April 9: Leaving San Pedro de Atacama, we took an early morning shuttle to the airport at Calama - a mere 60 minute drive along a very straight (but desolate) section of Ruta del Desierto. And then it was a quick flight back to Santiago. As we only had a couple of days left, we left most of our possessions in Kelly’s travel pack at the left luggage office and stuffed everything else into our hiking day packs - I had been using my 28 L pack for the whole trip anyway so now kelly had a chance to travel light too. From our previous time in Santiago we had sussed out the cheapest way to get back into town which was by airport bus to the bus/subway stop of Parajitos and then the subway to Manuel Montt. Both these stations were on the same line so it was all pretty easy. Ticket prices varied according to the time of day you were travelling with the most expensive being rush hour - but otherwise, it was one price for each segment of travel regardless of distance - such a sensible system. Buying tickets for the subway was as simple as gong
to a cashier, buying a BIP card and loading it with 4 one way trips (2 trips each). And then it was a 15 minute walk to Conchita Flores B and B from the Manuel Montt station.
In hindsight, there was no need to have gone back into Santiago but at trip planning time we were not sure about the logistics of getting to Valparaiso on the coast. It seems like every time you do a google search, Trip Advisor pops up and while people’s opinions are useful, actual facts would come in handy sometimes. After a final delicious breakfast at Conchita Flores, we returned to Parajitos and then simply got tickets for the next bus to Valparaiso (which left in 10 minutes). It is possible to get the bus at an closer subway stop, but then you are dealing with traffic on the streets and the bus trip is a lot longer.
It took nearly 90 minutes to get to the coast, travelling through long tunnels (which saved a lot of slow climbing on the old highway) and through the wine growing region of Casablanca. Once at the bus station in Valparaiso (or Valpo as it is
commonly known) we were directed to bus 610, which went along the windy Avenida Alemania to our stop on Camila. Both the driver and a fellow passenger made sure we got of at the correct stop! Our B and B (Camila 109) was a short walk down hill. After we were shown our room (which was nice but a bit pokey), I noticed on the fire evacuation map that there were a couple of rooms upstairs that looked out over the town. Luckily for us, they were empty - although a bit more expensive - and we were able to move. Now we had a huge room with a balcony and city/ocean views.
First order of the day was getting some lunch. The ultra helpful girl at the tourist office suggested going to the port for the most authentic food so that is where we went. Valparaiso is built on a whole lot of steep hills and anytime you go down one, you have to go up another! It was recommended that our walking route to the port be along Avenida Alemania as it skirted the top of the hills and then head downwards. The port was a somewhat
interesting area and we quickly understood why it was recommended to not go there after dark. We had a great lunch at a small cafe and then continued exploring.
This is the heritage district of Valpo (it was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003) and along with the amazing street art/graffiti, there were many funiculars (cable cars) that made it easier getting uphill - although personally I would rather climb steep stairs and streets. The Reina Victoria funicular ran at an angle of 57 degrees and it was rather scary at the top, hoping that the mechanisms didn’t fail before I got off!!!! We ended up doing a lot of walking, constantly being amazed by the quality of the artwork. We did see one piece “under construction” and were surprised that it was all done by spray painting.
Our original plan for visiting this area was to spend our second day wine tasting in the Casablanca Valley but we quickly decided that we would be better off taking a walking tour of the city and drinking local wine at a restaurant when we felt like it (and a lot cheaper). So at 10am the next
day we were at the Plaza Anibal Pinto for a 4 hour walking tour with Free Tour Valparaiso. We retraced a lot of the previous days steps but learnt a lot about the paintings and the history of the city as well. Many of the paintings had political meanings (if you understood the symbology) and many were done by well know national and local artists. There are three ways that a wall can be painted - the owner can commission an artist, an artist can approach the owner and ask permission OR the wall gets painted in the middle of the night! Even the risers of the stone staircases showed a design if you looked from the right angle. The historical (old) buildings on the hills fascinated Kelly as he studied the construction that held them in place - there seemed to be a lot of rotting wood.
The port itself used to be the most important Pacific Coast merchant port for shipping routes rounding South America via Cape Horn or the Straits of Magellan. Although it’s importance decreased after the opening of the Panama Canal, it is still a major container port today - and entertained us for
some time just watching the ships being loaded. Most of the flat land around the port is reclaimed land.
Our last day in Chile and we took a cooking class with Inez of Chilean Cuisine. We met her down at the port, walked back (uphill) to the cooking school to dump our packs then headed to the local market to decide on the menu and buy the ingredients. We thought we knew the names or most of the produce and were surprised that what we thought were eggplants were actually melons. The stalls inside the market hall had been in the same family for years. Anyone selling outside on the pavement had their produce set out on a blanket so it could be picked up in a hurry if the police showed up!!!! Back at the cooking school it was full on for the next four hours. We made (or helped make) Pebre which is a Chilean salsa that is added to most meals, Palta Rellana (palm hearts in avocado), Empanada de Pino (a tasty meat empanada), and Casuela which is a soup served with meat, corn, pumpkin and potato. For dessert there was Leche Asada (the Chilean version
of creme brûlée) and then wine and pisco sours as we ate our lunch. Needless to say we were stuffed and it was a perfect finale to a great couple of days in Valpo.
Then it was time to head back to Santiago Airport. We had expected this could take as long as four hours but it was actually pretty quick. Local bus from the cooking school to the Valpo bus station, bus back to Parajitos (it left 5 minutes after we bought our tickets) then straight onto the airport bus. Easy peasy.
And so our month in South America was over - a trip that was short on man made sights but huge on natural adventures - and it was all because Kelly saw a photo of the sunrise on Mt Fitzroy, Patagonia and said “I want to go there”. So we did
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