ate at home again, despite the siren cry of the many restaurants within walking distance. We decided we needed to do some planning and wanted to book a wine tasting tour.

A quiet evening and some research was the plan to end our first full day in Chile.