Thursday, December 13, 2007

Not so chilly in Chile!

Well, here I am in another country (nice to tick it off on the list!)....Chile. Since I last spoke to you, we left the lovely calm surroundings of El Bolson for the picturesque and exciting splendour of Bariloche!

Myself, Alan, and the Scottish two (Alan and Gail) stayed on an extra day in El Bolson, as we found it hard to quit our lovely solitary log cabins. Talk about a peaceful break in the holidays - all we did was lie in hammocks reading our books, or playing chess inside at the window seats, pausing every now and again to look out the window at the Andes all around us. What a time it was! I´ll definitely be hitting El Bolson again on my travels. Bariloche was pretty much everything I expected it to be - a bigger town, with bigger pubs, and bigger prices - nothing near as nice as El Bolson, but we weren´t there for the beauty...we were there for the adventure!

So, first things first, we signed up for the canopy sliding. This is a fantastic little day trip where you are collected on mini bus and driven up into the mountains around the lakes of Bariloche. On arrival we were given a little demo on the proper use of the zip-lining equipment, then strapped into our harnesses and squashed into a Landrover - yes, all eight of us. Then we headed straight up the mountain, bumping and shaking up the dirt track through the trees on an almost vertical dirt track, to our first platform, at ground level. Here we were given helmets, gloves and a leather strap thingy to use as a brake, when needed (eek!). Up we climbed onto the platform - really a pallet of wood hung with wires from the branches of the tree, but that didn´t matter, as we were only a few feet off the ground. So, we stood around and then were hooked on one by one to the zip line. The instructer told us to cross our legs, put our braking hand above our head on the wire, and hold the harness with the other hand, and away we went - zipped through the trees (with the greatest of ease). All fun and laughter, until we got to the other platform which, due to the steep incline of the mountain, was about 30 foot above the ground. Suddenly the pallet of wood didn´t seem so secure this high up......and with 9 of us on it!! I was very nervous getting in line for the next zip, because the pallet was shaking beneath me, and this next zip line was so long you couldn´t see the other platform at the end of it - you could just hear the zip as the person ahead of you soared through the canopy of trees, and see their bright red helmet disappear into the leaves. So, this time, my body betrayed me slightly - when the instructer told me to cross my legs (always the last thing you do, as your legs are holding you to the platform), my body wouldn´t obey! It just said ´no´! Stubborn took a few seconds to shake it out of it´s fear, and jump into the zip line! I was probably helped by the fact that an eight year old kid had joined our group, and didn´t seem afraid at all! Anyway, we got to a maximum height of 60ft above the ground, and did 8 zips in total, so it was great fun, and I´d do it again in a heartbeat! Being up that high in the trees was beautiful, and when you remembered to look ahead of you, you could see the lakes of Bariloche spread out below you in a beautiful tableau. A little bit scary, but definitely great fun!

The next day was the white river rafting day. We were told that the river we would be taking is a level 3 to 3.5 (as the glaciers are melting higher up in the mountains, feeding the river a bit more as the summer goes on). We took a minibus far into the mountains from Bariloche (practically back to El Bolson), and were handed our fabulously flattering wetsuits! We were all in our swimwear, so I had to put it on over my bikini, in a lovely little communal area with all the other girls. It was bloody horrible! Like trying to get the fig into a fig roll! I had to be POURED into the wetsuit! But, I got it on eventually....and headed outside to be confronted by the ballerina-esque boys in suits! If I thought I looked dodgy!!! Just kidding - I had never seen such fine displays of manliness in my life! They were hilarious.....even had a kickabout with a football, just in case we couldn´t see enough how the wetsuit hugged every curve! Then we got our lifejackets, helmets and wetsuit socks. We were assigned six to a boat, so Mac and Bones headed off to another boat with some girls, and myself, Welly, Alan, Alan Mac, Gail and Ed took our positions next to the big inflatable raft beside us. We got our safety briefing from the main instructer, then we were introduced to our man, Santiago - or, as he preferred to be called, Santi. We carried our boat onto the beautiful water (glacial water - coming from the melting glaciers - has such a fantastic blue colour, and is potable, so you can drink it anytime you like) - which was, unfortunately, also fantastically freezing! Santi went through his instructions, and we practised with our paddles. Since Welly and Alan Mac were up front, we had to take our paddling lead from them, and they had to match each other, that way we all paddled as one. We also had instructions like ´right side back´, which meant the right side paddled backwards and left side forwards to turn the boat around, or ´left side back´, which was the same thing vice-versa. We had others like ´high side right´, which meant we were flipping, and the right side people had to jump against the left side to steady the raft, or my personal favourite ´rock and roll´, which meant drop inside the raft (we sat perched on the edge for paddling) and hang on to the ´oh shit´ rope which rings the raft - that instruction was for heavy rapids that we would just have to ride out, and couldn´t paddle our way through. All these intructions came as we were meandering slowly down the river, looking up at waterfalls pouring down the mountains around us into the little canyon we were sailing through. Absolutely beautiful! Santi was also great fun - everytime another raft came close, he started splash fights with our oards, so we were soaking by the time we got half way down.

And then the rapids were upon us! We had 8 in total, and they were just unbelievable! The boat rises practically vertically, and then drops just as much - you´re leaning back in the boat looking straight down into the churning water as it throws the raft high in the air, and crashing back down again. It was so weird - you feel actual waves in the river, because it´s moving so fast and crashing against rocks. The rapids were just brilliant! The instructers messed about, jumping on the raft to give it extra bounce - and Bones and Macs instructer jumped too high on the first rapids, and fell in, and their boat had to go to the rescue! Our instructer was very happy with our response to his orders, and our paddling ability, so he said he would take us in the most difficult - and fun - angles on the rapids, so it was just brilliant. I have never felt such a rush of adrenalin in my life, it was just fantastic, and I hesitate to even begin to describe how it felt to be thrown around the blue-green waves, with water crashing around you and into you, and trying to paddle and listen to instructions on what to do - it was one of the most amazing things I´ve ever done, and I´m delighted I did it!

At the end of the rapids, Santi stood up on the edge and shouted ´high side right´, and we all jumped against the left side - and saw what he was doing...he was tipping us! Ed spotted it, and tried to jump back, but it was too late, the raft overturned, and we were all thrown into the fast moving FREEZING water! I lost my paddle straight away, of course, and was looking around for Alan - then lost myself in the feeling of the water, and just floated downstream until the raft pulled up close by, and I swam back and Alan pulled me on board. We were all just crying laughing, and shaking with the fun and coldness of it all. Brilliant!

We climbed up out of the river, to discover that we were in Chile! Just over the border.... And then we changed out of our wetsuits - again in a lovely communal shed - and into warm clothes, then back in the minibus and onwards to base-camp, where a delicious barbeque awaited us! The woman who was dishing things up had her little girl with her - a lovely niƱa of about 3 or 4 - who took a shine to me, and babbled away in Spanish to me for about an hour. She loved my nose ring, and kept touching it, then got a sticker and stuck it on her so she could look the same! Funny onion.

We were bloody knackered after that! We just spent a couple of days hanging out in Bariloche, then myself, Alan, and Alan Mac and Gail went on ahead to Santiago to meet EJ - the other lads took a bus the next day after. We had the unfortunate luck of arriving in Santiago and immediately meeting with an unscrupulous taxi driver, who drove us to our hostel via every street in Santiago, charging 7600 pesos instead of the 3000 it should have come to, and then when Alan Mac tried to pay with a 10000 note said he had no change, and handed Alan back his money, then took the 7600 off of me. When he left, we discovered that he had swapped Alan´s 10000 note for a 1000 note. What a bastard!! So that left a sour taste in our mouth about Santiago from the get go! Then we arrived in our hostel, which had communal showers - for men AND women! After our trip across the Andes from Bariloche - taking 28 hours - I needed a shower, so managed to get in an out quick enough to avoid meeting anyone else! And the heat in Santiago was unreal! We went out for a lovely meal that night, and that made things a little easier!!

Next morning myself and Alan got up early and caught a bus to the airport to collect EJ. All went well, and we had the exciting Arrivals reunion! Love airports... Then we went back to the hostel and collected our gear, and moved on to the next hostel, Casa Roja - which had a pool! We were too early to check in, so had to start drinking at 11.30 in the day. The rest of the lads arrived at about 5, so at that stage we were well oiled! We all swam in the pool, and drank some more, and pretty much had a great reunion in Santiago! Met some skater dudes in a park close by, and practised our Spanish. All good! And that´s how it continued for a week - we rarely left the hostel, except for food, and spent our time lounging by the pool in the 35 degree heat, and drinking beers by night. We met some lovely Irish lads - Stretch and Fuzz, from Tipp and Clare - and hung out with them, and had basically a bloody right laugh in the hostel! Even felt the earth move - our first earthquake! Turned out to be a 4.6 quake 500 miles away, so we only felt the tremor, but by God it was weird! Dunno if I´d want to feel anything stronger!!

We finally tore ourselves away from the party hostel, and headed north to La Serena, where I am just finishing up today before heading to Mendoza for Christmas. It´s a small enough town, overlooking the Pacific, with not much to do. We have a lovely hostel - Casa Maria - which is literally someone´s house, with some rooms out back for guests. Maria, a child of the 60´s who is about 60 now, treats you like you are her personal guests in her home....fussing over you, making sure you have coffee and tea, and stewing apricots with cinnamon from her back garden too cool you down on the hot days. It´s lovely! We´ve just been relaxing here after the mentalness of Santiago - taking my first swim in the Pacific, and strolling around town, and basically lounging in Maria´s back garden listening to the birds. Nice!

The lads headed off yesterday to Mendoza, and myself, Alan, Alan Mac and Gail, and EJ and Welly are going on today on the overnight bus. Our apartment better be nice!

Doesn´t feel like Christmas at´s just too damn sunny. Also, there´s no real decorations up, so it really doesn´t come across as a Christmassy type place. We´ll decorate the apartment, though, and Gail and Alan have booked the apartment next to us, so we´re planning a monster Christmas dinner for 9 people - and we´ll have two cookers to get everything ready, so hope it´s good.

Really missing the kids! Can´t get my head around not seeing them Christmas morning, and hearing what Santa got them! It kinda feels like we´re just missing Christmas this year, and we´ll have it again next year. Strange. So, onwards again, and back to Argentina we go....just another few hours here. Maria is fussing again, and trying to make me drink some tea, so I´d better go oblige her!!

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