Leaving San Juan, Argentina in the early morning hours by bus, I had a relatively smooth 12 hour trip despite the 3 bus changes and another pain in the ass border crossing through the Andes. The anxiety was a little higher than it should have been as I was two days later than planned due to motorcycle trouble and my visiting friend Ian and his girlfriend had been waiting for me.
Arriving in the beautiful Chilean port city of Valparaíso, I had no cell phone and so this required a stop at a rather average outdoor cafe where I purchased an overpriced, dry lomo sandwich in order to use their WiFi to connect with my friend Ian and gather his whereabouts.
The next challenge was finding an ATM; usually a straightforward endeavor but the unusual nature of the last few days lent itself to making this a surprisingly difficult task. With little luck in my search, I eventually decided to hail a taxi and ask them to take me to one.
Thinking that I could just hop in any taxi and away we go, I quickly found out that there are two different types of taxis; private & shared. The shared were everywhere but only took you in a general direction. The private taxis took you directly to where you needed to go but were more expensive and nowhere to be seen.
But once again the kindness of strangers soothed my angst and provided guidance.
As my hailed taxi pulled over to pick me up, I assumed the elderly gentleman in the backseat would exit as I got in. Instead, as I opened the door, he smiled, nodded, and nonchalantly looked out the window as I got in next to him. The driver followed a similar sequence of acknowledgment and rattled off an unintelligible paragraph after I asked him to take me to an ATM and hotel. It was clear that this was a slightly different taxi than I was used to. Seeing my confusion, the other passenger leaned over and kindly explained that this was a shared taxi and was heading the opposite direction of where I needed to go.
The kindly man asked the driver to stop so that he could assist me in finding a private taxi. Within a minute I was thanking the old man profusely as I sat into a private taxi heading to my objectives. Despite my months of travel experience in South America, I still need help. I was keenly aware that my Spanish is passable but Chilean Spanish is a different beast that I was struggling with in both understanding and being understood.
In the end, I finally made it to an ATM in the drab banking cluster of downtown. Knowing he wouldn’t get paid if he left, the taxi driver patiently waited before taking me up the steeply hilled roads and into the multi-colored neighborhoods that Valparaíso is famous for. My final destination was the thoughtfully designed and decorated boutique hotel of Cirilo Armstrong. It was just before sunset and the relief was amplified when I walked into the lobby to find my friend Ian devouring a plate of cheese at a table. Happy Days!
Sleep came hard after a long day of travel, dinner, multiple bottles of delicious Chilean wine, snacks, and lots catching-up with an old friend and his girlfriend, Marine.
After breakfast, we ventured out onto the cobbles to meander through one of the street art capitals of the world. The brightly colored buildings and world class murals clashed in the most pleasing way possible and I was instantly won over. The historical lore as a hub for artists, poets, musicians, and philosophers seemed to ooze out of every crack and crevice of this storied naval city. We only made it maybe 3 blocks down the road before ducking into an art gallery and making a purchase for my brother.
Around every corner was a new exhibition that roped us in and it took more than an hour to get down from the picturesque hillside and onto the flatter terrain of the downtown and port area.
Crossing the main road in the shadows of office buildings and banks, we strolled over to the waterfront to take in the hordes of people, food carts, trucks, and boats roaring about. The main import appeared to be cruise ship tourists. They were everywhere, easily recognizable, and in full form. Each tourist cluster mimicked a tightly packed amoebic conga line with their own synchronized shuffle. It gave the impression that they felt they would drop into the abyss if they broke out of the immediate orbit.
After sharing a churro with a friendly old street dog, we headed up the more than century-old Artillería funicular to get away from the crowds, get a better view of the city, and to walk to the other side of the peninsula to see one of the beaches. The jaunt took us past a naval base, the university, and back down to the beach on the other side. Our initial excitement for Pacific coast relaxation was quickly stymied with the thick wafts of human waste emanating from what we assumed were the bathrooms.
Between Poo Bay and the droves of beach goers packing the narrow strip of sand, we opted to keep walking and circled around the bay to the other side, upwind, and enjoyed a bottle of wine on the rocks while taking in the views.
Taking the meanderish coastal route back, we stopped to drink another bottle of wine on car-sized boulders overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Simple, cheap, and memorable; you don’t need much more.
The day had been cloudy but the sun popped out late in the afternoon to remind our skin that it had been there the whole time and that our pasty and winterized skin was not prepared for the sneaky UV onslaught. We were fried, singed, and properly pinked. Absolute rookie mistake.
Aloe vera. Beer. Delicious local food. Repeat as needed.
Over Too Soon
My time in Valparaiso was tragically short. The two days I lost due to my motorcycle and missing the bus hurt but it was still a wonderfully memorable time. The 1.5 hour bus ride to Santiago was spent just chatting with my friend Ian and his girlfriend, Marine. From there I got my ticket to retrace my path back over the Andes to Argentina.
Once again, mislabeled bus platforms almost led me astray but I managed to avert another logistical disaster and still exchange big hugs and well wishes with Ian and Marine before getting on my coach to head back to San Juan. It’s always sad to say goodbye to friends and this was no different. As the Andes approached, I reflected on my desire for more time with my friend while acknowledging the gratitude for having any time at all. By the time we crossed back into Argentina, my mind had recentered to my journey south. It was about to start again!
The road south is not easy: Chapter 23: Ruta 40 to Patagonia
Start this journey from the beginning: Introduction