We crossed back into Chile on Remembrance Sunday, via the Túnel del Cristo Redentor, managing to miss a great imposing bronze statue of said Christ the Redeemer.
From there we charged towards the coast to visit Valparaíso, a port city overlooking the Pacific. For me the main goal was to visit the Naval Museum, hoping to see things relating to my favourite Naval hero, Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane, who 200 years ago helped Chile achieve independence. He did the same for Brazil. Read about him - he had an unbelievably adventurous life. Unlucky for me, most of the exhibits relating to Cochrane were on loan to a moving exhibition. Nonetheless, the museum was excellent. Also in Valparaíso, we visited the former home of Chilean poet, Pablo Naruda, high on a hill overlooking the ocean. What a great place - really quirky.
We decided not to visit the capital, Santiago de Chile, but to head south at a reasonable pace aiming for the large island of Chiloé, in the south. The weather wasn't good and by the time we stopped in a truck stop off the local highway, it was pouring with rain. The only facilities at these places are toilets and hot showers (clean and free). Under a tiny shelter was a lady wearing a large plastic bin liner, working on her bicycle. We got into conversation and I helped her fix her bike. From the US, she has been cycling for 16 years, all around the world and has clocked up over 200,000 miles. Shamefully, I've forgotten her name and didn't get more time to chat, but luckily, through the deluge, a young police officer appeared and offered a warm, dry place for her to stay the night. I swam the 20ft back to the van...
Our journey south continued, passing through the Comayagua wine region and a quick tour around the northern Chilean lake district (more on that later). After a few days, we took the short ferry ride to Chiloé. There is the main island (Isla Grande de Chiloé), with a number of smaller islands to its east, making up the archipelago. The islands are best known for the 200+ churches, of which 16 are UNESCO Heritage sites. No idea who chose the 16, but these are all wooden structures dating from 1850 and were constructed by boat builders. To start the island tour we visited the museum at Convento de la Inmaculada Concepción, which has scale models of the 16 UNESCO churches. Not satisfied with the scale models - Rachel insisted on us visiting as many as we could - we clocked up 13 of the 16 (unlucky for me!), plus a number of the waifs 'n strays. We enjoyed Chiloé and it's outlying islands, hiking, fishing, island hopping, managing visit plenty of the churches and staying at some great camping spots. Our other main activity was trying to get a decent picture of the stunning Patagonian mountains on the mainland. We were teased by the dullish weather, although one place we did find was the technical end, or beginning, of the Pan-American Highway, Hito Cero in Quellón. Follow the 21,000 kms and you'll find yourself in Anchorage, Alaska. It left us wondering why PanAmericanas (as they're called) carry on to Ushuaia!