Sunday, 11 May 2014

Chile

Long haul flight number three, and the last double-digits flight time of the trip, was much better than the first. It turns out that prolonged air travel is much more pleasant when no-one in the row of seats is taller than 5'6”. My personal bugbear on public transport is people invading my legroom with their knees. Just because they decided to let themselves become tall, it doesn't mean they have the right to my spare legroom.

I arrived in Santiago approximately an hour before leaving Sydney, gaining a day by grace of the International Date Line. Now there's something OK Cupid can't do.
After a brief scare about an entry fee to Chile that hadn't shown up in my visa research, but that everyone on the plane agreed was about $95, I zipped through immigration with relief, while the many Australians queued to pay the Reciprocity Fee that applies to Australians, Canadians, Mexicans and Albanians entering Chile.

I managed to get to my hostel by public transport, deposited my things, and from then on had a rather extreme bout of homesickness.

I thought I'd been homesick. There were a couple of days in Thailand, and perhaps on or two in China, where I missed a few people or places. I know now that wasn't homesickness.
This was homesickness.
I wrote to several people – my parents, a few friends – just to let them know I might be home early. I started looking at jobs websites to see if there was anything I could apply for. I just didn't want to be doing this any more.
At the same time, I looked at travel books (borrowed from the hostel – I still haven't bought another since selling my Lonely Planet in Hong Kong), and tried to work out a route south that would either give me time to get over it, or would at least mean I'd enjoy my last week or two before giving up and going home.

Speaking to the others in the hostel who had been south, the main places to go seemed to be Valparaiso, on the Pacific coast and hour and a half from Santiago; Pucon, in the Lake District; and then Puerto Montt. South of that, there is not much of a road, but there is a boat that goes for two days through the Chilean Fjords to Puerto Natales, and there is better transport south from there.
I booked a ferry from Puerto Montt for the 19th of May giving me a week and a half to go to Valparaiso, Pucon, and perhaps a place in between.

Santiago felt very Spanish to me, and this didn't help at all with the homesickness. Why be half way around the world, and away from my friends and my lovely life in Glasgow, if it just feels like I'm in Madrid? After only two nights in Santiago, I headed to Valparaiso, in the hope that this town that seemed universally loved as friendly and bohemian, would get me back into travel mode.

That was not to be, either. I didn't dislike Valparaiso. It was an interesting place. I went on the recommended walking tour, and had a lovely afternoon pottering around small streets and admiring the view of the harbour from the hills the town is built on. 



 The first Protestant church in South America with a cross on top.
That last bit is very important. They said it three times.

 Apparently the locals disliked this so much, they applied for World Heritage Site status off the back of it. I quite like it, myself.

 It's a cloudy day. There's a harbour out there. Honest!




I got back to the hostel to an email from the ferry company saying the schedule was delayed due to bad weather, and giving me the alternatives of the 14th, the 21st, or a refund.

I considered what to do for a day. I don't want to give up on getting to Patagonia, but I don't know yet whether this homesickness will pass and I don't want to be stranded at the end of the Earth and trying to get home.
The weather isn't likely to get any better, either.
To go on the 14th would give me very little time – I'd have to go straight from Valparaiso to Puerto Montt, and after two days on buses, two days on a boat seems less attractive – however stunning the scenery may be. To go on the 19th just means more chance of further delays.

I decided to cancel the ferry, head back to Santiago (I'd left the towel Sarah gave me in Japan at the hostel. I am not losing two of them. That's just careless), and then decide what to do from there. At this time of year, it's unlikely the ferry would be fully booked if I got further south and changed my mind.

I only got back to Santiago at 3pm. I wandered around the bus station to at least find the office for booking the bus to Mendoza, and on finding it, I bought a ticket for tomorrow morning.

I hate to give up on Patagonia, but it's too late.
The weather has turned, roads and treks are closing, and the hostels are shutting for the winter. The ski resorts will open soon, but that isn't much good to me.

I don't know what it is about Chile, but it just isn't grabbing me. It seems to be curing the travel bug.

I'm going to move on, and hope that Argentina is more infectious.

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