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Colin and Sue’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 16 Jan 2007

Location: Chile

MapThe tour is over and we´re back on our own again for our last week in South America which is very nice. There were some lovely people in the group but also a lot of complaining (particularly about the bread here!).

We had a great flight from Ushuaia to Santiago - it was a really clear day with wonderful views of the icefield and, in particular, the Perito Moreno glacier. Being suckers for punishment, we got to Santiago about 10pm on Wednesday and left the next morning to go back to Argentina for a weekend in Mendoza in the heart of wine country. We crossed the Andes by bus (about 9 hours each way including three hours at the border - the Chileños were particularly slow even when we were leaving Chile) - more fabulous scenery including views of Aconcagua - the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas.

Mendoza was good - we went on a wine tour to the Bodega El Rural in Maipu which was followed by a great lunch with a very nice bottle of Malbec. The vineyard made the Rutino wines which we had had in Ushuaia. We planned to get in a bit of training for the Milford track in New Zealand (which we start in less than a week´s time) so also wanted to do some walking in the mountains. We had hoped to be able to walk from one refugio to another but in the event, with limited time, we found a tour with 2 day hikes staying at a lovely hostel/refugio in the mountains. The walks were very good - although both were all up and then all down - hard on the ageing knees. The views on both days were excellent and we saw more condors and a final guanaco. The night at the refugio was quite surreal - we ended up sipping Malbec in front of a log fire watching Chelsea beat Wigan on the TV which probably had the best choice of stations we´ve come across (in which case you may wonder why we watched Chelsea and Wigan....). This was followed by Terminator Two which Colin has now seen about 4 times and Sue has fallen asleep during about 4 times. There were only 2 other guests there - one of whom was training for a climb up Aconcagua which will take 17 days and goes up to almost 7,000m - quite mad.

Back to Santiago and our third stay in the Hotel Foresta which we really like despite the over zealous maid service. Everything gets tidied up and moved - so for example, our biscuits which we left on the table in a plastic bag (to keep the packet shut and reduce crumbs) were removed from the bag and put on a shelf. The bag, which was obviously very untidy looking, was thrown away. But we´re back in our first room - so nice views of the park.

We decided to even up the wine tasting between Chile and Argentina and go to the Concha y Toro vineyard. This was a much better tour - we had to pay (about 6 pounds) which meant the wine was much better and we could have kept the very nice tasting glasses but decided that they would be just too hard to keep in one piece.

It´s hard to believe that we are leaving South America tomorrow after 5 months - it seems like we´ve been here for ages. We started in Ecuador on the equator and got down to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego. No idea how far we´ve travelled but it feels like a long way, especially after some of our marathon bus journeys. We´ve visited 5 countries - Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina (plus day trips to Brazil and Uruguay). The counties are very different - especially comparing say Bolivia which is still very poor and has a mainly indigenous population and seems very "foreign" to Argentina and Chile which have a much more European feel.

Highlights - we´ve seen some awesome scenery, done some wonderful walks, seen some really different cultures and lifestyles (some seemingly unchanged for centuries), learnt a lot about Latin American history (especially those Incas and their stones), met some great people, watched some wonderful wildlife, eaten some good food and delicious fruit and even learnt some Spanish.

Lows - not many at all really - the worst being ill and sampling Bolivian healthcare but so far we´ve been very lucky compared to some travellers we´ve met (touching wood as typing). It would have been nice if our Spanish had improved more than it has - it´s such a huge leap from tourist Spanish to having a proper conversation. The hardest thing has definitely been having haircuts, although fortunately the results in Quito and Cusco were ok - less said about Buenos Aires the better!

But we are looking forward to some things such as vegetables, sandwiches with fillings other than ham and cheese, flushing the paper down the loo and English speaking hairdressers.