Chile January/February 2016 (Santiago, Temuco & A Trek in the El Morado Natural Monument)
Having missed a golden opportunity, which I actually blindly turned down in 2014, to go out to Chile and do the EFE run Santiago – Temuco train, I’d regretted not going ever since. So when I found out that the train was running in January & February 2016 I put together a very hastily planned trip, and only booked the flights a month before the train ran! The hard part with the planning is getting the tickets and I had help from a friend’s girlfriend, who is very handily Spanish! One phone call from her and the tickets were reserved; all I had to do was collect and pay for them when I arrived in Santiago. It was only at that point that I booked my flights and then my hotels.
Booked through British Airways but code shared with and operated by Iberia
IB3167 1830 Heathrow – Madrid
IB6833 0020 Madrid – Santiago
IB6830 1340 Santiago – Madrid
IB3714 0850 Madrid – Gatwick
Santiago – Ibis Estacion Central – is about a 10 min walk from the Central station, out to the left and straight on, or a 2-minute walk from the Universidad de Santiago metro stop. The girl checking me in spoke enough English to tell me what she needed to and I paid my bill in US$ there and then. Paying in CLP brings with it extra tax charges so paying in US$ is always the best option apparently. My 6th floor room was quiet, clean and had a good view towards the centre of Santiago with Cerro San Cristobal being clearly visible through the haze. Food from the restaurant was typically South American and I couldn’t fault the breakfast.
Temuco – Hotel Bello – According to ME Maps the Hotel Bello was 908m from Temuco station and it took me 10 minutes to walk there. I had to press a buzzer to gain access to the property and the guy at reception spoke no English at all; still I got checked in ok and was in my room moments after checking in. The room was a decent size, en-suite, had excellent WiFi signal but no AC or fan. Thankfully it was cool in the room so the blind was down immediately to keep it so. Despite there being no English spoken the room menu was in English and ordering was easy. I was able to leave my bag with the hotel the day I checked out and allowed to eat there after collecting it. My Google translate app came in very handy for sorting the bag leaving out.
Booked over the telephone direct with EFE (Tren Central) – they were blocked from further sale for me to pick up and pay for on arrival
29/01 – 2130 Santiago – Temuco
31/01 – 1825 Temuco – Santiago
Each ticket cost CLP30400 – this is with a 20% discount for travelling out and back with EFE; normally CLP38000
Wednesday 27th January 2016 (Doncaster to Santiago; after a night at work!)
Having finished a night shift at work, dealing with a very well behaved set of sleeper trains that night, for a change during the present climate, I headed home, attempted some sleep, attempted being the operative word, failed miserably, got up, sorted my crap out and was on the road for midday; my taxi dropping me off at Doncaster station with plenty of time to spare for the 1246 train to Kings Cross. 91118 was the power, as had been allocated before I left work, and the whole journey to London was a bit of a blur; as you could well imagine after a night awake!
Upon arrival at Heathrow, having gone via the underground, I attempted to get the seat I had on the Madrid – Santiago leg changed as it was a middle seat. Unfortunately, the guy at the BA customer service desk tried everything to change it but the Iberia system he was trying to change it in just wouldn’t allow him to do so. In trying to change it though I found out even worse news; my seat was against the front bulkhead, which as we all know is where those with small children are seated!
After a decent Wetherspoon’s meal, I was ready for the flight to Madrid, which was again a bit of a blur and with it being over half empty there was plenty of room for everyone to spread out. Once off the plane in Madrid I was straight to the first customer service desk I could find; unfortunately, my flight to Santiago was completely full and all seats were now allocated so I was stuck with what I’d got, whether I liked it or not!
To kill time, I ended up having to pay for food on a card as I had no Euro’s and the very oversized Burger King meal had me well and truly beat; I left as much as I ate and drank! While eating I had a text from Iberia to confirm my gate number, quite pleased with the advance info I set off to find it and when I glanced at the departure screens, as I passed by, I noticed Iberia had sent me the wrong gate number!
When I arrived at the correct gate it was already a free-for-all, without any crowd control at all. There were two other flights to Santiago, at 2355 and 0015, which meant 3 flights to the same place only 25 minutes apart; and with mine being the last immigration could be fun on arrival! Despite the free-for-all at the gate everyone respected the group boarding policy that Iberia have, which is even printed on your ticket. I was in the last group but one of the first on board in that group and first at the row of four seats by the bulkhead of economy class. The relief was immense when an old couple sat to one side of me, and were English as well, and a young girl sat at the other side; there wasn’t a baby in sight thank god!
Having had a chat with the couple at the side of me, who’d been on the go longer than me having come from Anglesey, and then watched the plane take off on the screen in front of my courtesy of a camera on the plane’s tail, it was time for the earplugs and eye mask to make an appearance. Having declined food, after my poor attempt at finishing the Burger king meal, I was asleep before everyone had finished their meal!
Thursday 28th January 2016 (A lazy afternoon in Santiago)
It was gone 0700 Chilean time before I decided to join everyone else on the plane and make like I was awake! There’s nothing like a night shift before a 13h25m flight to cure the boredom that it could bring! Breakfast, if you could call it that, was served an hour before we landed and we were on the ground only a little after time. As we were right by the door there was no waiting for everyone else to get off first, although we were held for everyone in business class to alight first.
It was only a short walk to immigration and the queues weren’t too bad. I was asked for the address of my hotel while at the counter, which didn’t seem to be the case for all, so maybe it was random? After immigration comes customs, the forms handed out on the plane are handed to some guy before your bags go through a scanner. As I walked out of the airport, having picked my bag up at the other side of the counter, I couldn’t help but wonder if I should have left it to be searched like everyone else’s was; nobody stopped me though so I just kept walking and away I went.
I had grand plans of getting some money and a sim card at the airport and I failed on one account as I forgot! Money I got, sim I forgot, mainly due to the fact that the arrivals area outside the airport was absolutely wedged and I couldn’t even see the exit, let alone any places selling sim cards. As a result, I headed straight outside and found both the TurBus (green double decker) and Centropuerto (blue single decker) right at the far end of the stands as you exit arrivals and turn right. I chose Centropuerto and paid CLP2800 for a return ticket, valid for a month, with single tickets being CLP1600.
Every write up I’d seen said that the best way to get into the centre of Santiago was to get the bus to the first Metro station, in this case Pajaritos, and use the metro to continue the journey. I decided against this and followed the bus on ME maps throughout the journey; and was dropped outside Estacion Central 21 minutes after setting off from the airport.
Rather than check in to my hotel first I opted to collect my train tickets instead; the most important thing of the trip! Armed with a letter, kindly written in Spanish by the same person who’d booked my tickets, I calmly handed it over when the girl at the ticket counter looked at me, shook her head, and laughed after I’d asked if she spoke English! Two phone calls later she asked for my contact number, which I didn’t like the sound of, but then she tapped away, ripped a couple of receipts off a machine and wrote down the price I had to pay. Once I’d handed over the money she handed me the two receipts with my change; these turned out to be my tickets and had all the gen printed on them I needed. Job done!
While waiting at the Tren Central counter I noticed signs up all over the place advertising the Temuco train and other EFE tourist trains and next to the ticket window I’d been to was a small booth advertising the Tren del Recuerdo; literally translated as Train of Memory! I don’t know why I got my hopes up when I went to ask but I’d been thinking the train might run regularly and I could do it when I was back in Santiago, after returning from Temuco. As the woman behind the counter spoke no English all communication was done through the google translate app on my phone and I was quite impressed with how efficient it was; and how efficient ada behind the counter was at using it! When she handed my phone back with details of the next trains, unfortunately they weren’t until Sunday 7th February and Saturday 20th February; and that was that, before I was hotel bound I had a scan round the station but could see nothing of the Temuco stock or any engines that might work it.
As I set off for the hotel though I spotted a Claro stand right in the middle of the station concourse, unfortunately the girl selling them spoke no English at all and just as I was getting my phone out to start a conversation in google translate she called a guy over; who spoke fluent English. 5 minutes later I had a sim in my phone, which the girl activate for me, and handed over CLP2000. With the sim came CLP1000 credit and 100MB of data; which was more than enough to last me the time I was in the country; not bad for £2, which would have been 6 texts at 35p a time on my UK phone! Messenger is by far the easiest way to communicate globally now anyway!
The Ibis Estacion Central is about a 10 min walk from the station, out to the left and straight on. The girl checking me in spoke enough English to tell me what she needed to and I paid my bill in US$ there and then. Paying in CLP brings with it extra tax charges so paying in US$ is always the best option apparently. My 6th floor room was quiet, clean and had a good view towards the centre of Santiago with Cerro San Cristobal being clearly visible through the haze. Despite the decent sleep one the plane the journey seemed to have taken the wind out of my sails so I clambered into bed and relaxed for a while; until the cleaner had the radio on the TV in the room opposite and kept the door open the whole time she was cleaning it!
As my lazing around had clearly come to an end I had something to eat in the hotel restaurant before heading out to see if I could see any train related activity. Everything in the station was exactly the same as when I’d left a few hours previous so I headed off down the street out of the station to the left, which followed the railway lines. I got all the way to the first bridge that the lines went over before giving it up and nipping to the supermarket to get some bits; where the security staff were clearly on one but couldn’t quite figure out who it was they were after by all accounts. I’m pretty sure the young girl with her baby was guilty by the way she was acting when stopped at the till but she’d clearly dumped whatever she’d attempted to take in the first place.
I confined myself to barracks for the rest of the day as I simply couldn’t be arsed to do anything! The only time I left was to get something to eat in the evening; and truthfully I enjoyed every minute of doing absolutely jack all evening!
Friday 29th January 2016 (A day in Santiago before heading overnight to Temuco)
I couldn’t be bothered with setting an alarm and was quite pleased when I managed to get back to sleep after waking at 0730! I eventually got up just after 0900, when some occupants of another room on the corridor seemed to want to make sure everyone was up! Breakfast at the Ibis was decent, with plenty to choose from and it was good quality something too.
After breakfast I confirmed check-out time was 1200 and headed out to the station to see if anything had changed since my last visit. The only difference was the fact that two motorail vehicles had been deposited on the vehicle loading dock; I assumed in readiness for my train later that night. After I returned to the hotel I dumped my big back I the hotels locked storage room before heading out for the day.
Between the Chile Triposo App and ME Maps I’d decided to do a bit of hill climbing, which would offer good views of Santiago and the surrounding area. First on the list, and furthest away, was Cerro San Cristobal, which had a funicular railway running up it; which would no doubt be right up my street. The nearest Metro station to the bottom of Cerro San Cristobal is Baquedano on Line 1; which is the line that basically runs right underneath Av. Libertador Bernado O’Higgins for its whole length. There are two options for the Metro, one is to buy a Bip! Card, which is essentially the same as an Oyster card back in the UK; you pay for the card then top it up. I attempted to get one from a machine and failed miserably. In the end I opted for option 2, which is just to buy a single ticket from a counter. The tickets are taken off you by the machines as you enter the Metro so in theory, should you so wish, you could travel the whole system on a single ticket as transfers are free between lines and you just exit the system through a gate at a station. I didn’t so wish and made do with my 8 or so minute journey underneath Av. Libertador Bernado O’Higgins. Worth noting is that the lines are named after the destination at each end; so for example Line 1 San Pablo is the westbound Line 1 and Line 1 Los Dominicos is the eastbound Line 1; simples!
Cerro San Cristobal was immediately visible as I emerged from the Metro at Baquedano so there was no need for a map to get to it. The Funicular is evident the moment you get to the touristy area at the base of the hill; what’s amazing is just how steep it looks from the bottom, and even more amazing is the fact that the cars are open air; although with a roof cover! The cost is CLP1500 for a single trip or CLP2000 return. There is even a stop about a ¼ of the way up at the Cerro San Cristobal zoo, which was closed during my visit so nothing was stopping. The journey, in either direction, lasts about 5 minutes and the views of the line from the front of the car are quite stunning; it’s hard to imagine that back in 1925 when the funicular was built that they mastered such a steep incline.
Once at the top some guy plays a guitar & panpipes in an attempt to get money out of tourists and everyone exits at one side before people alight at the other. Rather than going straight towards the top of the hill I followed the pathway that leads you by many well painted crosses and from said pathways there are god views of one side of Santiago. At the top of Cerro San Cristobal is a very prominent statue of the Virgin Mary. From here there are excellent views back across to the west of the city with Cerro Blanco, Cerro Renca and Cerro Colorado all being clearly visible.
I rode at the rear of the funicular on the way back down, as I had done on the way up. The large cars pass in a crossing loop at the midpoint of the climb, or descent of course, and I was back down to lower ground before I knew it. Of note is the fact that public toilets are free just across the touristy area from the funicular at the base of Cerro San Cristobal.
Feeling adventurous and having noticed what appeared to be another small funicular on ME Maps, I set off to walk to Cerro Blanco. I started to get a bad feeling about the “other” funicular when I was the only person walking along the pathway, that skirted the base of Cerro San Cristobal, to it. Red cones across the pathway soon gave the game away and I was headed via a more direct route to Cerro Blanco as a result; so no harm done. The harm was only done when I got to Cerro Blanco to find its entry gate closed!
Unperturbed I headed off in the direction of the plaza de Armas instead, which turned out to be very busy so I found some peace inside the Metropolitan Cathedral; which is just something else inside and yet not very inspiring on the outside! It’s well worth a walk round and if you have a decent camera that takes good photos in low light then it’s even more worth it!
After a bite to eat I headed to Cerro Santa Lucia, on foot, and then walked up it the long way round as the short way was closed off. I guess I should be thankful it wasn’t closed completely? There are relaxation areas all around Cerro Santa Lucia, with fountains and water features and sheltered areas to get some respite from the sun. At the top of Cerro Santa Lucia, the views are quite different to those I’d experienced at Cerro San Cristobal; mainly because we were that high up and the panorama wasn’t looking across a vast expanse towards the surrounding mountains. To get the best views there are a set of rather dodgy looking steps, which aren’t for the faint hearted, that lead up to what can only be described as a cramped castle turret. This is the highest point of Cerro Santa Lucia.
After coming back down to street level I decided that as it was only 3.9km back to Estacion Central, I’d walk it! The nearest Metro station was in fact Santa Lucia but by the time I’d messed about getting a ticket, waiting for a train and getting out at the other end, that it wouldn’t be much quicker. The walk, straight up Av. Libertador Bernado O’Higgins took 50 minutes and when I got to the station I noticed a change.
Sat in the second from the left platform, as you look from the concourse, was the Temuco set. I watched it being marshalled together before heading back to the Ibis to collect my bag and have a bite to eat before returning to the station to abuse the McDonald’s WiFi, which is just outside the concourse, on the left as you look at the concourse from outside the station. Boarding didn’t commence until about 2045 and al tickets were checked at the access gate to the platform. Salon class was at the rear of the train and Preferente towards the front. I dropped my bag in my Preferente coach and was pleased to find I had a side seat to myself, the layout being 2 plus 1 as opposed to 2 plus 2 in salon class.
The platform was soon busy with people but there still didn’t seem to be any trespassing allowed so I couldn’t get any photos from the front of the train as a result; it was way off the end of the platform. After all the train was a decent length, formed of: E3209, separator car, D16005, D16012, 1 x motorail, 3 x preferente class, 2 x buffet, 4 x salon class, 1 x generator van and 2 x motorail on the rear; that made (excluding engines) a train of load 13 from after D16012!
It was a bit of a stagger out of town and we came to a stand about 20 minutes out. I did wonder if the E32 had given up the ghost but unfortunately it hadn’t and the coach attendant came to tell everyone that we were waiting to cross another train and would be about 40 minutes. As the attendant spoke a bit of English I managed to sneak a peek at his timings list and found out that we were due at Chillan from 0246 to 0321; where I was hoping to be awake to get some night shots of the Shovelnoses.
Everything on board was very efficient, the attendants did their thing, in every coach, the guard did tickets, a trolley plied the train and the chef even came down taking orders for the buffet. The air-con worked a treat, the seats reclined better than airline ones did, all the toilets worked properly and everyone was given a pillow and blanket for their overnight comfort; I wasn’t used to things being this efficient back home with the UK sleepers…..
The coach lights were eventually turned out just as my earplugs and eye mask came into play. The train wasn’t wedged out of Santiago but when I woke just before Chillan there wasn’t a spare seat at all in my coach; and I’d not heard any of them get on!
Photos of the Cerro San Cristobal Funicular Railway 29th January 2016
Photos from Cerro San Cristobal 29th January 2016
Photos Santiago Plaza de Armas 29th January 2016
Photos from Cerro Santa Lucia 29th January 2016
Saturday 30th January 2016 (Arriving into Temuco and a day spent doing nothing in particular!)
We were 40 late into Chillan and by the time I’d got my shoes on and headed to the door the E32 was already off. I noticed a crew scurrying down the platform in front of me, both me clambered into D16012 and started it up; which confirmed that it hadn’t worked from Santiago. When E3209 had disappeared off D16005 was also detached and the followed it out of the station. When the E32 returned without the spacer car it was evident what was occurring and sure enough D16005 was soon propelling it onto the top of its class mate; this answering another question and confirming that the shovelnoses would be driven in tandem from Chillan to Temuco. Unfortunately, the light at the platform end was virtually non-existent so the photos I got weren’t the greatest; I was horizontal again before we even set off.
I was aware it was daylight, sometime later, and my curiosity soon got the better of me as we stood for a length of time at what turned out to be Victoria station. After a while people started to get off and some headed over to the bus station outside the station entrance. I managed to find a guy that spoke English on the platform; he turned out to be a HSE man for EFE and this was his first trip out on the train. He told me that there were problems with the overhead catenary just south of Victoria and we were expected to be about another 40 minutes before continuing south to Temuco. How ironic is it that overhead wires can cause delays to trains when they’re not even energized anymore! If they were energized south of Chillan, the Alco’s wouldn’t need to work at all and might not even be in service! One thing is for certain I wouldn’t have been on the train! Thankfully, so my EFE HSE man told me, there were no plans to re-energize the overheads south of Chillan; based on how cost effective it wouldn’t be to do so.
After an unexpected photo-stop, where trespassing didn’t seem to be an issue, our journey south to Temuco continued, where we arrived an hour late. Once everyone was off the train the leading shovelnose, D16005, was removed and ran back through the station to shunt the two motorails off the rear into the unloading bay at the north end of the station. Meanwhile D16012 shunted the stock across a platform then propelled the other motorail, which had been at the front of the train, through the main platform and sat under the canopy with it. Once D16005 had shunted the two empty motorails off the unloading bay it collected the third off the top of D16012 and put that in its place. All of the aforementioned took 2 hours; it was a right farce watching the guys do the shunts as they needed emergency couplers, had to make sure things were stowed correctly when taking the train apart; and between them they had more tools than B&Q to allow them to do the job! Four men it took; Edinburgh didn’t even have that many to shunt three portions of train together! My hotel check-in time was 1300 so I called it a day after 2 hours of watching proceedings. I did feel for the folk still hanging around for their car to be offloaded 2 hours after the train had arrived though.
According to ME Maps the Hotel Bello was 908m from Temuco station and it took me 10 minutes to walk there. I had to press a buzzer to gain access to the property and the guy at reception spoke no English at all; still I got checked in ok and was in my room moments after checking in. The room was a decent size, en-suite, had excellent WiFi signal but no AC or fan. Thankfully it was cool in the room so the blind was down immediately to keep it so. Despite there being no English spoken the room menu was in English and ordering toasted ham & cheese sandwiches was a doddle; as I pointed to the menu.
In the afternoon i ventured to the Pablo Neruda Railway Museum on the outskirts of town. It appeared that museum itself was free and leading up to the roundhouse are various coaches, that look beyond repair, along with some that look in good shape that you’re allowed to walk inside and look round. The main attraction, the roundhouse, which houses a load of steam locos and an electric, looked to be closed off. I walked all the way round the outside and could find no entrance at all. There are plenty of opportunities to glance inside and see what’s on offer; but that appeared to be it. I was considering returning in the morning anyway, when the sun would be better on the locos in the roundhouse anyway.
The rest of my afternoon was spent basically wasting time as it was too hot to be bother with anything else and I’d found myself walking over 17km during the day, without really having been anywhere! That was only 9km less than the previous day when I’d done over 26km in Santiago! At least I had a day to show for that though. The rest of the evening was spent at the hotel, where they also provided me with a pizza as my evening meal; and not bad it was too for a homemade affair.
Photos of the EFE Santiago – Temuco Train 29th & 30th January 2016
Sunday 31st January 2016 (Another day in Temuco before heading back to Santiago)
I knew it was going to be one of those days from the moment I woke, or should I say was rudely awoken by what I initially thought was a TV in an adjacent room. It was just after 8 o’clock after all but as I had the day to kill I had no intention of starting it any earlier than I needed to and tried to put the noise out of my mind. Just before 9 o’clock, which was when my alarm was set for anyway, I gave up and upon taking my eye mask off I realised that the TV I could hear was actually the one in my own room! How the hell it had switched on I don’t know and after thinking about it the only reasoning I could come up with was that it had an alarm feature that hadn’t been turned off after the last, annoying, person had set it!
Annoyed with my own stupidity I used the piping hot shower to wash off the previous day’s accumulated crap and then slapped on some sun cream afterwards; and felt no different to how I’d felt before I got in! I hate sun cream, its rancid but a necessity; and with the weather set to be as clear and as hot as the previous day it was better than getting sun stroke after being burnt!
Breakfast at the Hotel Bello was served in a small dining room and consisted of four warmed bread buns, a plate with some ham and cheese on it, a small dish with jam in it and tea/coffee and juice. Check-out was 1200 but I was gone by 1100. I paid my bill with an American Express card and left my big bag at the hotel for the day as I headed out for the station to photograph the shovelnoses while the sun was on the correct side.
I had grand plans of heading up Cerro Nielol but just didn’t quite make it; I did manage to make it back to the Pablo Neruda Railway Museum though. As it was early there didn’t seem to be many folks about at all although I did see some inside the roundhouse as I skirted round the outside, on the opposite side to that which I’d walked round the previous day. The sun was too high in the sky to make it onto the front of the locos in the roundhouse and I was about to give up anyway when I noticed one of the gates at the front of the roundhouse slightly ajar; that was me in and no questions asked. I must have missed it the previous day as I didn’t venture up to the gates.
There were about 8 people inside the roundhouse and none ended up in my way. I walked round at my leisure, noting down all the locos as I went round; anti-clockwise. There were a few coaches and other bits in there but I only noted the locos, as follows (left to right as you look at the roundhouse):
E3226 – Electric 1961, Breda, Italy
869 – 4-8-2 Baldwin USA, 1952,
848 – 4-8-2 Baldwin USA, 1952,
718 – 2-8-2 Alco USA, 1919,
858 – 4-8-2 Baldwin USA, 1952,
729 – 2-8-2 Alco USA, 1929,
841 – 4-8-2 Baldwin USA, 1952,
576 – 2-6-0 North British Scotland, 1912,
849 – 4-8-2 Baldwin USA, 1952,
463 – 0-6-0T ????, ????,
844 – 4-8-2 Baldwin USA, 1952,
820 – 4-8-2 Baldwin USA, 1929
803 – 4-8-2 Baldwin USA, 1940
532 – 2-6-0 North British Scotland, 1908 – is outside in the main gardens, hidden amongst trees.
I was eventually the only person in the roundhouse and when I came to exit I found some girl waiting patiently at the gate for me to finish my photographing and when I left she locked the gate behind me; it appeared that I’d managed to eff the roundhouse! On my way back out I noticed a sign for boleteria, which I’d bypassed on the way in when using the grass down the opposite side of the coaches that line the pathway. Oooops….
My Cerro Nielol plans were well and truly put to bed when things started to get busy on the railway through Temuco and I spent the rest of the afternoon photographing locally before returning to the Hotel Bello to collect my bag and have something to eat before heading back north.
I was at Temuco station for about 1645, just as the FESUB 1645 departure to Victoria was about to depart. The EFE stock for my Santiago train was just being prepared and when both shovelnoses were struck up a plume of black clag erupted for each exhaust port. Unfortunately, I witnessed this event from way down the platform. D16005 seemed to be doing all the work as shunting commenced. The two motorails from the loading dock were collected and deposited at the south end of the main platform. As D16005 shunted back through the station the driver gave it what for the moment he got under the station canopy; and it sounded good as it accelerated away. All the normals were stood around looking at each other in disbelief; meanwhile I stood with a massive grin on my face, very pleased with what had just happened. The locos ultimately collected the stock and then shunted it back onto the motorails; then the train was set.
In between all the shunting I attempted to get some tickets for someone else who had randomly found out I was in Chile and emailed me asking if I could get them for him. Having already typed out in Google translate “can I buy tickets in advance for the Santiago to Temuco train” I was greeted with a yes. I’d already written out the name, dates travel was required and what class on a piece of paper. It took the kid behind the counter a while to get his head round the fact that I wanted the tickets out and back from Santiago and not Temuco; but we got there with the help of his Google translate as well! Unfortunately, the transaction fell at the first hurdle as the Santiago to Temuco on 12th February was fully booked in both salon and preferente; so that was that and an email breaking the bad news was immediately sent to the person in question.
Unlike the train on the way out, which was faultless, there were issues creating a brake before we departed Temuco; the result being a 28’ late start. The trolley was down in no time selling cheese/ham sarnies, coffee and coke. Needless to say it only took one person 5 seconds to sell me a can of coke and a sandwich; how could it be possible? By Lautaro I noticed it was starting to get a little warm in the coach, which initially I put down to the sun blaring through the windows, until I realis lights had gone out and my phones had stopped charging. It turned out that the generator had shut down and upon arrival at Victoria, we were delayed further while the on-board fitters sorted it; which was a relief as it was turning into a sweat-fest! The girl attendant in my coach spoke a little more English than the guy had heading to Temuco two nights previous and kept me up to date the whole time.
I’d asked what time we were due in Chillan just after we set off and was informed that 0130 was the booked time but with the late departure it would be more like 0200. I wasn’t making any plans to drag my ass out of my seat at that time; especially as I was 12 vehicles from the nearest engine! All would be revealed on the blocks at Santiago the following morning.
Photos at Temuco Pablo Neruda Railway Museum 31st January 2016
Monday 1st February 2016 (A wasted day in Santiago)
As luck either did or didn’t have it, depending on your way of looking at things, the very nice coach attendant woke me up as we pulled into Chillan. Despite my reluctance to get out of my seat I soon had my shoes on and was wandering down the platform to see what was going off. D16005 was already detached when I got there and the E32, E3209, was sat at the side of the train ready to go on. D16005 shunted the spacer into the adjacent platform and then dropped back on top of D16012. E3209 then picked the space up and backed onto the Shovelnoses to complete the consist and make it as it had been on the way out of Santiago. With crews in all three engines I hurried back down the rear of the train to resume my sleeping position.
When the eye mask came off ME Maps showed that we were 35km from Santiago, the sun was coming up and we were clearly still late as we only had a few minutes before we were actually due into Santiago Estacion Central. The run in from that point was a complete stagger, as it had been running through the suburbs on the way out. The line out of Santiago had apparently been closed during the Winter and I was guessing it had been to do with the building of a load of commuter stations in the suburbs; which were possibly the reason for the staggering, due to speed restrictions associated with the track realignment?
It was gone 0730 when we dropped into Estacion Central. Passengers were allowed off the train at either side in the platform and it took ages for everyone to clear the platform. By the time I got to the buffer stops the crews from all three locos were nowhere to be seen. There was quite a lot of general interest in the train when it arrived and unfortunately quite a lot of selfie action going off; which hindered my photo taking somewhat. When I’d finished I was left wondering how the motorail vehicles off the rear of the train were going to get shunted to the offloading dock as it would have to be a hell of a shunt to use one of the train locos.
As it was only just after 8 I thought trying to check in to the Ibis would have been a waste of time so I had grand plans to have breakfast at either McDonalds or Burger King first, which didn’t happen as both were closed so off to the Ibis I went anyway. I was right about the checking in so had breakfast there while I waited and was eventually allowed to check in at around 9 o’clock, and was in bed catching up on some sleep shortly afterwards.
It was after midday before I woke and I ended up back at the station attempting to buy a one way Temuco to Santiago for the same person I’d been trying to get the tickets for in Temuco the previous evening. Having pre-typed my question in Google Translate it was as easy as handing over a piece of paper with the details of what ticket I required and for when. The only question asked of me was for a phone number, the ticket was then issued and handed over, after I paid with a credit card.
With the whole day ahead of me and nothing really to fill it I decided to walk it to the Cerro San Cristobal and have another ride up on the funicular as it was a clear day. After an hour’s walk I was sorely disappointed to be advised that on the first Monday of every month the funicular was closed all day for maintenance. I was given the option to ride up on the replacement bus but declined and soon found somewhere to eat instead. Just off Pio Nono is a pleasant open square with plenty of restaurants. I opted for a pizza place, which not only served up a decent pizza, it had an extensive beer menu as well. Kunstmann Honey ale went down a treat and was rather refreshing in the afternoon heat.
My rather wasted afternoon finished with a walk back to the Ibis via the Plaza de Armas with a bit of a rest on the way inside the Metropolitan Cathedral. When I got back to the Ibis I knew I should have done the Santiago Railway Museum instead of wasting the afternoon!
With only the one day left in Santiago I’d been hoping that tour company Ecochile would be able to accommodate me on their Glaciers & Hot springs tour on Tuesday and it was later that evening that they finally confirmed there was room for me and the tour guide even rang me directly on my Chilean number to confirm the pick-up time and location. As I was outside of central Santiago I had to pick one of the other two pick-up locations and make my own way there as Ecochile only pick up from city centre hotels. It wasn’t an issue though as both were a short distance from the Plaza de Armas and Santa Lucia metro station. Shortly after my phone call a confirmation e-mail was sent requesting me to pay, which took seconds through PayPal; with my tour details and receipt following later that night. Quite looking forward to the following day I attempted an early night with the early start and long day that would follow.
Photos from Santiago 1st February 2016
Tuesday 2nd February 2016 (El Morado Natural Park; Glaciers & Hot Springs)
An 0630 alarm call was needed to make sure I had enough time to do breakfast and get to where I needed to be picked up from by 8 o’clock. Pick-up was actually between 0800 & 0830 and the Metro had me to Santa Lucia in plenty of time. Alejandro, the tour guide, jumped out of blue van at 0815 and I was amazed to find only 6 people on the tour, myself, a Canadian couple, an Irish couple and a girl from Eastern Europe.
On the way across town Alejandro explained how the day would go and 45 minutes later we pulled up at a shack in a place called San Jose de Maipo, where packed lunches and bottled water was provided for everyone and Alejandro picked up some other bits for a picnic later that evening. This would be the last bathroom “proper” stop before getting to the hot springs at around 1700!!
Back in the van a 2h30m journey commenced at around 0930. The journey took us through to the Cajon de Maipo as we climbed from approx. 600m in Santiago to approx. 2500m where our hike started in the bottom of the El Morado Natural Park. Along the way Alejandro pointed out some of the reminders of a bygone railway that used to run from Puente Alto to El Volcan on the edge of the Cajon de Maipo. Only the odd bridge and Tinoco tunnel could be seen from the roadway but in the towns the remnants of the stations that once served them can still be seen. The railway ran successfully until 1985, having been shortened back to only operating to San Jose de Maipo in 1980, when an earthquake destroyed a section and that was literally the end of the whole railway! I did spot three centre cabbed small diesels along the way, one of which looked in good condition; externally anyway. According to the worldwide web these locos were only delivered to the railway in 1976, shortly before passenger operations ceased.
As we climbed higher on the road out to the Cajon de Maipo the landscape changed from nice and green to bare and arid. And towards the end of the road journey the road changed from nice and smooth to nice and bumpy; as we began to technically off-road, in a Hyundai van! The last stretch of road couldn’t really be called road and was really more like a makeshift road. It was part of a series of roads that were on private property and used by the mining industries around these parts, along with the new boys in town that were apparently making a 70km long tunnel through the mountains to do with hydrothermal power. Access is apparently restricted to the area and prior permission to drive through it must be sought; if caught by the police without permission it has been known for them to confiscate vehicles! Thankfully we had permission; apparently….
After 30 minutes of off-roading, and constant climbing, we reached a small circular area at the bottom of the El Morado Natural ark, which was where the van was parked up and left for the day as even the driver came for a wander with us. The views around were breathtaking and were only set to get better. It was sunny and quite warm for the altitude we were at and everyone was reminded they needed water, sun cream, hats, long trousers (for if it became windy apparently) and a jacket as it was likely to be cold when we reached the glacier & lagoon we were heading for.
Camera ready, sun-creamed up and raring to go we set off at around 1130; it was gone 1400 before we sat down to eat lunch in front of an amazing spectacle. As with all descriptions when written, the difficulty level of a hike is in the eyes of the person writing it; this hike was meant to be easy, there was nothing easy about it at all. As we left the stunning view at the bottom of the valley behind, which included some of Chile’s highest semi-active volcanoes, the first few hundred meters of walking were on a decent pathway, which was relatively even and basically after that it was a free-for-all! While pathways were visible in the rock debris, they were only what previous hikers had trodden in but of course it made sense to follow in their footsteps.
As we climbed the valley sides and began to round the bend the glacial run-off from the five glaciers that would become visible could be seen meandering its way down the valley floor. At one point in the hike we crossed one of the streams running down from the hills above us and were told to refill out water bottles if we wanted as there was never going to be any purer a water out in the field! I couldn’t tell the difference to that in my bottle already; other than the fact it was freezing cold!
About half way through the hike we’d turned the corner of the valley and out starting point was well and truly out of sight; and a long way below us. Looking up the valley from that point we were all in awe of our surroundings as four glaciers came into view, the one we were heading to was over a ridge and out of sight. The smaller hanging glacier was the most dominant of the four with the larger San Francisco glacier being a lot further away up the valley. Others in our line of sight were much further away than the San Francisco Glacier.
When you’re struggling for air in high altitude, have been walking for 2 hours and aren’t in the best of shape anyway, the last thing you want to hear is that the hardest part is about to come and the very spectacle we’ve walked all this way to see is over that very high ridge in front of you; reachable only by clambering over the scree from the surrounding mountains! Thankfully I wasn’t the only one who’s heart was pounding as we scrambled our way up and I could barely get my breath as the El Morado Hanging Glacier came into view; and was even more taken-a-back when I breached the ridge and was presented with the lagoon at the base of the glacier. It truly was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen and at 3150m, with my heart still pounding from the climb in the thin air; it literally was breathtaking!
In all the excitement and scrambling about to get photos I’d not really noticed how cold it had turned and when the wind blew across the sand coloured lagoon it was bitter. I was thankful I hadn’t carried my jacket for nothing at that point. When we sat down to eat, there’s nothing like playing potluck with pulling things out of a brown paper bag to eat; thankfully there was nothing more harmless than beef salad sarnies and a bag of nuts each. What a surround it was to eat lunch in; the shame was that after it we were going to have to leave the spectacular scenery behind and trek back down; the distance is about 6km in each direction.
The hike back down took almost an hour less that it had on the way up and we definitely took a slightly more direct route going back down. As there was still a bit of snow about in places it was harder to negotiate in a downhill direction but everyone managed to stay upright and shuffle across without anyone either ending up on their arse or worse still punching through to the stream below! Alejandro later told us that he’d be using a different route on the next tour as the snow, that had usually rescinded at this point in the year anyway, was starting to look dangerous and at some point someone would end up breaking through to the stream beneath!
Looking down the valley at the halfway point it was hard to think we’d hiked up to where we’d been and yet done it from way down below, where we were heading to now, after hiking it up from there in the first place! Safely back at the bottom, with everyone completely injury free, other than the aches and strains of what had been essentially a 6-hour hike, there was no rest as we were back into the van and heading towards the Baños Colina hot springs.
The springs were in another adjacent valley and the road to it was even bumpier than the one that had led us to the start of the trek. At one point it ran down the side of a river bed, actually in the river bed itself; a river that apparently once used to span the valley at times but has since become a lot smaller in size. It was certainly an interesting 45-minute drive; one that ended with us entering a park area through a barrier, after Alejandro had paid to enter, then twisting and turning as we ran uphill to the top of the springs.
As I’d only booked the trip the day before and hadn’t been prepared at all for any water related activities I sat this one out and was basically bag-bitch while everyone else took a dip. There were basically four levels of spring, getting cooler as they went downwards. I did feel the water at the top spring and was surprised at how hot it was; let’s just say my bath would be cooler! The whole place was as secluded as they come and the changing rooms looked like a hut better suited to a wayward place in the back of beyond, which of course was where we were! There were plenty of people about and many were camping by the springs overnight, apparently so they could trek the valleys by day. It was quite windy in the evening though and watching people try to pitch their tents passed the time for me.
Once everyone had finished in the springs, and had their freezing cold shower, Alejandro prepared an evening picnic by the van, which included cheeses, fruit and red wine. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable day and the springs was a great way to unwind at the end of it; even if I didn’t have a dip. The food before the journey home was probably needed too as it took almost 3 hours to get back into central Santiago; I was dropped off at Baquedano metro station and was thankfully back at the Ibis just after 2200.
With the long hard day, I was so glad to lay on a soft bed, I was certainly starting to feel the fact that I’d hiked up a mountain valley earlier as my muscles started to let me know. Sleep was definitely the best thing for them…….
Photos while trekking El Morado Natural Monument 2nd February 2016
Photos from El Morado Hanging Glacier & Banos Colina Hot Springs 2nd February 2016
Wednesday 3rd February 2016 (The start of the journey home)
I had thought about trying to make it to the Santiago Railway Museum before heading home but my body told me it wasn’t having any of it when I woke up; there was definitely no rushing anywhere so I gave it a miss and after breakfast headed to the airport. Having checked in online during the trip back in the van the previous night, I got the hotel reception to print my boarding cards for me before I left.
I’d not lost the return bus ticket I bought for the Centropuerto bus on the way from the airport and headed over the road from the hotel to the Universidad de Santiago bus stop. When I noticed a blue Centropuerto bus pull up about 100 yards away, I noticed the blue bus stop where it stops; I had wondered why it wasn’t mentioned on the one I’d been stood at. Both the TurBus & Centropuerto airport buses have their own stops, depicted with a blue sign, yards from the main ones at each of the metro stops they stop at. The bus I caught was full when I got on and I had to stand for the 25-minute journey to the airport. By the time I got off it was absolutely wedged and left people behind at Pajaritos metro stop.
Both immigration and security at Santiago airport were simple affairs and with the flight being on time and plane already on the stand when I got there it was boarded in a timely manner and with a lot less hassle than the outward had been at Madrid! I was amazed to find that my seat hand the one in front of it completely missing from the row so I basically had two rows worth of legroom! Not bad for someone who’s only 5ft 5in. I bet the poor guy sat behind me was cursing me the whole way though as he was over 6ft and had his knees either under his chin or in the aisle for 12 hours!
Thursday 4th February 2016 (The end of the journey home)
As we set off quite early in the day sleep on the plane didn’t really happen but I was still glad to be getting off in Madrid as my muscles were starting to ache a bit with sitting for so long. They had a workout once we were off the plane though as a lengthy walk to the transit to get to the main Terminal 4 building followed. My connecting flight to Gatwick departed at 0850 and was again already on the stand and we pushed back at bang on 0850; this plane journey was more of a sleeper service than the previous one had been, it was a shame it was only a 2-hour flight.
It’s always a bonus landing at Gatwick South Terminal and having walked straight into a chip booth at immigration I was literally straight through to the station. With the current London Bridge fiasco though the next Thameslink to St Pancras low level wasn’t until 1040 and was formed of three nice shiny new 387 units; which are actually quite smart inside. After East Croydon the stagger through the London suburbs took us via Crystal Palace, Tulse Hill, Herne Hill and Loughborough Junction to get to Blackfriars.
The quiet coach on my train home did exactly what it said on the windows, and was quiet, and the train glided gracefully through the dull countryside as it whisked me down the East Coast Main Line; bizarrely I was actually a little pleased to see duller weather and not to be melting the moment I set foot outside!
25 hours and 30 minutes after leaving the front doors of the Ibis in Santiago; I walked through my front door in Doncaster!