26th - 29th November 2003
From La Serena it was an easy, uneventful journey to Santiago along a good, fast paved road. You certainly pay for the luxury of the decent road however, with toll booths cropping up every now again. On average each toll is only 1500 Chilean pesos a time (approximately £1.50), but it all adds up and gets pretty expensive by the end of a journey. The section from La Serena to Santiago totalled 9100 Chilean Pesos (approximately £9.00). Luckily diesel is cheap!
The scenary is not particularly spectacular, but as you near the Santiago area the countryside gets greener and the vegetation richer. All along the roads are signposts advertising various vineyards and kiosks are dotted around selling fresh olives. There are a couple of tunnels just before reaching Santiago, one of which is very long and you have to pay a toll again to take this short cut - you can take an alternative road without a toll but this is a longer route.
Driving into Santiago wasn't too bad - initially. We had planned on treating ourselves to a nice hotel and headed straight for the Sheraton, a huge hotel on the edge of Santiago's centre, and very easy to find. We were told by a very officious and surly receptionist that they were completely full and we would have no chance of getting a room in Sanitago as all hotels were full! The concierge was a lot more helpful and suggested a few places to try.
And so began our wild goose chase around the city looking in vain for a hotel with secure parking or near a secure parking lot. We must have tried at least 10 hotels and all were full, apart from two which didn't have any parking. Although there were a number of secure car parks in the area, all carried height restrictions. Our height was about 2.3m and all the car parks were limited to about 1.9m. Eventually we asked a couple of taxi drivers for suggestions and were directed to the Principario de Astorio Hotel. Again, this hotel was full. We couldn't believe how difficult it was proving to find a room in such a large city. The receptionist then explained that it was probably the worst time to be looking for accommodation in Sanitago, as there was a religious convention taking place and 12,000 Americans had descended on the capital. Marvellous! They took pity on us though and rang a sister hotel, the Hotel Victoria, on our behalf, negotiated a good rate and reserved their last room for us.
Driving around Santiago is not the easiest of tasks and the hotel said we would struggle to get to it on our own because of all the one way streets, so Christian, one of the guys working in the hotel, jumped in a taxi and led the way there. We checked in with huge relief - we had spent about 2 hours trying to find somewhere. Then began another fiasco - parking in the hotel's car park. Although the car park was in the open air, you had to drive under a low ceiling to get into the open air parking area. There was no way the Weasel was going to get under it; we needed to lose some height. Not keen on lowering the tyres as we had to be up early the next morning to drive to the Land Rover garage, we decided to take the roof tent off and try again. Christian and the taxi driver hung around to help. So off came the roof tent, which was put into the hotel's secure storage area, and we tried again. Still we couldn't make it as the spare tyre was just hitting the ceiling. Next step, removing the spare tyre, but even that didn't help as the tyre spike still made us fall short by about 1cm. The only option was to park outside the hotel, assured by the hotel staff that nothing would happen to the vehicle as there was 24 hour security right at the entrance to the building.
Having sorted the parking, we finally checked in. We had managed to get the last available room in the hotel a huge suite with two bedrooms and a TV in each - no more arguments over what to watch on cable. There was also a swimming pool on the roof terrace with a great view of Santiago. Not bad for just $65 a night including breakfast.
We just had time for a quick shower and change before heading out on the town with Christian, who we had invited out for a drink to thank him for his help. First stop a bar close by for a few pisco sours, beer and nibbles and then onto Avenida Suecia to sample the city's nightlife until about 4am - too early for most people of Santiago to stop partying!
The next day we just about managed to drag ourselves out of bed to get to the Land Rover garage for 8:30am. It was a longish drive to the outskirts of the city where the garage was situated, but a fairly easy route. They had a good look over the Weasel and checked all the prop shafts and UJs ( which Ed had already done) but could not find anything wrong. Typically the noise did not appear when they took it for a test drive and they said everything seemed OK. The garage was really friendly and didn't charge us for the time they spent looking over the car. They also gave us the addresses of other Land Rover garages further south should we need them.
The rest of the time in Santiago we spent wandering around the city. We did try to find some road maps, but this proved to be no easy task, especially when the Instituto Geografico Militar, the best place to buy maps, was closed for an audit. Just our luck! We went out another night with Christian and his girlfriend and managed to catch Matrix Reloaded at the cinema on our last night.