Tuesday 28 Feb
Valparaiso, Santiago and Chiloe
The port of Valparaiso is the biggest on the Eastern Seaboard of South America and the home of the Chilean Navy. It is also a popular seaside resort for wealthy Chileans. The town sharply rises up from the sea into rolling hills which are connected to the front be ascensors - antique lifts on rails which take you up to the beautiful bohemian buildings which decorate the hillside.
From our hostel we saw a forest fire raging in the hills. Helicopters dropped seawater and small prop planes dive-bombed into the smoke leaving a tracer of water as they arched back into the sky.
A huge four-masted schooner was in the naval docks whilst we were in town and a very friendly trainee officer called Ricardo showed us around. It was a navy training vessel and Ricardo was about to set sail on a 6 month voyage to learn how to navigate by sextant and stars. I was particularly taken by this beautiful antique vessel which was square-rigged on the fore mast and had big brass winches which took four sailors to man. Ricardo, seeing my enthusiasm, gave me one of the brass badges, which the trainee officers wore on their shoulder lapels.
On our last night we found a club playing early 90's British Indie music and whilst reminiscing we met a bunch of Chilean students who were just as enthusiastic. Their ringleader, Molly, wore big pink sunglasses and had "Pulp" badges sewn on her bag. We thought we were in for a top night and followed them through to the main room where there was a cinema screen playing Erasure, which was followed by 2 hours of the worst 80's music videos - all the horrible electronic stuff. Everybody danced facing the big screen and sang along to the words. We retreated into the other room.
We only stayed 2 days in the Chilean capital of Santiago. They were spent eating and drinking with Kaz and Jon (Sara's uni friends) who were on a 6-month honeymoon around the world. It was great to be able to talk crap with good friends for a while so we felt little motivation to do anything else and swapped stories lat into the night.
From Santiago we headed a long way South to the island of Chiloe at the top of Patagonia (the main reason we were in South America). Chiloe is populated by charming fishing villages and has the feel of South Devon - very green with rolling hills. Only the enormous mountain range of the Andes in the far distance across the sea gave it away. The villages were all very sleepy as it was the end of the Chilean holidays so we strolled about in the refreshing temperature and hiked up a baron, 15km beach that was being battered by fierce Pacific waves.
Chiloe is the home of some very grotesque legends. Apparently there is a "High Committee" which gives its members magical powers. To join you must pass a set of tasks including sitting under a waterfall for 40 days and then killing you best friend or brother. They also create a gruesome monster by stealing a local child and, over time, twisting his head until it faces the other way. The also cut off one leg and re-attach it to his shoulder. The child is fed on human flesh to give it a taste for man. Unable to develop speech, the animal is able to grunt order to the committee juniors and understand rules, but is unable to move and has to be carried everywhere. Another story tells of a warlock, which lives in the forest and entices the young women of Chiloe into his lair where he makes love to them. Therefore, any unexplained pregnancies on the island are blamed on the warlock.