The city has a good international airport that has reasonably priced flights to Ushuaia and other important Chilean and Argentinean destinations. Most people try to avoid travelling by plane in this spectacularly beautiful area and rely heavily on the excellent bus services. There are regular buses to Santiago, Puerto Natales and Rio Gallegos (Argentina). Generally the buses are clean, comfortable and reliable. On the trip from Puerto Natales:
‘…the trip to Puerto Arenas was only three hours. We rolled effortlessly along the Pan American highway on a perfect road through a flat windblown landscape of stunted trees and undulating hills which stretched off to infinity.’
Like most other cities in Chile there was a group of locals waiting for the bus all offering rooms for rent. During six weeks travelling in Chile I never had to make an effort to find a place to sleep. In December 2000/ January 2001 the going rate for a good room was about US$7 per night per person – this often included the infamous experimental Chilean breakfast. I stayed in the wonderful home of Macarena (O’ Higgins 787, Esqunia Avda Colon, tel: 245688). From my diary:
‘…the room for US$7 a night is beautiful. It’s the size of a small football pitch, bright and has high sculptured ceilings. There is a rickety looking wooden balcony which overlooks the main street – perfect for catching the last rays of the setting sun and watching the world go by. The rest of the house is best described as atmospherically Byronic – lots of carved wood and pleasant curves. Macarena is flitting about trying to encourage me to eat cakes and drink wine with her.’
However, anyone staying at Macarena’s house would do best to avoid mentioning my name due to a rather unfortunate incident, or two, which happened the first time I stayed there. Firstly, a couple of minutes after Macarena had left for her other home I managed to lock my door which was something she had told me was impossible to do – the lock had been broken for many years. I then had to spend a frantic hour on the phone to her grandmother, her cousin, her husband, and their delivery boy etc. to get someone to come down and help me open the door. From my diary:
‘Old woman: No, Macarena is not here now. Is she a friend of yours?
Me: No, not really, err, it’s like this…
Old woman: Ahh, your Spanish is good but you are English aren’t you? Let me get my son, he loves to speak English.
Son: (in terrible English): What is problem have you?
Me: My door, it’s…
Son: I study English in London, not understand you. The cat sits on the radio. Elizabeth is the Queen of England.
Me: My door is…
Son: Let me get my son, he should be learning English next year at school…
Son 2: Que?
Me: My door is locked and I really need to get into the room.
Son 2: Que? Pizza mucho gusto, que?
Me (in desperation): Escuche, mi puerta se cierra con llave, yo realmente necesito abrirlo para que yo puedo conseguir algún papel higiénico y vaya al retrete. Yo no he sido durante tres días y yo estoy consiguiendo bastante involucrado. Por favor pueda usted envía a alguien redondo ayudarme (con la llave no la puerta)…por favor…esta semana.
Son 2: Ahhh, así que, íse es dos pizzas, un pan de ajo y una botella de cerveza.
¿dónde yo entrego a?’
Twenty minutes later the whole family turned up and their six year old nephew opened my door with a 100 peso coin – I felt very embarrassed.
Later that evening I decided that after being on the road for the last 7 weeks it was time to give the contents of my rucksack a good wash. There was a washing machine in the kitchen and Macarena hadn’t told me not to use it. So into the machine went whites and colours – it wasn’t easy to distinguish between them at this stage – and I settled back with the cable TV and a bottle of wine.
After a few minutes I noticed that the machine was leaking a little bit, but not really enough to distract me from the very good bottle of wine I was drinking whilst Saskia was cooking. A few minutes later, when the water was up above her ankles we began to worry. Pulling the plug from the washing machine only seemed to make it more angry and like the sorcerer’s apprentice the machine mysteriously carried on pumping water into the room. It was now close to the top of my boots and by the time I finally managed to find the main water tap, which was conveniently rusted open, the whole top floor, the stairs and most of the ground floor were ankle deep in water. From my diary:
‘Saskia, we have a small problem here.’
Three hours later we had managed to mop up most of the water. It was impossible to repair the damage that the water had done to the beautiful wooden floors or wallpaper. Macarena popped by around midnight to collect her keys and found us sitting guiltily drinking wine in the kitchen. She took one look at the floors, blanched, gave a little scream and ran out. She returned a few minutes later with a big jar of wax and a mop. By the time we got up the next day the floors had been returned more or less to normal, but I did nearly break my leg on the overwaxed floor when I went to the toilet in the night.
Places to Eat
From my diary:
‘…life on the road is never extravagant, glamorous or nutritiously satisfying.’
Eating out in Chile can give your wallet serious trauma and we tended to eat from supermarkets where for a few dollars you could fill up on huge empanadas, excellent salads, roasted meat, cheap wine, good beer and stupendous cakes. Even better than the cakes, if that is at all possible, are the ice creams which are sold from every street corner. Mmmmmm, simply divine.
About the Author
The author has traveled to about 50 countries and lived in places as diverse as Brazil and Japan. When not travelling he can be found writing sarcastic letters to Air Portugal or with his head in a map whilst nursing a pint in his local Cambridge pub. Travelling or not, he can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org