Of Art and Soul

Santiago

Sometime before leaving on my grand adventure, I had contacted Tona, a friend of mine who grew in Chile to see if she might be around to meet up while I was in Santiago.  Unfortunately, she’s currently studying in San Francisco.  I guess that’s what I get for letting my friendships go idle.  However, she did put me in contact with a friend of hers that lives in Santiago, Esteban, whom agreed to host me and show me around a bit.  After arriving, I hopped a taxi into town and soon after, met up with my host.  We were both hungry, so he took me to the Harvard Bar, a bar right outside the campus area for a beer and some Chorillana, a Chilean bar food consisting of fries topped with meat, egg, onion, and sausage.  We discussed my plans which included heading to Valparaiso in a couple of days.  Luckily for me, Esteban would be heading there the next evening to be with his girlfriend and offered to meet up with me on Sunday to show me around.  Valparaiso is Esteban’s favorite city in the world which not surprisingly is the place that he grew up.

The next day, I first got my bearings by locating the tourist office in Providencia, and then I was able to track down a dealer of EBook readers in town and replace my stolen Nook.  I’ve felt so lonely the last month not being able to go someplace and read the many books I had selected for my trip.  Afterwards, I decided to seek out the Japanese garden located at the Santiago Metropolitan Park.  After walking all day, I was exhausted.  I stopped by a small food store and picked up some Empanada’s and a Danky.  It would be dinner at the apartment and then off to bed.  Esteban arrived later, collected his things, and then was off to Valparaiso.

The next day was spent checking out Santiago where I took in most of the tourist sites.  I started by checking out Barrio Brasil and the Concha y Toro neighborhood.  It’s a street with late 18th century / early 19th century buildings.  It’s a peaceful neighborhood with park benches, water fountains, cafes, etc.  While looking for a cafe, I stumbled upon Hostel Tales, where Scott, the  attendant greeted me at the door and invited me in for a cup of tea.  Scott, originally from the US, looks to be in his early 50’s.  We talk about Chilean culture.  He moved there, because, as he describes it, the people are much more welcoming and “dating” after your 30 is a joy, rather than the chore he perceives it in the US.  I also make the acquaintance of Kherfia, a French traveler of Arabic descent.  I’m overjoyed to be able to practice my french with her.  Scott invites me to join a group that he’s taking down to the Lakes region in Mid-February.  I take down his information but do not make any promises.

I spend the rest of the day checking out La Moneda, a site of historical significance in Santiago.  It’s a building that was originally built for producing and distributing Chile’s currency but later became the site for politicians.  It’s not much of a tour, and I found it mostly uninteresting.  Afterwards, while searching for a place to sit down and have some tea, I stumbled into Cafe Bombay, a coffee shop that Chileans commonly refer to as “Cafe con Piernas” or “Cafe with Legs”.  It’s a new thing popping up in coffee shops around Santiago where the waitresses are dressed very provocatively.  Coffee and Tea never looked this good.

I finished off the day by eating lunch at Mercado Centro and later having dinner at the MosaiCafe in the Patio Bellavista.  I went home soon after, ready to take a bus to Valparaiso in the morning.

Valparaiso

The bus ride to Valparaiso from Santiago is roughly 2 hours straight through Chilean wine country.  If you have the time, you can stop off and tour some wines in the Casablanca valley.   I arrived in Valparaiso and after locating my hostel, La Casa Volante, I met up with Esteban for a quick tour of the historical part of the city.  Valparaiso seemed in many ways similar to Naples, Italy for me.  It’s a bit dirty but there’s culture and art all around you.  The city is filled with brightly-painted staircases leading up to all the cerros.  Walls throughout the city are painted with amazing murals.  This isn’t graffiti.  It’s art where many creations are of the caliber found in many post 20th-century, contemporary art museums.  And of course there are the walkways and balconies that cover the city, overlooking the harbor filled with all kinds of shipping and naval vessel imaginable.  After walking for an hour or two, taking photos of every kind of art or vista imaginable, Esteban takes me to Los Portenos in Plaza Sotomayor for lunch.  It’s completely packed and we arrive just in time to get the last seat before a line starts to form outside the door.  It’s popular for a reason.  The seafood here is amazing.  Esteban and I order the seafood chowder and talk over some wine.  After lunch, Esteban and I say farewell and we go off about our own adventures.

The next day, I start off my day attending a tour of Valparaiso run by Tours 4 Tips.  It’s an organization that does tours around Santiago and Valparaiso for only tip money.  It was highly recommended to me by people that had been to Santiago and Valparaiso before me.  Afterwards, I enjoyed lunch at La Belle Epoque Cafe, an art gallery and cafe overlooking the harbor.  In the evening, I sought out Empanadas las Famosas, a restaurant famous for, you guessed it, making amazing (and cheap) Empanadas.  For 600 pesos, it was the best and least expensive option I’d encountered in Valparaiso so far.

My last day in Valparaiso was spent visiting the Maritime Museum and lazing around taking in La Belle Epoque Cafe one more time, as well as trying some pasta at Pasta y Vino.  Pasta y Vino changes up their menu most every day.  I was fortunate enough to have some of their spinach gnocchi with 2 glasses of Chilean Carmenere wine.  It was a fantastic way to end my trip in Valparaiso.  In the morning, I’d be off to accomplish a dream of mine that I’ve had since I was a young child.

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Patagonia: Part 2

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales is a small town that is essentially the gateway for getting to Torres del Paine.  Everyone I knew that had been to Torres del Paine told me that I really needed to go.  So, I arrived in Puerto Natales after a 5 hour bus ride from El Calafate, not really sure if I’d be able to give Torres del Paine the time that it really deserved.  I booked 3 nights at small hostel, hoping that I could do some type of day trek and see at least some of the greatness that Torres del Paine has to offer….. at least from afar.

I first located the tourism office down near the water and was informed that there were day trips up to Torres del Paine, but that a real excursion through the park would require anywhere from 2 to 7 days of trekking.  I wasn’t equipped for camping, nor did I have reservations for one of the hostels that were already booked.  I easily found a tour company in the center of town that assured me that I’d see the sights that I wanted to see.  I signed up not realizing that instead of a day of hiking, I instead would be driven around in a van with other people, making 14 stops along the way for some light hiking, photo-ops, and an occasional snack.  I’ll admit that initially, I was frustrated and a bit disappointed at myself for the lack of planning on my part and the limited exposure I would have with Torres del Paine.  But dealing with cold weather and extremely strong winds all day long left me exhausted and somewhat happy that everything worked out the way that it did.

It also gave me the time to relax and enjoy myself in the sleepy town of Puerto Natales.  Some of the highlights of my stay in Puerto Natales included having a beer at Baguales, a local brewpub in town.  I also came across a small vegetarian soup and sandwich shop called El Living.  While I’m not a vegetarian by nature, I was happy with the healthy food served and the availability of mate.  And with a small bookcase filled with old magazines (both in English and Spanish), I did not lack for any reading material, which was nice considering I haven’t read much since my Nook got stolen in Buenos Aires.

Punta Arenas

If you’re looking to visit the southern most, accessible city in South America so that you can brag about being at “The End of the World”, then you’d likely visit Ushuaia.  But, if you want to visit the southernmost city in South America of respectable size, then you’d visit Punta Arenas.  I was disappointed that my planning had left me unable to visit Ushuaia, but was still happy to be far enough south to be in the Magallanes region of South America.  I needed to go through Punta Arenas so that I could catch a flight to Santiago, Chile.  Initially, I didn’t have much interest in Punta Arenas and was only planning a night or two.  Instead, I recognized the need for some down time and scheduled 3 nights there.  Punta Arenas turned out to be a much more pleasant experience than I had expected.

I first checked into my hostel, Patagonia House, a house that has been re-configured to be a hostel.  A family lives there while guests from all over the world stay in the other available rooms.  While relaxing in your room upstairs, it’s not uncommon to hear some the kids playing Gears of War or Grand Theft Auto on their video game system right outside your door.  It’s never too loud and the place has a comfy, feeling like staying with your family.  I quickly made friends with two of my room-mates from Portland, Oregon (two of the few travelers I’d come across from the US), Brian and Blake, and decided to head out for some dinner.

The next morning, having nothing on my agenda, I hopped a ferry to Isla Magdelena to see a colony of Penguins.  Upon arrival, you walk off the ferry and are surrounded by a multitude of penguins running around, burrowing in their holes, procreating, or taking a dump right in front of you.  It’s an episode of National Geographic right in your face.  I was having the time of my life.  But the bonus for me was the lighthouse that was located there.  After returning to town, I met up with Brian and Blake to explore the cemetery which very closely resembled the Recoleta Museum found in Buenos Aires (but much smaller).

I spent my last day in Punta Arenas checking out the town and relaxing in coffee shops.  The next day, I’d be off to Santiago, Chile.