CHILE: Viña Del Mar>Santiago

Trip Start Mar 03, 2006
Trip End Aug 30, 2006

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Saturday, August 5, 2006

22nd: made tracks to Vina Del Mar, Valparaiso's neighbouring huge city just 10minutes along the coastline. Me and Las Colombianas made our way there via overland train service and got off in a very different environment. Vina is much more elegant, expensive, green, quiet, residential and pretty much FLAT. Different also in the sense of scenery - rather than industial, naval, busy Valpo, Vina is commercial, cosmo and cultural. Knowing the steep prices of accommodation, we went straight to tourist office and ended up in this cushty hotel with Argentinian owners. Had tripple room with private bath which didnt work out that much more than the norm when split equally so yay hosay! Brekkie incl. and gorgeous shower and cable TV.

For they day, nothing much was planned but we called off at la Quinta Vergara landscape park inside which is found the huge permanent stage for the famous music festival held annually in March. Besides that, there are huge labelled trees planted from all corners of the world from New Z to US and a palace type residence now home to a museum. Can see why Jesse (American dude I meant in Iquique, north Chile) loves the place so much ...chilling and reading in park. (Incidentally, there was no news of his return to his student exchange town, so no possibility of meeting up to get to experience the student nightlife grr.) Had aaaaaaanother late luncheon - cheap mixed grill meal including a scummy "blood pudding" chunk. The girls then got a little carried away with selves and decided we were all going to go on a pointless short horse and trap ride through the main avenues leading over the bridge towards the seafront....chilly to in the back! Think was just due to novelty of whole thing. After getting a glimpse of the main landmarks and all, we made it for the shopping mall parade....for some reason I was itching to go back to the cinema again and so parted ways breifly from ma bitches and saw the over-rated Pirates Of Caribbean II while Em and Yaz shopped till dropped. That night there ended up being 2 more colombian females sleeping in our room....No, they were friends of the girls' so we ended up being in a mixed drom based setting after all haha. Was great!

23rd: Brekkie virtually served to bed.... had it brought in to our room on trays if you please...very formal luxury i say... had some yummy chicken paste paté thing on bread amongst other things. impressed. A lazy Sunday started off witha visit to the Fonck museum. Really enjoyed it considering how museum-orientated I am normally..... was a diverse and informative museum dedicated to revealing the archeaology, customs, flora and fauna of Rapu Nui (Easter Isle a flight away in the Pacific off Middle Chile)......stuff on show ranged from scarily life-like stuffed native mammals, birds, insects ranging from siamese lambs to spiders and jaguars..... Finally, the sun was shining so we grabbed the opportunity to take another of our personally programmed taxi circuit tours....well the Colombians did all the talking and organising.
We got a 3.5hour comprehensive tour of Vina and its neighbouring towns for the same price as our Valpo one. Baaargain! The itinerary consisted of many stop-offs: First up was the sport club bearing traits of English style eg cricket pavillion type architecture, horse race track and athletics field. Then we drove up a hill to a watchpoint from where the curvy coastline and central Vina could be admired.....even Valpo in the distance.

The skies were now clear which made all the brief stop was at Estadio Sausato and its adjacent Laguna on whch stands a flating disco...all different and noteworthy sights adding to Vina's prestige. From here, our tour took us out of the city and along two pretty coastal towns: Renaca had a long strip of coastline with sandy swimming beaches and purely restaurants side by side for a whole stretch on the main road, then Concon further out was even more quiet and exposed with nice jaggered volcanic rocks. Heading back towards Vina, we got off to browse a beachside temporary arts and crafts market set up on the green promenade. Our tour ended at the Reloj de Flores, a clock carved out of bushes and flowers.

Feeling weary and in need of saving a little, we all agreed on buying ourselves a nice carton of chilean table wine and some crisps and made full use of our cable TV facilities back at the hotel ie watching movie in our jamas (pretty decent "Enemy in the House" with John Travolta).

24th: boarded a Santiago bound bus and arrived to the smog and clouds of the capital an hour and half later in a chaotic bus terminal......Colombinas ended their journey here as had to return to work in Curico so I wished them well...... checked straight in to the Casa Roja hostel no hesitation...everyone raves about it and it's always full. Though a bit over-priced, it certainly compensates with facilities and services - huge communal kitchen with 3 of everything like, separate dining hall, passages and halls with seating areas, Tv, ping pong, annexed travel agency, nice unisex toilet/shower blocks, cheap nice full brekkie and spacious comfy dorm beds....what more could a backpacker wish for?!

By the time I had dumped gear and check in, I wasn't too motivated to go explore the city that afternoon, espcially since it was a Monday ie museums and touristy shit all closed completely as if Sunday. What I did manage to achieve was basically a once over of the main square and beautiful cathedral, obtain a map and info from tourist office, stroll the pdestrain arcades and catch a glimpse of some other governmental and judiaical buildings...only a fraction of Satnaigo. All very European-American in style and feel. I was really surprised just how much influence there was. Certainly didn't feel as if I were in Chile as I knew it before. Distances were pretty long though so I ended up returning via the clean and effective metro.....Just as I was about to enter the hostel, I bumped into Steve (other guy I met in Iquique and then again in San Pedro)...Chatted for a while and caught up before plonking our butts down in front of Tv to watch an entertaining Miss Universe final.

25th: Having put my name down to go skiing in Los Andes the night before, the conditions were extreme so was unable to go skiing that day in one of the countries best resorts (La Nevada). Snow was falling like soldiers on a world war battlefield thus the road was closed down goin up the mountains. In drizzle and cloud and nippy temperatures, I compromised by doing a self-planed once over walking tour of some of the capital's landmarks. The day started by climbing Cerro Santa Lucia (hill). I had the pleasure of seeing the capital as a faint ghost city but the overall picture was good eg skyscrapers, outlines of mountains....The green hill with a small plaza, several statues, mini waterfalls inside, is randomly plonked just east of the city centre so it was a little weird. Surely a nice refuge on a busy sunny working day at lunchtime. Completely deserted of course as raining but I was determined to give the city justice.

Secondly, I visited another of Pablo Neruda's houses "La Chascona" in the Bellavista barrio - a district defined by nice cafes, restaurants, bright buildings....... The other side of the Mapocho river bisecting the city, it was just as impressive as the Valparaiso house, very narrow, creeking floors inclined and carved like a ship's deck with winding staircases and collections of all description. After the guided tour, I made my way to the nearby Parque Metropolitano set on a another huge mound, the largest open space in the city. That afternoon I had booked myself in for a wine tasting session at a renowned vineyard several dozens of Ks outside Santiago. To pass the time, I had a look at the national zoo within the park's confines.
Contrary to other gringo's impressions, I thought it was great..... Animals from all corners of the globe side by side whose enclosures gradually followed the hill up on several platforms.Was rushed for time so didn't get to see it all but took pics of polar bears, sea lions, camels, elephants, hippos, lions, kangaroos you name it.... Aall right in the heart of the country's smog-ridden and noisy capital, but sufficiently distanced and in adequate surroundings....There was this huge multistorey bird cage sanctuary with natural flora in it... Was as if the birds were flying free over the city... the range of birds would have satisfied the avid birdwatcher for sure.

So in the aftee, I jumped on the user-friendly metro and headed for the "Concha Y Toro" winery. I had underestimated the timings and distances somewhat so I got to the last train station when I should have been starting my tour. The connecting bus service made me half an hour late so I switched to a tour in Spanish.....The outing consisted of a video presentation on the area, country's wine products and areas of grape cultivation etc and history of this particular vineyard...

before tasting one fine red wine in the proper manner... 3 distinct stages:
(1) hold the glass properly and swirl the wine to expose the flavours for 10mins after a bottle has been freshly opened - oxidation and all this lark...... (2) slant the glass 45degrees adn observe the colouring and reflection of the wine and smell to get acquainted with its properties. (3) taste...... we couldn't really go walkabout as it was boggy and drizzling still so had this done under cover opposite the grounds. Tooka photo or two of the vineyard from a distance but nothing more.
After the first tasting session, we were given the wine glass as a souvenir and proceded inside to the storage area where the different barrels were found from varying harvests....then came an explanation of the difference in use of the French and American style barrles with differnt wood and lengths of use and ageing to obtain naturally different smells and tastes eg vanilla, chocolate, cherry..... From here we had aour second red taster...generous third of a glass in fact.... very different from the first one but fine all the same. Thirdly we made our way to the cellars where we had a more in depth talk about the area and it's history including a non-scary overhead narration about a dark legend/myth. Our excursion ended with the chance to try more varieties at a posh bar, at a price of course.... tapas and chocolates were also on offer but I declined. Similarly, the staff in the shop were very keen to sell off their pricy bottles of varying sizes, types and years..... I was content with my glass and thought I could always buy a cheapo bottle from a local supermarket bearing the winery's label at least!

Travelling back to the hostel in the dusk, I had an intersting encounter with a local delinquant. In the main square, I was chomping away at a pastie (empanada), when this foolish teenager who looked either simple-minded, drunk or rude, suddenly demanded it off me....literally said "give me it" not in threatening manner though. thought that funny so just handed it over half eate. the cheek!

Wondering what constructive activiy I could do that evening, I stopped by at the municipal theatre asking after productions currently on. not tempted by the ballet, I saw posters advertising the Lord of the Dance......... unfortunately, this had ended the weekend before at the stadium's arena stage..would have been spectacular.... Ended up getting takeaway Domino's pizza with English Steve and sitting in front of the TV again.....very original but needed the rest. My main concern was to assure my ascent to the ski resort the next day or the day after.... with weather condiditons still very unfavourable and hardly any names on list interested, I weighed up my options and decided to go with the hostel on the Thursday 27th, my last day in the capital...rather than organising it solo and risking disappointment. The weather was due to clear up Thursday and thought may as well go up with company from the hostel. Had all kit ready to go and all.....

26th: hmmmmmm a second day wonering around another chunk of the capital in the RAIN and cold......this time round though, I certainly exploited the metro network and used it at every chance lol. I awoke to the news that the road to the better ski slope was still closed and it was still snowing heavily thus not good for recreational use. Glad......the sights I got in included the O'Higgins Park where the stadium is, a small theme park and walking circuits. everything was semi waterlogged so this wasn't bright of me....
Following on, I discovered the judicial/admin/governemtnal ministery area of La Moneda..... saw the oddly shaped stock exchange thing, the governemtnal palace, and different ministery buildings. Very European like here with soldiers patrolling round... Pm: went back to the municipal park zone to TRY to see some of its vast area beyond the zoo..... had no choice but to take up the wagon-type diagonal lift straight to the summit rather high up... then at least could walk around up there and try to come down on foot. The mist was thick and the rain constant so only saw a church, huge statue of the virgin visible from street level, and a faint panaorama of the city, river and mountains. Again, definitely superb on a fine day but not for stubborn me!

At 680m up with a helter skelter type main road descent down, I opted for the cable car route down to another side of the hill.....there was so much more to see eg botanical gardens, park, waterfalls, plazas, but just was not feasible...... the cable car ride was merely serving as transport as the windows were misted over with rain drops on the glass...with the thick vegetation and trees I scraped past, it didn't seem as if I was in a huge smog-ridden capital city. It took a good 20minutes to get down again and I ended up in the middle of nowhere lol.... my map didn't reach this zone so I followed intuition and attempted to find way back to the centre.... I was in a rich district, full of small cul-de-sacs and semi detached decent housing with lamps on streets, green patches and little traffic. Again, starkly different form the centre. It was a good way to unintentionally get a feel for this neighbourhood lol.....

Sure enough, found way back to main avenues before long and from there went to the general cemetery and central market to finish off my circuit. Well, the cementery was nothing like anything I had even seen before..... each family had their own plot dedicated to their deceased but it wasn't just a family coffin spot... No, they each have this locked up ornate religious hut building thing like a mini sanctuary wth flowers and decorations around. inside are resting several members of the family...looks v posh an expensive but guess they just v religious. So by the time I had returend t the hostel I was pretty soaked but glad I had done the basics just to say so lol. Felt rather in need of socialising that night so went out in the local Brasil district to a couple of bars and bought a couple of 1.5l bottles of beer..... no time to eat but we seemed to be served salty popcorn by default for each round. odd but welcomed as substitue for tea. Then we made a trip to the offy and took home some beverages to the hostel.... then came the task of packing!

27th: Well I must have got rather merry as the following morning I couldn't remember paying for my ski hire and woke with a headache, dehydrated and all......... The day was crystal clear, sun shining and heat pleasant.. no clouds in sight or smog so the city had a whole differnt feel to it upon sunrise at 6am ish... pretty actually... mountains surrounding it on all corners..... left for ski resort at 7am and was snoozing in the minibus, half taking in the sights around us on our climb up to the mountains. had to put chains on the bus half way up as the roads were still being cleared of the inches deep snow that had been falling the two days before. was rather dodgy but made it up fine... the roadway to La Nevada was gonna be shut until lunchtime so in the end we had to settle for La Parva resort next door after all...second best out of 3 apparently.

The drinking and lack of sleep took its toll on me as I wasn't motivated to spend a whole day on the slopes being the beginner-intermediate I am. From what I could gather, the runs were quite good but I only succeeded in spending the morning slot pathetically descending a couple of slopes, stopping to take photos more than get into the skiing part *ehem*.....had. a couple of falls and a very near full speed collision (brushed against me) with some clumsy crazy Chilean trying to cut ahead of me..... chilled with some of the group in the restaurant for the rest of the day reading, chilling, chatting and in front of fire......glad I made it in the end but not in the best conditions or situation lol.... reminded me of skiing in Sierra Nevada, Spain near Granada two years ago.... Also, didn't wanna over do it since had the joy of travelling 11 hours south to the lake district in middle Chile that night on night bus.... What I deemed ample time to get to hostel, freshen up and get to bus station on metro turned out to be a mad rush..... the return trip back to Santiago took like 3 and half hours since the roads were chocka with traffic and we often came to a grinding halt on the mountain hills in the pitch black. o wel.
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