After a short hop-skip-and jump flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago, I finally arrived in a country where I have never been and which has been on my list of places to visit for a long time – Chile. Always a sense of new adventure, of expectation, of how-will-I-like-it, of new hunting grounds. Small hitch at the entry border control: All American citizens get to pay a US$ 131 “reciprocity fee”. I had read about this, but it still came as a surprise. Tit for tat, I guess. As arranged with my friend Alexander, I went straight to the city bus terminal and took an overnight bus to Temuco – an 8-hour drive south of the capital.
It was a “semi-cama” bus, where the seat reclines fairly far back and a contraption from the seat in front folds down in order to provide a semi-support for the legs – allowing the passenger to sort-of recline. In my case, my entire weight was put on my behind, making it quite sore after a few hours. But no matter, better than having to sit upright all the way. I was surprised at the asiduous service of the male attendant: he came by taking note of where each one of the passengers needed to get off (and then proceeded to wake them in time), gave each of us a pillow and blanket, closed the shades and turned off the lights. By this time it was well past midnight, and the double decker bus was into dark Chilean country. I actually managed to sleep some, despite my snoring neighbour.
It being winter, I cannot write that we arrived at dawn in Temuco. It was still pitch dark when the bus rolled into the terminal at 6:45 a.m. But the coffee shop was open already, neon lights still glaring, a friendly attendant gave me a steaming mug of coffee and a black-pigtailed girl in a blue “Austral” uniform offered me a newspaper. My friend Alexander was coming on the next bus 45 minutes later and we had agreed to meet here.
Temuco is a town of approx. 250.000, founded in 1881, and the capital of the province of Cautín and the IX Region de la Araucanía. It was settled mostly by Europeans and today boasts several universities and as a starting point for many touristic excursions into the nearby lake and volcano districts.
After a couple of days of rest (the drive to Misiones and back plus Buenos Aires with its big city level of energy have exhausted me), I’ll explore the area and will visit thermal baths, a reforestation project and the private reserve of Huilu Huilu. More on all that later…