And so, after two and a half months of sheep-shearing, hitchhiking, feria-shopping, strawberry-picking, hosting, artesenal beer and way too much pizza, we bid our sad adieus to El Bolsón and were bus-bound once more.
We stopped in Bariloche just long enough to eat lunch by the lake and sample some of their world-famous chocolates, and then we were off and running to Valparaiso, Chile.
After a wretched overnight bus ride and classic Chilean border crossing (read: three hours spent freezing outside at 2AM while the border guards sipped coffee and debated amongst themselves whose turn it was to turn on the x-ray machine to scan our bags), we arrived in Valparaiso at 5 AM: exhausted, homesick for El Bolsón and Argentina in general, and wanting only to find a campground pronto.
Apparently, however, Chilenos only sleep “with a roof above their heads!” making campgrounds a scarce commodity. It didn’t improve matters that the only person in the bus terminal available to help was a crotchety custodian with only one tooth left in his mouth, which he used to squawk at us instead of forming discernible words.
Needless to say, our first impression of Chile was less than favourable.
We found the single campground advertised at the (closed) information booth and made our way there, praying that the owner of “Doña Elena’s” would take kindly to two backpackers waking her up at five in the morning.
Doña Elena could best be described as terrifyingly formidable – but very kind. She led us down three flights of rickety steps to her tiny garden, where we set up our tent beneath a papaya tree that kept dropping fruit on our head, and finally, we went to sleep, wondering why in the world we had ever left Argentina.
That afternoon, we decided to explore our new neighbourhood. We had walked only five minutes down the block before coming across this beach:
After seeing what lay in our backyard, we decided to give Chile a chance.
Valparaiso is a city of brightly painted houses stacked crazily atop each other, tumbling down the mountain towards the sea. Whole blocks of incredible street art, tiny twisting alleyways, and cobblestone roads make getting lost in this city a most aesthetically pleasing experience. In order to explore the city fully, one has to take the ascensores, Valparaiso’s vertical public transport system dating from 1886, that will pull you up the mountain to yet more streets and cafes and getting-lost opportunities.
Valparaiso is a funny mix of old and new latinoamerica: street wrestling matches can be found alongside massive (4 floors!) modern malls in the neighbouring Viña del Mar, which have everything from 5 McDonalds to movie theatres. (Yep, we saw 2 movies in 4 days, and had movie popcorn both times. It was fantastic!!)
After a few days of getting tossed around by enormous waves in the icy Pacific, sampling strawberry and banana soft serve ice-cream (amazing, FYI), and ogling the magnificent street art in our beautiful Valpo, we hopped a bus to Isla Negra, a tiny town perched on the ocean, where the poet Pablo Neruda had built one of his many homes.
We shlepped ourselves and our bags all the way from the bus terminal to the only hostel in town, called La Locura del Poeta: Eco-Hostel and Lodge, advertising “buena onda y energía positiva,” only to have Sandra, the owner, tell us dismayingly that there was no room. Our faces fell down to our toes, and I asked her desperately if she knew of any other place in town where we could stay, or camp. Immediately, her face lit up. “¿Acampar? Si, ¡yo tengo espacio para acampar!” With that, she led us to her backyard, dragged a lawn chair out of the way, and motioned triumphantly to a patch of sand beside her pool. Poolside suite for two? ¡Si, por favor! 🙂
That evening, Sandra invited us to a bread-making lesson, at which we met some of the other guests, including an adorable Chileno couple who not only took meticulous notes on everything Sandra said, but also insisted on filming the entire bread lesson, as well as the macramé lesson that followed.
The next day, Josh and I wandered the town, having lunch on Neruda’s balcony (where I finally got to have a Pisco Sour – Nerudian style!) and watching the sun go down over the waves.
We returned to Valpo, planning to leave the next day, but due to some unforeseen circumstances (click here for more details…) had to remain in Chile another week. Although our time in Chile had a rough start and an even rougher end (purse thefts and Embassies and water-borne illness, oh my!), Valpo remains the most beautiful city I have ever seen, with some of the loveliest memories.
Ps. If we needed even more reason to remember Chile fondly, guess what we found in Valpo after FIVE MONTHS of searching Argentine supermarkets high and low?
Peanut butter. Real, honest-to-goodness, “ideal para sandwiches y recetas deliciosas” peanut butter.
The real kicker? It was imported from Argentina.