Sleepy Uspallata doesn´t wake up before 10am but managed to find a cafe for breakfast and my normal ham and cheese toasties (which are starting to get boring). The bus office opened at 10.05 giving me exactly 3 minutes to sort out my ticket over the border to Santiago and the capital of Chile. Retraced the journey to Puenta del Inca which was a repetetive journey I was more than happy with. A feeling of utter contentment and complete smugness thinking that trips like this are exactly what life is for. Made it to the border which would be hard to beat as a more scenic border. It was surprisinlgy modern and had sniffer dogs and x-ray machines in place foregoing the need for bag searches.
Road into Chile continued the impressive scenery driving down the sides of mountains with alp-esque sharp U-turns.
Santiago with an estimated population of over 6 million is a sight to behold. Surprisingly affluent and by far the most westernised city in South America so far. One odd claim is that it is the fast food capital of the world, backed up by 4 sightings of McDonalds (unfortunately taking total sightings into double figures). The Rough Guide book having a nightmare of a time that started without showing where the main bus station stopped in the capital. Spent 30 minutes trying to figure out a way to my planned hostal before giving up and getting a taxi. Went to a hostal called Paris Hostal (close to London hostal) - checked in before finding out it was listed in completely the wrong price bracket.
At US$24 by far the most expensive hostel in trip, but did give me my own private double bed with en suite (although tv didnt tune into anything !!). Went out for a wander around Santiago and impressed by how modern and vibrant it is. Another claim of Santiago is that it is the safest city in South America, which I would not disagree with as I no one turned a head towards the scruffy scouser walking down the main street. The main Plaza de Armas probably the most impressive central square yet, successfully mixing historical buildings with skyscrapers whilst artists and comedians plied their trade under palm trees in the middle. Watched the world go by and raced through a huge ice cream before it melted all over me, before doing a fly by solo tour of the main historical buildings of central Santiago including a very impressive justice building, presidential palace and cathedral.
Walked over to Cerro Santa Lucia on the outskirts of the main centre that provided good views of the heart of the city. Very impressive tiered gardens - bit of a lovers paradise so quickly climbed to the top for views over a mass of 50 storey skyscrapers - surely a match for most European cities and many American. Went off to a Rough Guide recommended old fashioned fish restaurant - the old fashioned was correct but no sign of fish on the menu. Went with the waiters recommendation instead and ended up with a resemblance to curried pea stew. Not a fan of peas, thankfully it tasted better than it looked. Returned to my hostal for a very comfortable night.
Up at safe time to beat check out time before realising I was back in Chile and therefore an hour behind Argentina.
Plenty of time for breakfast before navigating a 3 mile wander to Cerro San Cristobal for best views of city with the Andes in the background. Saw my 1st open top tour bus but decided against it and got the furnicular railway up to the top of the mountain. Views of mountains none existant as the famed smog (which could be seen as well as smelt) reduced visibility to less than a couple of miles but could still appreciate the vastness of the city. Walked to summit with a massive statue of the Virgin Mary before meandering down the hill through more landscaped gardens with an abundance of gardeners working everywhere keeping the park pristine and a lovely stroll. The leafy suburb at the bottom of the hill would have been highly sought after in any city.
Smell of freshly cut grass everywhere all the way back into the centre. Caught the metro costing 38p to anywhere in the city (which is spotlessly clean putting London to shame and runs every 3 minutes - nice touch to show football matches on big screens whilst waiting), to the bus terminal to try and sort out a bus to Pucon. Unfortunately only running at night so had 10 hours to kill before time to move on. Still in need of fish, went to the Central market (famed for its fish) for lunch. Outside square completely fish market with every kind of fish imaginably and full of seafood that I had never seen before. The inside square full of seafood restaurants with waiters waiting like piranhas for anyone to enter the centre before pouncing.
Did a full circuit turning down every waiter before settling on a medium range cafe for a treat of mixed seafood broth - predominantly muscles, squid and prawns but plenty of very nice unrecognisable fish thrown in. Had a wander round the massive pedestrianised shopping zone with Ricky Martin and Gloria Estefan playing over the street tannoys before spending the afternoon in internet cafes and coffee shops. As far as cities go, Santiago takes a lot of beating. If it wasnt for the smog (which Im sure London would struggle with far more if it was surrounded by mountains), it would attract the masses. It is certainly doing its best to make itself as attractive as possible. Regardless, it was time for the much awaited Chile Lake District.