Valpo is the place to be
05.03.2012 - 08.03.2012 35 °C
With our time in South America running out quickly, we decided to spend our last few days in Chile as our flight to Australia was leaving from Santiago on 8 March. We arrived into Valparaiso on 5 March after crossing the Andes from Mendoza. It turned out quite unexpectedly to be one of our favourite places in South America.
Valparaiso is a beautiful coastal city, two hours north of Santiago which in 2003 was declared a UNESCO world heritage site on account of its distinctive architecture and rich trading history. It used to be the biggest port in the whole pacific until the construction of the Panama canal. After that Valparaiso's importance quickly deteriorated and many of the wealthy tradesmen left. Today things are turning around again. Valparaiso is in fierce competition with Lima in Peru when it comes to attracting the big ships from Asia.
We spent two nights in a fantastic hostel in the historic, multi-coloured quarter of the city (the part which is the world heritage site). The place was run by a German guy who had come to study in Chile 15 years ago, returned to Germany, fallen in love with a Chilean woman and then settled in Valpo for good - looking at the beautiful building he had bought for his hostel, we could completely understand why.
On our first evening in town we got a taste of Chilean cuisine and local wine in a restaurant near the hostel - the cooking is definitely heavier and more "South American" feeling than Argentinian but very tasty and it was good to have some fish (including some delicious Mahi Mahi) after several weeks of beef-heavy diet.
On our way to Chilean restaurant, enjoying the Valparaiso view
On Tuesday we got a guide to show us around the town, which was an excellent way to discover Valparaiso, especially as we were the only ones in the group, allowing us to ask our guide, Andres, lots of questions.
We started at the fish market, where hordes of sea lions and pelicans were gathered below the pier waiting for fisherman to feed them scraps of the day's catch. Whenever a bucket was thrown into the water it provoked an intense feeding frenzy. We were painfully aware that we had paid a lot of money for a nowhere near as good an experience in Puerto Madryn.
Fish market and sea lion/pelican feeding time. It definitely feels like sea lions have it all figured out
Gift from Easter Island to Valparaiso - Easter Island falls under Valparaiso's jurisdiction
Our guide also took us around the colourful city quarters and viewpoints in the hills above the centre, which were really spectacular.
Spectacular buildings and scenery explains why Valpo is a UNESCO world heritage site
You are not allowed to change that facades, hence this particular architecture!
Valparaiso is full of colour
In the early evening we took a boat ride out from the port to see the city and neighbouring Vina del Mar from the water. The port is filled with a mix of impressive container ships and Chilean naval vessels.
Sea lions chilling this thing down
That night we enjoyed Pisco Sours with a view in a hill top bar near our hostel with a fantastic view of the bay.
Pisco Sours with a view
One of many lovely dogs we saw in Valpo
We spent Wednesday and Thursday in Santiago before leaving for Sydney on Thursday evening. It's not the best city - despite a stunning setting at the foot of the Andes, it is a huge, sprawling city and constantly enveloped in smog. A "river" of brown water running off the Andes runs through the city at this time of year, which does not add charm. However, we stayed in the lively Bella Vista area which was full of life at night with student watering holes all around the hostel.
View from Cerro Lucia, a beautiful park in the centre of Santiago, however the view could have been even better without the smog
We also tracked down the Villa Grimaldi Parque por la Paz on the edge of town on Thursday. This is one of the places where the Pinochet regime imprisoned, tortured and executed thousands of "enemies of the state" in the 1970s. It was "conveniently" located close to an airport, allowing for the regime to dispose of bodies through dropping them from airplanes and helicopters out at sea.
Although the original buildings were torn to the ground by the regime in an effort to cover its tracks, the site has been restored and an open air museum opened to explain the operation of the regime.
The original gate that has been sealed and never will be reopened
Although our time in Chile was brief, it was interesting to see how different it is from Argentina (more South American looking people, different food, country seems a bit wealthier).
In the evening it was time to catch our LAN Chile flight to Sydney. South America has been absolutely fantastic and we couldn't have hoped for a better start to our trip.
And with those words together with our imaginary South America soundtrack, we leave this amazing continent.