Tails of Two Cities, Santiago & Valparaiso

So there we are chilling at the gate waiting for the flight to Santiago (via Sydney). The alarm sounded at 4.15am. We dragged our sorry butts into the cab, our overseas adventures were beginning! We waited until most of the passengers had loaded before approaching the gate. The lady at the desk smiled before shattering our world,  “I'm sorry sir this is a Qantas flight. You need Jetstar which is at the other end of the airport, oh and the doors will close in two minutes”.

I had the wrong gate, so now we had to run and dodge our way through the airport in typical Hollywood fashion. "Miss Julie Jane & Mr. Steve Ford, you need to board your flight immediately, off loading procedures have begun". That's one announcement you don't need to hear. Especially when you have said your goodbyes, sold off all your worldly goods and stuffed what's left into a small backpack.

Yes, we made it, just. Next came the walk of shame, tuts and sighs ringing loud in our heads as we slinked down the aisle. I think we were halfway to Sydney before Julie spoke to me. After all it was her birthday. 

How long can one birthday last? On this occasion 39 hours. We had gone back in time 2 hours to Sydney, then back a further 13 hours to Santiago, who needs the Tardis, Dr. Who eat your hearts out. 

I think it's fair to say that it took a good couple of days before we started to find our flow. The jet lag, stress of leaving and culture shock of a new country took its toll. Our accommodation was in the middle of a concrete jungle, eastern block style high rises. The view was straight into somebody's tiny cramped hutch. Not the kind of start we had imagined.

To get our bearings we joined Tours4Tips. These are tours hosted by local students dressed in a  'Where’s Wally?' t-shirt. At the end of the tour you tip what you feel the tour was worth. A great business model as long as you don't have a group of tight fisted Scots. We ended up doing two tours in Santiago.
The morning tour took in a couple of markets and ended up at the main cemetery. Yes, it sounds a bit creepy but it was incrediably informative. We learnt about the class system in Chile.  The make up of the political structure and life under the dictator Augusto Pinochet. The mini Vegas that is the cemetery has mausoleums of every style.  Including pyramids, Mayan temples, glass Apple Store style cubes to hold the dead. And then there is the cheap seats in the high rise burial plots. 

The afternoon tour in Santiago took us through some of the more up markets suburbs, including Lastarria. It’s here that I shouted Julie a birthday dinner. A mini degustation complete with wine tasting at Bocanariz. Chilean wine is a must. We tried everything from the NZ$2.00 wine boxes to glasses of hard-to-find reds. We have no pride when it comes to vino.

Both Santiago and Valparaiso (our next stop) are home to hundreds of street dogs. These mutts roam the streets with not a care in the world. These are smart dogs. They wait patiently at pedestrian crossings for the lights to turn green. Come the afternoon most have crashed out in the middle of the pavement adding to the obstacle course that is walking in Chile.  Most of the dogs are well fed, given that many of the residents leave piles of food all over the city. Winter wear is also provided by locals for the dogs when things turn a little chilly. We could have filled a jumbo jet with pooches we would have loved to have adopted. Yes there is an overflow of dog poo, more so in Valparaiso. The dogs in Santiago seem to understand that fouling the foot path is not the done thing.

We took the funicular to the top of San Cristobal Hill, for a stunning view of Santiago. Watching the sun dip whilst sat at the bottom of the Blessed Virgin Mary statue. Without the sun to guide the way we did get somewhat lost on the descent. We both had visions of being stuck in the park with packs of street dogs. The suburb leading up to San Cristobal is Bella Vista . It's here that we first stumbled on bars selling 1L bottles of beer for NZ$4.40. The fear of being locked in the park had made us very thirsty.

We stepped out one lunch time and walked straight into a large student demonstration. There were rows and rows of riot police and armoured wagons with water cannons lining the main avenue. On this occasion the protest went off peacefully.

After a week we were ready to move on to our next port of call. We jumped on the bus after managing to buy tickets and set off for Valparaiso. Just an hour and half down away, Valparaiso is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Once again we joined a Tours4Tips to get a better understanding of our new home. During the San Francisco gold rush of 1849, Valparaiso became a major stopping off port for ships heading up the Pacific coast.  The city makes many claims; including the start of globalisation, Chile's first volunteer fire bridge, the oldest stock exchange in South America and the longest running Spanish language newspaper on the continent. Who needs Google when you have your own 'Wally'.

Part of the tour took us to a small wooden door on a steep alleyway. A quick knock on the door and it was opened by a sweet old gentleman who made the most amazing alfajores. Two biscuits with a yummy condensed milk filling, covered in chocolate. These are famous all over South America and it's our mission to sample one in each city we visit.

The flat stretch of land between the port and the main hub of the town is pretty boring, apart from a fishy looking area that is the fish market. It’s the hills that are awash with colour that are synonomous Valparaiso. Many of the houses are painted a rainbow of colours. This dates back to when passing ships would have left over paint to sell to homeowners. Also are very few walls and alleyways in the old part of the town that are not covered in street art. There appears to be some kind of truce between the street artists and graffiti artists. If a wall/house has street art the graffiti artists leave it alone. Begs the question of when does graffiti become street art?

We stayed for 4 nights in a hostel, up a narrow passageway at the start of Concepcion Hill. A private room, shared kitchen and bathroom. The hostel was great, a sunny warm room with plenty of space. We raised the average age of the guests by around 20 years.

For those with old and/or tired legs wanting to get to the top of a hill there’s the rickety Ascenors (lift) some over 100 years old. Scattered throughout Valparaiso these knee savers cost just a few pesos to ride. Unfortunately the view from the top of most of the hills looks out over the commercial port. But you do get to view some of the otherwise hard to see street art.

Most of the local restaurants serve a set three course meal for lunch and/or dinner. We choose a tiny hole in the wall near to the hostel to sample this lunch treat. This included  our first taste of pisco sour a South American cocktail. 

We spent most of our afternoons (we did a lot of sleeping in) wandering the alleyways and back streets of the old city. An opportunity to take way too many photos of street art and sleeping dogs.

We both loved Valparaiso with it’s colourful calles and highy decorated hidden passageways. We both found our groove, but we were also ready for more.

Next Stop Torres del Paine (eventually).