Thursday, 17 February 2011

Summer holiday

We made it back in one piece after what seemed like an epic voyage in the end. It is impossible to explore fully a country like Chile without a car so we hired one and took off, practically without any planning and decided to try and see if we could handle a road trip en famille. Surprisingly the moments when we were in the car were among the most restful and undisturbed of the entire holiday, which was definitely a bonus as we covered over a thousand miles in total.
DH, despite having forgotten to renew his driving license, manfully took on the lion's share of the driving while I concentrated on navigating, seeing to everyone's needs and gazing out of the window at the dramatic and ever-changing landscape. We headed north on Ruta 5 and made our first stop off at Concon, a rugged coastal town whose beauty was reminiscent of the Cote d'Azur without the glamour. As we piled out of the car, buckets and spades at the ready, we also realised why it wasn't packed with holidaymakers; there was a strong wind blowing which made for great surfing but not bathing. Never mind, we thought as we enjoyed the sea air and the crashing waves, further up the coast it'll be calmer... It was another 500km and a lot of very barren desert before we stopped again in Tongoy, a small but buzzing town with sheltered beaches which were still crowded at eight o'clock in the evening with a wide cross-section of people and dogs making up its clientele. It was so remote and unspoilt that there weren't even any proper roads in Tongoy itself, just sand and stone tracks which led up and down its dusty mound. We stayed in a compact but well-designed A-shaped wooden cabaƱa with a view of the ocean and a children's play area which seemed to satisfy all of us... Camping with a roof. The beaches were made up of flour-like sand which was littered with shells, many of which we collected. The children loved it and were busy digging and playing in the sand and water though often the mornings were too windy and the afternoons very hot. Everything was going reasonably smoothly until DD1 overindulged in the jardin del mar (seafood platter) and came down with food-poisoning, which put a slight dampener on our spirits for a few days. However she bounced back enough for us to continue our travels further north to La Serena, Chile's second oldest city which still retains many of its colonial buildings and thus charm. From here we ventured into the Elqui Valley (or the "Milky Valley" as DD2 called it) which the guidebooks and Chileans rave about and which was quite breathtaking especially the further up one went. DH and I felt as if we were driving through the set of a western and tried in vain to impress this upon the children though the point was probably lost on them as westerns seem to have fallen out of fashion in the last thirty-five years. DD1 was keen to dress up as a cowboy with hat and neckerchief though so perhaps she was listening after all, while DD2 kept wondering where all the milk was... Eventually another round of tummy bugs forced us to turn back and we began the long but atmospheric drive home.

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