Chile started on a low note for us, with the US presidential election. We had bought wine and snacks and made friends with an American couple staying at our ho(s)tel and were excited to watch the results come in. Between the spotty internet and the bad news coming in with each click on the ‘refresh,’ the night ended on a somber note that we were certainly not expecting. The next day was also a bit glum as we couldn’t shake the implications of what had happened. Luckily, we got to feel glum in the picturesque setting of the Atacama desert in the town of San Pedro de Atacama (SPA). The town itself is quite touristic and serves as a jumping off, or finishing, point to a number of local tours, including the one we had just finished. There is a by-law in the city, restricting the use of artificial lighting and electricity so it has a very rugged, natural feel to it. A very rugged desert town, where you can get pizza, sushi and cappuccinos. Yes, we did! The roads are dirt and the red mountains rise along the sides. We had allotted two days of relaxing after our tour so we meandered around and ate some good food and relaxed at our beautiful accommodations with a lovely patio space but very eclectic owner who kept forgetting things that she told us shortly after.
From SPA we took a very picturesque (through the bizarre rock formations known as Moon Valley) but long 27 hour bus ride to the seaside city of Valparaiso. Valparaiso has a gritty but beautiful bohemian appeal to it. Smattered with art on houses, bridges, walls and very colourful buildings, as well as many, many stray-but-friendly dogs, it was a nice treat after the desert. We had some trouble finding our hotel, but when we did, we were able to sit on the patio and look down the hill over the town and the Pacific ocean. The city is also known for its artistic and beautiful ‘ascensores’ (funiculars) that take you up and down the steep hills. Sadly, there was a government-worker strike for much of the time we spent in Chile, so these were not operational. Which just meant slightly more calorie-burning for us as we hiked up the stairs to explore the main hills.
Valparaiso is really a wandering city, best to explore on foot and at leisure. Its sister city, Vina de Mar, is a short bus ride away and much more resort-styled. We spent a day there, walking along the beaches and eating amazing ceviche and salmon. We didn’t find much nightlife, so we got a $4 bottle of wine and settled in for the night.
The next day we went on to Santiago, the capital city. We were both really impressed by the modernity of it. It really appears to be a first world city – clean and large with amazing museums, bountiful markets, well kept gardens and terrific infrastructure. We were surprised to hear that there is still a massive income inequality gap here as it appears to be quite affluent throughout. It is, in any case, a great city to spend a few days in. They had an amazing new museum on the Pinochet dictatorship and human rights abuses. We did two different walking tours, both with excellent guides. We joined one of them, along with his friends, after our tour to watch Chile vs. Uruguay in a world cup qualifier game. Luckily, Chile won so the bar was alive and everyone was celebrating with calls of “Chi-Chi-Chi, Le-Le-Le, Viva Chile!”
We also had some local dishes: pastel de choclo (like a shepard’s pie but with mashed sweet corn instead of potatoes) and two seafood dishes, one like a mixed seafood in broth and another that was like creamed stew with crab.
(From here we dipped over into Mendoza, Argentina for a few days because we had time to kill before our flight to southern Chile, but I will save that for my Argentina blog.)
We took a short flight to Chilean Patagonia, to the town of Punta Arenas, as it is not really accessible by bus, due to all of the lakes and lake of proper roads. Really just our jumping off point to cross into Argentina, we didn’t find much in the town itself, aside from overpriced food and laundry. We walked along the waterfront and explored the town, but the highlight was probably having food and wine with some new Czech friends that we met at our hostel in the evening. And with that, we were ready to move on from Chile. ❤