Rather than face an 8 hour drive we had to unfortunately cut our stay at Curalemu short by one night so that we could spend a night midway at Casa Chueca. Leonel, as ever, showed such kindness in helping us make and pay for the reservation, a kindness which I’m sad to say would be hard to find back here in the UK, and which makes us miss Curalemu and Chile that much more. We left the remains of our Christmas Day steak for the gorgeous daft doggies (I don’t remember their names, sorry!) and departed with heavy hearts.

Having not been well enough to eat dinner last night, I finally got to eat chicken and chips for lunch at a Copec Pronto. I never ever thought I’d look forward to a service station meal, but it’s done differently over here, actually tastes pleasant, and doesn’t break the bank. Their toilets are also cleaner than those in the UK. With a full belly and the sun in the sky we continue on our way. And then we come to a police checkpoint. I start bricking myself as one of the policeman signals for us to pull over. I stop, wind down my window, say hello and ask if he speaks English, in Spanish, and the cheeky bugger starts laughing. Apparently drug traffickers use big 4 wheel drives to transport their produce between Chile and Argentina and this is why Cielo got picked out. It seems that I don’t look or sound like a drug trafficker, so he waves us quickly on, still laughing. I don’t know whether to be relieved, or offended.

The scenery for the remainder of the drive is out of this world. We’ve less than a week left in Chile, and it’s going to be hard saying goodbye, even if  we did have to swerve quickly to avoid a tarpaulin which fell of a lorry in front, and Dervla again tred to take us off the motorway at an entrance point. I’m wise to her ways now, and ignore her. She’s also wise to mine, and doesn’t keep screeching “turn around now, turn around now!” Having said that, we’re now very much back in touristy territory. Casa Chueca is very pleasing to the eye, but it’s missing that little something, that friendliness and open-ness that we’ve experienced elsewhere. I’m well aware that we’re now comparing everything to Curalemu, but it feels like we’ve come back down to earth with a bump. The bedroom is cool, as is the pool, and the surroundings are beautiful what with stunning, large gardens complete with palm trees, but we feel like tourists rather than friends, and this is going to take some getting used to again. We’re refused use of the self catering kitchen because we’re booked into a room rather than a dorm, even though we’re paying more than we would in the dorm, so we then have to throw out quite a bit of food as we’ve nowhere to keep it cool in temperatures of 26 degrees C. Still at least we’ll get a night off from cooking.

The hotel owners are German and there’s a Germanic feel to the architecture and set-up, but enough of Chile to not feel as if we’re back in Europe. We spend a lazy few hours swimming, reading, writing and lounging in the poolside hammocks, before enjoying a much appreciated veggie dinner. It’s a shame that the German tour party sitting at the same table couldn’t even bring themselves to acknowledge us, let alone say hello or anything else, but at least that meant that we could enjoy our conversation with a lovely man from Santiago who stays here every week whilst his company re-builds homes for those damaged in the 2010 earthquake. He used to date a girl from Bristol (!), and remembers visiting Bath as a toddler, so is familiar with our part of the world. He’s recently married and the day before had found out that they’re expecting their first child, so we celebrated with pisco sours 🙂 It feels good to be sitting outside on an evening wearing shorts again. Apparently the climate here is the same as that in California. Nice Santiago man retires for the evening to phone his wife, and as the German group and recently arrived Australian couple don’t seem up for talking, we make a beeline for the hammock outside our room, and sit reading until the light fades, drinking home made pisco sours from the bathroom toothbrush mug.