Monday, November 16, 2009


FINALLY! A few hours to sit and write. I have a lot to catch up on, and I hope I can make it through my chicken scratch notes and remember everything in between...
On Tuesday the 10th, we had a 7am flight to Santiago, which meant a very early rise for us who have otherwise become habitual late sleepers! Bet we were up and to the airport with no issue. In fact, the whole day went much smoother then anticipated. Considering that our transport to our final destination of Valparaiso (Valpo for short!) included a flight, finding the correct bus to the center of Santiago, finding another bus to Valpo and then trying to navigate through the confusing streets to our hotel, we did pretty good for a couple of meathead Gringos! Next task - I'm signing us up for The Amazing Race!

Getting to Valpo was worth the effort! The 1 1/2 hour drive from Santiago was beautiful and entirely reminiscent of driving in California - brown rolling hills spotted green with trees, framing a lush green valley filled with various orchards, vineyards and olive groves.

And then we arrived in Chile's second largest city, and another Unesco World Heritage Site. We had been highly anticipating this visit - everyone raves about this city. Our initial impression, however, did not meet our expectations - the city STUNK! Of garbage, and lots of it. Our taxi driver tried to explain as best he could so we would understand..."Primera vez mi ciudad no es bonita!" (First time my city is not beautiful)! Lucky us, we got there in the middle of a garbage workers strike!

Once we got away from the center of the city and wound our way up the hills via a myriad of crooked streets, we finally found our hostel, and it was one of our favourites yet - clean, very colourful, and with 4 meter high ceilings. After we checked in and had a map explained to us, we ventured out. What first seemed like just a big smelly city is now a potential favourite! We could have spent hours just strolling through all the quaint little streets. It's like a cross between parts of San Francisco and St John's - streets lined with brilliantly colored conjoined buildings. Murals decorated the numerous cafes and boutiques on every corner. There are also 15 furnicular elevators to help alleviate the stress of walking up some steel hills - most being built over 100 years ago. We spent the remainder of the day just discovering the character of the city and finished with dinner at a restaurant overlooking the harbour.

Streets of Valparaiso

Our friend Gill survived her 30+ hour bus trip from Arica (crazy Brit!) and joined us the next day for more sightseeing. We hopped the train for a 10 minute ride to neary Vina del Mar which is a complete contrast to Valpo - a very upscale city where all the rich Santiagoan's (sp?) spend all their money and their weekends. We found our way to the beach, and YES, I did manage to burn the last exposed piece of skin that I did not burn the first time - the backs of my knees. Very good.

Beach in Vina del Mar

While we relaxed quietly on the beach enjoying the sun, an English couple sitting only 20 feet away from us had their bag nicked when only turning their back for a second. Two "blimey jovenes" (as Gill affectionately called them - rocking her Spanglish) had been scouting everyone around us, and thankfully Pete had tied a strap of our backpack to his belt loop. Luckily, a Chilean woman close to us saw the whole thing and called the police. They were onsite within minutes. The bag and all it's contents were recovered - the police telling the couple that they didn't want them "to go away with a bad impression of Chile!" Perhaps these cops should talk to cops in Edmonton - I still have a bad impression of that trashy city after our vehicle was broken in to this summer!

The next day started off with errand running - or at least, an attempt at it. I am now oh-for-two in trying to cash a traveller's cheque in this country, thank goodness there are bank machines on every corner. The rest of the afternoon saw us ambling some more around the quaint neighbourhoods surrounding our hostel, and also included a good lengthy siesta for me! Our evening saw a little more action - one of the staff at our hostel invited us to a CD release party for a local band he was managing. They were really good! A four piece band who played a mix of jazz and rock, I urge you to check them out here:

Our last day in Valpo was one of my favourite days since leaving Canada. After waiting too long to join a tour group leaving our hostel for a vineyard and other sightseeing, we decided to do it ourselves! Our hostel staff arranged for a car rental and a winery tour, and the three of us were off on our own. Pete enjoyed being behind the wheel again (and the fact that the speed limit is higher here!) and we found our way around the area without too much trouble.

Our first stop was the William Cole vineyard for a tour and wine tasting. Our tour guide was most informative, and we all learned a lot in a short time frame, including which tap to turn on and stick our heads under for tasting (ha!) The wine here is so tasty and SO cheap. We each bought a bottle and were back in the car for our next destination.

We stopped at the small fishing village of Quintay for a leisurely lunch on the beach, watching fisherman bring in their small boats and sort through their catch from that morning.


Surrounding Quintay, there are several less visited beaches that we went in search of! The first one, Playa Grande, was quite large and unbelievably quiet - we virtually had it all to ourselves. We laid around for about an hour just listening to the waves crash in (and shivering from the cold wind that interrupted the heat from the sun!) Knowing that our time was limited before we had to get the rental car back, we went in search of another smaller beach (Playa Chica) that was a little harder to get to. After about 20 minutes of walking we found it, and while it was not much of a sandy beach (had a very rocky shore), it was a beautiful spot that was again, all to ourselves!

Playa Grande

Gill, Pete and I at Playa Chica

Overall, it was just an incredible day, exploring lesser known spots on our own - spots that haven't been spoiled by being on the tourist path.

Off to Santiago Saturday morning, which is a complete contrast to so many things we have seen so is large, very modern, clean, like many a city in North America! Lots to see and do...but that will be saved for the next post...

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