Destination: Vina del Mar & Valparaiso, Chile
Number of Days: 4
Times we took the: Boat/Ferry - 1 Bus/Minivan - 1 Train/Subway - 3 taxi/car - 0
Where we stayed: Hotel Florencia - $40 Nice and quiet part of town. Not too far from the beach either.
Favorite Restaurant: Nothing really stood out but La Flur de Chile (The Flower of Chile) was pretty good with their set lunch, schop (draft beer) and cheap copa de vino tinto (glass of red wine)
Best of: The sun peaked through our last day there, so we were able to enjoy the sunset on the beach with a glass of red wine (in plastic McDonald ice cream cups, but who cares)
Worst of: Not sure why, but tagging (graffiti) is so prolific here and no one seems to bother cleaning it up. Just makes the place look like a ghetto.
Random Side Notes: Chile is apparently a country for lovers and lovers of mayonnaise (mayonnaisa in Spanish). Couples here can barely keep their hands off one another. On the other side they smother, and we do mean smother, their food in mayonnaise (see "The Completo" below) This photo shows an incomplete section of mayonnaise in the local grocery store. It's at least twice as long as pictured. And Americans are the ones with poor eating habits...ok we still have that but the Chileans are making a run for it!
All good things must come to an end and after half heartedly trying to get back on the boat for another pass around the bottom (without Antarctica) we waved goodbye to the Star Princess and new friends, Ady and Javier, and hit the road again.
The ship docked in Valparaiso, but we opted to head to the slightly quieter town of Vina del Mar just up the coastline. Actually, the two cities are practically the same. Connected by the same subway system and you can see one city from the other making it easy to travel back and forth. Combined with Santiago, these three cities make up nearly half of the Chilean population, just to give you an idea of how rural most of Chile is.
We spent most of our time in Vina del Mar and preferred the atmosphere there a little better than Valparaiso (below). The town serves as the most popular beach resort in the country and it is geared toward weekend getaways from Santiago with a plethora of bars and restaurants right on the beach as well as the country's only Casino. We stopped in one afternoon and wasted a dollar each or so. The center of the older part of town is anchored by a huge hill and houses the rich and famous Chileans. There are several castles (think more modern than mediaeval) but are all privately owned. The outside is still impressive and the views they have of the ocean are something special. Most of the coastline is made up of huge rocks and the waves here are impressive. The entire coastline of Vina del Mar is lined with a boardwalk as we spent a fair amount of time walking up and down the boardwalk watching the make-out sessions, soaking in some rays and watching the waves crash into the rocks resulting in a sometimes impressive show. When the rocks gave way to the sand, a lot of people sunbathed, but not many dared go in given the strength of the waves and the temperature. Even the sand carvers were out looking for a few tips for their hard earned work.
We took the first night off and walked to the mall where we took in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (in English, and a very interesting and entertaining movie) with real popcorn! Speaking of food, we also "indulged" in a gastronomic nightmare known to locals as the "Completo" It's a hotdog toped with guacamole, tomatoes, mustard and about two pounds of mayonnaise. We scraped off most of the mayo and still could not stomach this thing. My stomach is churning just thinking about it.
Changing subjects, Vina del Mar is also home to the only Moah (Easter Island statue) in Chile not on Easter Island (Chile owns Easter Island). We spent our last morning checking out the Museum which had an interesting display on the island as well as the mainland culture and history. After our history lesson, we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening sitting on the beach, checking out the mall again, and catching another beautiful sunset complete with our glasses of wine.
Not to be outdone by it's neighbor to the north, Valparaiso is a stunning town in it's own right but in a different way. Instead of the beaches and boardwalks, Valpo has the colorful neighborhoods that run up the side of the hill seemingly stretching out forever. The higher parts of town can be walked to, but it is more of an experience to ride one of the 17 funiculars (Ascensors, or big elevators) to the top for about a quarter. We took a day to check out a couple of the neighborhoods, strolling into the artistic shops that abound here. Apparently, the artistic feeling does not end with canvases and paper. The town is literally covered in graffiti (ok if done sparingly) and tagging (never good). On the walls, on the sidewalks, on the streets...it's everywhere! I guess it gives the town a little character, and perhaps that's why it exists everywhere, but I personally think it's overboard.
Feeling satisfied that we had gotten our day at the beach, we took off the next morning for Santiago!