Cordy to Valpo: Reds, Thieves, and Party Times

Trip Start May 05, 2011
Trip End Sep 08, 2011

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Where I stayed
Casabella Hostel
What I did
Walked the mean streets, saw some art, ate incredibly well - 'nuff said

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ahoy all friends, countrymen, and random readers!

Time once again for my (roughly) weekly update. Coming to you from a cold but extremely nice hostel in beautiful Valparaiso, Chile. I have been holed up here for a couple of days, enjoying the winter sun. This will undoubtedly come as a relief to many of you, who no doubt assumed that I had been consumed by the fiery lava and occasional earthquake emenating from the Chilean volcanoes that burst forth with immense power this week. No such luck - I intend to keep blogging my way around the Americas for a good while yet. Though the sight of a volcano does sound mighty tempting...

Tomorrow (today already, I suppose, in England) will be my 23rd birthday - my first ever winter birthday (a rather exciting prospect, although I think by next summer I'll be happy to be basking in the moderate June heat). Though I shall be old, and of course incredibly wise as a consequence, I promise not to stop having fun. Indeed, I intend to have even more adventures as I enter my twenties, to meet new people, have wonderful, new ideas, and to travel the world. Speaking of which...

Ok, so last time I wrote I was holed up in Cordoba, historic university town with a lot of beautiful plazas, but not to much going on underneath: like a supemodel, covered in small but occasionally diverting museums.  One day was enough for Cordoba, but I was there for two (and I wasn't planning on leaving until the evening) so I did the only logical thing: on the second day, I jumped on a bus, and ran for the hills (for a day's outing, at least). Along with two lovely Irish-Latvian girls, a Canadian and a rather vacuous Englishwoman, I headed to Alta Gracia. Alta Gracia was where the immortal Che Guevara grew up, so we hit the Che Museum first (a rather impressive small museum, actually, containing THE motorcycle, of motorcycle diaries fame, as well as a load of pictures and letters). Afterwards, we had fun sampling the local ice-cream and viewing the Jesuit church. Mias Dios. The ice cream. It was so good, it even blotted super-revolutionary Che from my mind for about half an hour. I had two, of course, in quick succession, and was deeply satisfied (particularly with my white chocolate-dolche de leche with brownie combo).

That evening I was due to leave Argentina. With a heavy heart, I prepared to depart, and head to pricey Chile. I prepared for the overnight bus, buying food supplies for the 16 hour bus journey. I even remembered to charge my MP3 player for the journey to Santiago. What I did not prepare for was the 4 hour delay. Dagnabbit. In fact, when our bus finally pulled out of Cordoba bus station at 2am, I was so relieved to actually be out of Cordoba bus station that I wolfed down the dinner the bus company served, and fell straight to sleep. Only to wake up as we headed to the pictuesque Andes. Such was the beginning of my crazy journey.

I say crazy. Possibly, that's because I've never crossed a HUGE mountain range at high altitudes before. Driving through dusty desert, past lush oasises. And all that was amazing. Moreover, since I chose the front seat on the top deck, it was doubly amazing. I was transfixed by the view - so much so, that I even ignored the film
that was showing on the bus (the first film I have seen any South
American bus company show in English. Then again, its appeal was
limited: it was a Ben Affleck film (!)). But I think the journey was also crazy because of the extremely anal border authories (X-raying our luggage on both sides? really?), a traffic jam on a tiny Andean road, which lost us yet another 4 hours, and the fact that I had brought loads of fruit to snack on. Fruit, of course, is not allowed across international borders. This I should probably have realised. But even though it quickly turned into a banana-apple-raisin-super-vitamin-binge-fest, it was a stunning journey, and an incredible experience.

Not so Santiago. Now, Santiago de Chile is a lovely city, with loads of beautiful buildings and good museums. And I enjoyed much of my time there. But the smog, and the anonymous city atmosphere, made it a bit of a so-so pitstop for me. I was staying in a huge, alrightish hostel with only 2 minutes of hot water (I like my showers long), and though I met some nice people, I didn't really connect with anyone, so it was all a bit superficial. On the only full day I spent there, I walked out to a park, did a truly entertaining free city tour, and ate traditional Chilean corn-bake with some Americans. So I feel I did a lot whilst I was there.

On Sunday, I made my way to Valparaiso. Beautiful Valpo - beautiful when the sun catches the incredible buildings and crazy-cool graffiti; and beautiful for its clean sea air. The perfect place for a birthday. Nonetheless, my first impressions were less than totally positive. Let's start with the attempted mugging...

Ok, now, for a masterclass in how NOT to mug a foreign tourist. After arriving on Sunday at about 3, I was determined not to totally waste the day. I got some advice from some Americans staying at my (incredibly chilled and homely-feeling) hostel to go check out the fruit and fish market. It's in a fairly safe region, so I thought: why not? I saw some huge, juicy black grapes. So I went to buy them. My Spanish is not good, but the price was fixed. Thus, no negotioation, no problem. EXCEPT that the fruitseller wanted me to buy a kilo for 1000 pesos (about 1 pound thirty pence). That's WAY too much for me. So I try to tell him so. He tries to grab 1000 pesos off me. I grab it back. We negotiate a new amount - 500g, 500 pesos. All going rather well. Until, searching for 1000 pesos, I dig out the 15000 pesos that I had planned to use to go out the night before (which didn't happen). He grabs the 15000 pesos. I demand it back, then snatch the 10000 back. He very nearly palms the 5000 pesos to a friend. I grab it back in time. I am left angry, but with grapes. I wasn't about to let him mug me. But as I think back on it now, it seems foolhardy and even ridiculous on his part. Indeed, it was the worst thought out attempted mugging ever. 1) It was in broad daylight 2) I clearly wasn't about to hand over a load of money 3) The only way it could have worked would have been if he had run off with the money. This would have meant leaving me in triumphant possession of his fruit stall. Moron. Anyway, had there been even a whiff of threat, I would have gladly left the money. As it stands, it left a bad taste in my mouth - which only the sweet taste of grapes was able to remedy!

Continuing my slightly disastrous introduction to Valpo, on Sunday evening it rained so hard that it flooded the hostel's lounge. We were all huddled there for warmth, so it was something of a shock when the rainstorm almost shorted the TV and flooded a ceiling light fitting! In fact, we were all required to pitch in in an emergency evacuation effort, as water gushed from all sorts of unexpected parts of the ceiling and all electricals seemed at risk. Lucky that we had already finished watching the film (127 Hours - not exactly a lighthearted romp). But, as we were faced with the torrents of water, I couldn't help but smile. It was all mildly ridiculous, and fun, and everyone in the hostel was remrkably chipper afterwards. So I guess I enjoyed my disaster-prone Sunday.

On Monday Valpo truly won me over. Wandering around the winding city streets, filled with plazas and statues, and so many green spaces; and built near the beach and up on to steep hills, twisting into irregular streets; I was overcome by the charm of the city. There are so many beautiful buildings, there is a bizarrely unexplained strong British influence, and there's cocophany of multicoloured houses with tiny art-shops inside. It really is a great place. I truly felt the sun for the first time in 2 weeks or so (and stripped down to a T-shirt, shock!) I rode the ascensors, elevators that take you up the hillside (no joking), and I encountered a rather amusing student protest blocking traffic. So that's Valpo!

Also on Monday, I was lucky enough to arrange a free private English tour of the Chilean National Congress - just by asking. Of course, it was really interesting for me, the soon-to-be politics student. And the guy who gave me the tour was a student doing an internship, and he was a lot of fun. Indeed, he and a few of his friends have promised to show me the town tomorrow night for my birthday, so with a couple of other amigos from the hostel, I shall sample Valpo's nightlife from a local's perspective. Should make for a good birthday!

Today has been great - a little cloudy, but I made up for that by going to an interesting naval museum, and then by wandering into little craft shops on the hills. And this evening I went to see yet another movie, so the birth-week treats are continuing to pay dividends. Who can tell what the next month, never mind the next year, will have in store. Whatever it is, I intend to enjoy it to the full.
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