The three lovely ladies in Chillan asked us where we were heading after Chillan. We said Pichilemu. They looked a bit astonished and whispered “why?”. We said it was on the Pacific coast and we had read it was a hippie hangout in the ’60. You could see on their faces ˋthank goodness these are not my parents’….. However they assured us we could not get there in a day and would need to stop in Rancagua before moving on to Pichilemu. We asked why we could not get a bus from San Fernando which seemed to us to be more direct. They were very definite we should continue to Rancagua, stay there the night and get the bus to Pichilemu the next morning. So that is what we decided to do after we had visited the Bernardo O’Higgins monument and museum. Both of these were suitable homage to our fellow countryman.
We returned to the bus station for a bus at 14.30. Barry had decided he wanted to try another bus company so we booked ‘eme Bus’. This advertised itself as having WiFi on board. So we boarded our bus when it arrived. As we handed our backpack to the assistant we confirmed we would be getting off the bus a Rancagua. He said “yea, yea”. We followed the trip on our well worn map. The assistant came to us and said “Rancagua”? we said yes the terminal. He replied “we don’t go to the terminal” so we shrugged and said OK. We had noticed that most people had been off loaded on the side of the motorway. This is not unusual here as there are bus stops all along the motorway. Our European heads were scandalised when we saw this but it must be said that we have not seen a single road accident in five weeks and we have spent a lot of time on the road.
We were becoming quite jittery about the possibility of being abandoned on the side of a motorway and how we would proceed into town from there. The motorway to Santiago splits just before Rancagua and the driver took the one for Rancagua. So that was a good start. We are convinced he would have continued straight on to Santiago if we had not been on the bus. So true to form he screeched to a halt having pulled into a sidings on the motorway and offloaded us. But not before we had a minor battle trying to get the assistant to get our bags off. He had not put our bags to one side which would be normal if you are getting off the bus early. So he had to climb into the hold and fling bags left right and center to find ours. In doing so he tore the number tags off a load of bags. He was furious. Not our problem sir. So together with our bags we were on the side of a very busy road at 18.30hrs. We were trying to figure out what to do when I turned around and there was a taxi – Phew. He was a nice man and we had the name of a hotel. Immediately as we drove through town, we realised that this was not the place we should have been. It was like the wild west. It is the first time in Chile that we felt uneasy. It was like we were back in Africa. We needed to keep our wary heads on us. There was an air of menace. The hotel was fine – well just about fine.
So we decided to get out of this place as quickly as possible. We had located the bus station on the map but it was in the worst part of town. The only bus for Pichilemu was due to leave at 6.40 the next morning. The earlier the better we thought but we decided to take a taxi there the next morning. We asked the guy in the hotel to call a taxi for 6am the next morning. We ate in yet another sub standard Chilean restaurant and turned in for the night. But neither of us could sleep until the early hours of the morning. Then Barry’s alarm did not go off… The night porter banged on the door at 5.45 and we leaped out of bed. We really did not want to spend a minute longer in this awful place.
The taxi arrived and headed off in the opposite direction to the bus terminal we had found. When he arrived at his bus terminal we said no this was not right. Furious he headed off at great speed to another terminal. We kept telling him we wanted the bus for Pichilemu. He said yes, yes this was the correct terminal. Before we paid him we asked a bus driver who was parked behind him and he said “yes this was the station for Pichilemu” not the one we had checked out the previous night but nonetheless apparently one that had buses going to Pichilemu. This confusion often arises here in Chile as there are long distance buses and there are local buses, often going to the same area. We were, thankfully, in the long distance bus station. These buses are much more comfortable. The driver we had spoken to said it was Nilhue company who would drive to Pichilemu. But the office was firmly closed for ticket purchase. A nice lady said (as far as we could understand) not to worry as we could pay on the bus. She said it would come into the quay where we were standing and it was Nilhue. So we felt confident. It was now 7am and no bus was pulling up at our quay. Eventually a Pullman Sur bus pulled in, marked Pichilemu. We stowed our bags and hopped on happy to be leaving the horrible Rancagua.
The journey was uneventful if long as we had to go right back down the main road to – you have guessed – San Fernando, where we should have been the night before. It looked like a normal place. So the whole journey took about four hours but we arrived safely in Pichilemu looks beautiful and is situated on a deep blue raging Pacific Ocean. What a start to a day…..
There was a purpose in our visiting Chillan – not many people visit this town. Our purpose was that it is the birthplace of Bernardo O’Higgins who is the liberator of Chile. Bernardo is the son of Ambrosio Higgins who was fighting with the Spanish here in Chile in 1774 (I think) when he had a fling with a madamoiselle Rininque who was Chilean. Bernardo was the product of this liaison. I am not sure that Ambrosio, who claimed he was the Baron of Ballygarry, or some such place, paid much attention of his son Bernardo but he did apparently send him back to Richmond in the UK to be educated. That must have involved some trip in the late 1700’s. We wondered if he visited the relations in Limerick while he was attending school in the UK. If he did he must have cut a wonderful sight with his red hair and Spanish looks…
This young man, who was a very solitary child, grew up to be a very courageous fighter. He fought and apparently liberated Chile from the Spanish. His reign seems to be short lived and he was exiled in Peru, where he died in 1842.
We had read that the foundations of his house, as well as a museum, were situated here in Chillan. Hence the visit. Most guide books indicate that Chillan is definitely not worth a stop. But since our trip is not about being tourists and only visiting the beauty spots, we decided to spend one night in Chillan. We had located a hotel with the great name of Liberatador situated of course on Av Liberidad. When we arrived we were surprised to find that this establishment was way above our normal standard but when we enquired the price it was not too expensive. We decided to treat ourselves. The bathroom was huge and tiled throughout… The bed looked really comfortable, which it proved to be and there was cable TV. But no where is perfect, the Wi-Fi was like a dog at a dance, up one minute and down the next.
Since we were on the road from Panguipulli to Chillan for several hours we arrived too late to make our visit to the Monument Bernardo O’Higgins, we decided to check out somewhere to have dinner. We found the Tourist office and all three members of staff fell on us to offer us their assistance. One young lady spoke good English and she was deputed to be our interpreter. They were most interested to know how and why we were in Chillan and were highly amused when they heard our reason. They were even more astonished when they heard that two old fogies like us were just wandering around the country without the help of some tour group or guide. They gave us the name of a restaurant and a ton of publicity material which I am sure they have been waiting a long time to distribute. We made our way to the place where the restaurant should have been but it was a hotel on the fifth floor with NO restaurant. However the receptionist said that the restaurant was across the street. So into the lift again to descend to the ground floor (this was the second lift we tried, the first one refused to budge…). As we were stepping into the lift a group of hotel guests were arriving. One guy who had accompanied them to the 5th floor got back in the lift with us. He heard us speaking English and told us his son was in London studying English. When we got to the ground floor we continued to ‘chat’ as best we could with our limited access to each other’s languages. He was such a wonderful sweet man. He said he was a grower of cherries and blueberries. The former he exported to China and the latter to the US. We learned the price one gets for a kilo of exported cherries. When we asked him where we should eat he said definitely not in the restaurant opposite and gave us the name of another. We were a little wary of hiss recommendation aafter he told us we had missed the best coffee in Argentina by not stopping in Angustura. This delight is served with hot chocolate milk. By the time we said our goodbyes he felt our departure warranted a formal handshake for Barry and a big hug for me.
The restaurant turned out to be excellent, of European standards and prices. We really spoiiled ourselves today.
The above is a very typical encounter with a Chilean. They are warm and kind and friendly. They want to help you all he time. Their behavior towards one another is also very polite. You can cross the street on a pedestrian crossing and cars will patiently pull up. They rarely honk their horns and even if one car crosses in front of another they don’t seem to mind. Parents with their children and children with their parents show a great deal of affection. Young people are also extremely publically affectionate.
This morning we walked the 40 minutes out of town to pay homage to Bernardo and were pleased to see that he is being suitably honoured here in Chillan, even if the whole thing is in Spanish. It was a beautiful morning with sunshine and not too warm. Back in town we visited the market which is another attraction. Now are travelling towards Ranacuaga on a bus which is supposed to have Wi-Fi so I may even get to upload this before we arrive…
These have been a strange couple of days. I’ll start with our return trip from Puerto Fuy.
At Puerto Fuy we discovered the most amazing boutique hotel on the lake just near the ferry port. We had a coffee and kuchen (I kid you not this is what cake is called in Chile). This is an amazing location but at this time of year it was almost empty. We tried to establish the tariff but the guy on the desk just said we needed to check the web site. I wanted to use the facilities but the ‘banos’ was in deep darkness. When I told the same guy that the light in the ladies loo was not working he just said “yes” but did not offer me any alternative. Since I needed the facilities I used my phone (The phone has been pretty useless foe making phone calls but did the job as a light source in the very posh loo in this boutique hotel)
After lunch we decided to walk out the road towards the entrance to the National Park. The guy in the hotel said it was about 2kms along the road. This is a dirt road so every vehicle churns up a cloud of dust. As we were walking along a 4X4 travelling towards Puerto Fuy screeched to a halt and the driver rolled down the window to tell us there was a path off the main road, up in the forest. He was belong to an adventure group. This is typical of Chileans, they are always ready to help you.
Barry was convinced that the bus would pick us up wherever we were on the road – I was less convinced. He had, apparently, several plan Bˋs. The bus was due at 15.30 in Puerto Fuy for our return trip. We were well out the road at 15.30 but alas no sign of a bus. We got as far as the entrance to the national park only to discover the most horrific disneyland type hotel complete with skywalks to the bedrooms. As we waited, and waited for our bus people were arriving all he time to visit this wonderland hotel.
Finally at about 15.45 our bus was spotted making its way to Puerto Fuy. It only remained for us to wait for its arrival back. And so it did and we were a little surprised that the return fare was a little more than the outward fare. Who knows why…..
This was a most interesting return trip. It was Sunday afternoon. All along the way we picked up people who were making their way back to Panguipulli. There were very emotional scenes at each stop. It appeared that many young women had to leave their husbands and children behind in their village to go and work in the town. Children were clinging to their grandmothers as their mothers mounted the bus. There were also many students returning to college and University. Parents hugging them as they boarded the bus. Chileans are very emotional. By the time we reached Panguipulli the bus was bursting at the seams.
We had loved our day in Puerto Fuy and decided to return the next day to take the trip on the lake up to the Argentinian border. However bus timetables were against us so the trip proved impossible. This left us with a day with nothing to do. This is the first time in four weeks that we have been unable to carry out our plan. The weather was not pleasant either, it was getting cold. However we discovered that the hostalˋs TV had France 24 and BBC World service so we were able to catch up on world news.
As we were leaving our hostal the landlady said we were muchos sympatico . She had been muchos sympatico on arrival and was being so on our departure but in between she had not been seen other than at 7 a.m., banging on our bedroom door to tell us the loo was running. Barry could have sorted the problem in two minutes but decided she did not deserve it. The bedroom was a wooden box on stilts in the garden, a very common occurrence here in Chile, as a guest bedroom. It was freezing. The only advantage is that the bedclothes are really heavy so one is warm in bed.
This morning we pushed on to Chillan
If you look at a map this trip looks relatively easy. We just needed to get back to the Pan-American highway at Rio Bueno and then go north and east again. Since the bus system here is excellent we had no doubts about the feasibility of this exercise. We wandered up to the bus stop in Lago Ranco on Saturday morning around 9.15 am. There was a bus standing there with the door open but no sign of a driver. The little ˋshop’ at the stop was closed – nothing starts too early here in Chile. They work late into the evening and eat even later.
But back to our bus which resembled the Marie Celeste with its engine going and no sign of anyone. The departure times of these rural buses is normally indicated in the window using a clock with moveable hands – just like the ones we use to teach children the time. As we all know the hands on these cardboard clocks become tired with time and slip. Hence our bus was showing 8.30 for the departure time. However just at 9.30 the driver materialised bearing his coffee and a roll. We thought we had the stowing of baggage down to a fine art. We indicated that we had backpacks to put in the boot (since this was a bus with a boot rather than a side storage). The driver looked at us exasperated and indicted we could enter the bus WITH out backpacks – a first…. I suppose this was because it was Saturday and early and he did not expect to have too many passengers between Lago Ranco and Rio Bueno. We were retracing our steps.
At Rio Bueno we expected to get a bus to Lancos on the main road and change there for Panguipulli. However this proved impossible and we had to get a bus back to Valdivia, again retracing our steps. We arrived back in Valdivia and kissed it hello and two minutes later we kissed it goodbye again. The bus for Panguipulli was there and leaving in just two minutes. However it did not leave on the minute so we had time to get on having given up our bags to be stowed. By this stage we had travelled 124kms and had another 170kms to travel, almost 300kms on local buses in a day. Perfectly possible here in Chile and relatively comfortable. We arrived in Panguipulli at around 4pm with no idea where we were going to stay. We had a book, given to us in Valdivia, with a list of hostals (well all three here in Panguipulli) and camping grounds. Barry got hooked up to the Wi-fi in the bus station and we got a map to locate one of these establishments. Alas this is the first time that we were unable to get into our first choice, she ws fully booked. But the landlady was delightful and phoned the second place which had a room. The room was lovely, the shower great BUT it was situated right beside the biggest supermarket in town. We had promised our first landlady that we would return for our second and third nights.
After a good breakfast in Hostal number 1 we donned our backpacks and headed around the corner to Hostal number 2. The landlady was flustered as ‘our’ room was not ready. She asked us what we planned to do for the day. We told her we had no idea but were open to suggestions. She pulled out a map and recommended Puerto Fuy. So off we headed with her map, to the Terminal de Bus.
Being Sunday there was not a lot of buses going anywhere. But we spotted a ticket sales window with Puerto Fuy so we purchased tickets and asked what time the bus was leaving. He pointed outside and there was the bus which left in about ten minutes. The trip was beautiful all along the side of the lake. We stopped many times to pick up passengers. After about 50km the road ran out and we were back on to an unmade road. However big bill boards informed us that the Chilean government was in the process of upgrading this road, at a cost of just over 7 billion pesos and a time of 540 days. We are happy to have travelled on these roads before they get all made up and flattened. The total trip of 72kms took just two hours.
We had arrived at Puerto Fuy, situated at the head of Lago Pirehueico. A ferry runs the length of this lake almost to the Argentinian border at Paso Hua Hum (don’t you love the name…). In low season, as this is, there is only one ferry per day. We had arrived just in time to see the ferry load up with lorries, cars, motorbikes, bikes and foot passengers. We are always fascinated by ferries. This one is bigger than the roll on roll off for Sherkin. It is state funded and the trip which takes 1.5 hours costs 900pesos (1euro20cent) each way. The ticket office is a beautifully constructed building with a waiting room. The slipway is paved with a very stout wooden and steel rail and wheelchair access right down to the ferry.
We headed back to the lakes today away from the bright lights of Valdivia. We left yet another lovely landlady. We think there could write a ‘how toˋ book for landladies and landlords on how to behave towards clients…..ˋsome just have it and some certainly donˋt. Our second landlady in Valdivia was a delight. She ran a great Hostal and she herself was warm and friendly. She worked really hard cleaning and looking after us to make our stay good. With very little Spanish and she with no English she managed to make us feel at home and indicate we were in our Grannys and could use the kitchen etc. We did not have the correct money for the nights stay on day 1 and gave her over the amount but she insisted on giving it back and saying we could pay the balance when we got it. Our room here was bright and the bedclothes cheerful. It was warm and comfortable. What more could one ask.
The situation of this Hostal went against everything our instinct told us about looking for cheap accommodation – it was situated in the bus terminal region….. A definite ˋno noˋ in any other country. However in Chile the bus station is the nerve center of all that is going on. The one in Valdivia is being rebuilt and claims it will be the best and most modern in Southern Chile. I have no doubt it will. Very often also here bus termini occupy prime positions in a town.
Backpack strapped on and off we went on our next adventure. We were headed to Lago Ranco. Although this was south of Valdivia and we are wending our way slowly northwards, towards Santiago, we decided to backtrack to this place. It is where the very rich of Santiago have their summer abodes. We had to get two local buses and the issue of paying on bus number one did not arise as we had prepurchased our tickets the day before. Out trip was to be 124kms. The first part back down the Pan-American highway as far as Rio Bueno where we were to change buses. On arrival we saw our little ramshackle bus for Lago Ranco pulled up alongside. Our backpacks were whipped off and stowed in the boot of this tiny bus. Then the entertainment started literally. A tin whistle player boarded the stationary bus and played us a few tunes. His tin whistle was literally a homemade tin pipe with the holes bored in it and he could make it sing. He was followed by a seller of sweets and peanuts and then lo and behold a fellow selling pots and pans and bed linen all of which he was carrying. Our fellow travellers were an eclectic bunch. A very old couple had come to town to buy, among other things, a sweeping brush which she stowed on the shelf above us. She then proceeded to hop off the bus again in search of some last minute purchase. Her lovely husband was having a seizure and begging the driver to wait. Finally all the travelling salesmen were evicted and Madam returned safely and off we went to Lago Ranco.
All we possessed in the line of possible accommodation here was a general list the girl in the station at Valdivia had given us. But we had faith. On arrival the content of the bus dispersed leaving us standing on the side of the road. Barry looked after our bags while I had a scout around. None of these places are big and most work on the American grid system so finding ones way around is very simple. I found one of the two places on our list and it looked ok. Madam the landlady did not score high on my charm school list but she was ok and the place was clean. I booked for two nights and returned to Barry. Meanwhile he had located a greasy spoon for lunch and we were sorted.
Our room looks out over the lake but the weather has turned more normal for the season so there is quite a lot of cloud and even drizzle this morning. This clears by early afternoon but the high mountains remain covered in some cloud. This could not be described as the gourmet capital of Chile. We are wondering where these wealthy folk from Santiago eat when they come for the summer. However what the place lacks in style it makes up for in camaraderie. I am sure you are all aware that Chile was playing Columbia in football last night and we got fed in the pub where all the local lads had come to watch the match. It was a complete hoot. There is no limit to the enthusiasm, shouting, whistling, etc. They were really keen that they involve us in the fun. Sadly it was a one all draw. Luckily Chile did not loose…they might have burned down the pub.
Today we went for a long walk along the shore of Lago Ranco and came across the most amazing luxurious houses overlooking the lake with views to die for. This is a little difficult to accept as the standard of living in the town itself is very, very poor. However if these rich people bring business I suppose it is win, win situation. On the way back we stopped at the same pub where last nights football was shown, seemed none the worst for wear, we’ll be back later, there is nowhere else to eat…