A Travellerspoint blog

Valparaiso and Vina del Mar

Santiago to the coast

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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"

Posted by ldroulez 18:55 Archived in Chile Tagged valparaiso Comments (0)

Seeing New Sides of Chile

Museums, Neighboorhoods, and Food

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During the last two days I have continued to wander and discover new things to like about Santiago. Having made friends with the Australians the first day, I have primarily hung out with them and in exchanging acting as official translator as the only Spanish-speaker in the group I got to share stories and take part in the first stages of their adventure.

Interestingly enough Sundays are not as much a day of rest but a time for everyone to go out. As such, prices go up, the streets are filled with locals, and most museums are free. As such, we took the opportunity to explore the city's museums, which included the Audiovisual Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of National History, and the Museum of Architecture and Design. Of these, my favorite looking facility was that of the Audio-Visual Museum, which was recently built as a part of an upcoming art complex. Inside one of the buildings was only one exhibition running while in the other there was a performing arts space that was presenting plays as a part of a month-long international festival and a library that looked to be better stocked. Along a tree-lined street bordering the museum, one finds very cool cafes, bookstores, and a popup street market that hark to other major cosmopolitan cities. It is along this that one finds the Archictecture and Design museum, which is a sister museum of the Audiovisual and has by far one of the coolest museum cafes. Inside there was a dichotomy between the more progressive installations and the exhibit of ancient Chilean artisenal works.

Down the street from the above museum and nestled inside the massive Parque Forestal is the Museum of Fine Arts. If I had to rank them based on their contents, this Museum would easily be at the top,with exhibitions profiling prominent South American artists and dealing with topics like America's relationship with Latin America, the lingering issues of national identity in celebrating the 200th anniversary of independence, and looking at the people and places that make up Santiago like other major cities.

One of the surprising side trips we took before going to the Museum of Fine Arts was going to Ros's Pizzeria and Gelato, recommended to us by one of the hostel staff. While gelato is gelato is gelato, the combination of toasted wheat and terremoto (local drink made of pineapple and wine) gelato was amazing on such a hot day. Another interesting side trip I took was up the San Lucia, which is a hill centered in the middle of the city with amazing panoramic views of the city. What makes it different and special from San Cristobal, the hill with the giant Statue of the Virgin, is that there are numerous secret trails, rest areas, and other elements built into the very stone of the hill and so well preserved given its location.

To end the night I went to Doggi's, a fast-food chain, and had a Mexican dog for about $2 that was topped with avocago, tomato, salsa, and melted nacho cheese. While it was delicious, it isn't the best of meals and is pretty indicative of the food situation here. Most of the options revolve around sandwiches or hot dogs covered in mayonnaise and palta (avocado spread) and tomatoes (likely the only greens), french fries covered in meat, eggs, and mayonaise, or fried meat covered in some combination of the above. To make matters worse, most restaurants don't serve still water and many markets in the area do not carry fruits and vegetables (even though Chile has many of each in season and acts as a bread basket to the US). For those of us who grew up with each in close proximity it has been a scavenger hunt that can be well rewarded by the low prices you find when veggies do turn up.

Since my first night I have not experienced so much of Santiago's night life, as usually by the time people are out or starting to come out (~12 AM) I am exhausted from a full day of walking around in the intense heat. Also, while I have had the privilege of continuing to meet interesting people in the hostel, most don't want to go out because they feel the same way. Otherwise, all has been good as I am starting to figure the whole thing with maximizing the hostel experience (Tip 1: if they serve toast buy eggs for an instantly improved breakfast) and have much more writing and pictures to upload to try and capture all that I have experienced.

Posted by ldroulez 05:40 Archived in Chile Tagged santiago valparaiso Comments (0)

Note on Photos

Seeing What I See

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I will be posting the edited versions of the photos I take periodically throughout the journey. I am still trying to find out how to tag them properly so that they can provide extra color and context to my stories. You can find them on the right-hand side of the blog and I hope you enjoy them.

Posted by ldroulez 19:41 Tagged general Comments (0)

My First Days as a Chileno

My Introduction to Santiago

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After describing the trials and tribulations of before, I have since been blessed with smooth sailing during the Chilean leg of my trip. Because my flight was delayed, I arrived in Santiago just as the sun was beginning to rise the peaks of the nearby mountains. This was good for me as I no longer had to worry about finding my way into the city at 2 AM and could catch the first bus of the day (the "Centropuerto") for close to $3. Even better, LAN airways had made the fortunate mistake of routing my baggage onto the same flight, so instead of having to play hide and seek with it had I made the prior connection I found it waiting for me after going through customs (Quick Side Note: US citizens have to pay $140 to enter the country as a part of a two-way agreement set up during the Clinton administration regarding travelers, and even though it lasts the duration of your most current passport it is still head and shoulders above other countries). Before boarding the bus I was bum-rushed by taxi drivers who were prepared to speak whatever language necessary to take the gringo into town for a high price, but having been forewarned by a friend of Andrew's at UCSD I evaded the tactics and was on my way.

The ride into the city was an interesting one, because I got to see the city and surrounding areas literally wake up around me. The suburbs of the city reminded me a bit of Lancaster or Victorville in California because of the track housing and the desert-like vegetation, but this scenery became more and more urbanized. If asked, I would describe Santiago appearance-wise as almost a mix between Paris, Brooklyn, and parts of the Mission District in San Francisco. On one hand the city is very cosmopolitan and developed. The public transportation system is amazing, with very well-maintain and modern metro system and bus system linking all parts of the city cheaply and quickly. Additionally, there is some beautiful architecture maintained throughout the city, complete with cobblestone streets and parks filled with fountains and statues where people gather. On the other, there are very real third-world elements, like the constant sights of stray dogs, extremely polluted river and litter surrounding a good number of city streets, and very real urban poverty that isn't always so readily open and apparent in the States. The people themselves are extremely friendly, and although the majority I have met do not speak English (something I prefer because I want to work on my Spanish), they are always willing to go the extra mile to help you out.

So far the stay at my hostel, the Landay Barcelo, has been quite memorable. The place is a funky old building that looks like something out of Medieval Times and is nestled on a pretty quiet street near a local university. In terms of location though, it is close to the center of town, the final Centropuerto stop, and the main thoroughways (translation: bus and metro stops), which makes it really easy to get around the city. The staff are a young and friendly mix of people who have been extremely helpful in correcting my Spanish mistakes, showing me where and when to go places, and even knocking back a couple of quiet ones in the wee hours of the morning while on duty. I like my room a lot because it looks out onto a central patio on the first floor and is near the main hub, has its own ensuite bathroom with two showers (I have been told this is good for "showering with friends"), and has comfortable beds with full linen sets and two pillows. The breakfast is probably the only thing I could potentially point out as a fault thus far, as it consists simply of a bag of white bread, a toaster, and two types of jam, which can be washed down with juice boxes and instant coffee. As fuel though it'll do for now, and I just bought some eggs to spruce things in the community kitchen.

I have spent my first two days meandering about the city's many neighborhoods and soaking up all the cultural and touristy landmarks as I go. Highlights have included a 2 km hike in the city to up to the statue of the Virgin and amazing panoramas of the city, going to a converted railway station that filled with art exhibits (a la Gran Palais), and discovering the interesting architecture that surrounds the Plaza de las Armas (which is pronounced Arma here, because Chilean Spanish includes dropping the s off of many words and "inventing words" as you go). I have found the best times to be out are before 9 AM, before the city officially opens, and after 7 PM, as during both times there is respite from heat (highs have been 34 C so far) and a host of interesting characters out. I have also went on a culinary exploration of Santiago, and have had the three dishes that are its most famous and authentic: mote de hosilla, which is a drink consisting of peach juice, corn, and dried peaches, empanadas de pino, which is a dough exterior filled with beef, egg, olives, onions, potato, and some good spices, and pisco, a grape-based drink with a smoother taste than whiskey and a surprisingly high alcohol content at 36%. Besides that, there is a surprising lack of vegetables, fruits, and variety, with most bars and restaurants selling hot dogs and meat sandwiches "italianos" covered in guacamole, tomatoes, and mayonnaise, and french fries covered in steak and eggs.

I have been fortunate enough to have met people with interesting stories in the hostel so I have yet to suffer from loneliness. The characters have included a group of Germans on a bus-bound odyssey through South America that will take them through Buenos Aires, Quito, Atacama, and potentially the rain forests of Bolivia, a Spaniard from Zaragoza on vacation from his master's studies in industrial engineering, and two Australian coal-miners who just embarked on a year-long journey that will take them around the world. Last night I went out to some of the local bars with the Spaniard and the Aussies, and together we got a taste of the night life here, which includes open air cafes serving local beers (Cristal and Escudo) and pisco until the wee hours of a the morning. My personal favorite was a combination rock bar, complete with wall murals of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Jesus, and Gandhi that played hair-metal and rock from the 80's and 90's, and a salsa bar, with black lights, strobe lights, and curiously enough a bubble machine that would spout off at random intervals. My goal while I am here is to dance well enough to blend in, having seen the bouncer as well as other locals dance effortlessly to the changing rhythms of the salsa music that is omnipresent. Like a true Chileno, I ended the night around 4 AM after last call, having been up nearly 24 hours with a light nap in between, and slept peacefully until 12 the next day only to start anew.

Looking forward to more full days like these.

Posted by ldroulez 18:43 Archived in Chile Tagged santiago Comments (0)

Crime and Punishment

Trials and Tribulations in the Airport System

Given the fact that I missed my connection here in Lima I thought I would recount the last 24 hours to bring all up to speed. After deliberating every aspect of the trip, from the flights to the hostels to the type of package and packing systems to use, I finally arrived at the Tom Bradley International terminal at LAX with time to spare and the anticipation of a looming adventure. After exchanging a final embrace with my dad, I confidently strode up to the ticket desk for LAN airways, at which point I was asked a very simple question:

"May I see your passport please sir?"

I then calmly reached into my specific travel pouch only to find that it wasn´t there! What ensued was sheer panic, eventually leading to the realization that I had left the passport on the copier at home. In the process of becoming prepared I was now unprepared. Over the next couple of hours, I spent my time trying to bargain my way on to a flight with the ticket desk while my dad, who fortunately hadn´t left, began calling around to see if the passport could be driven up in time. After that window seemed to close, I called my travel agent and was placed on a flight later that day at 7:55 PM. I would have landed in my first stop Santiago, Chile, at 6 pm as opposed to 6 AM, but all in all I considered myself lucky. Moments later, though, I was informed that that flight had in fact been delayed until 8:30 AM the next day, arriving at Santiago 2 AM the day after that. With no other choices or options, I got the best seats I could on the flight and got a hotel and meal voucher so that I could stay close to the airport in the night.

Just to make sure that all would be well the next day, I woke up three hours early for the flight and made sure that I had more than enough time to spare for the flight. Unfortunately, I think by that stage I had still not fully paid for my original mistake. After getting on the plane we were delayed on the runway for hours. As a result, when we landed in Lima, Peru, I missed my connection by 30 minutes even though I was originally supposed to have hours to spare. I was able to turn this second delay into access into a meal voucher and access into the guest lounge while I waited for a new flight at 12:30 AM. The upside of all of this is that I had an amazing meal of chicken, got to try various fresh-squeezed juices and herbal tea, and am now sitting down in one of the business centers writing this.

At this point I feel battle tested for the journey and ready to take on the stages that come. Hopefully the experiences posted on this blog from now on will have a more positive tone and will bring you along for the the ride. I end my first post with a final thank you to my parents, who came through then and have come through time and time again when I am forgetful or find other ways to muck up the plans.

- Luke

Posted by ldroulez 19:53 Archived in Peru Tagged airport lima Comments (3)

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