Welcome to Chile, beautiful ladies!!
Time for another update on my travels around South America :) I think I mentioned to most of you last week that I have plans to see a lot of different places while I’m here, and that means trips about every other week or so until the end of October (eek!). Last Wednesday, I got home from Chile, where I went with 4 friends: Alicia, Allison, Jessi and Meghan.
The issue with going to either Chile or Brazil is that they have reciprocal visa policies, and because it is difficult for their citizens to get into the US, they make it difficult for us to get into their countries. So for a North American to get into Chile, you have to fly there and pay US$100. OR, to get by that fee, you can sit on an uncomfortable bus for 21 hours and they’ll just let you in no problem when you get there. So we went by bus, of course, but there is limited service to Santiago from Buenos Aires, so the bus is what they call “semi cama” or half-bed. This means that the seats are really narrow and only lean back about 8 inches, and I didn’t realize this until we got on the bus, but they also don’t give you a blanket.
None of that really matters though, of course, because we were going to chile! I can handle just about anything for 20 hours if it means I get to see a new country. AND the sweet thing was that we got the front row of seats, so there was nothing but window in front of us. There was a fantastic lightning storm that night, with the added thrill of the driver driving down the middle of the highway, full speed ahead in the pouring rain and oncoming traffic. It was super cold at night, and I didn’t sleep very well, but right after sunrise we headed into the Andes. It was so beautiful, and then we realized why the trip takes so long when it is only 13 hours across Argentina. The other 7 or 8 hours is for driving 5km an hour up the mountains and down the other side. We made it across the border without having to pay anything, although we were a bit miffed that our Chilean stamps didn’t show up very well on our passports. Then we went down the curviest rode ever, where we thought we would tip over the side of it on the way down the mountain, but again, we had front row seats for the excitement.
But then we got to Chile and the real fun started. 5 people were a lot to travel with, but we were really flexible and didn’t mind splitting up to venture out on our own. I had told my friend Kristi that I would look into finding a co-op to buy hand made crafts for World Markets (I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s a non profit in Seattle that sells things made by artists around the world) so I found the co-op and picked out a bunch of stuff to buy online later (thank goodness I didn’t have to shlep it all back to Buenos Aires!). The best part was just being in a brand new city all by myself, finding my way around.
Our hostel was in a really artsy neighborhood called Bellavista, and we heard (after booking it) that it wasn’t a great area as far as safety, but really, it was fine. All the buildings are painted different bright colors, with lots of cute restaurants around. Our hostel was really homey, with big beds and down comforters (way nicer than my bed in Buenos aires!) and some nice people who worked there, and some awkward ones, but they just added to the ambience.
The next day we went to Valparaiso, where we frolicked around for a day and a half. The highlight there was definitely seeing Pablo Neruda’s house, a famous poet who was exiled for writing things against the corrupt government. His house is designed to look like a ship, and there are beautiful views of the city and the water below from every floor. The house is still full of his furniture (he died in 1972ish) and we wondered how much money we would have to pay to buy it from the Pablo Neruda Foundation. We figured about a trillion dollars. Although, he had 2 other houses in the area, so really, what’s one less? I claimed the master bedroom.
The funniest moment in Chile: the 5 of us were walking down the street on the way to Pablo’s house, and a man walked by us, and stopped the conversation he was having on the phone to say, “O my God! Welcome to Chile beautiful ladies!” and then went back to his conversation, probably telling his friend ALL about us :)
Valparaiso is built on the side of a hill, and all the buildings and houses go up, away from the beach. Pablo’s house is up toward the top, so we started walking down the hill to where we started, and it was cold and windy, so we stopped in at a little restaurant for a cup of coffee. We ended up staying there for a long time, admiring the view, and then decided to stay for a leisurely dinner and dessert. So all of that added up to about 5 ½ hours, but it was soooo fun, and all 5 of us were there, and we had great conversations and laughed a lot. It was really the perfect way to spend an evening.
The best part of being in Chile was just looking around and seeing the sights. Valparaiso is all the way across the country from Santiago, which is about an hour and a half. All the way there were rolling green hills and little towns and houses, a few cows, some forest, cacti, and then BAM! The ocean. All in a matter of minutes. It felt very South America, and very calm. That was the great thing about Santiago, it’s so much calmer than Buenos Aires, and feels a lot smaller (the buildings are generally a lot smaller, whereas in BA it feels like they’re all skyscrapers). But it also feels so much safer than Montevideo. It’s the best :)
The charming thing about transportation there is that they have colectivos, which in Argentina means city bus, but in Chile means an inexpensive taxi that has certain streets it goes to. They wait in a certain area, and when they have enough people to fill one (or more than fill one with the 5 of us) then off they go! It reminded me of how I’ve heard that in Mexico they have micros, which are like VW buses that they cram with people and drive like crazy all over the city. This isn’t that intense, but it’s definitely a thrill.
We walked all over the beach on Sunday, and then Monday we were back in Santiago for more sightseeing. Jessi and Allison had to leave for BA on Monday afternoon to get back for a midterm, but Alicia and Meghan and I didn’t leave until Tuesday morning. We met a ton of international friends at our Santiago hostel the second time we were there, and Meghan and I had dinner with 2 british guys, a brazilian and a dutch guy on Monday night. It was really fun, and I even learned all about the british flag (apparently its made up of the English, Scottish, welsh and northern irish flags put together, but I haven’t checked that yet…).
Also on Monday I went to the 2 highest points in Santiago, Santa Lucia and Cerro San Cristobal. The city was a bit smoggy, but it’s still pretty, because it looks like the mountains end RIGHT where the city starts, which, they very well could. I wanted to walk to the mountains from our neighborhood, but Meghan thought that would be ridiculous. I thought of you, Ashley Pottenger, when I wanted to walk across the city of Santiago, because I know you’d do it with me! You are my inspiration :)
I am sending you photos too, of the coast, my friends, the curvy road and the Andes. And, as always, to see more pictures you can find them at: www.flickr.com/photos/a_mesaros
And, I am going to Iguazu falls this weekend with my program, and I’m expecting it to be GORGEOUS (there are over 250 waterfalls where 2 rivers come together at the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Romantic? O, I think it will be. Check for more pics next week!
PS, as I am writing this, I am watching the Sound of Music with my roommate Kim, and here is a direct quote: “I would give my life to be in this movie singing” Beautiful.