Viña del Mar, Valparaíso, Isla Negra, and Reñaca


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January 18th 2010
Published: January 21st 2010
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No Stairway? Denied!No Stairway? Denied!No Stairway? Denied!

A colorful staircase on one of the hills in Valparaíso.
Sam and I spent most of our first day in Valparaíso trying to figure out our plans for Brazil - where we would visit and sleep- which was made infinitely more complicated because it will be Carnaval while we're there, and the hostels almost all require you to book the full week of Carnaval at a sky-high rate. Since we wanted to visit more than just Rio, we looked into hotels instead. At $500+ per night, we were less than thrilled with that option, but eventually we found a company selling a 4-night 4-star hotel package on Ipanema beach, where we wanted to be for Carnaval, at a price that was not much more than we would have spent for a week in a 12-bed dorm room. We sent in our reservation request, I booked some flights, and we decided to spend a couple of days in Ilha Grande and Paraty just before our time in Rio. That was Friday night, but the company didn't process reservations during the weekend, so when I called this morning to check the status of the reservation, we were very disappointed to find out that the hotel was full and that we'd have to make
Street ArtStreet ArtStreet Art

Colorful, pleasant to look at, and with a playful twist (see what the boy is watching?).
other arrangements. So, we managed to find a hostel in Copacabana instead that only required a 5-night stay, of which the only required night is the 14th (so we booked a cheap night post-Carnaval when we won't be around just to comply with the minimum). Let's hope that all works out.

But, let's rewind a bit and I can describe the interesting parts of the last few days. I booked a hostel for the two of us from Santiago on Friday morning, and when we arrived Friday afternoon we were a bit disappointed by Valparaíso -- it was nothing like what we imagined. After all the good things we'd heard and read about the place, we found it to be a bit dumpy. We rang the buzzer for the hostel, and the owner opened the door and asked if we needed beds. He seemed surprised by my response that we had a reservation, but he led us up the stairs to one of the rooms, where he basically performed a smell test to figure out which beds had clean sheets. We got ourselves situated in our room, but to our surprise we were never asked for our names for
ValparaísoValparaísoValparaíso

Overlooking the bay and city from Cerro Alegre or Concepción, not sure which.
the guest registry - actually, we were never asked to sign the registry the entire stay, which is a bit reflective of how the hostel was run (not very professionally). Our impression was not improved by the strange and essentially incomprehensible British girl who'd been staying there for three weeks.

But, first impressions are curious thnigs. Although they may usually be right, in this case our first impressions were very wrong. By Saturday evening, we'd completely changed our minds about Valpo, and really started to like the hostel. Even if it wasn't professionally run, the staff were very friendly, and even we even started to like the Brit. As it turns out, our hostel was located right near all the clubs and bars in town, which is probably why it seemed so dumpy during the day when everything was closed. But it was great that first night, when we went to a reggae club that had a live band just a few hundred feet from our doorstep. Before the club, and after our marathon internet planning session for Brazil, we also ate dinner at a fantastic vegetarian restaurant and jazz club called El Jardín, where I ordered one of
Hanging in ReñacaHanging in ReñacaHanging in Reñaca

Left to right: Kim, Sam, Sonja.
their specials - a selection of 2 quiches served with 2 glasses of wine. Then, we picked up a couple of beers (yes, it seems the 1L bottles are everywhere) at the botilleria (liquor store), and headed back to the hostel to hang out with the staff and Brit before heading out.

Saturday morning, after breakfast at the hostel (the typical bread, jam, and fruit), Sam and I took a day trip down to Isla Negra, about an hour-and-a-half bus ride away, where Pablo Neruda, poet and Nobel laureate, had his favorite of his three homes (Sonja is actually a tour guide at the one in Santiago; the other is in Valpo). The home istelf was designed to be like a ship, because Neruda was in love with the ocean (but terrified of the water, since he couldn't swim). So, the house had narrow rooms and passages, arched ceilings, and low doors - probably not the most comfortable way for a man of his stature to live (he was a tall person), but I get the appeal. Aside from the house itself, the collections in the house were incredibly impressive. Neruda was a collector of basically everything - he had fabulous taxidermied beatles and butterflies, tobacco pipes, masks from all over the world, shells, beautifully crafted bottles, and perhaps the most impressive, figureheads from old ships. Sorry I don't have any pictures, but photography is not allowed inside.

From Isla Negra, we returned to Valparaíso and walked around the two nicest hills in the city, Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción. On our hike (and yes, it's a hike since the city is all hills), we saw why people fall in love with this city: the beautiiful homes, extraordinary graffiti-art, and vistas are really wonderful. At one point, we walked by a house where some people were having a party. On our second pass by that house, a couple drunk older men were playing with a rifle in the yard. It was the type where you reload the chamber by folding the barrel in half andf then straightening it again. So, naturally, I decided it would be fun to pull the trigger a couple of times myself, and I walked over and asked if I could. They handed it to me over the fence, and I ran away with it. Just kidding. I didn't run away, I just tried it a couple times. And no, it wasn't loaded, don't worry.

Some other sightings in Valpo: ascensores (basically, hundred-year-old escalator/gondola type things), a street circus performance, a drum troupe, packs upon packs of stray dogs napping so listlessly you'd swear they were dead, streets littered with trash and people, other people sweeping up the littered streets, a flea market where I wouldn't be surprised to find actual fleas, street vendors, and a crowded bus driving by every two to three seconds.

That night, everything closed early because Sunday was the presidential election and any shop serving alcohol (almost all of them) had to be closed before midnight. The election contest: Piñera v. Frei (apparently, the politics of both candidates are similar and very conservative.). In Chile, a president may not serve consecutive terms. Frei apparently had previously been president (but was not the current one), and is a member of the socialist party that's been in control since the ouster of dictator Pinochet. But, people were tired of what they perceived to be corruption, perhaps caused by lack of variation in who controlled the government, and Piñera claimed a relatively decisive victory. The streets of Valparaíso and Viña
Sam and the CitySam and the CitySam and the City

Sam overlooking Valparaíso.
del Mar Sunday night were crazy - people were honking horns, driving around with flags, dancing and shouting. It seemed like this was a bigger celebration than we had when Obama won, and probably as big as when the Phillies won the World Series (which, in Philadelphia, was the bigger of the two events).

Sam and I spent most of Sunday on the beach in Reñaca, where we met Sonja (a mutual friend from the Bay), Kim (also from the Bay, but I didn't know her previously), and two guys that the girls ha dmet the previous night in Santiago (Kevin and Nick). We got there just about lunchtime, which was a bit of a tricky situation since almost everything was closed. Our options were McDonald's and Burger King, both of which looked to have very very very long lines, or one of a couple empanada stands that had a long line to order and then a 30 minute wait until the food would be ready. We chose empanadas, and they were fantastic. Aside from lunch and lounding on the beach, Sam bought a paddle-ball set which we played with a bit.

Kim had managed to get an
On the beachOn the beachOn the beach

Sonja, Nick, and Kevin at Reñaca.
apartment in Viña for a week or so for free from her mother's friend, and we went there after the beach, and then I went back to the hostel, showered (since I was the only one to take the frigid plunge into the Pacific), changed, and met them all again for dinner back in Viña. One of Kim's friends (Alexis) met us for our tex-mex dinner, which was less than inspiring and fairly expensive, but at least the drinks were very strong. From dinner, we all went dancing at a bar7club called Kamikaze, which had boasted probably the best looking people I've seen in Chile (perhaps because many of them were Brazilian and Argetines).

Finally, Monday Sam and I and the three girls (Nick and Kevin went back to Santiago early in the morning) took a tour of the old prison at the top of the hill where our hostel was located (we had wondered why our hill was named Cerro Cárcel) that had been turned into a cultural center. It was pretty strange to see a kid's playground in the middle of the prison, which was a bit decrepit and had been in use until 1999 (makes you wonder who was imprisoned there, since that's just after Pinochet was ousted). We also showed the girls around the nicer two hills that we'd toured on Saturday. After stopping for a quick refreshment (iced-coffee with ice cream, and a slice of apple pie), we made our way back to the hostel, packed our things, and were on our way. Sam went to stay in the apartment with Kim, and I got on a bus headed to Pucón, my next stop.


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Wires

The telephone (electric?) poles around the city are a mesh of wires that probably only one person on staff can untangle to know what is what and where each should go.
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Paddle ball, as played by Kim and Sam.


30th January 2010

Travel Envy
Reading through these entries gives me a bad case of travel envy.

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