We’re almost at the end of our week in Viña del Mar learning Spanish. We’re very tired, and somewhat surprisingly, we aren’t fluent in Spanish. We are certainly much better than we were at the start of the week though.
Classes are from 9 until 1 in the morning, although they were in the afternoon on the first day for some reason. There are two lessons; 9-10:45 is the conversation lesson, and 11-12:45 is grammar. We can’t really tell the difference, except that our first teacher rarely speaks any English. Otherwise we’re still conjugating verbs like in GCSE!
The classes are certainly interesting. There’s 4 of us in the class which is a nice number and there’s a good range of abilities. We have a workbook which we sometimes go through, and there’s a lot of conversations where the teacher asks each of us a question in Spanish and we have to respond. This is the part me and Laura really wanted from the course as we just need enough to survive around South America for our time here. One of the people in our class is here for 3 months just to learn Spanish which is very impressive!
All in all, I think we’d like to stay for another couple of weeks as we’re starting to get it now, but we haven’t got the time and need to get moving. We also wouldn’t want to stay in Viña for that long (let alone 3 months!) It’s a seaside town with very little going for it. It has a few nice cafes and cake shops but really doesn’t feel like it has much soul. We haven’t done much whilst we’re here; mostly study and nap (which has been nice.)
We did go out for one meal (we mostly cook to save money) which was great. I had steak which was delicious, and Laura ordered a Spanish style Tortilla which was approximately the size of her face and which we had to have most of it to take out.
We also walked along the beech today to the next town (6km away) which was lovely, although we did get sunburnt slightly. We’ve not been getting any more tanned/burnt for the last few weeks so were caught by surprise by the suns strength.
After tomorrow we’re heading to the Central Valley and wine country, followed by some hiking. Sounds just like NZ all over again- Laura can’t wait!!
Hola from jet lag central!
On Friday we left the busyness of Santiago and took a bus 1.5 hrs towards the coast, to the vibrant UNESCO world heritage site of Valparaiso. I’m not sure what we were expecting with the scenery, and it was very nice (lots of mountains) but it doesn’t compare to travelling through NZ- at least not yet. We did pass through the vineyards of the Casablanca Valley wine region, which we’d absolutely love to visit, but we just don’t have time to do everything we’d like to. The bus was really nice- we were envisaging something similar to Laos/Vietnam, but the bus was super fancy, left on time and only cost 5000CLP each (around 5 gbp.)
We’re staying in a gorgeous street, next to one of the cerros (hills.) Everything around here is very mediterranean- lots of brightly coloured buildings, amazing artwork and cute little bars and cafes tucked away into tiny alleys. It’s a shame that some of the murals on the walls are now being graffitied over- this might be a sign of things to come as Valparaiso becomes even more popular than it already is.
We spent an afternoon wandering around, taking funiculars up the VERY steep hills and exploring the different areas. As the city is built on hills, funiculars are one of the main ways to get from the residential areas down into the town- I think there’s 15 in total. They’re very cheap, between 100 and 300 CLP per person and a really cool way to gain perspective over how sprawling the city is. Not the safest we’ve ever felt though. It felt like the ropes could snap any second.
We decided to take one of the trolley buses (Sam was very excited about these) and explore the new part of town.
There’s a huge contrast between the gorgeous rambling old calles (streets) of the old town and down here in the new part. It feels very run down, lots of poverty and there’s stray dogs everywhere! Not such a fan of this part. There’s also a few dodgy areas we’ve been told not to go to- there’s quite a lot of petty crime here, I guess because there’s a lot of tourists, both Chilean and foreign.
Today we took a boat tour around the bay- big mistake. It was like cattle being herded. Hated it. Was only 3000CLP each but would not advise anyone to do it. We did see some naval and container ships though, so at least someone was happy!.
So far on our trip we’ve had some awesome local food and Chilean wine- it’s SOOOOO much cheaper than NZ. We’re paying 2000CLP for a glass of excellent locally made wine and there’s some amazing set menu deals. Last night we ended up going to a fantastic restaurant and having 3 courses and 3 drinks each for under 30 gbp. This was unheard of for us in Fiji and NZ!
We’re off to Vina del Mar tomorrow, a short metro ride down the road, where we’ll be doing a language course for the next week. Then the journey south towards Patagonia begins with wine tasting and hiking in the central valley (if we can ever figure out how to get there.)
We’re in South America!
We’re over half way through our travels! How did that happen?
First things first; we’re massively jetlagged. There’s a 16 hour time difference with NZ, and we got to travel over the dateline which was very exciting; we landed in Santiago before our flight even took off. Doctor Who has nothing on us. Either way, the time difference has hit us hard. We tend to be ok falling asleep but wake up again at 1:30am, and can’t normally sleep till 5am or so. It hasn’t been conductive to long days of exploration (we wake up about 11 normally.) On the plus side, we’re in an AirBnB apartment which has been amazing. We’ve been able to cook (cheap and means we can stay in on an evening) as there’s a kitchen, and it’s a lovely little place which has been nice to chill so we’ve been here a fair amount.
Santiago itself is lovely. It has a very European feel about it and is quite similar to Barcalona. It’s in a grid system like NY which makes it easy to navigate around, and it does have an underground system although we’ve only had to use it once as pretty much everything is walking distance. The weather is consistently in the high 20s and I don’t think we’ve seen a single cloud whilst we’ve been here.
One of the main areas we’ve had issues is language. Almost no one speaks English here, which is a brand new concept on our travels. We’ve managed to struggle through with a mixture of google translate, talking loudly and slowly, and applying the little Spanish we know, but we really need to get better. Fortunately we’re taking a week to go on a language course next week. Laura was surprisingly unimpressed that I managed a full conversation with a shopkeeper to get our phones topped up, including real Spanish phrases such as “Quieren Recargas” and managing to say my phone number in Spanish.
The architecture is particularly nice. There’s a wide mix of stuff; a lot of very old church architecture, some very British buildings, and a smattering of brand new skyscrapers. There’s lots of cobble roads and pedestrian only areas. There’s also a lot of graffiti, varying from lovely art to ugly tags. Each road is interesting and different though.
Food has been good so far. We’ve been eating the South American special of Empadanas every day, which are effectively a variation on cornish pasties. They’re delicious, and they only cost 1 pound. There’s 1000 Chilean Pesos to the pound which makes conversion nice and easy. Wine is super cheap (3-4 quid a bottle) as is most supermarket food. Nothing has seemed too pricey yet other than accommodation which bodes well.
We spent yesterday at the museum of memories, dedicated to remembering what happened during the regime of Augusto Pinochet. Some terrible atrocities occurred, but it was a very interesting museum and even managed to keep Laura engaged for 4 hours.
Today we went up Cerro San Cristobal (literally, San Cristobal Hill.) Most of Santiago is flat, except for a couple of big hills (outcrops of the near by Andes.) At the top of the hill (a 300m climb) is a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which looks out over the city. It was a hard slog as we had to go during the peak heat of the day (damn jetlag!) but there were incredible views all around the city. It’s absolutely massive!
It’s only half 6 but we’re already in Pyjamas ready to fall asleep, hopefully. Tomorrow we must leave the Sanctuary of our flat to go to Valparaiso, about an hour and a half west of Santiago on the coast. May the adventure continue!
It seems like such a long time since the nightmare of Suva and the very expensive internal flights we had to take. After a couple of days in a not-so-great- hotel in Savusavu, we moved to ‘Naveria Heights Lodge,’ a beatufiul hilltop lodge, where, for 4 out of our 5 nights there, we were the only guests (which was awesome.) This place would usually be so far out of our normal budget, but Sam found a stay and dive deal on their website- 5 nights and 3 days of double dives. No brainer.
To reach the lodge we had to endure a gruelling 20 minute vertical hike up the hill, usually in temperatures of 32-34 (well, either that or pay $10 for pick up. No thanks!) It did mean we did a serious amount of exercise over the 5 days though, together with some exhausting dives.
We dived with ‘KoroSun Dive’ and they were amazing. I can’t quite figure out how to put our experiences there into words, but I’ll give it a good go. Depending on the amount of air you have in your tank, you can be down for anywhere from 35-55 minutes. There were only a few other divers with us on each day and the owners dived with us, as well as giving us loads of tasty snacks and info on what we would probably see. All of the dives we did were amazing, so much better than in the Yasawa Islands, but it was on day 2 when we came across a whole school of Scalloped Hammerhead sharks- there were about 80 of them swimming all around us for about 15 minutes- a truly breathtaking experience that we’ll both never forget. They were curious about us and swam right past us, looking straight at us. We saw giant turtles, whole schools of barracuda, giant tuna and groupas, as well as incredible reefs. We don’t have a Gopro but to give you a visual, here’s a photo of the Hammerhead site we visited that others took:
After 5 relaxing days at Naveria, we took a very early morning bus and ferry to Taveuni island, aka The Garden Isle. This place is seriously stunning- green everywhere, incredible scenery and home to the world famous Rainbow Reef (famous for its soft coral.) After saying we were definitely not doing any more diving, because it works out at about 90 quid per double dive for each of us, we immediately signed up for a double dive over Rainbow Reef. Why not?! This might tell you why (this is the top of the reef in Rainbow passage, one of our dive sites:)
It was a complete sensory overload- everywhere we looked there were more amazing things to see. The reef is huge, with a strong current running through it (this attracts a huge variety of sealife as the current brings food along with it) and around 20 dive sites. It was hard to orientate ourselves during the first dive because we literally had no control of where we were going- the current just pulled us along, even when we were trying to swim into it. On our second dive though, we could drift along and stop to watch everything on the reef. There were giant turtles, white tip and grey tip reef sharks, beautiful coral, hundreds of variety of fish, giant eels and sea snakes- the list goes on! We feel really spoilt to have seen so much underwater- today we were talking to a girl on the bus who had dived the Hammerhead site in Savusavu twice and seen nothing. That would have been so disappointing, especially if you’re only diving for 1 or 2 days.
We’ve now definitely finished our Fiji diving (although I was trying to get Sam to agree to another day of it) On Thursday, we took a local bus to Tavoro Waterfalls, which were incredible! We hiked around an hour to the bottom of the second waterfall and swam for ages. So lovely and so quiet, there was hardlys anyone else there.
On Friday it was another early start as we took a bus to Lavena, to do the coastal walk. Again, stunning waterfalls we could swim under and a lovely walk, but there were hundreds of flies and it kind of ruined the walk for us a little.
It was then back to Nadi, after taking a 2 hr ferry, 4 hr bus, 2 taxis, a 40 minute flight and a long, hot wait in Labasa airport. Today we flew back to NZ for one night only with my awesome friend Nicola and then tomorrow it’s onwards to Chile, yippee!
Note: We were feeling super relaxed until we landed in Auckland and got ready to get off the plane, only to be told that the plane had parked 5 ft short of the target line so the walkway couldn’t reach the plane. After 20 minutes of waiting, we were all told to sit back down, buckle up, bags away and then we were towed forward the required 5 ft. So from landing to getting off the plane, it was about an hour. I’m fairly sure that parking in the right place is a perquisite for a pilot.