For the last month I have been travelling through Argentina and Chile. There is a question and a debate that comes from this travelling. I have visited Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, Argentina for the second time and discovered Puerto Williams, Santiago, Isla Negra and Valparaiso, Chile for the first time. I also revisited Punta Arenas, Chile twice. The question is, which is better, Argentina or Chile?
They are both different but similar countries. Argentina is larger geographically whereas Chile is longer. Chileans speaker faster and slightly different Spanish than Argentinians, at least that is my impression. Argentina is generally less expensive than Chile. The bus journeys are just as long in both countries and they share the magical wonder that is Patagonia.
The people, well the majority of both Chileans and Argentinians I’ve met, have been wonderful, kind and friendly, eager to laugh and helpful with directions. I would say the Chilean people are possibly slightly more friendly because I have met them in smaller cities and I have met more Argentinians in the large cities. However, on the whole, they are as warm as each other. I don’t know if I could tell the difference between a Chilean and an Argentinian if met them together but there must be slight differences in voice and temperament.
The cities and towns are different in each country due partly to the geography. Argentina has the space for large populated cities like Mendoza, where I am at present, whereas the narrowness of Chile makes for smaller towns with coastal features and/or steep streets. Valparaiso, north of Santiago, on the coast is a fine example. The hostels also vary, but on the whole I have found hostels in both countries unique and relaxed with few rules and no door keys!!
Puerto Williams in perhaps the most southern town in the world, although it is disputed. All I will say is that it is very far south and on an island south-east of Ushuaia. Puerto Williams is part of Chile and there is a small naval presence. I would describe it like a frontier town, gravel roads with mostly wooden buildings. The town is coastal but with no beach and two small harbours, one being a yacht marina. I found it a pleasant stay for two nights. A lady named Loreto owns a hippy café named Cafe Angle, which anyone who visits must check out. The food is good and reasonable.
For a capital city, Santiago is not too bad, the main plaza, square is worth a visit, and the Park San Cristobal with the statue of the Virgin Mary at the top of a small cable car ride is also worth visiting, even if it is touristy!!
My favourite place visited on this South American trip so far has to be Isla Negra. A small town of roughly 500 souls, it grew out of the fame of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who built his last house here and lived there on and off during the 1960s and early 1970s. A tour of the house, which looks out over the sea, is given in English and Spanish and is excellent. It is an amazing place full of collectable items and atmosphere. Neruda wanted it built like a ship and the doorways and stairs are very small! An amazing interesting man of the mid-twentieth century and definitely worth further investigation.
Neruda’s house in Valparaiso is also interesting and visitors can take an audio guided tour at their leisure through the house that he lived in during the early 1960s.
I stayed at the Poet Madness Hostel in Isla Negra with a lady named Sandra and her daughter Pea. It was a really great experience. A wooden house in the countryside up dirt road tracks above the small town. You descend rock steps, cross a wooden bridge, ascend more rock steps, then climb up wooden steps on to a wooden porch and that is before entering the house. Once inside, you are greeted by the lovely aroma of burning incense candle and the scattered objects of Sandra’s personal collection. Decorative lampshades to coloured stones and necklaces. Cushions dot the floor and the atmosphere reminded me of the hippy communes I had read about of the 1960s counter-culture generation. Truly relaxing and homely.
Sandra refused to take my money for any of her hospitality, which included an evening meal of beans and bread, cheese and cookies for breakfast. Tea was offered frequently. I met Pilar, a lady from Santiago, who was with her lovely daughter Margarita, aged 10. The kids became my friend and looked after me for the evening.
I visited a friend of Sandra, a man named Roberto, who has wooden sculptures in his garden. After feeling up all the sculptures on view I entered the large wooden house to hear a band practice for a weekend gig. They let me play the drums and everyone applauded my efforts!! The young people were all really friendly and cool. I gained a small insight into Chilean small town life and also received a cultural and social experience.
Some days later I met-up with Sandra by chance in Valparaiso, she just saw me on a street corner, amazing, especially in a city like Valparaiso with its many hills and winding streets that go in all directions!! Now I am in Mendoza, Argentina, a nice city with several squares, hot weather and friendly people. I next head to Salta then towards the Paraguay boarder.
That is all for now, more picture available soon. Tonythetraveller