comments 7

Travel Journal | Valparaíso, Chile

Beautiful Valparaiso, UNESCO World Heritage site

Vibrant Valparaíso was easily the highlight of our South American holiday last year. From the moment we stepped off the bus after a nine-hour trip from Mendoza, we knew that we were someplace special. Although it is Chile’s fourth largest city, Valparaíso is less a sprawling metropolis and more a jumble of buildings clinging to cliffs and jostling for space; the result of a topographical environment marked by steep hills and gouging ravines. It’s a schizophrenic experience to drive through the streets: dip down and it feels like a modest village; head up the next rise and you feel dwarfed by towering hillsides and houses like giant Lego bricks, twisting and tumbling to the sea below. There are stairs everywhere in Valparaíso and when you tire of climbing, there is also the option of using one of the marvellously quaint funicular elevators (the oldest built in 1883) that will carry you up or down the hillside for a pittance.

View from Pablo Neruda's House

Prior to the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, Valparaíso had been an important sea port for international trade. This history of wealth and diversity and a transient population of hard-drinking, hard-working sailors, dockworkers, prostitutes, merchants and opportunists, has left its mark on the gritty and bohemian city. Pablo Neruda, Chile’s beloved poet who owned a house here for many years, coined a poem to the city which begins: “Valparaíso, how absurd you are, what a lunatic, crazy port, what a head – rolling hills, disheveled, you never finished combing your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you”. This is exactly how it feels: Valparaíso constantly surprises. At every turn there is more colour, more street art, more stairs and alleyways, more beauty (and frequently) less beauty, another glimpse of something new; in short, too much to know what to do with.

Valparaiso Chile

We arrived in Valparaíso just as the sun was just beginning to set, but the streets were a hive of colour and activity. Our taxi whipped us through narrow streets and up a steep, cobblestoned hill to our (fantastic) hotel. We had elected to stay in the Historic Quarter, which is a beautifully preserved UNESCO World Heritage site. Our stomachs were ready for dinner, so after checking in we walked a few minutes around the corner to the restaurant strip. Maybe it was hunger, maybe it was just Valparaíso, but as we arrived on the corner of Templeman and Urriola streets, we were momentarily stunned by the fairytale view of cobblestones, quaint shops and restaurants and twinkling lights. Trying not to appear like turistas estúpidos, we picked up our jaws, surveyed the the restaurants in our immediate vicinity and made an quick decision to try Almacén Nacional, which specialised in Chilean food. Up to this point, our culinary adventures in Chile hadn’t been particularly memorable, but it was a different story in Valparaíso. That night we demolished a deeply fragrant seafood soup served in bowls as big as our heads, washed down by pisco sour (of course).

Valparaiso, Chile 2016

The next day we had cereal and coffee at the hotel, but ever hungry for protein in the morning, we spent most of the morning wandering the streets looking for a second breakfast of eggs. In the process we climbed Cerro Alegre, which was partly shrouded in mist and took the first of hundreds of photos of the amazing street art which was literally everywhere (the best street art photos will come later in another post).

Exploring Cerro Allegre, Valparaiso

Street art hunter, Valparaiso Chile

The Historic Quarter is full of colourful and quirky buildings housing art galleries, cafes and boutique stores selling local crafts, jewellery and design. Around every corner are a million photo opportunities and despite the chilly weather, we happily spent the entire day exploring the area. Around lunchtime we finally found a cafe that served our raison d’être (omelette) and this kept us going until night fell when we sought out more fish soup – this time, a chowder so thick that I was defeated before I had even finished half the bowl. The bubbles in the fantastic wheat beer (Cerveza Baron, made locally in Viña del Mar) probably didn’t help the situation.

In the Historic Quarter, Valparaiso Chile

The Yellow House, Valparaiso

Historic Quarter, Valparaiso

Historic Quarter, Valparaiso

We had five nights in Valparaíso, which allowed plenty of time for leisurely wandering. Each day we took a new direction, seeking out the divine and the dilapidated in equal measure. It was a wonderful, eye-opening adventure but one that was undeniably tinged with fear. I lost count of the number of locals who warned me that my camera made me a target for mugging. Valparaíso does have a reputation for being unsafe and although this seems to have improved recently, outside of the Historic Quarter we felt very conspicuous as tourists. I took furtive photos whenever it felt safe to do so, stowed the camera away in Colin’s backpack at all other times, and even left it at the hotel once or twice.  I don’t want this to deter anyone from visiting this wonderful city, but it is clearly important to be extra careful. This blog post has some great tips for staying safe during your visit.

Street art everywhere

Barrio Bellavista, Valparaiso Chile

Rusty gate, Valparaiso Chile

One day, I forget which but it was certainly the most memorable, we decided to make our way to the cemetery perched atop Panteón Hill that we had admired from afar while sipping wine on the neighbouring hill, Cerro Concepción. Panteón is home to three cemeteries, Cemetery No. 1 and No. 2, and Cementerio de Disidentes which was created for the burial of “dissidents” or non-Catholics. We enjoyed a quiet couple of hours wandering around the tombs, alone except for a few caretakers sweeping the paths. The site might have lacked the magnificence of the inner city cemetery we had visited in Recoleta, Buenos Aires, but it more than made up for it with incredible views over the city.

UNESCO World Heritage Site - Valparaiso, Chile

Cemetery on the hill in Valparaiso

Cemetery on the hill, Valparaiso

Leaving the cemetery, we walked up into the hills and followed the twists and turns of Av. Alemania all the way to La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s house, now a museum. No photographs were allowed in the house which killed me as it was one of the most beautifully evocative house I’ve ever seen. It has the unmistakeable feel of an artist’s playground and sanctuary and it’s where Neruda lived while writing his Nobel Prize winning works. On leaving the house and walking back through Barrio Bellavista we became caught in the rain that had threatened for days. We dashed into a nearby restaurant (Espiritu Santo), pulled up at the bar and attempted to dry out. Our coffee arrived with a complementary snack of chewy homemade bread served with a small pat of butter heavily sprinkled with salt and pepper. The calm ambience, hospitable service and the taste of that amazing bread made such an impact that we promptly made a reservation for lunch the next day. Venturing outside again we found a bright world washed clean by the rain.

Barrio Bellavista, Valparaiso

On our very last day we explored a bit more, heading up to Cerro Artilleria with its expansive views of the port and sea. After a final lunch and a final pisco sour, we returned to the hotel to check out then travelled by bus to Santiago for our long flight home. Of all our travel memories vibrant Valparaíso remains the strongest and purest; a fitting way to mark the bittersweet end of our incredible South American adventure.

Valparaiso Chile

Commercial District, Valparaiso Chile

Valparaiso Chile

comments 26

Don’t lose your nerve | Perfect Chocolate Pudding

Indulgent Chocolate Pudding - a childhood favourite

It took five tries to get this pudding right.  On the fifth try it was finally, exactly what I wanted it to be – voluptuously indulgent, chocolatey but not too intense, cool and silky smooth. I got it right on the fifth try because I didn’t lose my nerve, cooking it for precisely three times the specified length of time.

Indulgent Chocolate Pudding - a childhood favourite

I’ve made so many chocolate puddings over the years. My first experiments were with Chocolate Pots d’Creme (especially variations on this recipe); a simple idea that involves whisking hot cream through chocolate, egg yolks and vanilla before setting the mixture in the fridge. These dense, dark Pots were delicious, but so intensely rich that after a while I found them overwhelming. I switched to Chocolate Mousse (often this recipe) with its airy, whipped texture, and then to Molten Cakes (also called Chocolate Fondant) and their lusciously liquid centres. All undeniably wonderful but always just a bit too much, if you know what I mean; too cloying on the tongue or too heavy on the stomach. This divine Chocolate Pudding has finally won me over, and what makes different is that it’s based on milk, gives butter a miss, and is cooked like a custard. Overall it’s lighter and more subtle in flavour, fulfilling all of my deepest chocolate needs without making me break out in cold sweats.

Indulgent Chocolate Pudding - a childhood favourite

In the quest for perfect chocolate pudding I’ve really been trying to capture the feeling of one that I loved to eat as a child. Like many kids growing up in the ’70s and ’80s in New Zealand, you could always find little packets of Greggs Instant Pudding in our cupboard. We only had it as an occasional treat, but our bowls of cool, fluffy pudding were always joyfully devoured, even when paired with the (equally ubiquitous) canned fruit salad. Yes…I realise that the terms “packet” and “instant” aren’t usually associated with culinary greatness, but my childhood memories put this pudding beyond such judgements. I get nostalgia-overload when I think about it.

Indulgent Chocolate Pudding - a childhood favourite

So what exactly is Greggs Instant Pudding? It’s a good question. Early versions of the packaging don’t list any ingredientsnot a single one, which is…silencing and actually quite impressive. In fact, the closest thing to an ingredient list is the statement “Artificially Coloured & Flavoured” displayed prominently on the front. This had disappeared by the time I would have started eating it as a toddler in the late 1970s, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it was probably still there in tiny print on the back. Who knew what was in it but what you did was beat it into a pint of milk and wait five minutes for it to become a thick, aerated, spoonable pudding – every hungry kid’s dream. It came in a range of flavours but I can only ever remember eating the chocolate. Then, as now, the thought of the lime, orange, and lemon flavours makes my stomach feel all curdly.

Greggs always had a slightly gritty texture, which didn’t bother me then and of course it was sweeter than it needed to be, which probably masked a range of sins. I wanted a silky, not-too-sweet pudding, but beyond that it was the lightness of Greggs and its lack of chocolate intensity that I was seeking. It feels almost ridiculous today to admit to a desire for less chocolate (surely what you mean is triple chocolate? 85% cocoa solids? death by chocolate?) but there it is. You can have too much of a good thing, and it turns out that of chocolate, I want less.

Indulgent Chocolate Pudding - a childhood favourite

This recipe was already so close to my ideal in terms of flavour and all I had to do was reduce the  cocoa powder and chocolate slightly. It’s still very chocolatey, but in a comforting way that won’t give you palpitations. The texture took longer to get right, and the first three times I undercooked it but didn’t realise until I went to eat it and found it as runny as a milkshake. On the fourth try I got closer, but on the fifth I cooked it for a heart-stopping 12 minutes, which is much more than the 3-5 minutes specified. It could just be my interpretation of “low temperature” that’s to blame, but it’s probably more to do with experience. You’ll know that your pudding is thick enough when it coats the back of a spoon very thickly, when drops that fall off the spoon leave a visible ring on the surface of the pudding, and when you take it off the heat it begins to get thicker almost immediately. Don’t lose your nerve for this pudding and you’ll be repaid in the most delicious way.

Indulgent Chocolate Pudding - a childhood favourite

Perfect Chocolate Pudding

Adapted from Pastry Affair

3 cups (750ml) milk (full cream or light; not skim), divided
1/3 cup (scant) sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1 1/2 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt
80 grams dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract
To serve (optional): 1/4 cup flaked almond (toasted), fresh raspberries

In a medium bowl (preferably one with a spout for pouring), whisk together 1 cup of milk with the sugar, cornstarch or arrowroot, cocoa powder and salt. When well blended, whisk in the egg yolks and set  to one side.

In a large saucepan, bring the remaining 2 cups of milk to a boil over medium heat. Stir the milk frequently to ensure that it doesn’t burn. As soon as milk comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the hot milk, stirring steadily but gently to incorporate. Continue cooking and stirring until pudding is luscious and glossy and thickly coats the back of a spoon, up to 12 minutes.

Remove the pudding from the heat and add the chopped chocolate and vanilla extract. Whisk in the chocolate until completely melted and smooth (if you have trouble with lumps, you can strain through a sieve). Pour the pudding into individual serving bowls or cups and then chill in the fridge for at least one hour. The pudding will thicken even more as it cools and chills.

Serve the pudding with toasted flaked almonds for a pleasing textural contrast, and/or fresh raspberries.

Filed under: Eat
comments 30

Masochist’s Chicken Pie

Creamy Chicken and Leek Pie with Homemade Puff Pastry

The idea of Chicken Pie has been on my mind for a while. It started when Lucy posted this photo of a gorgeous pie – complete with beautifully puffed pastry and bespeckled ceramic bird – her planned Christmas lunch all the way back in December 2013. Then two years later my sister gave me the most adorable little pie funnel: a blackbird with a bright yellow beak. It simply begged to be baked in a pie, but you know, I like to take my own sweet time with some things.

Chicken and Leek Pie with homemade puff pastry

Lucy’s image was compelling because it conjured memories of the chicken pies I ate with Colin many years ago; caught up in what passed for love, sweet young things that we were. For a while we had the habit of piling into Colin’s first car (a Mark V Cortina) and driving to the coast to buy pies from Cable Bay dairy. Colin favoured smoked fish pies but I always bought the outstanding chicken pies, with their velvety cheese sauce and tender chunks of meat. We ate them out of white paper bags, sitting in the car overlooking the beach with the sound of seagulls swirling. Maybe it was the first, tantalising glimpse of adulthood that made them taste so good, but they are still the best pies that I’ve ever eaten.

Chicken and Leek Pie with homemade puff pastry

So many recipes for Chicken Pie have been considered and discarded. Carrots and peas have no place in the chicken pie of my dreams, shortcrust pastry would be wrong (and so sad) here, and what is this obsession with “lightening” everything? It’s a PIE! Give me all the butter and cream, make my pastry flakey and golden, let it be luscious and comforting and just once let me re-live my youth! Finally, and with great relief, I spotted a recipe for Ultimate Chicken Pie in a recent Jamie Oliver magazine. It involved a spectacularly decadent sauce and homemade puff pastry(!), which I had never made before. Here was a chance to relive my teenage pie memories and learn a new skill! Tingles. All. Over.

Chicken and Leek Pie with homemade puff pastry

The Easter four-day weekend was the chosen scene for my labour of love, and (spoiler alert) what a labour it turned out to be. It was so time-consuming, tedious and frustrating that I’m still saying to people, “I’m glad that I had the experience“, just to make myself feel better about losing two days of my life to this pie. What follows is less of a recipe and more a demonstration of how stubborn and stupid I can be when I set my mind to something. It’s about recording what happened for the sake of prosperity, because I am never, ever making this pie again.

Chicken and Leek Pie with homemade puff pastry

Masochist's Chicken Pie

1 rose-tinted memory of Chicken Pie
1 recipe for Ultimate Chicken Pie
16 cups of single-mindedness
1 neighbour to lend you the flour that you forgot to buy
1 friend to help roll the pastry
2 days free of commitments
3 bottles of wine
Coffee, strong and bottomless
To serve: a plate, fork and a couch (you’ll be too tired to set the table, let alone make a salad)

Start by luring friends to your house with the exciting promise of homemade chicken pie for dinner. This is going to be epic!

First, poach a whole chicken in a deep saucepan, surrounded by chopped celery, onion, carrots, leek, garlic, thyme and peppercorns, and covered in cold water. Bring to the boil slowly, over a low heat. After simmering for 40 minutes, switch off the heat and let the contents cool in the liquid for as long as you can bear it, or for a minimum of 2 hours. Remove the vegetables and throw them out. Remove the cooked chicken to a plate, separate the flesh from the bones and discard the skin. Place the bones back into the cooled stock and simmer for another hour. Remove the bones and discard. Strain the stock into a clean saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer until the liquid has reduced to 750ml, which takes, yes, another gloriously long hour. Leave to cool.

Realise that even though six hours have passed, you’ve only made one full component of the pie (cooked chicken) and one part component (the stock for the sauce). Feel overwhelmed. Sit outside with your friends and have a glass of wine (ok, it’s probably your third by now if you’re being honest).

If you’re clever (and you know that you can be), you will have saved some time by making the pastry while you prepared the stock. First beg 250g flour from your neighbour and then mix this with finely grated parmesan (50g), 1 tsp mustard powder, salt and pepper. Pastry has an obscene amount of unsalted butter in it (150g), which makes your heart sing. You cube the chilled butter, rub it into the flour a little, then use a knife to mix in 125ml cold water and 1 tsp apple cider vinegar. The recipe says “don’t over-mix”, and you don’t (winning!). You gather the lumpy pastry into a ball and chill it for 30 minutes. With the help of your friend, you roll and fold and roll and fold and chill for 30 minutes…and then repeat twice more. Thank goodness for the alarm feature on your phone, because two bottles of wine are gone and this pastry is some technical shit. You guys need to be kept in line.

Eventually, the pastry is done and the stock is done, but everyone got sick of waiting and ate bits of this and that hours ago. No-one wants pie, which is just as well because there’s still the sauce and the leeks to cook and it’s all getting a bit much. Let’s just go to bed and think about it tomorrow.

The next day dawns and we are going to get this pie cooked! Open the fridge and check on the pastry. It has completely dried out and cracked (you should have wrapped it in plastic). Consider using it anyway; consider hard. Try to roll it out. It’s a lump of concrete and in the bin it goes.

Make the pastry again. Don’t think about it.

It’s not the right flour this time. Don’t think about it!

It’s time to make the sauce. Get your stock out of the fridge and notice that it’s become a quivering jelly. Feel a twinge of accomplishment for the first time since you started this damn pie. Feel that twinge disappear as you get the tarragon and realise that you’ve bought the wrong kind (it’s  the coarse Russian rather than the delicate French variety). Chop that shit anyway (2 Tbsp) and set to the side. Finely grate 150g gruyère (which is really quite a lot and finely grating takes three times as long as regular grating, so yes, you’ve just lost another 10 minutes that you can never get back).

Make the sauce by melting 50g butter in a saucepan then stirring in 50g flour until it bubbles. Spoon the jellied stock little by little into the butter and flour, whisking briskly and admiring the smooth glossiness of the sauce. When all the stock is added, stir in 2 Tbsp dijon mustard, 150g crème fraîche, that big mound of grated gruyère and the chopped tarragon. Season with salt and pepper. Taste. It’s good enough to pour all over your lover’s body just so you can lick it off.

Leave the sauce to cool down, and while you’re there, swear repeatedly at the author of this recipe because there is SO MUCH cooling and resting and half the time involved is waiting for things to sort themselves out just so that you can move on. Go to a yoga class to de-stress. Come home and make a strong coffee to give yourself the strength to carry on. You’re on the home stretch; let’s do this.

The fresh batch of pastry still needs to be rolled and folded two more times and in between it’s time to cook the leeks. Wash and trim 2 leeks and cut into 1 cm slices. Cook in boiling salted water for 6 minutes until tender. Drain and spread on a clean tea towel to absorb excess moisture and (you guessed it) cool to room temperature.

Does the pastry need rolling and chilling again? Yes. Do you need a glass of wine now? Yes, and yes, you’ve earned it.

Shred the cold chicken, marvelling at how juicy it is. Put the chicken into the cooled sauce along with the leeks. Mix together gently and voluptuously.

It is time to assemble the pie, but you’re not excited anymore: you’re a mindless automaton. Put the pie flute into the pie dish and spoon the filling around the little bird. Roll out the pastry and cut a circle that is 4cm bigger than your 24cm pie dish. Cut a small circle in the centre so your little bird can breathe. Take the scraps of left over pastry, cut them into 1cm wide strips and glue these with water all around the circumference of the pie dish – a seemingly pointless step, but of course you do it (you’ve got that good-girl complex going on). Transfer the pie lid to the pan, and smoosh the edges together to make a seal. Use any further leftover scraps to make decorations. This bit is supposed to be fun and creative, but your eyes are glazing over. You form a few crappy leaves and slap them on. Part of you is thinking, why leaves on chicken pie? Why not a little pastry chicken? Oh, too much reality maybe? Just stop. Have some more wine.

The pie is assembled, but don’t get too excited. It needs to be brushed with a beaten egg and chilled in the fridge for 20 minutes. While that’s happening, heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F and start to clean up. You’ve used every single pan and spoon in your kitchen, so this is going to take a while…la la la la…

Bake the pie for 40 minutes, except of course your pie needs much longer (nearly double) to cook the pastry properly. You’re worried that the top of the pastry might burn so you fuss around with an aluminium foil tent (more faffing, but this is not the time to give up).

It’s done, or done enough. Take the pie out. Your husband immediately wants to ruin the beautiful veneer of your pie by tearing off a chunk of pastry. You get it; it does look delicious, but that is NOT HAPPENING and hasn’t he noticed what you’ve been through? Give him “the look” (the testicle-shrivelling death-stare) until he backs down.

The verdict: it’s not even close to your memory of ultimate chicken pie. Sure, it’s pretty f-ing good, but not “two days of pain” good. You’re over it. You eat, with abandon, knowing that you’ll never, ever taste this pie again.

Filed under: Eat
comments 16

Mendoza, Argentina | Wine + Road Trip

Travelling through the Andean Mountains, Argentina to Chile 2016

Mendoza is Argentina’s premiere wine region, and as such, there was no way that we were going to miss a short stopover to indulge in one of our favourite pastimes. Our flight back home departed from Santiago, so we knew that we had to make our way back to Chile at some point. Mendoza is located at the foot of the Andean Mountains and sits virtually parallel to Santiago. It was the perfect place to relax and unwind before making our way back to Chile by bus, through some of the most incredible scenery we have ever seen.

View from balcony and the Virgin of Carrodilla

Mendoza itself isn’t the most spectacular town, and to be honest, after the beautiful architecture and vibrant atmosphere of Buenos Aires, Mendoza seemed dull and unattractive. We later learned that it had been levelled by a devastating earthquake in 1861, which destroyed the colonial architecture that we had expected to see. The town was subsequently rebuilt utilising sturdy construction techniques aimed at minimising the damage in possible future earthquakes – this explains why the buildings are uniformly squat and plain and why the extra-wide streets are organised around large, flat squares. It might not be an architectural destination, but what Mendoza lacks in beauty it makes up for in multiple other ways. The proximity of the Andean mountains and the surrounding desert and valleys lends itself to adventure sports (such as rafting, skiing, mountain climbing, fishing), and the presence of so many quality wineries in the area attracts wine connoisseurs who must be catered to with  excellent restaurants, spas, hotels and luxury retail outlets.

Cavas de Weinert, Mendoza Argentina

With  a late arrival, early departure and only a single full day up our sleeves, we were forced to focus our activities in Mendoza. We were there for the wine, number one, but after a whirlwind two weeks on the road we also needed a rest. We took care of that with an indulgent massage in the hotel’s chilly spa, ate a hurried and forgettable lunch, then joined an afternoon wine tour. Our first stop was the bodega (winery) Cavas de Weinert situated south of Mendoza in Luján de Cuyo. Paired with a guide who spoke English, we were treated to a tour of the atmospheric winery and underground cellar, which was originally built in 1890. Cavas de Weinert has preserved the beautiful architecture and conserved many old methods of wine-making such as hand-picking the grapes and ageing the wines in huge casks as opposed to smaller barrels. At the requisite tasting it was immediately obvious that we were sampling very special, complexly layered, old world wines. We tasted three vintages of their signature blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, marvelling at the intensification of mellow, Christmas-pudding-like flavours as the wine had aged. A bottle of our favourite, the gorgeous 2006 vintage, cost a mere $300 ARD (approximately $25 AUD) and subsequently found its way home, buried deep in our bags.

Wine tasting at Weinert winery in Mendoza

We moved on to a family-run olive oil business, Pasrai, in Maipú where we toured the factory and tasted the delicious products. My favourite was an unfiltered extra virgin oil where the presence of finely ground olive puree gave a cloudy appearance and concentrated grassy flavours. After a pleasant hour, we then drove to another bodega in Maipú, Vistandes; this time a relatively young winery that was established in 2006. The modern facilities, stainless steel tanks and designer lighting were in stark contrast to the old world charm of Cavas de Weinert, but it was still an atmospheric place. As the sun set we tasted wines in front of towering glass windows that looked west, over the vines towards the Andes. The wines at Vistandes were pleasant, but decidedly underwhelming given our earlier, far more memorable experience.

Atmospheric cellar at Vistandes winery, Mendoza

Beautiful red-pink Carmenere at Vistandes winery Mendoza

The next morning we rose brutally early, ate a hurried breakfast and made our way in the dark to the local bus station. We departed at 7am to begin our nine-hour journey over the Andes and back to Chile. We had pre-booked our tickets, choosing seats right at the front on the upper deck in anticipation of the stunning mountain scenery. We needn’t have worried; the bus had a total of 14 passengers and most of them promptly fell asleep so before long, we spread ourselves right across the four front seats, enjoying the panoramic view as we sped along the highway. As the elevation began to rise the windows misted up which caused much frustration. We rubbed and tissued and wiped and cursed, struggling for quite some time to get any decent photos – even so, I quite like the painterly effect that resulted in some of the shots:

Travelling from Mendoza to Valparaiso

The bus wove along the narrow road, through tunnels, over bridges, climbing higher and higher towards the snow-capped mountains in the distance. The windows stopped misting as the sun burned off wisps of cloud, revealing a brilliant blue sky. The Argentinian side of the Andes is much drier than the Chilean because the mountains form an effective barrier to the precipitation that sweeps in from the Pacific Ocean. The arid plains and red rock formations made for spectacular viewing, and when we weren’t snapping cameras, we were simply absorbing the incredible view. Our fellow passengers had clearly seen it all before as they continued to snore in the background, or pass comments about the Spanish film playing on a tiny television mounted above our heads.

Stunning scenery in the Andes Mountains - Argentina

Travelling from Mendoza to Valparaiso

Travelling from Mendoza to Valparaiso

Bus trip from Argentina to Chile through the Andes

After several hours of driving we suddenly hit snow. The bus passed through several tiny settlements, including one which was clearly a local army base with troops training in the dense snow. The traffic had been steady the whole way and it gradually increased as we neared the border. Although the road was narrow and conditions were harsh, it was clearly an important distribution route between Argentina and Chile.

Travelling from Mendoza to Valparaiso

Travelling from Mendoza to Valparaiso

When we finally arrived at the border, Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, we were initially confronted with a long line of backed up traffic, but our driver soon pulled out to the right and drove past truck after truck loaded with cargo. Arriving at the customs station we then waited for nearly two hours before beginning the relatively quick process of getting our passports stamped. There was so much waiting around that we snuck off to use the bathroom at what turned out to be a critical moment. Despite the frontier feel of the place, the staff took their roles very seriously indeed. While Colin was still occupied, our busload of passengers were shouted at to form a line in front of our bags. Stalking along the row, our driver demanded to know where my compañero (companion) was, and my response, baños (bathroom), was met with a torrent of Latin fury. No-one spoke any English and I was very relieved when Colin returned. As soon as he joined the line someone barked an order and we were marched past three guards and sniffed at by large Alsatians, while our bags were sent along a creaking conveyor belt to be x-rayed. After this frenzy, we re-boarded the bus, drove a short distance and passed into Chile.

Travelling from Mendoza to Valparaiso

Travelling from Mendoza to Valparaiso

After the long and gentle ascent from Mendoza (to a peak of 3, 207m/10, 521 ft above sea level) the descent into Chile was incredibly fast thanks to a stretch of road known as Los Caracoles (The Snails). This extremely steep road includes a total of 28 hairpin turns (each numbered Curva 1-28). Each time we swung around a curve we felt suspended in the air; an excitingly unnerving effect of our seats at the front. In the icy conditions, in the proximity of heavily loaded trucks and lacking any form of guardrail or barriers, it must have taken intense concentration for the driver to descend. Fortunately we were soon driving past an aqua lake and then down through the familiar cactus-dotted valleys that we had seen on our previous trip into the Andes. Some of the passengers got off the bus to travel south to Santiago, but we continued through the town of Los Andes and on towards the coast. After a total of nine hours travelling we arrived in Valparaíso, found our hotel and headed out for steaming bowls of seafood soup. We slept so well that night.

Travelling from Mendoza to Valparaiso