Chorrillanas, Cerros and Completos

Trip Start Jul 19, 2009
Trip End Aug 23, 2009

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Flag of Chile  ,
Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mendoza was fantastic and so relaxed so we were a bit sad leaving. But, we were excited to head off to a completely new country and to spend some more time by the ocean - albeit a different one. Mendoza and Valparaiso are technically not that far apart but obviously the epic Andes slap bang in the middle tend to add a few hours to the journey. Even so, we werenīt quite expecting the epic and ridiculous two hour immigration process involving getting on and off the bus, being smelt by terrifying dogs and standing in the snow. Obviously some hassle is expected but it was all a bit silly and Tiago wasnīt very happy bless him.

Back on the bus and past immigration the views were incredible. The Andes seem even more huge than the Rockies and the Alps - they probably arenīt, but they seemed so much closer and jagged than any Iīve seen before. The snow was fresh and the sky was clear blue and both Tiago and I were itching to get out and take some photos, but had to resort to taking them through the window instead.

Past the mountains, we headed through a series of small Chilean towns before arriving at our destination Valparaiso. Valparaiso is a coastal town and almost entirely on a sloping decline into the bay with lots of little Cerros - hills - so standing at the bottom you can just see what seems like miles and miles brightly painted houses. As with Caminito in Buenos Aires, many of the sailors returning to this port built their own places along the bay and used leftover paint from their ships to create their own unique houses. This means the undulating valleys are completely multi-coloured, looking very much like a collection of Dulux swatches all put together.

We stayed fairly near the bottom of the hills and near the bus station - my legs were thankful for that - so with our heavy backpacks and food bags we didnīt have far to walk to our hostel. Our hostel was run by a really sweet old lady and our room was comfortable and spacious. However, the main rooms looked like something from the Hotel Inspector programme, as the lady had crammed every piece of nautical memorabilia she could find into the dining room and corridors, including: a used life vest, many model ships, a poster of various knots, numerous captain hats hanging from the ceiling and a real steering wheel under the stairs. Bizarre.

The nautical theme continued through the town as Valparaiso is still currently an important Chilean port. However, after the Panama canalīs creation in the early 1900s, the Magellan pass has become virtually unused, leaving the harbour is a lot quieter than it once was. It also means that some suburbs of the town are very poor and notably more dangerous than others - particularly for a gringa like me. While walking on our second day through one neighbourhood we were ushered away by a local couple smoking. They told us that just the day before an Argentinian man had been stripped of everything he had along the same pass. Bad times.

However, apart from this one area, the city was very safe and welcoming. On our first night we wandered around the main streets admiring all the local craft and art stalls and then headed over to a restaurant recommended by - who else - the lonely planet guide. Although it looked massively shady from the outside, the cool art graffitti, the sound of live Chilean folk singing and the numerous locals tucking into mounds of meat and gorgeous smelling food coaxed us in. We were not disappointed. The restaurant had no menu - it only serves two dishes - and we went for the chorrillana, which is essentially a bed of homemade chips covered in a layer of scrambled egg, another layer of fried onions and a top layer of beefy chunks. Yum.

The next day we woke up early to allow time for exploration. Our first stop was the natural history museum which had a variety of stuffed animals and plasticine Incas moving polystyrene blocks about. In all honesty we only visited because the guide had said the selling point was an embalmed two-headed baby and quite frankly our curiosity got the better of us. I wish it hadnīt. Unsuprisingly, it was really gross and even had embalmed baby hair which really freaked me out.

We quickly moved on up the hills and eventually got to Cerro Allegre which is a beautiful part of town, home to lots of quirky boutiques and wall art. Up here it was more obvious how colourful the town is with houses of cobalt, scarlet and violet all next to each other. Cerro Concepcion was also beautiful, with great views over the bay.

That evening we wandered again through the street markets heading for a restaurant. We ended up in a small place near our hostel whose speciality was completos. Completos are the Chilean equivalent of fast food and are basically massive hot dogs covered in cold tomato salsa, avocado spread and a sauce which is a combination of cheese and salad cream. Potentially horrific but actually beautiful.

The next day was much of the same, with walks along the bay, a trip in the famous ascenseurs - terrifying cable-car-lift scenario dating from the late 1800s (!!) - and exploration of the art covered streets including the Bella Vista area. This area is famous for its beautiful murals and the paintings and mosaics which adorn the houses and communal walls; they were really beautiful.

That evening we were desperate for any kind of food and ended up heading into a weird smoky bar full of locals. It certainly had character. Three guys sat at the bar, all staring into different directions while a drunk trio talked and laughed loudly about god knows what. The Gringos (us) asked the owner for a menu to be told that they didnīt serve food. Tiago then said, "What not even completos?" (although obviously in Spanish not English) to be told "Oh yeah, we have completos" and she toddled off to get our hotdogs.

Even though the bar was quite old and all of the locals middle aged, they had a banging jukebox. However, it was only playing the cheesy latin music so, fancying a change, I wandered up to pick a different track. Out of nowhere an eldery man - who Tiago later likened to Bert of Bert and Ernie fame - first asked Tiago in Spanish if I was with him, then came and pointed to my outstretched coin-filled palm and said "NO. NO. NO" to all of my six coins. He then took all my money, swapped it for different coins and then led me by the hand and pointed to the money slot and said "MONEY" really loudly in my face like I was deaf. Then he pointed at the discs in the jukebox and said "MUSIC" and then left. I donīt think he realised that we have jukeboxes in Europe as well.

A few moments later one of his stool buddies turned around to perve on our completos (freakily he looked like a human version of Ernie of Bert and Ernie fame) and then calmly got up and chose Daddy Yankee "Gasolina" and then him and Bert danced around a bit. Of course, Tiago and I were lovinīit.

With full bellies and a few giggle fits we wandered home, wishing we could have longer in Chile, but looking forward to returning to the gorgeous landscape and friendly people of central Argentina.

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