Easter Is isn't in Santiago so why am I there?

Thursday, January 26, 2012
Valparaiso, Valparaíso, Chile
Who after sitting in buses and minivans for nearly 7 weeks will want to spend another day in a bus? Let me explain. Mid December, I had on my way heading north to Ecuador spent 5 hours exploring most of the central and really compact Santiago CBD area.

With a forecast high of mid 30’s degrees today, this was not what I had wanted to be doing - walking the streets and window shopping simply to pass time. So after checking in last night to Gallerias Hotel, the bellboy had arranged even at the late hour of after 10 pm phoned Turis Tour bus and managed to get me one of the last seats for an all day 9 to 10 hours trip costing 33,000 peso / US$66, out to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso which is out on the coast.

With me being the first pick up, it was a bonus for me to see other parts of Santiago as the bus collected the other hotel passengers. Soon we were herded (nicely) onto the different buses and vans for their various tours. Mine left for the 144 km drive and 90 min drive along Ruta 68 to firstly Vina del Mar which is next to Valparaiso.

The Turis Tour brochure had tempted me with ....
Our "Garden city", Viña del Mar, will charm us with its architecture, its streets, Carrasco Palace, and Quinta Vergara.

We´ll have the possibility to know a Moai from Easter Island and a handcraft store of lapizlasuli (Faba).

We'll drive the coastal border and visit the port city of Valparaiso which goes back to 1536. The city was declared World Heritage by Unesco and it´s currently the sit of the legislative power of Chile.

We ´ll visit La Sebastiana, the house and museum of the Nobel Prize Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, located in one of the 45 hills of the city.

Finally down to the city centre and Sotomayor Square.

Valparaiso is a magical place of unique and unforgettable landscapes with colorful neighborhoods and picturesque funicular elevators.

I had read other articles about Valparaiso being older than Santiago, seen some pictures of this old port town and the old funicular elevators so why not ….

Now for the useless information time:
- Santiago sits in a bowl between the Andes and Coastal range.

- It is ideally suited to grow vegetables and wine in this part of the central valley.

- BTW (by the way) Chile earns 60% of its export through copper.

- The climate allows the area to receive 7 months of sunshine with rain in the winter months. But with El Nina, it has been dry for 3 years now with the water table dropping and it is only through irrigation that the agriculture and viticulture industry has survived.

Passing a disused copper mine it was through a tunnel then passing two valleys with the first in fruit and vegetables.

The second was the Casablanca wine growing valley. Chile produces 3 main types of wine: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

Valparaiso and Vina del Mar finally came into view. 

Valparaiso a port city (founded in 1536) is considered to be the older working place area.

Next door, Vina del Mar (founded in 1888) has become a holiday destination. A population of 350,000 swells to 1.2 million in the summer season. I can see why. 

In many ways Vina del Mar was how a hillside Surfers Paradise would look without the theme parks (yet). Yes, high rises stacked one on top of another. Many apartments are rented out for the busy December / January period with enough incentive to pay the owners to move out and earn enough income the rest for the year.

Vina del Mar still has a strong British and German influence (schools and archeture).

First stop was Vergana Park with the palace that needs funds to restore it.

The 12,000 seat amphitheater was being set up for another summer performance. I can see why it is called "monster of Vina del Mar" as the audience is so close and kind of surrounds the performers.

Back on board the bus and passing downtown with the underground metro, old and once 5 star O'Higgins hotel, Carrasco Palace and finally in front of the Fonck Museum we stopped for our photo with a genuine Easter Island moai or stone statute.

Across the road was the obligatory tour craft store visit but no signs told me that photos were not allowed.

More street scenes as we drove along the coast passing the various shore naval base presence ....

By now ones stomach was rumbling so the 90 minute lunch stop at Renaca beckoned us and was welcomed. I opted for the tourist set lunch menu for 10,000 pesos (NZ$25 or US$20). Being by the sea it had to be the fish base option: sea food consume soup, grilled fish, rice, beer and then ice cream plus to my surprise a pisco sour was also part of the package.

A short time to dip my toes in the cool Pacfiic Ocean. The water is 9 - 12 C all year round due to the Humbolt Current. I reflected how I had missed the sea air and breeze plus ocean waves after these few weeks being away from it. Having some form of water around me kind of is important to me.

I was lucky to have the coast by my window as we drove towards Valparaiso (Valley of Paradise). Sorry about the window reflection or trees / power line / bus window frame that are in some of the photos. It did remind me of an older Surfers Paradise with the high rises and general beach activity.

The bus passed through a bit of Valparaiso down town. 

Then climbed up the windy narrow streets passing the houses that seemed to be built both right on the street front and also ontop of each other towards La Sebastiana and one of the Chilean Nobel Prize poet Pablo Neruda homes. This is now a museum. Having never heard of him, I opted not to pay the little bit extra (NZ$10) but insteadwandered the local streets of the Bella Vista suburb absorbing the colourful artwork adorning the buildings.

A short ride took us to the start of a 40 minute DOWNHILL walk. Started at "7 corners" where 6 roads meet. No time to set up the Olympus for a panoromic view of this intersection. Our group followed a winding route down towards the Atkinson and Gervasoni viewpoint / walk which has marvellous views over downtown Valparaiso. One feels like you are standing right on top of the downtown buildings. Thank goodness it was also fine and not windy.

This whole walk and brief glimpse of Valpariso reminded me of the pastel colours of the buildings and colouful street art life of Caminito and the La Boca district of Buenos Aires, Argentina seen last year. That is why I probably took so many photos today.

In the distance Esmeralda was moored. This is the world's second tallest 48.5 m and at 113 m longest sailing ship. It was launched in 1953. The Esmeralda is no stranger to Auckland's Waitemata harbour of past years.

The end of the walk was taking a short ride down in the Concepcion elevator. It cost us less than a dollar for this ride. Click onto the 30 sec video and join me for the ride down. Only 3 of the 25 elevators remain working connecting the 45 hill suburbs. A shame I hope more will be restored.

Finally we reached Sotomayor Square and at 5 pm it was soon time to board back onto the bus for our ride back to Santiago but not before one more view of the Pacfic Ocean.

Mmmm ... New Zealand and home is just over there.

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