Day 26 Santiago
We are given a lift to the airport by our hotel's night watchman who is granted this night off as a result. When we thank him at the airport he says, "it is a genuine pleasure for me." And looks like he really means it.
The flight to Santiago is seemingly over in minutes. As we descend through strata of smog, I am acutely aware of my already under-duress lungs and moistly blossoming cold.
Santiago is hot. 33° hot, which is a heck of an acclimatisation job after being in the temperate south. Our cabbie to the hotel is friendly, and even talks about the problems of immigration in Chile, ("there are so many English in Valparaiso they have their own neighbourhood. They all support Everton FC.") making us feel right at home. We have scored well again on hotels with Matilda, our slightly out-of-town lodging for the next few nights, a fantastic high-ceilinged, colonial affair.
My summer cold is nearly at full strength now, which is miserable stuff. Ruth has found Las Vacas Gordas (the Fat Cows) nearby which is a steak house of some complimentary reviews, but I'm not feeling up to the gastronomy involved. While Ruth tucks in to rib-eye and red wine, I further marinade my immune system with ceviche and milk of the tiger.
Afterwards, we walk through the centre of town (over their River Mapocho, which I imagined to be like the Thames or Seine, but is in fact a fast flowing, narrow channel of brown filth, sluicing down from the Andes via many a commercial wastewater pipe) to the funicular which hoiks people up to an Andean altitude to have a view of the vast city and mountainous backdrop.
Regrettably, we turn up with the rest of Santiago, and the prospect of standing in a queue for an hour leaking from my face is more than I can bare. Head back past plazas of joyful children running around to write postcards in our hotel garden.
Day 27 Valparaiso
What evil is this 6:30am? We have had to get up early to make it by bus (and back) to Valparaiso, a coastal city 60 odd miles from Santiago. Everyone we've met who's been, has recommended it as a place to go. The Rough Guide puts it as one of Chile's top 10 things to see, although it notes the docks are "sketchy in the day, downright dangerous at night". So sulking about the hour and my increasingly fungusy lungs, we've decided to head to it.
If we're honest, we're not immediately blown away by the place. The bus dumps us at another grim bus station - something South America has so far not excelled in for welcomes - and walking down town we are immediately followed by a hungry-looking dog. This is another less-than-marketable feature of the continent, but Valparaiso has way more than its fair share of stray dogs. Given the aforementioned rabies hypochondria, this is not a bonus for us.
And in spite of the 15 blocks we have to walk, this particular one follows us every step of the way, waiting at traffic lights and crossing roads by our ankles, in a presumably regular pursuit of tourist food. If one was to have an ounce of compassion, such earnest optimism would be difficult to ignore, but lack of inoculations turn a man into quite the arsehole. We finally leave him by some bins where he clearly fancies his gastronomic chances better, and head to the middle of town.
Valparaiso, aside from being the house for Chile's Congress building (a monolithic slab opposite the bus station which one A. Pinochet had a hand in the establishment of) is famous for having an international port of historic repute, before the newly-opened Panama canal rather ended it's golden age. It is mostly visited by tourists however, for its pretty coastal vistas and the industrial-age surplus of funicular railways it's got, to make the punishing ascents slightly more bearable.
It is to one of these were heading now, for the inexpensive, rickety thrill of riding one. We obviously don't find it immediately, courtesy of our ludicrously inadequate navigating, and instead get to walk up a bloody steep hill in midday sunshine. After a coffee and the necessary WiFi appropriation, we get our bearings and trot to 'Ascensor Alegro' one of the funiculars, for a misty-eyed trip down memory cliff-face. After the Alegro carriage spews out a horrified American family ("Why was it going so fast daddy?") and the wide-eyed conductor has released his death grip on the emergency break he just had to yank for, we decide to walk past this particular one. We mosey around the dockside at the bottom of the hill, which is the full assualt on the senses docks largely are.
Afterwards, via an English bar with photos of Prince Charles on the wall, we try our luck on Ascensor Concepcion which trundles us up with little to trouble health and safety. It offers a commanding view of the city, as it chugs up the hill, and is a remarkable bit of engineering for what equates to about 80p a ride. At the top, we walk a street of bizarrely middle-England architecture (courtesy of a spate of early 20th century immigration) past a handsome Lutheran church to a restaurant called Fauna with tremendous terrace views of the coast.
Having finally worked out how to order appropriately in restaurants here, (one starter between two, one main each, no gluttonous regret), we are guilted into giving our coins to a local two-piece band who play in front of us, and make up in enthusiasm what they lack in harmonies.
Realise after dinner this means we don't have enough cash for the Ascensor back down so have to walk, which leads to an even less sympathetic review of the band. We head back to the bus terminal via another Rough Guide recommendation ("more a museum than a bar") which has piqued our interest.
Scraping something gelatinous off my glass, containing the only wine in South America which is undrinkable, sitting under what I hope is a decommissioned bomb, we discuss the success rate of Rough Guide recommendations. It's usually pretty good, but this one has really slipped through the net.
Bus back to Santiago, and spend the evening in the tranquil hotel garden enjoying the sunset and honesty bar.
Day 28 Santiago
A horse-dose of Night Nurse last night seems to have broken the back of my cold, which makes the dry, 32° heat of Santiago much less claustrophobic. We are planning to head back out to Santiago's funicular, not having had our fill of them yesterday. We do this via cafe Haiti (and I feel obliged to point out that this is Ruth's choice) a chain of coffee shops renowned for having very lightly dressed waitresses. The coffee is good.
We also stop at the museum of pre Colombian Art which is excellent, not just for an interesting bit of continental prehistory, but for the extensive and fertility-symbol heavy pottery collection. Enjoying the morning of embracing culture we then head to the Museum of Contemporary Art which has a Le Corbusier exhibition to fire Ruth up, but it is disappointingly pretty thin, so we head on.
Today, fortunately, we walk straight on to the funicular and again, for about £4 each, get pulled up what is basically a small mountain on an old railway to have a world class view of the capital. Andes on one side, plains stretching out towards the coast on the other. Admittedly all ringed by quite a dense cloud of smog.
After a pleasant half hour wandering the small summit and sitting in the sun watching people with selfie sticks bump into each other, we head back down to town and walk through Centro Artesenal, a souvenir market which is heavy on alpaca themed gifts, and a fish market which is heavy on pungency.
Just off the main drag through the centre (the punchily-named Avenue Liberatador Bernard O'Higgins) is an attractive cluster of bars and restaurants and we stop and have a very good if quite pricey lunch in Bocanariz. Afterwards, after accurately weighing up whether we would make the steep walk to Castillo Hidalgo nearby (answer: we would not), we head back to our hotel garden for more warm evening tranquility.