After a sad farewell in Rancagua, my parents and I spent five days traveling between Valparaiso, Viña, and Santiago. We agreed that Valparaiso was the most interesting of the cities, but Viña and Santiago had their share of subtleties and landmarks as well.
In Valparaiso, we spent two nights in a mod little hotel with high ceilings and checkered floors. Our room was on the top piso and we had the most incredible view of puerto Valparaiso. From our window we could watch the hills roll down to the ocean where they welcomed the ships coming into dock.
And at night, the city gleamed with lights in all directions. More than once, I found myself standing in the window, mesmerized by the million little candles that mimicked the stars.
We spent a full day in Valparaiso, wandering through the curving cobblestone streets of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion. At the top of Calle Hector Calvo, we found one of Pablo Neruda’s famous houses, La Sebastiana. My mom and I toured the eccentric poet’s home and were intrigued by his eclectic taste in furniture, art, and bar decor.
We saw Pablo’s vivid description of Valpo as we wandered through the winding hills in an effort to meet my dad on time for lunch. Pablo writes in his “Oda a Valparaiso”:
tiempo de vestirte
As was Pablo, my mom and I were caught off guard by the confusing cobblestone streets, inspiring street art, and natural chaos of life in Valparaiso. We stopped to take photo after photo of the murals and brightly painted houses, but capturing the spirit of the city was impossible. We marveled at how the houses stood proudly with fresh paint but rotting foundations and how old women, disguised as feeble, hiked up the mountains without stopping to catch their breaths.
Houses in Valparaiso, much like other hill towns (Nice, Capri for instance), are built basically on each others’ roof tops. It is amazing that houses have survived the daily shudders of mini-earthquakes in Chile and it will be a miracle if the city endures another earthquake such as the one in 1906 that turned the hills of Valpo into landslides. Thousands of lives were lost in the 1906 earthquake and although locals dread the day that another occurs, the lost properties were rebuilt without appropriate fortifications to avoid another such tragedy.
After meeting my dad for lunch, albeit forty five minutes later, we took a boat tour of the port and saw some more sea lions.
The port was colored with a variety of ships. There were armored marine vessels, gigantic cargo ships carrying hundreds of thousands of liters of wine and copper all over the world, and tiny fishermen ships that brought in enough mariscos to feed the center region of Chile.
The marine ships teased my dad’s relentless interest in history, so we agreed to let him explore the Naval Museum that loomed above us on a cliff. To get him a little closer, we gambled our lives on a creaky old funicular. From the top, we enjoyed yet another incredible view of Valpo.
Viña del Mar
On our way out, we stopped in Viña to enjoy the famous gardens and sunsets. Viña lacks the personality of Valparaiso, but it is preferred among Chileans because it is cleaner, safer, and overall more fashionable.
As we strolled through Viña’s parks, we could see why it would be a hot spot for young Chileans to study and live there, but we were still enchanted by Valpo’s sense of humor and could only value Viña for its sunset and its famous casino. Well-dressed Chileans strolled by us into the large white casino on Avenida Peru while we looked for a place to watch the sunset.
In a restaurant called Enjoy del Mar, we drank white wine and watched the sun set above a distant boat. It looked as though the sun would ignite the anchored vessel as the sky filled with flames and set the horizon on fire. When the sun had fallen, extinguished by the ocean, we left Viña and headed for Santiago.
Showing my parents around Santiago was a treat for me. I have grown very fond of Santiago after a week of orientation and constant weekend trips. I showed them all of my favorite places: The top of Cerro San Cristóbol, Santa Lucia, Bella Vista, Parque Forestal, the fish and fruit markets, and of course, La Piojera. After a terremoto (wine, liquor, and piña ice cream afternoon cocktail), it’s impossible not to enjoy yourself, but I think the drink had little influence on my parents impressions of La Piojera. My dad, especially, was impressed with the lively ambiance and huge empanadas de pino. My mom might have been a little disturbed by the straw bedded bathrooms without seats or soap, but she held her own in the local dive bar.
Instead of hiking up Cerro San Cristóbol like I did with the other volunteers during orientation, my parents and I risked yet another funicular and went up the quick way. A quick ride straight up the mountainside and were standing beside the immense Virgin. My parents were impressed with the view of the Andes even though it wasn’t the clearest of days in Santiago.
We spent the day wandering through Providencia, La Plaza de Armas, around La Moneda, and found our way to Santa Lucia just before it closed for the evening. We walked around the ruined fortress while Chilean couples used the dusk to shade their affection.
Sadly, the next evening my parents had to leave, but not until we spent a successful day art shopping in Bella Vista. I am happy to say that they found a lovely painting of Valparaiso as a recuerdo of their trip to Chile. I will miss them here, but after a wonderful vacation, it’s back to work for all of us.