Valparaiso - Hills and Chills

Trip Start Jan 19, 2008
Trip End May 01, 2008

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Arriving in Valparaiso bus terminal we were greeting with a new situation, being the only backpacking tourists on the bus, but hordes of women trying to take us to their homestays. It all got a bit heated and occasionally looked like it might turn nasty. To be honest, we were having difficulty deciding which to go with, if any of them, so a battle royale resulting in a single survivor would at least have made our decision easier.

In the end we picked our host and trundled off to our hostel. The owner has made a half hearted effort at pretending to be a hostel - sticking up a map on the wall for example - but the fact that, of the 5 rooms in the apartment, one is lived in by an old Chillean who leaves his door open and watches TV loudly all day, and another is filled by a family of about 20 makes us think that someone was just renting out a council flat to us for a few days...

Valparaiso is hilly. 42 of them to be precise. It feels very much like a busy, functioning port town - which it is. For some reason many of the buildings are covered with murals. Some look commissioned, other look like glorified grafitti - and most of the commissioned items have since been covered in graffiti anyway. To be honest there wasn't a great deal to do there. On the first evening, Matt did a bit of reconaissance of the area whilst Kat settled into the room. On his way back, as one of his tasks was to collect Spag Bol ingredients, he was shocked when he noticed plumes of smoke coming from the direction of the supermarket. Fortunately it turned out to be another building on fire, but Matt was pretty excited to be able to get up close to a big fire in a way that you probably wouldn't have been able to in the UK. It was a good half and hour before onlookers were gently encouraged to move back from the scene. Anyway, laden up with supplies to make tasty Spag Bol for tea he returned to his adoring wife. 

Itīs a little unnerving cooking with Calor gas cannisters surrounding you, but I guess that's what you get for installing gas appliances (and even a gas boiler) in an apartment without a gas supply. I also don't think the building was naturally plumbed with the ability to have hot water, as when we lit the boiler for a shower we noticed that *all* the appliances started gushing hot water - hence the only way to mediate the temperature of your shower was to adjust the temperature on the boiler itself...

Matt managed to scold himself cooking the Bolognese, and in something that looked akin to a scripted routine, screamed like a girl, dropped the saucepan of mince which teetered on the end of the stove before falling. Matt instincively tried to catch the pan on his foot before it hit the ground. Thus he scolded his foot, the saucepan spilled it contents anyway and boiling hot mince and oil flew out and coated his ankle and shin. Kat was a trouper in cleaning up the mess whilst Matt muttered expletives not quite under his breath. Fortunately no one in the hostel recognised much English...

There was probably too much mince anyway and everything turned out tasty in the end.

The following day we both took a bit of a hike up a few hills and generally just wandered around. The place is pretty enough, but nothing particularly to commend it. We managed to find the only really expensive place in town to have lunch with nice views, but unfortunately a bit exposed so we didn't enjoy the otherwise tasty food and nice setting as much as we could have.

There are lots of funiculars in Valparaiso to help the locals and tourists make it up and down the steep hills and of course Kat and I had to enjoy a trip in one of them. Some of them are almost 150 years old - but apparently safe...

The following day we experienced another mass transit system (we're ticking them off at a fair old rate). This one runs along the coast from Valparaiso to Vina del Mar, which is only 6 miles up the coast and is a poshish seaside resort. We spent a pleasant few hours sunning ourselves on the beach and visited the local natural history museum which, in addition to a large display of various stuffed animals (which Kat found particularly interesting...) they had one of the large stone figures from Easter Island and an interesting exhibit on the Island and the life of the Islanders. They also had a few more of the early mummies that we had seen earlier in Santiago. They take out all the insides of the body - stuff it with straw and herbs, leaving a small exit hole around the bottom area. Over time the skin shirnks and the excess stuffing comes out of the bottom - until finally, when fully dried out, you are left with something that looks like a voodoo doll about a foot high.

The following morning we were informed that we had to move out of our room and discovered that there was a brilliant hostel literally right next door, costing less, and which included breakfast. They only had dorm rooms, but Kat acquiesced when she noticed that we were, in fact, the only guests in the whole hostel. I think they'd just opened up recently. This view was reinforced when, as we left, the owner thrust a handful of fliers into Kat's hand - although we'd already decided to recommend it to Lonely Planet.

As these past few days hadnt been too taxing on our time Matt has bought an abridged spanish copy of Moby Dick. He needs to read two pages a day to get through it. After the first two days he has conquered only the first half a page and isnt really sure he got the meanings spot on for any of the sentences...

We cant really think why Valparaiso appeals to Santiagons as a weekend destination - I guess itīs just the closest and quickest coastal location from the centre and Vina feels a little like Brighton although more toasty.

Tomorrow morning we heading back into Argentina over the Andes to Mendoza. It'll be a good 8 hour journey through the day. It has to be done this way because the border is only open during the day - but by all accounts the journey itself is pretty spectacular and hairraising so should be an event in itself.
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