I sat at the hostel computers while Sarah had her ¨leaving Santiago shower.¨ The eccentric owner gruffly asked me if my name was Andrew Dobson. I said yes and he went into this incredibly awkward conversation about how he had seen that I marked him on hostels.com in the 60% range and asked ¨what’s so bad about my hostel.¨ He did this in front of about six other people who were on the computers as well, I was dumbstruck. I scurried upstairs and told Sarah we had to get out of the hostel pronto as I did not want to have to have another run in with the owner. I sat outside with our bags, staring at the passing taxis as she checked us out. The taxi ended up taking us to the wrong bus station so we had to walk along a busy polluted main street while asking about five or six more people where the right bus station was (we never got the same answer from anyone). We finally arrived at the correct bus station after passing hoards of street vendors selling cheap men’s bikini underwear and dirty socks.
The bus was luxurious (as we had heard) and took just over an hour to drive through beautiful ¨cavalcade of colour¨ red, orange and brown autumn vineyards. The bus stopped at two toll highway stops and I saw several locals trying to sell chocolate covered nuts and dried out baked goods to commuters. We arrived in Valparaiso passing down the main street host to a huge covered market selling everything from leather boots, produce stands and clothing stacked a mile high. We arrived at YoYo hostel with great delight after realizing our 6 bed dorm room (which technically makes it a private for the two of us).
We walked down Condell Ave to a small side street where a fantastical local bar called J Cruz Casino Social. We entered the bar and sat down amongst a packed interior full of chatty locals. The decor is tacky at best but I wouldn´t have it any other way. Millions of little tacky antique trinkets all the ceiling and walls. The bar specializes in Chorrillanas which is a huge plate of french fries topped with scrambled eggs, fried onions and grilled beef steak. I gobbled that down with an Escudo beer while listening to the live guitarist who sang an emotionally filled ballad about lost love while holding his instrument right against his ear. Local couples, once again, were smooching each other with great passion. We sat right beside a huge antique record player and a giant dog sculpture. Our lunch got a bit awkward when a man dressed up as Santa Clause (wearing a bright indigo tracksuit) came up to us and showed us his little photo album filled with pictures of tourists sitting at the restaurant. I assumed he was the owner and had some sort of crazed obsession with foreigners. We told him he was more than welcome to take a picture of us. Twenty minutes later we laughed hysterically when he came by and dropped the picture of us on the table and asked for 1000 pesos! Apparently he is a photographer extraordinaire and has a photo printer in the back of the restaurant, hilarious. Sarah commented, ¨Isn´t Santa supposed to bring presents, not take your money?¨
We walked up the street to the entrance of Museo a Cielo Abierto, a mural museum located on the hill tops overlooking the city. We hiked up and down the cliff top streets stopping to take in the breathtaking views overlooking the cities harbor. These little hill top streets were full of terrifying wild dogs and Sarah successfully stepped in shit. The streets were lined with doggy dung, a nice little touch to the outdoor museum experience. During our walk we could hear the distant sounds of the parade and festival down below. Marching bands strutted down the streets in celebration of mother’s day. We walked farther east to the cities famous 15th century Iglesia Matriz cathedral where an adorable dog man sits on the churches steps with his many little ¨dog beds.¨ On our walk back to the hostel we passed by the huge military building which overlooks the giant towering Monumento a los Heroes de Iquique which commemorates Chile´s win in the war against Peru.
As the sun slowly started to set we sat on a bench at the main square in front of a little fountain. The entire space was full of alcoholics, homeless and transvestites. Our hearts grew a little warmer when we saw a group of men bring a huge pot of soup. These locals lined up as the priest shouted over the bustling sound of the passing taxis reminding them of Gods love. Sarah chatted with a man for about an hour who openly wept as he told his story of family ruin and alcoholism. It was really nice to chat with him. He was also rather funny as he told us he owned a video of Canadian Mounties as he tried to make a connection to our home. As it got colder and the night swept over the city we walked back towards the hostel through half deserted streets, muttering retreats. Red banners read Felize Dia Mama. Rose petals and plastic flowers lined the streets as vendors tried to get rid of their flowers before the end of the night.
We met up with Matt again as he was in the city at a posh hostel with the rest of his UBC exchange student body. We walked across the street to O´Higgins bar and had a rather bland dinner while chatting with the nine at the table. I ordered lentil soup which had green anonymous chewy bits. I also ordered two empanadas filled with ground beef, hard boiled egg, onion and a black olive. Sarah and I split a bottle of Santa Emilralla Rose which was the best part of the meal, certainly. We took a taxi (50 cents each) to an amazing bar called Huevo which is located right on the main street overlooking the harbor. The bar is humongous. Five floors each dedicated to a different type of music. Upon entering the first floor they were playing Michael Jackson´s Thriller. The floor above dedicated itself to dance music, above that live rock music (whose lead singer was a creepy screaming albino). The top two floors are where we spent most of our evening. A famous Chilean Reggae band was playing and the locals went wild dancing to their ballads under the neon lights. The top floor was open to the star lit sky. Everyone was salsa dancing here with much glee. I stood looking up towards the cities cliffs and realized Valpo looks a lot like a ski resort at night with its sparkling lights sweeping down the hills in the dark of night.
At 4am we decided to head home as we were exhausted, we bid Matt farewell and erroneously walked to the corner to pick up a transit bus back to the hostel. We got into a local private bus by accident (these can be differentiated as screaming 16 year old boys yell at you and say ¨yes yes we go there¨ regardless of where you say you need to go). I fell asleep on the bus and Sarah nudged me moaning, the friggin bus had taken us to another city. Neighbouring Vina del Mar! We demanded the bus to stop so we could get out. At 5am we stood on a barren bridge overlooking the ocean. We both bitched a bit about our circumstance and started to try and hail a cab back to our hostel. We finally got on a taxi and several dollars later we were safe and sound. Forever the joke, spending 5 minutes at 5am in pitch
black Vina del Mar.
In the morning I chatted with a beautiful 26 year old Frenchmen from Cannes who has been traveling around Argentina and Chile working as a viticulturist at various wineries. A few of our English friends who we had seen at the bar last night came into the room to enjoy some fresh fruit when I decided to tell our hellish story about ending up in another city at 5am! They all sort of laughed at the unfortunate coincidence of the situation Sarah and I had found ourselves. Then she said, “I bet I can top your story.” She did indeed. She was walking home last night after the bar with her other male friend from London when a man came in front of her and smashed a glass bottle on the ground. He came right up to her male friend and threatened him as he wanted to rob him for a few thousand pesos. Unfortunately our drunk British friend acted poorly and threatened his attacker back and ended up getting a quick blow to his skull. He spent the entire night in the hospital waiting to get stitches. It was a good reminder of how one needs to act at all times in a mature and safe manner around here.
In Chile bus stops don’t exist. People hail local transit just as they would a taxi back home. Which means buses are stop and go all along the street, which is actually sort of nice as you can get on and off whenever you want. We hopped into a bus and headed towards the main bus terminal. The bus driver had a slew of iconic American cartoons glued above his dash and eight cedar car fresheners dangling over his mirror. We grabbed a 1 1/2 hour bus to Isla Negra to visit the countries famous Nobel Literature winning Publo Neruda’s house.
The small town is located right on the ocean (which is understandable as the poets writings focus on his love of the open ocean). His eclectic house looks over a stunning beach which reminded me a lot of Tofino British Columbia. On our one hour tour of his house we truly got into the poets head space. He organized his house into a villa of sprawling sectional buildings. In the center of the villa stands an old red train engine. We were told it took him 15 years to build the entire house as he continued to add different sections throughout the years. The first section we visited was dedicated to his social life and the second section dedicated to his work space. All I can say is that every room in this place is entrenched in eclectic collectibles. His living room features a huge fireplace whose mantel is decorated with many oriental statues. He was sent to travel the open seas to Asia for many years (starting at the age of 23) as consul to Chile’s government. His living room is full of coloured glass wine glasses and jugs as well as over twenty ship figure heads (which he collected from old ships all over the world). They all point directly towards the huge bay window that looks out onto the open ocean. Even his placement of figure heads has a sort of lofty poetic ideal. His house has beautiful furniture throughout such as Holstein cow skin sofa chairs and interesting little stools. He wanted his house constructed like a ship even though he was a large six foot chubby man. All of the staircases are incredibly tiny and door ways are almost impossible to walk through. In his dining room (where he hosted many frequent dinner parties) he had two main windows; one looking toward the ocean and the other looking back towards his garden. He placed coloured wine jugs on these window sills; brown and green on the garden side and light blue and turquoise towards the ocean. His bedroom was magical. The entire room is surrounded by ceiling to floor windows looking directly out onto the ocean. I thought how amazing it must have been to wake up every morning to such a beautiful view. One of his earliest and most famous books is called the “Twenty Poems of Love.” The next few rooms towards his workspace were cluttered with eclectic collections such as butterfly and insects, ships in bottles, native masks from all over the world, blown glass and a huge room of 650 sea shells (some of which were the size of a small fridge!) We walked into his mock horse stable (he bought a famous horse statue he had always wanted as a child and literally built a stable, doors and all around the statue looking out onto the villa courtyard). We were told by our guide that he was married three times. We were also informed that Chile was the last country on the planet to legalize divorce, just last year! His bathroom was rather hilarious as he posted female porn snapshots from the 1920′s all over the interior of the little room. The tour guide asked us if there are any famous Nobel Literary winners in Canada. I exclaimed that we produced great literary talent such as Joni Mitchell and Alanis Morissette. She looked at me in disgust, I think Sarah was embarrassed at my comment.
Sarah and I walked outside to visit his tomb and took some pictures of the huge anchor and sailboat which sit atop his backyard. We went to a famous restaurant for dinner which is attached to the museum entrance and overlooks the ocean coast. As you enter Cafe Rincon del Poeta there is a board that features several pictures of the famous Presidents and Prime Ministers from all over the world who have eaten here. We were seated at the most perfect table right against the window overlooking the sun set glowing sea shore. The interior decor looked like the inside of a perfect Neruda’esque ship. All restaurants in Chile serve piping hot dense rolls with butter, spicy salsa and half lemons (we still don’t know what to do with the lemons yet, ha). We both ordered a mouth watering Chicken crepe dish slathered in dill cream. We finished our romantic sea side diner with a slice of lemon meringue pie and a small cup of espresso. We walked down to the beach as the sun was heading down towards the horizon and took several pictures of the stunning views across the rugged beach landscape. There were several wild dogs which started to attack each other and I realized I need to come up with a plan on how to protect myself if one of them starts to chase me. I’ll inform you when I have come up with a witty scheme. It took us several minutes to finally hail the proper bus back to Valpo. We sat listening to our i-pods while the cutest little girl in all of Chile poked her head over the seat in front of us and giggled along the way.
When we got back to the Valpo bus station we looked into night bus tickets to Chillan. There was a rather sketchy bus service offering 6000 pesos rides and another for 10,000. We discussed a bit and decided to go on the nicer bus that night to ensure we got a decent sleep. Comfort over economy. We had a great deal of trouble pronouncing the name of the city as it is actually pronounced “Ch/yan” not “Chill/an.” We got back to our hostel and had two hours until our bus left. I had to talk firmly with the lady here as she was trying to charge us for two nights even though we were gone all day and would be leaving in less than an hour. She kept on asking us why we would want to go to Chillan as it is supposedly a very small city with nothing to offer. I always hate hearing that. Sometimes Lonely Planet gives some pretty horrible suggestions. She helped us phone a few hostels in Chillan as we needed to know we had a place to sleep as we would be arriving at 4am in the morning! We finally got a hostel with a few empty beds and booked them with her help over the phone.
Then everything went sour. We walked all the way from our hostel down to the water to grab the public bus to the bus station. On Sundays the local buses aren’t very “active” and Sarah got on a bus without any destinations listed in the window. The guy in the bus said “oh ya we drive to the bus station” and a few minutes later we realized he was heading back to Vina del Mar! Could this possibly be happening to us again? Were we actually this stupid?! Long story short we jumped out of the bus and walked thirty minutes (and yes a bit lost) to the bus station. Upon arriving our hearts sank when we realized our bus had already left. Granted I was a bit pissed at Sarah for getting us on another illegit bus. The people at the bus company were actually really nice so they agreed to exchange our ticket for one the following day to Concepcion (after hearing that Chillan was a hole we thought we best head to a bigger city). I felt dizzy all over, I was exhausted and I couldn’t’ believe we’d have to stay in Valpo another night! We hailed another taxi back to our hostel and chatted about the story we were going to agree on telling everyone as we knew we would be a laughing stock. It was also awkward to come back that night as I had got in a serious conversation with the owner about paying for only one day! Our story received great pity, success. We headed out to the city to grab some food but didn’t realize it was already around 11:30 pm at that point. Nothing was open. We spent the night in the hostel without any food. I started my first novel of the trip by Jackie Collins entitled Rockstar, it should provide some brainless entertainment for the next couple
We woke up just before noon and had a quick breakfast. I chatted with a very interesting character from Seattle who writes for the newspaper there. He reminded me a lot of myself as he crouched over the computer keyboard whilst staring at his little journal. We walked down to the bus station and were happy to see that we would be enjoying another sun filled day. As the bus was stop and go many men jumped onto the bus to sell ice cream and candy to passengers. Vina del Mar is where all of the richest residents of Santiago (and Chile more or less) come to stay for the summer. It is located right on the water and has a more beautiful aesthetic feel compared to the busy port city of Valpo.
Sarah had the bright idea to run up to the horse drawn carriages to inquire how much a trip would be around the city. He initially told us 15 000 pesos for 30 minutes and I kept widdling it down until he offered 8 000 pesos! Who can refuse a deal like that! We were off on my first official horse drawn carriage tour (of life). We passed by several mansions, churches and trotted along the boardwalk. We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the main city park full of wild dogs, business men taking a mid day break and splashing fountains. We enjoyed little ice cream treats, Orange Fanta, split a whole wheat baguette, salami, turkey and whipped chive cream cheese. We sat on the park benches for a good stint of people watching. Sarah had to use the bathroom badly so she had the bright idea of walking right into the cities most beautiful O’Higgins Hotel. We were greeted by about nine employees and she used her cover “How much are the room rates here?” The “special Canadian room rates for beautiful gringo ladies” was more than we could afford (wink, wink) and Sarah quickly asked with a nice smile where the bathrooms were. We found a bus back to Valpo and found the last two seats before it jerked past the beautiful shimmering waters off del Mar beach front.