Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Valparaíso: My Favorite City So Far

Hey all! I'm super excited to tell you all about what I did in what is so far my favorite place that I've visited --- Valparaíso! Due to requests for a larger font, this post appears quite a bit longer than it is, plus pictures. Read on if you dare!
In the kitchen of our hostel

We took a bus from Santiago to the city on Wednesday and arrived in Valparaíso (val-par-eye-EEE-so --- Valpo for short) late afternoon. After making our way to where we were staying, La Nona Bed and Breakfast, we met the owner, René. He was absolutely awesome, honestly one of my favorite people that I've met in Chile. He spoke English fluently, and was extremely helpful with anything and everything that we needed during our stay. 
First view of the city!

After René gave us a thorough explanation of the city, including a bunch of recommendations and insider information, we decided to explore, mainly so that we could find food. We went to Fauna, a fantastic restaurant on Cerro Alegre (or "Happy Hill"), and afterwards we took some  pictures and explored a couple of the little shops on our road --- a pretty relaxing evening. Based on René's advice and our personal interests, we planned what we wanted to see and do during our time in the city.

With "Wally" (Lukas) in what once
was the house of one of the richest men
in Valparaíso during the Gold Rush era
The next morning we got up bright and early to take a behind-the-scenes tour of Valparaíso. The "Wally Tour," as it's called, was completely in English and our guide, who was dressed like Waldo from "Where's Waldo?" taught us a lot about the history of this beautiful city while showing us places a tourist would rarely think to go, such asone of the houses from Valpo's hey-day back during the Gold Rush, the Stock Exchange building, and an artisan shop run by members of Chile's largest native people, the Mapuches. Afterwards, we got lunch in a little restaurant with the rest of the people from our tour group, which, besides the four of us, consisted of two French guys and two British girls traveling through South America. 
One of the streets on our tour; I love the colors!

After eating, we all trekked together up one of the steepest and longest staircases that I've ever faced to explore Valparaíso's Museo de Cielo Abierto, which is an area filled with murals. This wasn't quite as exciting as we'd hoped, however, and we continued up the hill to Pablo Neruda's Valparaíso home. The French and British members of our group wanted to explore more of the city, so we parted ways and my group went into Neruda's house, La Sebastiana.

La Sebastiana
This house had even more of a maritime feel than La Chascona in Santiago; the house is even shaped like a boat, and all of the spaces were tight and narrow to mimic those of a ship. As in La Chascona, the eccentric writer's tastes and quirky sense of humor shine through, from the old carousel horse in the living room to the bathroom door filled with intricate holes, inviting only the most daring to use its porcelain potty. 
This is what Neruda would see from his living room
Neruda had a special love for Valpo and wrote a lot about it (English version). He spent a lot of time in this particular house in front of its bay windows writing from one of his favorite armchairs; I thought it was really neat that there are still green ink spots on the footstool of the writer. I can see why Neruda picked the location --- the view of Valparaíso from La Sebastiana's windows is incredible. Once again, we couldn't take pictures indoors, so here is a link to an image gallery from inside the house.

Graffiti of one artist's interpretation of Valparaíso
We ended our day's adventures by meandering through the streets of Valparaíso admiring the colors, artwork, and graffiti for which the city is famous. Our tour guide had explained to us that many people welcome, encourage, and sometimes pay for the graffiti because it helps to prevent "taggers," or those people who spray paint their names and/or messages wherever they can reach, from putting their ugly writing all over --- when there's an interesting or pretty picture on a wall, it's less likely that the taggers will mess with that area. 
We even saw an artist at work!

Some of the artwork was very beautiful, detailed, and intricate, and made me wish that I had even a touch of artistic ability; others... not so much. But all of the graffiti, good and bad, added to the bold flavor and personality of this city that I loved so much.
My favorite graffiti that we encountered on our excursions

On Friday we started our day by visiting one of Valparaíso's three cemeteries. We visited one of the Catholic cemeteries that overlooks the ocean, El Cementerio Playa Ancha, We were accompanied by one of the security guards, who told us about the history of the burial grounds, how the plot process works, and a couple of the urban legends related to the cemetery. For example, supposedly there's a ghost attached to the cemetery. Émile Dubois is supposedly the Chilean version of Robin Hood, and after he was murdered it is said that his ghost took up residence in the cemetery and can be seen on occasion. His spirit has almost reached saint status, and there's even a portion of the cemetery with a "grave" for Dubois (his body was never recovered) and people pray to him, ask for favors, and thank him for "taking care" of them by leaving gifts at the gravesite. 
The story behind this tomb is that the man made a pact with the devil to be successful in his life, and that when he died if he touched the earth, he would go to Hell. So, he found a loophole --- he had his coffin put on lion's feet above the earth.

Me, Hayley, Jen, Jackie, and Sarinah on our boat tour
After our excursion to the cemetery, we did a little bit of shopping, had lunch, and went for an ice cream dessert in the center of town. There we met up with Sarinah, an Australian girl our age who works at La Nona, and she wandered the city with us. We took a boat tour in Valparaíso's bay and got to see what that sailors entering the harbor for the first time saw: hillsides covered with bright, colorful houses and rows of boats anchored just off the shore. It was so pretty, and I only wished that it had been sunnier so that the colors would have been even more vivid and vibrant. After, we went to the city's food market, which was much bigger than any I'd seen before (sooooo many fresh fruits and veggies!), then returned to La Nona to make homemade pisco sours --- still my favorite drink that I've discovered in Chile.
Our group pre-ride!

Saturday was quite the adventure for me. We had been hoping to do a horseback ride along the beach during the full moon of that night with René and his friend who does horse excursions, but there weren't enough people signed up for the evening ride; instead, we went for a half-day ride starting in the morning. We were joined by about 25 other American and German students studying in Viña del Mar, the sister city of Valparaíso, so our group was quite large. 

I had been quite nervous about the ride because I hadn't ridden in probably over a decade (thankfully, my horse was extremely calm and patient with novice-rider me), but I'm so glad that we went. The ride was beautiful as we went up and down sand dunes and along the beach. Viña and Valpo looked just as gorgeous from far away as they were up close, and I will never forget the experience. I'd really like to go back and do it again someday --- after I've gotten better at riding, of course.
The city from afar

Cooking the meat
In the mid-afternoon after the ride, we stayed at the ranch for a traditional asado, or backyard barbecue. We started off with choripán, which is a type of sausage on freshly-toasted buns and is the staple appetizer for every asado that I've attended... nomnomnom, one of my favorites. We also had thin-cut steak, lettuce and tomato salad, rice, shredded carrots and beets, a Chilean version of potato salad, and, of course, Chilean wine and pisco sour. 
With René during the asado

We ate until we were stuffed, and while we digested we just took in the atmosphere. I'd never been to the Chilean campo, or countryside, before, and I really enjoyed seeing how the lifestyle was different there than in Chilean cities: chickens running underfoot, cats and dogs begging for scraps, grill smoke filling the air, and children practicing shooting guns with their grandpa --- in other words, not quite what you'd see in an urban area. After the asado, we headed back to Valpo to rest, make last-minute purchases, and prepare for our journey back to Chillán.
Catching horses with lassos

I really really REALLY liked Valparaíso: the colors, the artwork, the ocean, the Bohemian culture that is so unlike the Chilean culture that I've seen, everything. I'd love to go back just to explore some more, even though there's nothing specific that I want to see... I guess I'll just have to see what the future holds. From what I have seen, however, I feel like this is one city that I could spend quite a bit of time in --- maybe even live in it :O Again, I'll have to see what the future holds and what God has in store for me!

Thanks for reading! I hope that you enjoyed! Until my next adventure...



"Welcome aboard!"

Such colorful houses

I love this picture for its colors

The artists are super creative in Valpo

La Armada de Chile is situated in Valparaíso

Little Red Riding Hood!

Fun Fact: The houses are all painted different colors because
when boats would come into Valpo, they would need to be
repainted, and the leftover paint was used to cover the
houses to protect them from the elements. No two houses
have the same color scheme... Cool, huh?


So detailed

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Hi everyone! I've had more traveling adventures!!! This past week was by far my favorite trip yet, and I hope that I can do justice to all of the great things I saw and the cool people I've met through this post! Since there's a lot to talk about, I'm going to split my adventures into two posts so that you don't get terribly bored reading so much (:

Hayley and I on our first night in Santiago!
Last week I had the opportunity to head north to Chile's capital city, Santiago, with my GV friend Hayley. Her sister Jackie and friend Jen from back home came to visit her in Chile for two weeks, and they arrived in the country on Saturday morning. Hayley and I met them at the airport and together we started exploring the city. We wandered around the city all afternoon (we're still not in agreement with how many miles we walked altogether that day... but it was a LOT) and planned what we wanted to visit during the rest of our time in Santiago.
Hayley, Jackie, and Jen!

Graffiti of Pablo Neruda 

Sunday was a fairly calm day as well. We went to tour the house of Pablo Neruda, a famous Chilean poet who won a Nobel Prize for Literature. He owned three houses in Chile during his lifetime, and the one in Santiago --- La Chascona, which means "crazy hair"  --- was a "secret" abode that he shared with his mistress, who was known for her wild mane of red hair. Neruda loved the ocean, so all of his houses have maritime influences, and it was really neat to see all of the ways that he incorporated the sea in his homes.
La Chascona

Neruda was also a big fan of surprises and the unexpected, and had lots of funny and quirky knick-knacks and items for decoration --- everything in his homes had a significance or a story behind it. It was really cool to walk through the house and to think that someone so influential in the Spanish literary world had designed the house and had lived there. We couldn't take pictures inside the museum, but you can check out the museum's image gallery to see some of the things from the house. Later we met up with Hayley's Chilean mom and little sister for lunch at Chile's oldest mall, which also was the first mall in South America, if I remember correctly. We visited with them for a couple of hours, then window-shopped in the mall for the rest of the afternoon.
A "street" in the cemetery

These are some of the buildings that are used for bodies
On Monday we navigated the Subway system to get to El Cementerio General de Santiago. The cemetery is utterly massive and was designed to be like a "city" for the dead, including streets and addresses for the specific graves. I was impressed with the differences in how people are buried here; there are buildings with tombs stacked one on top of another, and multiple urns with ashes are often kept in the same family plot. There were few places in the cemetery with ground-burial areas that are often used in the States. Many of Chile's most  influential figures are buried in this cemetery, including past Presidents, writers, and singers.

We unfortunately didn't obtain maps until the end of our visit, but we stumbled upon a memorial for those who disappeared and perished during the dictatorship from 1973 until 1990. The memorial lined with empty spaces waiting for the bodies of those who mysteriously "disappeared" during this regime was one of the most sobering sights I've ever seen. Even today there are so many families who have no idea about what happened to their loved ones during this terrible era.
"You're alive; the only death is that
which is forgotten. For your body,
flowers; for your soul, prayers."

After this, we went back to the heart of Santiago to the Plaza de Armas, a literal town square that nearly every major city in Chile possesses. After a delicious lunch near the plaza, we visited the Catedral de Santiago, or the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral, which was utterly beautiful. The intense attention to detail in the architecture and every aspect of the church was incredible, and I wish I could attend a service once just to hear the music echoing in that huge space.

We then went to Palacio de la Moneda, which is the Presidential Palace for Chile. It's called La Moneda, which literally means "the coin" because Chilean coins were manufactured there for over a hundred years. The building is gorgeous, and the pictures that I took really don't do it justice. This is also the building where the coup took place in 1973, so it's an important national icon, just as the White House is in the States. On the opposite side of La Moneda, there's an underground Cultural Center, and we checked that out. There were exhibits on modern Chilean art, on ancient African culture, and on Violetta Parra, a famous Chilean singer and artist.

La Moneda

We still had enough pep for one more adventure, and so we went to Cerro Santa Lucía, the hill from which Santiago was founded. On the hill there's a castle, el Castillo Hidalgo, that looks almost like something out of a fairytale, and there are winding steps that take you to the top of the hill and you can look out over the city --- it reminded me quite a bit of the steep steps at Castle Rock in the U.P. By mustering the rest of our energy the four of us climbed to the summit. It was an utterly gorgeous day and you could see the Andes Mountains setting the backdrop for Santiago.
One of the buildings on Cerro Santa Lucía

From the top of Cerro Santa Lucía

El Museo de La Memoria
Tuesday was my favorite day in Santiago. We started off bright and early with a visit to el Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, a museum dedicated to informing what happened during the dictatorship and the human rights violations that occurred during that period. As terrible as it was to learn about the atrocities that those in power committed and as heartwrenching as it was to imagine how so many were mistreated, this museum was honestly my favorite part of my time in Santiago because after going through it I feel like I understand so much more about what Chileans experienced, as well as how and why they are still affected today by that dark era.
The list of those who died and/or disappeared during the
dictatorship; this is in el Cementerio General

After getting lunch, we tried to go to el Museo de Arte Precolumbiano, or the Precolumbian Art Museum, but this, unfortunately, was closed due to construction. We traveled across town to el Museo de Bellas Artes, or the Fine Arts Museum of Santiago, but this seemed to be in a period of transition and didn't have many exhibits open so we didn't stay terribly long. The building itself is absolutely beautiful, though, and has been around since the 1800s.
El Museo de Bellas Artes

We decided to have a fancy schmancy dinner in Patio Bellavista. the most touristy and artsy sector of Santiago filled with pubs, bars, restaurants, and little shops. I'd really like to explore this area more if I ever get the chance because it's so colorful and full of life. We ate Peruvian food (which is utterly delicious) and drank Pisco Sour made in the Peruvian fashion (also delicious), then headed back to the hostel because Chile was playing Ecuador in a soccer match to qualify for next year's World Cup, and we wanted to watch the game, as well as to avoid rowdy fans.
Hayley and me in the square after Chile's big win

Chile ended up winning the match, and the whole city practically exploded! I was a rebellious child and went with Hayley and Jen to the plaza closest to our hostel, which was only about a ten minute walk --- there was no way I was going to miss seeing how this passionate country reacted to such a proud moment. I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it: all of the cars were honking as they passed us on the street and waited at red lights, and the crowd in the square was immense and only grew more as time passed. Everyone was yelling and throwing confetti and waving Chilean flags, and climbing on anything and everything possible; groups climbed on the top of bus stops and jumped up and down, and one guy scaled a traffic light and waved an ENORMOUS Chilean flag in a manner reminiscent of Les Miserables. It was absolutely incredible, and I'll be sure to post a video that I took, just so that you can all get an idea of how noisy it was. We stayed for probably twenty-ish minutes, but decided to leave when the crowd started setting off fireworks. Check out the video at the bottom, and the videos in these links!

La Virgen 
We got up early again on Wednesday, and went to el Cerro San Cristobal, the tallest hill in Santiago. We took a funicular ride up the hill, passing the National Zoo on the way up. I'd never been on a funicular before, but I thought it was super interesting how one car of the funicular is used to balance the other completely --- no fuel required! Pretty neat, if you ask me. Anyway, we made it to the top, where there's a huge statue of the Virgin Mary that looks over the city; we could even see her from our window in the hostel. From the top of the hill you can see all of Santiago, even more that one could from Cerro Santa Lucía; unfortunately, the day wasn't quite as breezy as it had been when we climbed the other hill, so smog was pretty thick over the city.

High above Santiago

I've never really encountered air pollution, so this was an experience for me, and that was basically the only negative that I encountered in Santiago. We explored the church and touristy shops on the hill for a bit, ate a light lunch, then took the funicular back down to pack our bags for the next leg of our trip.

In all, I really enjoyed Santiago a lot. The culture is significantly more urban than I've ever experienced, especially in comparison to Chillán and Grand Rapids. It's not exactly a beautiful city, but I like the "vibe" that I got while being there --- I could see myself living there and being content, should the opportunity arise. But, of course, that's way too much to think about at the moment, and I have absolutely no idea what the future might hold for me (:
Colorful graffiti outside of Neruda's house

That's all that I have for now! Stay tuned to read about my favorite city so far --- Valparaíso! Thanks for reading!

Love and besos from Chile!


Santiago <3
Me with the Virgin
In Cerro Santa Lucía
Hayley and I are going to make a slideshow
of all of the pictures we take side-by-side
to show the change over time, haha

Cool fountain in a park

Viva Chile! <3