Feliz año everyone! I hope we have all gotten over the hangovers and that the new years resolutions are well and truly forgotten?! The only resolution I have made is to make the most of my time left out here so I'll continue where I left off...
After spending boxing day on the beach, Ruth and I headed down the coast of Chile to the city of Valparaiso, one of the country's most important seaports and a melee of colourful houses, rising higgledy piggledy up an incredible number of hills that surround the bay. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, this labyrinthine city is full of twisting alleys, steep staircases, and rickety old funiculars (cable car type things used to avoid the stairs, some built as early as 1883!) all covered in amazing graffiti. Yup, I really liked it here.
We spent the next few days exploring the narrow cobbled streets and it's pleasant surrounds - including another wine tour (well, when in Rome) and a trip to the home of local poet Pablo Neruda, who was clearly bonkers and collected a load of crap, but lived on the most beautiful beach imaginable (Isla Negra). We spent the evenings attempting to find some nightlife -and some new friends, we were beginning to feel like a married couple - but the best we could find was what appeared to be a youth club. Seriously, we had been recommended 'Heuvos' as the place to go but I should have taken the translation of 'eggs' literally - we were the oldest people in there by a good 15 years!
Not wanting to spend New Years Eve with a load of hatchlings we opted to have the special dinner organised by our hostel, Casa Aventura, and we happily celebrated the turning of the year at the appropriate time for each person's home country, including at 9pm Chilean time a special rendition of Auld Lang's Syne for you lot back in Blighty! After dinner and fuelled by some very strange pineapple flavoured 'champagne' we all headed up the hill to one of the many viewing points to watch the city's legendary fireworks. The display draws immense crowds from all over Chile and was the reason we decided to come here for our celebrations. And luckily it didn't disappoint. With a population of 300,000 suddenly swelled to over a million, the tiny streets were filled with people, all ready to see in the New Year, and the atmosphere when the first fireworks went off was tremendous. From our viewpoint above the harbour, we could see the fantastic display right in front of us, echoed all the way along the bay with coordinated displays from neighbouring towns. Whilst corks popped and champagne fizzed, I happily watched the lights in the sky and contemplated the end of a fantastic year and the start of (hopefully) an even better one. Then, obviously, we got drunk. It's always the sign of a good night when you lose a few hours, but I also managed to lose Ruth and half a toe nail. That's what comes from dancing in the streets with Chileans I guess!
As for most people I'm sure, the first day of 2012 was a bit of a right off, so we started the year afresh the following day and moved on to the neighbouring beach town of Viña del Mar to spend Ruth's last few days in the sun. A wealthier version of Benidorm, we sunbathed and enjoyed the seafood, and even payed a visit to the Municipal Casino, one of the oldest gambling establishments in all of South America (we didn't know this, we just stumbled across it obviously). I have never been to a casino before, so my beginners luck paid off on the roulette wheel and we came away 50,000 pesos richer (if only it had been pounds!)
All too soon it was back to Santiago and Ruth's last day in Chile, which we spent in true tourist style - sightseeing and shopping. Our last evening was spent in the lovely Bellavista patio (a little like the Coventry Garden Piazza) where we watched a belly dancing show, followed by some live jazz and accompanied by some choice bubbly from the Casablanca wine region we had previously visited. A fantastic end to a fantastic three weeks with Ruth - thank you so much for coming and ensuring I wasn't alone for the festive season!
So after nearly 6 months on the road I am back on my own again, ready to face the next adventure. What will 2012 bring? Hopefully good things for us all. Until next time readers...