Last Day in Chile

The day after my trip to Valparaiso, I decided that I should figure out my options for heading back to Argentina. I planned to check out the Jesuit estancias near the Sierras, centering around the city of Cordoba. Since snow had closed the Andean pass I had taken from Mendoza to Santiago, I needed to take a flight back to Buenos Aires, and the cheapest option was around 7am the next day. Ugh.

After taking care of my itinerary, I decided to see the last sights I really wanted to see…within reason, as it was cold and pouring rain all day. First I headed to the Barrio Paris-Londres and a church called San Francisco. I’ve read that it’s the oldest colonial building in Santiago.

Sadly, they were holding mass so I was only able to see the outside of the church. However, I did visit the Colonial Museum nextdoor in the adjacent buildings. The courtyard is quite beautiful. The museum mostly houses religious relics, so I was a little disappointed as I had hoped to see exhibits about daily life, but I did appreciate the architecture.

Walking around the Barrio Paris-Londres (two streets for which the barrio is named) was also enjoyable, as it seems to channel a Parisian feel architecturally. And the rain actually made it look even prettier!

In the afternoon, I took an extended wine tasting tour at Bodega Concha Y Toro. It was quite tasty, although I wish I had had the chance to visit some smaller bodegas as well. Getting out there was actually quite an adventure! While there are plenty of tours that will take you out there, it seems like a waste of money to me, since you can get there by public transportation. You take one of the subway lines pretty much to the end, in the southeast of the city (or at least the bottom right of the subway map!) This took me less time than I thought it would, so I actually killed time by riding back part of the way and then headed back again. Since it was raining, I figured it made sense to stay somewhere dry, since I had no idea what kind of neighborhood I would end up in.

Once I got off the metro, I stopped to ask for directions to where to pick up a metrobus. The lady in the tourist office had given me the numbers of buses I could take, and one came pretty quickly. I asked the driver to tell me where to get off, and we were off!

We drove out of the city towards fields and vineyards. At one point we passed a building that looked like it had tour buses parked in front, and someone got on in a Concha Y Toro shirt, but the driver didn’t say anything and I figured that maybe this wasn’t the entrance and we’d circle around to a better stop. Well, we started heading out into the countryside – very green and pretty, and amongst vineyards, but I definitely had the feeling that we were heading out into the boonies. I asked the driver, and he exclaimed in woe that he had completely forgotten to tell me where to get off! However, the bus in the other direction was in our sight, so he told the other driver what had happened and I got on in the other direction without having to pay another bus fare. Getting out of the first bus and running around in the rain to the second, I certainly felt like I was in a comic movie!

This time I kept my eye out, and when we got to the stop which I suspected was mine, I asked the driver if it were the one for Concha Y Toro. He too exclaimed that he had forgotten he was supposed to tell me where to get off, but yes! This was the right place! And so, after sloshing through the mini waterfalls that were supposed to be the sidewalk outside of the Concha Y Toro bodega, I arrived only a few minutes late. Since that meant I got to skip the prepared video telling everyone about Concha Y Toro (similarly polished like the one at Chandon), I was happy to be late.

We saw some cellars and then were treated to a bit of a sound and light show in the casillero de diablo (the name of one of their lines of wine, the Devil’s cellar). Pretty cheesy, but I was prepared for the cheese by reviews on Tripadvisor. I had some wine tasting with the group and then a group of four Brazilians and I went to a separate tasting room for our wine and cheese pairings. (We’d all paid for the extra wine tasting with the higher quality lines of wine.) We then all took some (lots of!) pictures of each other and took the bus and subway back.

When I got back, I booked a shared ride van to the airport. The company insisted on picking me up before 3:30am so I’d be at the airport three hours early. Not necessary – I had to wait for the check-in lines to open. My room at the hostel was no longer all my own – there were some Italian men who were put in there, despite my having reserved a women’s-only dorm. I’m sure I could have straightened it out with the front desk, but since I was only able to take a two hour nap, it wasn’t a big deal and I didn’t even bother trying. It turns out that the Italians also had an early flight and spent the night awake in the common area – I ran into them at 2:30 in the morning when I came downstairs to wait for my ride!

The return to Argentina was otherwise fairly uneventful. I slept, waking up to catch the tail end of the Andes, then fell asleep again. The mountains were gorgeous, but I’m glad that I took the land route going!

The Hills of Valparaiso

I had heard so much about how beautiful Valparaiso is, I just had to go. And it’s a cheap and fast bus ride – I had picked up some tickets the day before for only a few dollars each way. (Granted, I got a special cheap rate going because I left Santiago around 7 in order to ensure I made it for the free walking tour at 10am, but the more expensive rate wasn’t much more.)

Well, beautiful is definitely one word for the city, as are gritty, dirty, and amazing. I was glad to go on a day trip only, because I kept being warned about various parts of the city I shouldn’t go to alone, or shouldn’t to after dark, or just shouldn’t go to, but I definitely can understand how people get the city under their skin. The houses are brightly painted and picturesque, stacked up a series of hills that go down dramatically to the water, a little like Positano on the Amalfi coast in Italy, but grittier. The hills are steep enough that there are funiculars up and down many of them, called ascensores in Spanish. Few of the ascensores are open today, since they don’t make a profit, but they are definitely part of the charm. And I definitely preferred going up one which was open to taking one of the brightly-painted flights of stairs!

One of the ascensores:

A true Valpo ascensor!

A true Valpo ascensor!

And a typical staircase…

Just one of the many, many staircases in Valpo

Just one of the many, many staircases in Valpo

I arrived at the bus station expecting to find a tourist information counter (as I had checked on whether one existed before heading out of Santiago). Apparently my information was wrong, as all I found was a tourist information board that was primarily a big map. However, the map showed me that I could walk to the trolleybus and it would eventually take me to Plaza Sotomayor, a big plaza where the naval buildings are located that is facing the port.

I joined my Tours for Tips group and we walked to the port, then to a street parallel to the port that used to be extremely rich and exclusive (in the 19th or early 20th centuries) and now has a bit of an air of faded glory. Then we headed up an ascensor on Cerro Alegre to see an amazing view of the city. (“Cerro” means hill.)

Valparaiso is just starting to get street art (as opposed to graffitti taggers), and we passed some brightly-colored murals as we walked along the top of Cerro Alegre, down and over to Cerro Concepcion. We stopped for some fresh, homemade alfajores on the way. As we explored the area, our guide told us that Valparaiso falls victim to fires pretty frequently, especially post-earthquake. With the narrow streets and no access for firetrucks in certain neighborhoods, it’s amazing as much of historic Valparaiso exists as it does.

After our tour ended, I ate some lunch (a Chilean stew) and took a bus up to Pablo Neruda’s Valparaiso house, La Sebastiana. It is another amazing house with amazing views. My favorite room was the living/dining room, another room with floor-to-ceiling windows. The outer wall is rounded, and in the center of the room is a round fireplace. In some ways, it’s very 1960’s, but in other ways it’s timeless. I had a lovely time there, and a great chat (in Spanish!) with the guard in the top room. I think it’s the first time I’ve had a conversation in Spanish with a Chilean (outside of the hostel) and understood something – the Chilean accent is so different from the Argentine!

I walked down the hill and back to the bus station, walking through the Open Air Museum on my way down from La Sebastiana. The Open Air Museum is pretty small, essentially a bunch of murals that I think they are hoping to add to in future years. It wasn’t my favorite part of the day, but I did really enjoy the picturesqueness overall of my walk down the hill, which was a great end to the day!

More Santiago Adventures

My second day in Santiago was also jam-packed with interesting things. I started out by walking the few blocks to Pablo Neruda’s Santiago house, where I took a tour around the premises (the only way they let you visit the house). Neruda must have been a genius when it came to property – he had three beautiful houses in areas that were relatively isolated in his day but have become prime locations nowadays. He loved the sea but couldn’t swim, so each of his houses is boat-themed…and this doesn’t just mean that he decorated with a nautical theme. In fact, many of the rooms in his Santiago home are shaped to remind you of a ship’s cabin.

His Santiago home is called La Chascona, a Quechua word that means dishevelled (in reference to his mistress – who later became his wife – and her mane of hair). It’s built on separate levels into the hillside, necessitating actually going outside to get from one to the other. We started on the bottom level, the original area Matilde lived in before Neruda married her. There’s a charming bar and a dining room which is low-ceilinged and very much like a captain’s dining room on a ship.

The next section of the house is higher up, and has a living room with floor-to-ceiling glass walls which once had a fantastic view of the Andes before all of today’s smog. There was a bar in this section of the house as well, and then, once we exited this part of the house to reach the library/study, we passed yet another one, filled with more of Neruda’s fascinating and eclectic collectibles!

Walking around the neighborhood near La Chascona:

After visiting La Chascona, I decided to climb the Cerro San Cristobal, after a mote con huesillo, an interesting sweet Chilean drink. There is a funicular up, but I didn’t think the hike would be too bad. Boy, did I underestimate it! It’s a pretty steep grade, and close to the top it no longer has guardrails, so my fear of heights kicked in and I decided that I was high enough to get a pretty good panorama.

I wrapped up the day at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, built to explore and commemorate the human rights abuses under the Pinochet dictatorship. It’s really thoughtfully put together, walking through both government action and protests in a chronological fashion while using still photos, tv clips, and documents. A couple of the things that most struck me: television footage of the coup, including the bombing of the presidential palace of La Moneda; pictures drawn by children who experienced the oppressive regime; tv commercials pushing the “yes” and “no” votes for the final referendum that voted Pinochet out of power. (I have to say that I find it amazing that Pinochet actually relinquished power when he lost the referendum held to determine whether his government should continue.) There is also a display of photos of the disappeared that hangs 1-2 stories up over the central gallery. When you go up to the next floor (which overlooks the central gallery), there is a little room walled in glass in front of that display, with lights that look like candles making it a poignant shrine.

Museum of Memory and Human Rights

Museum of Memory and Human Rights

The next day was spent quietly, finding a laundromat, going to different airlines to price tickets to various places as I tried to figure out where I wanted to go next (and where I actually had enough time to go to). And I admit it, I finally gave in to the craving for some real coffee instead of the prevalent Nescafe and went to Starbucks!

Some more sights of Santiago:

Arrival in Santiago de Chile

OK, I’m back! I’ve gone to Chile, returned to Buenos Aires, bussed to Cordoba, returned once more to BA, and then flown back to the States, where I’ve been busy relaxing, preparing for my Southeast Asia trip, and…not catching up on my blog. Oops! But I figure you don’t want excuses now, you want to see my pictures or read my oh-so-charming words. Right? Right! So here goes…

I arrived in Santiago rather later than expected, given the slow transit time through Customs and the hideous traffic that we ran into in Santiago itself. Santiago has three or four bus stations, all located relatively close together, so there were all of the other inter-city buses to contend with. And then there was the Friday night traffic in general.

I got off, a little overwhelmed by the lights and the crowds, and found my way to an ATM as I had absolutely no Chilean pesos whatsoever. I was a little nervous being in a big, unknown city after dark, but I quickly felt very comfortable in Santiago, and safer than in many an other city. (That’s not to say that there aren’t pick-pockets or bad areas, but honestly, Santiago is known for being one of the safest cities in South America.) I also quickly found out how very nice and welcoming Chileans are, as when I asked a young woman where the metro was, she walked me to the station, showed me where to buy a ticket, and told me in which direction to go.

Accustomed to the dearth of small bills in Argentina, I very apologetically offered my fresh-from-the-ATM 10,000 peso bill (about US$20) for my 600 peso ticket. The lady in the ticket booth didn’t even blink, just gave me my change and my ticket and sent me on my way!

The next surprise was the subway. Trains come only a few minutes apart, and are spotlessly clean and modern, comparable to (or better than!) many a Northern hemisphere subway system.

My hostel (called Nomades Hostel) was in the Bellavista neighborhood, once known as being the bohemian area of town. After all, it’s where Neruda had one of his three houses. It didn’t seem too artsy nowadays, but it was a pleasant area in which to stay, with a couple of streets full of restaurants (the street of nice restaurants versus the bar-filled street). My hostel had apparently given up on my arriving, since I was pretty late, but I managed to check in without trouble. They even moved me to one of their empty dorm rooms, so for most of my stay, I essentially had a private room for the price of a dorm bed!

My first day, I decided on a free walking tour since it’s a great way to learn about a city. To kill time until the tour, I set out to Plaza de Armas, the historic city center and where the tour was to start. It’s a perpetually busy square that’s predominantly pedestrian – the first time I saw it, there was some kind of festival going on that celebrated Bolivian dancers and bands. I popped into the Cathedral but had to leave fairly quickly – while mass wasn’t going on, some religious broadcast by Radio Maria started while I was there and I didn’t want to disturb anyone.

Plaza de Armas - the Cathedral and post office

Plaza de Armas – the Cathedral and post office

I checked out the inside of the central post office, and went to the National History Museum (which had some amazingly preserved old clothes) which is located in an old governmental building.

I had time to head out for lunch, so I went to the Central Market to get some of Santiago’s vaunted seafood. I had heard that the restaurants around the outer wall of the market were much cheaper and less touristy, so I attempted to find one of them, but ended up accidentally in one of the most expensive. Oh well! I found my meal of chupe de mariscos – a type of seafood stew – tasty, if not cheap.

Central market

Central market

Interior of the Mercado Central

Interior of the Mercado Central

I hurried back to Plaza de Armas after lunch, and headed out on my walking tour, which was really enjoyable. Not only did we walk through several different, charming historic barrios (Santiago is extremely walkable, another point that made me absolutely love my stay), but we got very dramatic explanations of the various sights. (Apparently our guide’s other job is as an actor.) Unfortunately, there is a lot of construction going on right now, so we weren’t able to see the presidential palace of La Moneda, and we learned that the most-vaunted museum in the city (the Pre-Colombian Museum) was still closed for renovations.

On the tour, I met another young woman named Samantha. We hit it off and went for drinks with some others from our tour group and then hung out and had dinner at one of the slightly pricier seafood restaurants. I am now in love with grouper – it’s a delicious fish! And I had a great time with great people, a good omen for the rest of my South American travels!