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Chile - February 1996

Vicky Blitz

Having spent a week touring Argentina, we drove through endless desert to get to the boarder crossing into Chile, where the immigration officers proceeded to hassle our sole British citizen passenger before we could move on. The Falkland Island events were probably still on their minds...or not.  They finally let us all cross.

Finally, in the afternoon, we left the plains and crossed into the awesome Torres del Paine National Park, which abounds with wildlife including guanaco, hares, foxes, flamingos, condors, rheas, and black-necked swan, not to mention mountains, meadows, forests, rivers, lakes and waterfalls. Truly, a nature-lover's paradise.

My favorite is the guanaco, which looks a little like a smaller version of a camel, except it's cute and sweet and very shy. Here we found them roaming the mountain meadows in herds of a dozen to thirty or forty strong. In Argentina we never saw more than three or four at a time, so it was a treat to see such larger groups.

We spent the first night in Chile on a beautiful little island in the middle of a lake surrounded by mountains. We had a delicious dinner in their beautiful lodge. Our rooms were separated by a charming little garden area. There was a long row of connected rooms with an enclosed, windowed passageway running the length of the rooms. But when I opened the doors I found the tiny room, only large enough for twin beds. The walls were made of painted beaver-board, which had seen better days. The same could be said of the bed and linens and quilt. In a word, shabby. The cramped bathroom had a moldy shower stall. What a disappointment, after the initial introduction to the complex.  But hey, I'm a camper and this was luxury compared to a tent.

The next morning, driving through the park we saw a buck and doe deer. The tour guide was very excited because, she said that in eighteen years, this was the first time she had seen a single one. She also said we were fortunate to have such good weather, because more often than not, the mountains were shrouded in misty clouds. Leaving the park we had one final drive through the Patagonian pampas, before arriving at Punta Arenas. Once there, we were at the tip of the Chilean mainland and overlooking both the Magellan Strait and Tierra del Fuego.

The flight to Santiago was only a four hour trip but we landed once and they fed us a full meal on each leg of the flight, and, the food was very good. In Santiago, we stayed at the gorgeous Sheraton with it's gorgeous lobby and, yep, I had a gorgeous room.

We spent the morning touring the city which included a trip to San Cristobal Hill, where I got a picture of the city below. It was a nice, modern city, surrounded on three sides by mountains, with only one flaw that I could see. The day we were there, the smog had settled over the city in the valley (Note picture of smoggy Santiago), which probably exacerbated the persistent cough I had brought with me from the states, which was now taking it's toll. I was becoming weak and loosing my stamina and probably would have developed pneumonia, had I not been taking the penicillin I brought with me. I stayed behind as others in our group walked to the top of the hill to get pictures of a Virgin Mary Statue.

There was a lot to see around this city but I stayed behind the second day to try to heal a little bit before making the trip to Peru the next day. I emerged only to participate in the farewell dinner for those who were not going on the trip extension to Machu Picchu, Peru. The dinner was laid out on white linen table clothes with silver and nice China, in a delightful setting, outdoors, amid the flowers, trees (including palms) and the flowering shrubs.

The next morning, those of us going on to Peru were up at 4:00 am, with bags out, breakfast at 5:00 am, an off to the airport by 5:30 am for our flight to Lima, Peru.