New friends and old in Santiago and Valparaiso

My time in Chile´s capital was made sweeter by the arrival of my close friend from Australia, Natasha.  In fact, she is my reason for being in Chile at all, as I had not planned on traveling here because it is much more expensive than the rest of South America.  But I changed course once she told me Quantas had started direct flights to Santiago.  Being flexible is one of the joys of long-term travel after all!
Santiago is a livable, picturesque city.  Fronted on one side by the snow-capped Andes, it has all the makings of a functional and fun city:  a good subway, tasty restaurants, hopping night life and a Starbucks.  (Sorry, but Chileans think Nescafe is coffee.)
We spent some time strolling around the downtown area, which is home to many of the historical buildings in the city and mixes leafy, crowded squares with broad avenues.

Downtown Santiago with Andes in the distance

Plaza de Armas

Sculpture depicting indigenous people of Chile

Elevated walkway

Downtown financial district

Feeling right at home

Guarding the presidential palace

View from the backseat of a police car. No, I wasn´t arrested. These nice policemen gave me a ride to the bank when I asked for directions.

Mobile phone company´s office building, shaped like a cell phone (pre-iPhone)

One of the many sculptures in the city

I felt right at home using this smart subway

After, we spent time wandering the narrow, twisty streets of artsy and posh Bella Artes, Bella Vista and Lastarria neighborhoods.  Packed bars with outdoor seating shared space with cute but pricey boutiques and street markets.

One day we also made our way to the top of Cerro San Cristobal for fantastic views of the city sprawling in all directions and dead-ending at the foot of the imposing Andes.  It was here that we also dried the national drink, Mote con Huesillo, which consisted of dried peaches with stewed barley in water or peach juice.

Mote con Huesillo

View of Santiago from Cerro San Cristobal

The gardens on top of Cerro San Cristobal

One of the ´´sights´´ of Santiago is the town of Valparaiso, which is actually located about two hours north by bus.  Much of the city is built into the side of the hill and residents maintain their distinct neighborhoods on separate hills.  Twisty alleyways, narrow staircases and sweet little cafe patios give way to stunning views of the harbor below and echo of Venice.

Valparaiso

Valparaiso

The navy is mostly based out of Valparaiso

Main square. The blue building was a private home and is now navy headquarters

One of the hundreds of cafes with a view

Houses built into the hillside

Narrow house on a tight corner

One of the hundreds of staircases


Railways, called funiculars, climb up the steep hillsides carrying tourists and locals up and down the hills.  Valparaiso has dozes of them, but only a handful are actually operational.  The city doesn’t have the money to fix them and in fact, has struggled financially ever since its port lost importance after the opening of the Panama Canal.  We were told Valparaiso has the highest unemployment rate in Chile, and given the country is among the wealthiest in South America, this is saying something.  But people here are embracing tourism and it´s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 has helped draw the attention of travelers.

Funiculars

Funiculars

At first glance it appears as though the houses are purposely painted in a rainbow of colors.  But they are actually covered with the colored metal from abandoned storage containers.

Rainbow houses

Houses covered in colored steel plates from shipping containers

Home with a view

Usually it´s the door that is brightly colored, but here it´s the house

Street art is a religion here and it covers walls, doors, walkways and staircases.  An artist´s work is respected and rarely covered over with low-grade graffiti.

Valparaiso street art

Valparaiso street art

 

Valparaiso street art

Valparaiso street art

Valparaiso street art

Valparaiso street art

Valparaiso street art

Valparaiso street art

We were there on a Sunday, so many museums and tourist houses were closed.  We used our extra time to drink wine and watch the sunset.  It was here that we befriended (or were befriended) by two ladies from Hawaii, Anne and Sarah.  Both are retired flight attendants and now avid travelers with more energy than people half their age.  As the sun dipped and it drew dark, Natasha and I shared laughs and political views with these spunky women… until we realized we were about to miss the last bus back to Santiago.  We raced to the station, stumbled through enough Spanish to buy a ticket and collapsed into our seats laughing hysterically.  Maybe it was the wine, but there was something fun about almost missing our bus.  We giggled about the possibility of getting on the wrong bus and ending up in Venezuela by mistake, before dozing off for the ride home.

Delicious wine with an even more delicious view

Natasha, thanks for still being my travel pal even with 2 kids and a husband under your belt!

 


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