Vina and Valparaiso
Today confirmed what I already knew. To really get the most out of a visit to South America, one really needs to speak Spanish. I know enough to get by, but not enough to have a conversation. There were five of us on the bus and I was the only English speaker. The others were from Brazil, but Portuguese and Spanish are close enough that they can easily understand it. I had originally planned to make my own way to Valparaiso by public transportation. With limited time in Santiago, I opted for the lazy route. My punishment was being unable to speak with anyone except our guide.
The day was cool and rainy. The mountains were obscured by low clouds as we drove through the Casablanca valley towards the coast. Not long after leaving Santiago, we stopped at a small tourist shop. We were offered a free taste of chicha de la zona, a sort of cider made from fermented green apples. I bought a couple of small souvenirs then it was back on the bus.
Valparaiso is UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered Chile’s cultural capital. During the Spanish conquest of South America, Valparaiso was the gateway to Chile. In modern times, it was an important port until the creation of the Panama Canal. Today it is known as a quirky artist’s community and is also home to several large universities.
With its steep hills and many funiculars, or ascensores, Valparaiso is a place best explored on foot. Our tour of the town was supposed to include plenty of free time to explore independently. Thanks to the unrelenting and heavy rain, most of the day was spent in the bus, seeing the city through the window. Once again, I regretted my choice to join a tour instead of travelling on my own. It would have been a long, cold, and wet day, but I would have been able to see much more.
We made our way to nearby Vina del Mar in the afternoon. About twenty minutes south of Valparaiso, Vina del Mar is a popular seaside resort town. With modern condos and all the major hotel chains represented, it felt like any developed town in the Caribbean. The highlight of our visit there was Museo Fonck and its authentic Easter Island moai. Transported from the island in the 1950s to its current location, the moai was an unexpected surprise. It made me even more excited to see its bigger brothers with my own eyes!
Leaving the Pacific coast behind, we made our way back towards Santiago. On the way we stopped at Vina Indominita for a late lunch and wine tasting. A mid-size vineyard perched on a hillside, Indominita offers spectacular views of the valley. While we waited for our tasting session, we enjoyed an excellent lunch. I had a nice eel pasta dish. Towards the end of the wine tasting, one of the girls on my tour felt brave enough to try out her English with me. Her English was as limited as my Spanish/Portuguese though, so we didn’t get much past hellos and names.
We arrived back in Santiago in time to catch the tail end of the evening rush hour. I spent another quiet night in the nearly empty hostel. Up early tomorrow for my flight to Easter Island!