Week twelve: culture, nature and roast dinner

Whilst Tam did uni, convalesced and generally faced real life, Charlie and I dedicated ourselves to more cultural pursuits.

From a photographic exhibition in the basement of La Moneda to an unsuccessful attempt to visit another of Pablo Neruda’s houses, we immersed ourselves in Chilean history, identity and pride.

The highlight of Santiago’s cultural offerings has to be the museum of human rights and memory of the dictatorship. Harrowing at times, we pushed our way through the 70 stops on our English audio guide, learning of the terrors and torture faced here, in the worryingly not so distant past. A huge museum full of legislative artefacts, videos and generally horrible pieces of information, I learnt a lot about modern Chilean history and a lot of new Spanish words pertaining to dictatorships and subsequent anarchy.

Following an enormous and rather moving tribute to all of those lost in the fight for freedom (complete with innovative acrylic fake candles that I definitely want to emulate) the second floor was far more peppy, detailing the story of the resistance. Our favourite part was, without doubt, a video montage of unmistakably 80s adverts and catchy theme tunes for the advancement of ‘Chi, Chi, Chi, Le, Le, Le’.

Our other cultural pursuits were based largely on price, thus we did (I’m sorry to confess) go to the zoo!

Perched on the side of Cerro Cristobal, a looming hill, with vast urban vistas all around, lies Santiago’s small, but try-hard zoo. Most animal species are covered, but merely one or two of each, and most looking rather unenthused by their new digs. Personal favourites had to include the overly fluffy red panda and the completely comedic Bactrian Camel, placed at the peak of the uphill climb, thus earning a ridiculously undeserved spot as the grand finale!

Evenings also included a slice of Santiago’s cultural cuisine, with a trip to the crowded bar serving up the local delicacy: Terremotos (or ‘Earthquakes’ to you and I.) Everyone in there, bar none, was sipping on these sickeningly sweet pints of fortified wine, topped off with grenadine syrup and a dollop of ice cream. To our delight, our newfound friends even bought an old cauldron-sized pan from down the road, planted it on the table and requested the barman to fill it with said cocktail. Chaos inevitably ensued and I now know several Chilean drinking chants- should come in useful at a later date!

Back in the real world, we spent my last day in the city attempting to make a homely Sunday roast. Whilst the sub-par quality of our oven caused the cooking process to take over three hours, the final result was worth every moment of impatience. The perfect goodbye to my hosts, who were probably sick of me lingering around!

I jumped on a nightbus, threw dagger stares at a man who was snoring like a hacksaw, and before I knew it, I was in Pucón.

As it transforms to a ski resort within the coming months, this place (even more than the rest of Chile) has a sickly European feel to it.

Despite my spending my first day lounging on the black sand, lakeside beach, this is apparently one of the country’s adventure capitals. Not wanting to disappoint the stereotype of all tourists in the vicinity, I therefore signed up to scale the summit of the nearby Volcan Villarica.

Woke up at stupid o’clock and was informed that conditions were great for climbing (although to me it looked dark and windy as hell!) Luckily, for a mere £10 extortion, the nice man turned on the rickety, unsafe chairlift and enabled us to skip the first hour of the climb. Beyond that, we continued heavily uphill (about as steep as a staircase) up some rocky terrain towards the looming glacier. Here we strapped on our crampons and traversed the ice. This part in itself was a lot of fun, even ignoring the sprawling views across the lakes and oddly-spaced mountains.

Above the glacier, thanks to an eruption last year, lay far more rocks, ash and the most treacherous terrain yet. Had to focus more on my feet than the views at this point.

Up at the summit, the crater was unfathomably deep, reaching down to the magma and the centre of the earth itself! It all became clear why they had forced us to don dorky gas masks, as the volcano spat out increasingly opaque, and particularly stinky, sulphuric gas clouds.

Unable to bear the stench too long, we headed down an alternative, but equally difficult path. My personal highlight came when the rocks subsided, we donned our protective nappies and unpacked our bumwhizzes for some sliding! Heading down the pre-carved ice tracks, I had zero control over my ice-axe braking system or the amount of snow I gathered in my knickers! At times I even picked up enough speed to appreciate how fantastic this place would be to ski (and then I crashed into the girl in front, oops!)

After this, the terrain became squishy sand which turned my legs to total jelly before hitting the final stretch of solid ground (with the chairlift sat stationary and mockingly above!)

The seated drive back to town, removal of my boots and cold beers on the roof terrace, surveying the distant volcano that we had just conquered, were some of the most blissful moments of my trip so far!

To my much unprepared body, this was apparently all a little too much and what was intended to be a brief afternoon nap took me through until the next day and into the next blog week…


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