Friday, April 6, 2012

Chilean' in Chile

**I apologize in advance for the length of this post, I tend to get a bit wordy, plus its been a pretty eventful week, filled with us being at the wrong place twice, a new country, and a happy ending**

After spending 5 weeks in Argentina, Sam and I decided it was time to venture over to a new country. We spent the last week, as I'm sure you've figured out, smack dab in the middle of Chile, in Santiago, Valparaiso, and Viña del Mar, where we spent our time taking more free walking tours, touring a vineyard, visiting an ecolodge in the mountains, and seeing Lollapalooza. And of course, what trip of ours would be complete with a few bumps to shake things up a bit and two important lesson learned: don't assume anything, and don't underestimate the kindness of strangers.

As I like to remind Sam, we cannot assume anything about South America. Just because things function a certain way at home does not mean they will work quite the same way down here. Case in point: 4 out of the 5 metro lines might just be randomly closed one day in Buenos Aires, baffling both tourists and locals alike. Thankfully we were not relying on the metro to get to the airport for our flight to Santiago, but that did not prevent us from nearly missing our flight. 

First I must back up and explain the airport situation in Buenos Aires. There are two airports there: Aeroparque, which is for national flights and located in the city; and Ezeiza, which is for international flights and located on the outskirts of Buenos Aires (without traffic, just under an hour from where we were staying). Presumably, one would think the flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago would be at Ezeiza, this being an international flight. Word to the wise: double check which airport you are flying out of before you arrive at the airport and do not assume an international flight will be at the international airport. We had done such a great job (so we thought) figuring out how long it would take to get to Ezeiza and calling a cab (FYI, I hate talking on the phone in Spanish!) the night before. The cab amazingly arrived on time and we arrived at Ezeiza with plenty of time to check into our flight, grab a bite to eat, and peruse the duty free shop. However, when we went to check in, we were told we were too late to check into our 10:00 am flight, despite the fact that it was just before 8:00 am. After much confusion and thinking for a moment that our direct flight had been changed and we had a layover, we found out we were at the wrong airport. Now, the problem was at this point we had under an hour to get to the other airport, not a huge deal in and of itself except for the fact that we were headed back into Buenos Aires during morning rush hour. Anyone who has ever driven into a city during rush hour can understand why this was a problem. Miraculously, one very scary and highly overpriced "cab" ride later (I put that in quotes because I'm not entirely sure he was a legitimate cab driver, although I must give him credit for his terrifying ability to weave in and out of traffic) we made it to Aeroparque in time to check into our flight. 

Thankfully, we arrived in Santiago with no more bumps in the road, had an interesting conversation with our cab driver in Spanish about the economic crisis in the U.S. and its effect on Chile (in his words: when the U.S. sneezes, Chile gets a cold), and were welcomed into our incredible Bed & Breakfast, Casa Moro. The owners, Walter and Marcelo, are a former art gallery owner and artists, and their house was very uniquely decorated and full of the sweetest and best behaved dogs and cats they had rescued from the streets of Santiago. 

(In case you haven't been to South America, stray animals are all over the place.)  Walter & Marcelo were amazing hosts, giving us tons of recommendations of things to do and serving one of the best breakfasts we have had on the trip (including muffins & scones they bake fresh everyday).

The first day we spent wandering around in the afternoon for a couple hours, but were informed to not stay out after dark as it was the Day of the Young Combatant, a day in which people in Santiago commemorate two young men who were killed by the police in the 1980s. And by commemorate, I mean protest (South Americans, as we have learned, love to protest--I've seen more protests on this trip than I have seen in my entire life). Sometimes the day proceeds uneventfully, but sometimes it can be quite violent--needless to say, we weren't about to take our chances.

The next day we took another free walking tour, which we have come to love. Not our favorite of the walking tours, but still informative nonetheless (and in general I highly recommend when you are visiting a new city seeing if they have one--since the tour guides rely solely on tips they tend to be really good). During the tour, we learned about Cafe con Piernas (literally, coffee with legs), which is apparently quite common in Chile and are geared toward businessmen who need a break during the day. There are three levels: we passed by a level 1 and 3. Level 1s have waitresses wearing teeny tiny skirts and big heals; level 3s you cannot see into and as our tourguide explained in not so many words, are essentially brothels. (By the way, prostitution is technically illegal in Chile.) Anyways...

A glimpse inside a Level 1 Cafe con piernas
Walking around the fish market in Santiago
That afternoon we took the metro out to the outskirts of Chile and took a tour of a vineyard. Jury is still out whether I prefer a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon or an Argentine Malbec (and I didn't even particularly care for red wine before this trip!). 

**Sidenote, sometime during our stay in Santiago I found out I was accepted to be a volunteer at Aldea Yanapay, an afterschool/community center program in Cusco, Peru, yay!**

The next day we ventured even farther out on the metro and head one of the longest and most treacherous cab rides yet out to a gorgeous ecolodge in the Andes mountains. Sam and his parents took what ended up being a rather strenuous horse ride while I had a relaxing massage and then I convinced Sam to do the zipline over a little river with me. It was a really nice break from being in the city and cheaper than the equivalent in the States. The day was closed with Patagonion-style parilla (grill) back in Santiago: wild boar, deer sausage, and various other assorted meats. 

View at lunch in the ecolodge
Sam's parents on the horse ride
Our last day in Santiago we said goodbye to Sam's parents and headed off to the second day of Lollapalooza, but more about that in another post.

After spending several days in hot Santiago, which apparently has been unseasonably hot and dry, Sam and I were looking forward to spending some time on the beach in Valparaiso and  Viña del Mar, but were bummed to find unseasonably chilly and rainy weather there. On our second day there we took the free tour (of course) and found out it was the first rainy tour our guide had done in the four months he had been leading it. Thankfully by our last day the weather cleared up and warmed up enough for us to comfortably lie on beach in our bathing suits for about 20 minutes, but that was good enough for me! 

So excited to see the ocean for the first time since Panama
Anyway, Valparaiso is a hilly port city whose local economy collapsed in the 80s and it became a relatively unsafe city until it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. The main square near the water isn't much to look at, but the homes and boutique hotels in the hills (known as ceros) are painted in an assortment of bright colors, have graffiti murals that have been commissioned by the city, and have lots of little shops and restaurants. Just be sure not to wander into the wrong cero.

Because Chile is such a skinny city and relatively close to Mendoza, the big wine region of Argentina, we decided to take one of the amazing overnight buses we have heard about, that include wine/champagne and food and fully reclining seats. Unfortunately, I suppose because the drive is relatively short (about 7 hours, depending on how long it takes to go through immigration), no such luck, although we did get a sandwich last night and a small snack for breakfast, and though the seats did not fully recline there is still way more leg room than any U.S. bus we've been on. 

This is where the don't assume anything lesson came in handy again. We had purchased our tickets several days ago online and figured they could look up our information to print out the ticket or at the very least we could show them the PDF of the confirmation on the computer, a reasonable assumption given you can do that at airlines and we can do that at home on BoltBus, for example. Not the case here. But not only that, when we got to the Valparaiso  bus station (where our bus was supposed to leave from) we could not actually find the ticket office of Andesmar, the bus line we were on, and were informed that it had been closed at the Valparaiso bus terminal and only left from  Viña del Mar. Perhaps we were mistaken in which bus line we had purchased our tickets from? 

Thankfully we had plenty of time until our bus and we went to find an internet cafe to print our tickets. I must also add, that aside from hating talking on the phone in Spanish, I also lose most of my ability to actually speak the language when I'm feeling flustered. Basically we were completely inept at printing out our tickets and I was doing a terrible job of understanding how to do it. Finally, printed tickets in hand, we returned to the bus station, with a confirmation that we indeed were due to take a bus out of Valparaiso on Andesmar and were determined to find the ticket office. First we went to where the office should be, but it was abandoned. Then we tried, to no avail, to find an information booth, so instead Sam led us to a random booth of women advertising a place for arriving passengers to stay (and I have to give Sam a lot of credit for his ability to navigate in Spanish despite how recently he has started to learn the language). 

I can not even begin to explain how amazingly helpful this woman was. We had been told by Walter, our host in Santiago, that Chileans are very kind and helpful, but this woman took it to an entirely new level. Not only did she walk around the station trying to help us find the Andesmar ticket counter, but she called Andesmar from her cell phone to find out where we should go (it turns out we did indeed have to go to the bus station at Vina del Mar), then proceeded to walk us down the street to try to find a bus that was going to that bus station and then essentially brought us to the metro when we couldn't find a bus and then kissed us goodbye. Although we were frustrated by the bus situation, we were so thankful and astounded by how graciously this stranger helped us navigate a rather confusing situation. 

Thankfully we made it still with plenty of time to the other bus station. We set off on our overnight bus back to Argentina, where we had our first land border crossing on this trip at 3:00 am in the middle of the Andes Mountains. Now we're relaxing in Mendoza for a few days before we head back to Chile and make our way north to Peru!

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