Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Santiago, Valpo and Viña

After a "fun" bus journey down from La Serena overnight with Tur-bus, during which I worked out that the more expensive Turbus "Salon Cama" was actually less comfortable than the half-priced "Semi Cama", as the leg room was more restricted, and consequently hardly slept at all, I wasted several hours trying to rendez-vous with Jina, my friend from the Navimag cruise, in Santiago.

Looks like a good sandwich

Finally we located each other at the hostel we had booked, Plaza de Armas Hostel, which is described as a "premium" hostel. [GPS: 33.43851S, 70.65033W ], and is located on the top floor of a grand old office-like building.

Not bad view for a hostel

Premium hostel but usual shared bathroom dirtiness

Note the "air-conditioning" in the corner

Dumped bags, then we headed out to meet Chrissi and Bjorn, my nice German roommates-from-Navimag couple, at the fountain in the main square and headed out on Santiago's cheap and efficient tube to a Flea Market on the outskirts of town.

Chrissi was in awe of the Crawleyman, Bjorn had lost interest

Wandered about without buying much, then found a café on a busy street and had some interesting coffee variations, including an expresso with cardamom, and an ice-cream mochaccino. Finally Jina and I head off to find "Patagonia", a restaurant on Lastarria Street which I had visited and liked previously. Another good meal was had. Yum!

Next day we head to the Bolivian Embassy, so Jina could apply for a visa. We had heard from Chrissi that some people found the staff so rude there that they decide to avoid the country completely. The process was indeed fairly painful, and only my intervention as "translator" prevented Jina from becoming rather upset. After this, we cab to the Qantas office, it's time for me to change my round the world ticket.

We notice a Starbucks office on the way, and resolve to visit afterwards. However, lo and behold, an enormous 'Bucks is right next to the airline office!


I head in for ticket changes, Jina gets the frapps in. No Green Tea, but beggers can't be choosers. Surprisingly, the change of RTW ticket process is not too painful, though I have made some uncertain choices in Asia. So now my route is:

Easter Island - Tahiti - Auckland - Melbourne - Perth - Sydney - Hong Kong - Tokyo - Hong Kong - Bali - Hong Kong - Colombo - Hong Kong - Johannesburg - Cape Town.

For the privilege of changing the ticket, I pay $US35 to the office making the change, and a rather shocking $US 125 to OneWorld! For what, precisely?

We spent the evening unsuccessfully looking for Korean restaurants in the area of Santiago that is supposed to be "Koreatown", Patronato. Nada. More on this later!

There goes my back.. again

Following morning, we travelled by our favourite Turbus to Valparaiso, a Naples-like port town about an hour and three-quarters from Santiago. The ride there was relatively uninteresting, but descending into Valpo, as it is nicknamed locally, showed the town to be quite pretty in a run-down sort of way, stretching round a bay, with steep hills backing the town, and escalators for which the town is famous for, lifting people up and down the steepest parts.

Note all the industrial stuff in the middle

Our hostel, El Yoyo, was a short taxi ride, located about five to ten minutes walk up a fairly steep Equador street. The outside was covered with intentional graffiti, always a danger sign.

Hippies about

Inside the rooms were rather shabby but the guys running the place friendly. We headed out for lunch around the bay, taking the amazingly modern Valpo rail round. Smart cards, electronic gates and announcers, is this country really Chile? It's always a great surprise when anything is clean, modern and works in South America!

Round the bay, we went for lunch. The restaurant was "El Timon", chosen by applying the "if you hassle me I will not give you business" rule that tourist touts so rarely understand. Food was okay, nothing amazing. I caned the peppery tomato and onion salsa which is always provided with seafood here, Jina poured liberal amounts of her "Chiles from Chile" pot out.

Soup with way too many muscles in it

Strolling back along the bay, we noticed sea-lions sunbathing on an impossibly-high concrete platform. How on earth had they got up there? Various theories came to mind involving pullies or spring-boards, but the matter was not put to rest.

Lardy types sunbathing

Bleedin' seabird flavour

Up the hill..

The view at night is pretty here, with the lights stretching round the bay, and various boats parked up and loading or unloading.

Strangely for a city that is a big tourist destination, the majority of the coastline in the middle of the town is taken up by a large container port. One has to ask how sensible this is in a busy town, with container-carrying lorries whizzing round the narrow streets, and furthermore what the value of the land must now be - I presume it's only a matter of time before the port moves and this area becomes redeveloped.

Stuff. Lots of it.

We hit bed, but the "party" that the American "college" kids in our hostel seem to be hosting is still raging, and there is noise through the night, our room backing on to the main courtyard of the hostel. Not good.

We are both grumpy old people the next day, having had little sleep. We hop on the train round to Viña del Mar, effectively a suburb of Valpo, along the bay.

This is the smaller trendier cousin of the big town, and for the next 3-4 days there is a music festival pulling international acts like Tom Jones! Woo! One would expect such a town to be relaxed with a good atmosphere, but in fact people tear about on the roads like maniacs and there was little in terms of nice cafes or food. A big disappointment basically. We wandered to the back of the town, looking to head up to a viewpoint, but instead ended up entering a very modern apartment block where a very nice elderly gentlemen gave us a tour in Spanish as if we were prospective clients. Bizarre but fun, as the block was built up the side of a hill, with a funicular lift which we rode up.


He showed us the swimming pool, boiler and where the rubbish chutes led to. All very strange. I tried to tip him as we left, but he refused.

Frolicking on the beach

We tried to find an iced coffee but the cloest we could get to, after a twenty minute conversation using my broken Spanish, was an instant coffee, and a glass of ice. Jina was not impressed.

A rare smile

Back in Valpo in the evening, we came across a smart Thai restaurant. In we go… what heaven! Spice. Flavour! The first for so long! The food was really good - phad thai, yellow curry, and lots of other bits and pieces... we both left very happy and very full!

Spicy goodness

The late night eating option in Valpo is the so-called "Casino". Down a side alley in town, this place seemed to have no connection to a casino, but served chips and beef until the early hours of the morning. We tried it at about 2am, and it was packed. What makes the place interesting are the scribblings and graffiti from people on every surface - up the walls, on the glass, tableclothes, in pen, tippex, anything that came to hand at the time presumably. Random messages, names, or even passport photos.

The town is also into hot dogs with lots of mayonnaise, which are called "completos", and are sold everywhere.

Jina is a particular fan

In fact the mayonnaise obsession is worth noting - at the supermarkets, I kid you not, there is usually a section as big as, say, olive oil back home, with row after row of "normal" mayonnaise. Not really any variation, just the kind of stuff you get out of little plastic sachets at greasy cafes. In fact it all comes in plastic sachets, one irritiation in Argentina and Chile. Any liquid you buy - ketchup, mayo, probably toothpaste for all I know, comes in a plastic sachet. Presumably somewhere there is a shop doing a very good line in plastic bottles to transfer this stuff to. It's like bottles of washing liquid back home where you can get the "refill" sachets, but here you only get refill.. ever!

Overall Valpo is like Naples but without the good food, and Viña is a poor Capri. The next day we headed across to a national park called La Campana, that my book had mentioned contains some of the best views in Chile. Sounds marvellous! We were expecting the day to be hot. Took the train to the end of the line, then bused up to the park. This is not a very well-known park, and hence it was a bit of a mission getting there. We arrived, signed in, and hiked up the hill, not especially clear in our minds where we were heading, but the trail was fairly good. Because the park "closed" at 5:30pm, the guardaparque chap said we couldn't go all the way to the top.

Where is this park, I'm sure it's round here somewhere..

We followed the path up, growing increasingly suspicious higher up that in fact this was not going to provide the "best views in Chile", especially on such a hot, hazy day.

Through the cacti fields

We reached a point where there were some mines, as in holes in the ground not explosive bits of metal, and stopped here. It provided a nice shady place to cook, but first we headed to the top of a ridge not far away. Large birds of prey sat at the top and watched us suspiciously as we approached, before launching off gracefully when we were merely yards away.

We sat atop the hill, and just enjoyed the view.

Best views in Chile, you say?

I contemplated the very sad news I had received from back home recently, before we headed back down to the mine to cook, in a spot that must have been no more than 5 metres from a wasps' nest. I don't like wasps.

Bring it on you b****rds!


The next day we had decided that we'd exhausted Valpo and Viña and their wealthy of unexciting tourist activities, so we hopped on the bus back to Santiago, with a dual purpose for the day. Firstly, we were going to visit Concha y Toro, the famous winery. Then we would go in search of Korean food that we were assured existed somewhere in the city...


Anonymous said...

hang on hang on............

what happened to the last 3 weeks??

we demand an explanation!!

aliens?? MI5?? MIB?? Memory Loss??

Lewis and Fliss said...

You have just provided me with a few nights worth of reading. See you soon pip

Anonymous said...

< sarcastic> So glad you're having a lovely time < / sarcastic>

Three quarters of the C*LT managed services team is now stuck in the middle of nowhere, but all the A.L. engineers mutinied! The cheek of it... whatever happened to discipline? How can anyone prioritise employee satisfaction above a critical management initiative? The world is going to the dogs...

Anonymous said...

Never beginner in getting cold my feet! Absolutely you're beginner in cold camp site~! huhu
You uproaded lots of your photos!