ROD'S DIARY MAR 8-9 - SANTIAGO Pt 1
Now sat in the hotel in NY with a couple of hours before we leave for the NJ show tonight ..... so what can I remember of Chile, seems so very long ago now!
Took a while to get to the airport in Buenos Aires, the police escort not being as aggressive as other South American counterparts but it was cars not bikes so not as effective to plough through the heavy traffic. Once at airport though we were taken straight to gates of the plane and set off for a beautiful trip over the Andes, gloriously decked out in snow a lot of the way. This really is one of the best flights visually you can ever make -- if the weather is fine, and it was crystal clear today. Arrived to bring the airport to a standstill yet again with all the staff and security attracted to us as if magnetically, cameras to the fore!! We could see loads of fans running around the airport boundaries to get a better view of EF1. Off the plane and into vans with escort we were quickly off to the hotel, the same excellent one as on the last 2 trips here, I think in 2001 and 2004 -- was I doing diaries back then?? Don't remember but note to check out archive as would be interesting to look back.
In 2001 I was in training for my first bike ride that year in Kenya, across the Rift Valley. The promoter provided bike, kit, van and driver and I went off to cycle about 30km up the Andes. Good training!! I remember it was so scenic I suggested to Sam he take Steve up there for his final documentary interview which he did.
In Jan 2004 I googled Santiago + PADI and hooked up with some divers out of a village just north of Valparaiso. I remember doing a diary of that which I never used and managed to find it in my files so have reproduced at the bottom of this if any divers are interested. It was quite special.
But this time there is no time for RnR, just work. We arrive, we work, we play, we go. You could say veni, vidi, vici as the show the next day was amazing. Anyway we got to the hotel, did some work and then at 6 we had a press conference for 30 min with all the main Chilean music and news media in attendance. As always here the questions were very pertinent so we got on with it, did the pics, squashed for autographs then out for dinner with Camilo, the wonderful Izzo, Paula and other EMI staff. The restaurant is a marquee covered by the pool and is buffet. And it is -- as previous years -- an excellent night. Top food, lots of booze inc a special Chilean one I cant remember but Nicko will almost certainly include in his diary as it certainly had a major impact on him. The Chilean wine was ever so fine as usual and, whether it's the air here or the quality of liquor, it always gets a bit out of hand and Mr Gumby comes out. Now some of you may be aware of Mr Gumby from Monty Python with the knotted hankerchief on his head, very Brit abroad. For some reason again here most of the band and entourage had become Gumbys and Gaddsy had a great time taking pics, some of which I hope will be included here but the pics seem to arrive after my diary goes up so are often late additions. This time though if there are no pics when you see this come back in a few days if you wish to see grown men making fools of themselves. I think there may have been doc crew members lurking too so this may even make the big screen. Is it rock n roll, is it metal, is it cool.....maybe not, but its very Maiden!!.
QUINTAY nr VALPARAISO
I contacted Club Aquatica via the web, emailing two Santiago based dive clubs from a Google search a couple of days before flying in. Pablo Canobra responded within hours and by email exchange we arranged a pick up at my hotel at 7.30 am on Tuesday July 13. Ignacio Rojas, who speaks very good English having been raised partly in Surrey, was there on time and we set off in the Club's pick-up truck collecting up our Dive Master Walter Soto on the way.
From Santiago, which is in a flat valley between the Andes and the foothills, we took the highway to Valparaiso over these foothills and into a further flat valley where many of Chile's best vineyards are located -- if the name Casablanca is on a bottle you know it's good!! After forty minutes or so there is another range of low hills. It was a beautiful sunny summer's day yet as soon as we got over these small hills onto the coastal plain everything immediately changed as there was a thick sea mist. This persists every morning until about noon and is caused by the wind bringing in moisture from the Pacific onto the cooler land mass where it condenses but is then held up by the barrier of these hills. A few miles before Valparaiso there are clearly marked signs to Quintay del Mare and you go along a steep downward dirt road for eight kilometers or so past a huge lake which provides fresh water for the region and a new French development of housing built on and around a good looking golf course. It's otherwise very wild and undeveloped out here with some magnificent views -- at one point a young wolf jumped out and ran across the road in front of us.
With the downward slope getting steeper you bear off left just before Quintay and down to the Diving Clubhouse, a total driving time of about 90 min from Santiago. The clubhouse is next to an old whaling station which is now a museum which sadly we didn't get time to visit (next time!!). The clubhouse belongs to Austral Dive Club who allow Aquatica to use their facilities at this dive site. The clubhouse just oozes charm and has obviously had a lot of work done on it by the members. Both dive clubs are PADI affiliated so the club has the usual flags and markings and dive signs. Outside are the freshwater tanks to wash off the gear and a changing shed. As you walk into the wooden log structure you are hit by two things. First the spectacular view. The main room is long and all along the back a vast long picture window looks out over Quintay Bay and it really is quite wonderful. The other is the homely nature of the clubhouse itself -- large kitchen with hatch, TV and couch and armchairs, communal open plan dining table, verandah outside overlooking the bay and the village.
Quintay village and its activities probably haven't changed in 200 or more years. Set at the end of the cove with about a hundred meters of beach studded with rocks, the village crouches around this. On the beach are about ten fishing boats with outboard motors (ok one change). Unlike in Brighton the seagulls are perfectly white and almost tame. They sit sentinel like on the rocks waiting for food -- and there is plenty of that!!! The fishing is mainly relatively close to the shore with the catch including various fish and conga eel and a lot of squid and octopus, most of which is cut up on the beach and the remains tossed to the seagulls and a lone pelican we saw studying matters just offshore. Joining the seagulls are various village dogs and young children whist the fisherman congregate round the boats their days fishing over so they enjoy a chat and a cigarette. Anyway before we get even more carried away by the romantic vision of this beautiful unspoilt fishing village lets get on to the main point ....the dive!!!
Ignacio helped me sort out the rental equipment (I didn't have any gear with me at all) which was all name brand and in good condition. As the Pacific waters there are cold (9 deg C) even in mid summer they provided a one piece hooded dry-wetsuit.
I only qualified PADI Openwater at Easter 2003 so at this time had done about 25 dives but all in calm warm (30degrees C) seas with visibility of at least 15 to 20 meters!!! Nice stuff!! This was my first Pacific dive, first in cold water with full gear instead of cut off suit I had only worn before, first dive with much less visibility, first dive with real currents and also first dive off a small boat with backward flip! And first dive with people I had never met before. I admit I almost bottled out the night before as it's a bit of a step into the unknown and I am sure you other "beginners "will understand. But I shouldn't have worried. Ignacio is qualified PADI instructor as were both the XXXX club divers X and X, and Walter is a Dive Master, so I had plenty of help, four instructors to myself!!!
The first dive was about 100m from the shore, 30min bottom time and max depth of 22m. Visibility was about 5m and the water was heavily laden with plankton. The bottom had seaweed like large plants with 1.5m fronds swaying in the strong current -- sorry don't know the name. Ignacio considerately brought along an underwater camera and some pics are attached here. At one point amongst the fronds I saw the very white underside of an octopus laying in wait for its victim but lost it in the current and fronds when I tried to indicate to Ignacio to get a picture. There were not a lot of fish -- some XXXXXXXX -- but the wildness of the seabed held plenty of interest to me.
We returned to the beach and changed tanks, chatted and l just watched what was going on around us.
The second dive was closer to the shore and was a 20m wreck, fairly open and split into two parts about 20m away from each other. Naturally a lot more fish, - a crab curled up in a pipe, another octopus. Bottom time was 35min, max depth about 13m.
Both dives were a very new experience for me and l thoroughly enjoyed them. It was certainly different in almost every way to the Caribbean. Walter and Ignacio kept a very close eye on me at all times and were very helpful and attentive and passed on much useful advice on diving in these different conditions.
They had carted all the gear backwards and forwards from the club and also washed off and stored everything after -- thanks guys -- and generally made things very easy for us. Only Ignacio spoke English, which of course doesn't help underwater, but everyone was very helpful in their own way.
Quick shower in the club then off across the beach again to Restaurant Miramar, which overlooks the beach. Alex the cook did us proud as we continued to enjoy the incredible view. Scallops was followed by Locos, a local shell food delicacy in season at this time, and then the most incredible fish soup which came in a huge bowl and contained a whole crab, a great chunk of conga eel, crab claws, mussels and masses of other things l can't even name. Apparently the soup is renowned locally as a hangover cure and I can see why with the massive protein content. You could run to Argentina on it!!! Thanks Alex. And this was washed down by the marvelous Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.
What a day.
I hugely recommend any divers -- or anyone else -- to visit the magic of Quintay and dive with Aquatica. Chile is a long way from the UK but it is a beautiful and remarkable county with many magnificent places to visit and a very friendly people.......and great wine!! Aquatica also run diving trips to the Easter Islands out of Santiago and the Galapagos via Ecuador. There is a Galapagos trip April this year and one again in 2005. I intend to join the 2005 one so if anyone else is up for it let me know. I hope to be more experienced by then!!!