Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Jan 01, 2010

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Where I stayed
La Casa de Henao

Flag of Chile  ,
Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What shall we say about Valparaiso? We think how those we know would enjoy it--our artist friends who would like the amazing street art that constantly changes; our sailing friends and how they would feel about anchoring out off Vina del Mar, just up the coast; music lovers who would have enjoyed the bands and dancing of the festival in the Plaza the one night we were there; photographers would find irresistable the angles, colors and textures of this city that flows down the mountainsides into the bay. We agreed we could have spent hours just watching the cranes moving containers in the shipyard from a vantage point above the bay.

We were lucky enough to hear about a hospedeje there from fellow travelers we met in Pucon, and made a reservation in advance--especially fortunate because Valpo is a prime new year's destination, known for its spectacular fireworks over the bay. By our backpacking standards, it was a luxurious place to stay--an old high-ceilinged home on a hill in the seaport quarter, lovingly restored and decorated by Karen, a Chilean woman raised in Valparaiso, and Jose, her retired American Marine husband. They are raising their two girls (ages 4 and 7) in Karen's home country, and Karen's mother helps them run the place.

Valpo is full of grand old buildings that look like they're crumbling, but the city is bustling toward the future. It's crazy traffic, honking horns, hanging laundry, hordes of pedestrians, mazes of electrical wires over the street, and brilliant lights at night. We were very surprised it was perfectly quiet for sleeping.

The guidebooks say you either love Valpo or hate it, and I think we fell into the "love it" category, even though as a result of a nearby forest fire that had burned for 5 days before it could be put out, the air was so smoky Sidney began coughing almost immediately and neither Jim or I felt we could take a deep breath. It is the only city in Chile that still uses public elevators--acensors (like gondolas on incline rails) to move pedestrians up the hills quickly and efficiently. each ride costs 50 to 75 cents. There are a number of them located around town--there are actually 52 hills that surround the flatter part of Valpo.

A highlight was taking collectivos to get around--they look like little black taxis, but they run certain routes and take more than one fare at a time. You stand on the corner and throw out your arm, extending fingers to match the number in your party. The car stops, you get in and pay the equivalent of 50 cents per person, and if you're going downtown, you get a ride akin to the "knight bus" scene in one of the Harry Potter movies--squeezing through impossibly small slots between the curb and a bus at breakneck speed, lurching to a stop on the bumper of a car in front of you, and then zooming pedal to the metal down the street until you need to stop again (surely J.K. Rowling had lots of experience riding public transport in developing countries). The strange thing is, a ride like that didn't seem out of the ordinary in this city. We were sorry we had only one day to spend.

We also had great ice cream in Valpo, but I'll let Sidney tell you about that.

Mary Ellen

Sidney's Story
One thing I can say about Chile is that it has good sweets. We had Chilean "Artisanal" ice cream twice while we were there, and I think it's nearly as good as New Zealand's. But the real treat, in my opinion (and as you can see) was the Sprite. I like Sprite at home, but in Chile it's just so much better. The reasons? One, what I had was in a glass bottle, not a metal can. Two, it was made with sugar instead of corn syrup. As you can see in the video, these two factors make it excellent!
Our visit to Vina del Mar (the neighboring, also seaside city) was also neat, and we bought some cool trinkets.
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