December 4, 2016
I started writing a blog post after I returned from the jungle and arrived in Chile, the second country of my South American tour. But it went neglected and now a week has passed. In that time I’ve been exploring central Chile, with three days in capital city Santiago, an afternoon in Casablanca Valley (wine country), two days in artsy Valparaiso and an afternoon in beach town Viña del Mar.
While I definitely crammed in a lot during that week, I wasn’t super impressed – hence, nothing inspiring to write about. Santiago was a nice change after gritty Iquitos and the muggy jungle, but you could have swapped it with any American city and never known the difference. I liked that because it was familiar, comfortable, safe. But it also meant little history, culture and sightseeing. Sure, I picked out a bunch of hip restaurants to try, but again, they were similar to those I could find in LA. Two days were plenty in Santiago: I did a city walking tour, explored the fine arts and contemporary arts museums, watched the sun set from the top of the tallest skyscraper in South America and hiked in the hills outside the city.
All the girls in my hostel dorm room – my first shared room at a hostel – were headed to Valparaiso at some point over the next week. We all knew it was a destination, but none of us could really say why. I thought it was an artsy beach town with different neighborhoods in each of its cerros (hills). I imagined something like Laguna Beach.
I was way wrong. Like Iquitos, it was gritty and didn’t feel super safe; I felt completely out of my element again. The aforementioned artsy component was the street art covering nearly every free wall space throughout the city. I learned on the city walking tour that Valparaiso was never intended to be a city. It was a port town, called Port of Santiago, for central Chile before the Panama Canal opened. Because the only way around South America was in the far south of the continent, the port was a key way to move goods. A church was built in the port town, and around it a city grew.
I learned on the street art walking tour that despite how much graffiti there is on buildings and even houses, it’s still illegal if you don’t have permission from the owner. There was a lot of beautiful, illegal art throughout the city, but there was also a lot of beautiful street art that was granted permission or even commissioned. You could truly get lost in the hills chasing the amazing talent (especially considering the bizarre streets and passageways the city is built on). You might even see some in progress.
Considering that it’s a port town, there are no beaches, and in my two days there, I never saw sun. Despite its stark contrast from Santiago, there wasn’t much to do here either. Viña del Mar was just a quick escape from the city for lunch, but there wasn’t sun there either, to at least enjoy its beaches.
Today was dedicated to travel. I took an early bus back to Santiago to catch my flight to super southern Chile for my Patagonia trek in a couple days. I am really looking forward to it, but I am also sad that today marks the halfway mark to my trip. One month down, one month to go.