Santiago to the coast
31.01.2011 - 31.03.2011
In an effort to condense the length of the posts into something more manageable, I am finishing up the last post here and including my day up to this point. After a days of museums and side-trips, I went with the Aussies to Valparaiso, a coastal town roughly and hour-and-a-half from Santiago by bus. While they were going to get there in time for a cruise that would circle the tip of the continent and end up in Sao Paulo, which sounds amazing, I had heard that the city, along with the nearby Vina del Mar, was a worthwhile day trip.
The biggest surprise upon arrival was the think layer of smog/fog that covered the city. Up until that point I had visions of going to the "top" beach Renaca to check out the scene and potentially travelling further up the coast to ConCon for some good surfing with the locals. By the end of the day of the day though we were definitely not disappointed. After dropping there bags off at a local hostel, we took the overland metro from Valparaiso, which gives you good views of the port and surrounding areas and is surprisingly quick and cheap (~1 USD one way). By the time we arrived and sat down for lunch, the sun was out and the surrounding clouds were quickly dissipating and inviting the hoardes of Chileans that would later swarm the beach.
After lunch we continued down the endless stretch of beach in Vina del Mar to get a feel for the city. I would equate it to most coastal towns, with high-rises and over development jutting up right to a boardwalk filled with people trying to sell you things. The funniest sights for me was a guy who created a short-cut over the seawall and was charging people to use it and the greatest accumulation of not-quite 2 and 4 person touring bikes I have ever seen. For example, some used smaller wheels as steering wheels (no pun intended), others had different sized mismatched tires, while others still just were plain slanted.
Once we found a good place to lay out, I hurriedly threw my stuff down and headed down to the water for a much-needed dip. The water was perfectly cool, with a pretty strong current and a lot more sediment moving around then what I remember of the Pacific. Unfortunately, my body-surfing didn't last long, as I was quickly whistled out by a team of lifeguards. In Chile there are only two colors of flags, red and green, which basically means you are either swimming or your aren't (no need for "cautious" swimming). With that, and due to the fact that by this stage the wind had picked up enough to make the pretty big waves unsurfable, we started the trek back to the metro.
En route we found a hidden gem and likely the best part of the day trip. Built literally on the cliffs above the water was what seemed like a new Sheraton that made the hostel look like a doghouse. In a move that would make Benoit proud, I was able to parlay getting a drink at this amazing bar right overlooking the water into being treated as a hotel guest. First our party moved to the poolside bar with our drinks, I made my move. After collecting a towel under the name "Chuck Finley," I then had the ultimate key to access the pool, natural pool built into the rocks into the ocean, and spa located nearby. After sipping a delicious local beer by Kunstmann that was made with honey, I lounged by the pool, swam, and then retired to a hot shower and a fresh towel before we headed back into town. Although the hotel employees most likely knew I was full of it because of my big 40L bag in tow and the fact that my name probably wasn't on the hotel list, I appreciate the fact that they let me indulge myself unabated.
Valparaiso, while more cultural then Vina del Mar, was a pretty quick site-see. There are a couple of nice open plazas, the port itself, and a decent amount of pretty kitschy restaurants. I went to one called "Mastodonte," which was a home-made version of the rainforest cafe complete with paper-machete decor, including trees and animals including wooly mammoths, monkeys, zebras, and tigers. After some fresh-caught fish and some of the house amber ale named after a pirate, we said our final farewells and I made my way back to the bus station for the bus ride home and a translated version of the classic "Along Came Polly"