South America, WEST SIDE!

Trip Start Sep 15, 2006
Trip End ??? ??, 2007

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Flag of Chile  ,
Saturday, March 31, 2007

Having already spent several days in Santiago, we opted for something different and caught a bus headed for Valparaiso, on the coast.  Grassy mountains and green valleys filled with vineyards evoked California as we rolled to the sea.  Of the bus and into the station, and several ladies were shoving their hostel brochures into our hands and quoting prices at us.  We make it a policy to never make a deal at the station, but once we'd struck out at a few places, the second lady's deal started to sound pretty good.  Fortunately, her brochure was still in my pocket, so we walked up the hill a bit to find out what kind of dump we'd be staying at tonight.  Square in the middle of the auto repair district sits Evelyn's Hospidaje, a ramshackle old place with creaky floors and high ceilings.  The old man showing us the room got cranky when we told him the price his wife had quoted, and told us to come and get our own sheets from the office.  Guess we know why it's Evelyn's name on the sign.

The sun was setting at this point, so we walked back into town a ways to find dinner.  A hot dog cart sat on the corner, and we thought we could share one as an appetizer.  We ordered a completo, and the woman handed me a footlong hot dog in a bun big enough to play whiffle ball with, absolutely smothered in tomatoes, guacamole, and around a cup of mayonnaise.  We scraped off some of the mayo and took a hesitating bite.  Delicious! You practically had to unhinge your jaw to eat the thing properly, but it was the best treat we'd had in a while.

After that giant appetizer, we had trouble eating anything more at the tiny cheapo joint that we stopped at for dinner.  We picked glumly at a pile of fries and a burger with strange meat inside.  Eventually we gave up and headed back up to the hostel for some rest.  None of that available here, though.  The bed was totally concave, drawing you into the center inexorably, like a black hole.  Waking up repeatedly while slammed into each other by the tidal forces, we clawed at the outside of the mattress to regain our sides of the bed, only to fall back in when sleep returned.

A walking tour of Valparaiso was on the agenda for the next day.  One thing we noticed right away was the amazing number of stray dogs all over the city.  Three to five on every block, all guarding their territory and biting their fleas.  Perhaps dogs don't go to heaven... maybe they go to Chile instead. 

Valparaiso is on the coast, but here in Chile there's just not a lot of flat space available next to the beach.  A few blocks back, the city planners were busily trying to incorporate mountain, and lots of it, into the grid.  Their solution was the acensors, or as I call them, Wonkavators, people boxes built onto railway tracks with a slant of around 45 degrees.  The cars operate in pairs, one going up as the other descends, so that the motor never has to work too hard.  God thing too, because these things are all over a hundred years old and look every bit of it.  We paid our fare and got rattled to the top in less than a minute, looking out over the city as our elevation changed, so as to shield our eyes from the decaying track out the other window.

Up top, the houses clung to the sides of the hill and beautiful views of the harbor opened up below.  Many of the city's cuter accommodation options were up here, old homes painted in bright colors, with restaurant seating in cliff-hugging patios.  We sat down on a bench to admire the view, and a stray dog with an injured paw limped up.  I patted him on the head and we gained a companion for a while.  We felt bad as he limped along to keep up with us, and when he abandoned pursuit to accompany a group of three girls, it was a relief. 

He must have marked us as nice people, though, because another dog took up with us a little while later.  She jumped up on us and when told "no" firmly, she took it as an invitation to come along.  Over the hills and through some rough neighborhoods, where the local dogs had a problem with this intruder coming through.  She kept looking up at us as if to say, "Are you sure we have to go this way?" Finally, we passed a college, and she went inside, no doubt on the trail of some leftover pizza.

At a pastry shop, we decided to try some of the local sweets.  I picked out what looked like a frosted Cheerio hit with a full blast from the Supersize gun, so that it grew to twenty times its original size.  That's what it tasted like too, I discovered, and after finishing I had a bite of Cierra's chocolate frosted horseshoe cookie to get rid of the lingering flavor.

To the grocery store for a bottle of Chilean wine and a whole pile of packaged soups, which are cheap here and will come in handy in Australia where things are pricey all around.  We went to check email at an Internet cafe and discovered a message from Sawyer's friend Rodrigo, whose mother lived in Renaca, just a few kilometers away.  She was expecting us, and we could come stay for a couple of days.  Wonderful! We called her to confirm, then marched home after 2 giant completos and fell into the Gravity Bed (TM) for the last time.  In the morning, we caught a rocket-ship cleverly disguised as a bus that was bound for Renaca.
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