Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Valdivia - Chile

We got off the bus in Valdivia and headed out on our usual accommodation hunt.  Having walked to the square we saw a couple of places but experience having told us not to go for the closest options we ventured on.  The first suitable place we found was way too expensive but as we continued we saw a homemade sign for a hostel down an alleyway which we checked out but didn’t get an answer.  We then came across another homemade hostel sign so we gave the door a ring and a middle aged woman opened up slightly surprised to see us.  We mentioned that we wanted a room and she showed us a nice twin in what was pretty much her house.  After asking about a room key she mentioned that there wasn’t one and that there was nobody else around.  It was pretty clear that someone else lived on this floor as there was a door wide open showing a well lived-in room!  We couldn’t argue with the price, but we made a point of taking our valuables with us whenever possible yet we didn’t particularly enjoy doing this because if we were mugged we would lose everything.   

We went out for some dinner in a nice bar/restaurant then headed out to another bar to sample our first Pisco drink which is bit of a local favourite.  The bar was offering two for one on certain types of Pisco which was great so we chose one off the list and gave it a try.  In our opinion it looked and smelt like white rum as it was a clear sweet smelling solution, but upon tasting it was more like whiskey!  Very bizarre but worth the try.  When we got the bill there was some confusion as we had been charged full price for both.  After lots of gesticulating and arguing whilst trying to maintain a smile it gradually became apparent that the two for one was relevant to each individual.  This would have been a lot clearer if we could have paid at the bar instead of the mandatory tab system which even gets used in these packed bars.  In this instance we simply sat back down and demanded our free drinks! 

We stayed for a bit longer sipping our drinks and playing Jenga before asking for the bill again. Taking a deep breath I looked at it and it was exactly as expected, however I was then presented with a load of coins in change.  I was dumfounded.  The barmen came across and explained in very quick Spanish that in Chile they add the cost of service onto the price of drinks and then provide you with change that you are expected to leave as a tip.  Whatever, Kate tipped the coins from the tray clattering into the communal tip jar on the bar as we laughed off the ongoing complexity of having a drink in Chile before heading back to hit the hay proud of making our stand as Chileans certainly aren't the easiest to understand or argue with.

This complex Jenga puzzle sums things up

On the 3rd of June we had a bit of a busy one.  We woke up and made our way back through the square to the waterfront where there an open-air fish market with a twist.  Being big fans of fish, just seeing this outdoor market and its novel produce would have been enough.  Yet this fish market had an additional novelty in that behind the row of fish mongers who were cleaning and gutting fish for their clients (along with slurping the odd mollusk themselves), there were tens of hungry bull sea lions waiting to catch the fish heads and de-fleshed skeletons that were being tossed behind by the mongers.  It was so much fun to see and we couldn’t believe how big they were, much bigger than the one that had crept up to us in New Zealand!  They were pretty docile other than the odd scrap amongst themselves for position now and again but the workers and locals acted as though they were just a bunch of curious, begging cats.  

Sea urchins and giant mussels, normal so far...

Yep the fishmonger is cutting and gutting the fish as standard

Okay now he's throwing the remains to the giant sea lions... whu?

Rows of sea lions, birds and their fish monger suppliers

I was trying to interpret what a slightly dodgy looking local was trying to say to me when all of a sudden a massive sea lion was up on the curb with the rest of us and flapping his way along towards the market, what better excuse to leave a conversation?!  As the sea lion got closer it became apparent that he was either blind or extremely poor sighted as his eyes were milky white.  I got as close as I thought Darwin would have wanted but the guy who had been speaking to me made a point of getting as close as possible which although the sea lion didn’t seem to mind, it didn’t appear too clever.  The sea lion wormed its way past us and climbed down towards the fish mongers who kept a healthy distance as it sniffed at their produce whilst they tried to poke it away with sticks and discourage it.  The whole thing was completely outrageous and extremely entertaining!

I don't think he's after your phone luv

Making his way down to the main event

Eyeing up the menu

Rather you than me sir

The same day we decided to go on a bit of a trip to see some of the forts that were a big tourist attraction here in Valdivia.  Instead of opting for the touristy trips down the river from town we took a bus twenty kilometers or so to another town called Niebla where we could visit a fort where the lady let us in as students.  It was quite interesting and many of the plaques had English translations but it wasn’t as good as the forts back on the rock.  Even so we spent a good hour or so exploring the fort until we got bored and started being silly and messing around with the mannequins and hugging trees.  Deciding to carry on we walked towards the dock seeing a box filled with three abandoned puppies in a bus shelter on the way, we gave them some bread then continued until we saw a load of people getting on a small boat.  We asked where they were going and how much it cost and ended up taking a boat over to a place called Coral island which was a short trip costing around a quid each way.  
Mannequin catching up on the Lonely Planet
The fort cannons
Hugging a tree in the grounds
Having had a little walk around the small hilly town we stopped for a drink before getting the boat back to Niebla as it was beginning to get dark (and therefore damn cold).  We hopped on a bus back to the main square in Valdivia where we bought some dinner on the way back to the ‘hostel’ to cook.  Whilst it was becoming apparent that this wasn’t a legitimate hostel and was a bit of a penny spinner we still felt at home now and initial concerns had been somewhat lifted.  The owner looked after her granddaughter and had nice family members visiting who we mingled with.  It’s well worth mentioning that for dinner we had fillet steaks of which we bought half a kilo for less than four quid, not too bad.
Abandoned pups eye up some bread before gobbling it up

Taking the boat across to Coral Island

Walking around Coral Island

It rained all day on the 4th, which we spent ducking in and out of cafes and internet cafes sorting out bus tickets and trying to plan our coming days.  I really wanted to see a ‘Classico’ football match i.e. a derby and it was looking as though I might just be in luck.  There were two semifinals, one today and one the following day where Universidad de Chile and Universidad Catolica would be playing in separate games and if both went through we would be on for a Classico final.  We also decided that we wanted to go to Easter Island as LAN in Chile are the only company who offer flights and whilst it was expensive (around four hundred pounds if you book from Chile on the Chilean version of the website) it was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity as we wouldn’t be able to fly from Santiago too often.  The date we booked it for depended on whether or not both teams went through, if they didn’t we would go sooner otherwise we would need to spend a few days in Santiago to get to see the match, then fly out to Easter Island afterwards.  We had also been trying to establish a Couchsurfing host in Medoza, Argentina where we had planned to visit following Easter Island.  It’s quite hard to sort this type of thing out with someone who doesn’t speak great English when you aren’t even sure of your own dates!   

We fancied going back to Santiago that night and were lucky enough to find almost fully reclining ‘cama’ or bed seats on a brand new bus which we were very happy with.  They were seriously discounted for leaving that day.  We booked our seats and the coach left at quarter past nine that evening.  The same day news came out about the volcanic eruption of Puyahue-Cordon-Caulle, only fifty miles away covering the nearby popular Argentinian skiing town of Bariloche.  After doing a bit of research I found out that the last time this volcanoe erupted was in 1960 following an earthquake which measured 9.5 on the Richter scale in Valdivia!  Whilst the chances of it happening whilst we were there were slim we found it a pleasant coincidence that we were heading out that evening.

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