12 October 2014

Valparaiso and Viña del Mar

Today was filled with so much it's hard to even know where to start.  I will do my best to start from the beginning without skipping stuff.  I'm known for putting up a post then 3 hours later I remember 4 important things that i'd failed to mention.  

I woke up around 5:30am, saw how early it was then went back to sleep until 9.  Breakfast is served between 7-11, so I was aiming for 9:30-9:45 breakfast.  I wanted to let the kids sleep as much as possible and if course to get my own rest.  Dude woke up right after me and we snuggled until 9:40.  I woke up Zane they washed the faces etc. and we headed to the main dining are for breakfast.  We had scrambled eggs, toast, with ham and cheese on a side plate to allow you to combine them all into some sort of breakfast sandwich.  Made an egg and cheese sandwich. Dude had ham and cheese, no egg, And Zane put it all between bread and wolfed it down.  I also had a small yogurt.  We all had hot chocolate, with real chocolate chunks drifting around the bottom of the cup, it was the realest hot chocolate ever, not the powdered stuff from back home.  

While at breakfast I asked our host how to get to Valparaiso the famous coastal city.  Muy facil! Take the train to the pajarito station bus terminal is as you exit the station, and a bus should be leaving every 15 minutes or so.  Alrighty then!  We got dressed for the pleasant 75 degree weather and hit the streets.  After 15 quick train stops we were at the bus terminal.  As soon as we approached on if the ticket counters the lady informed us it was leaving in 2 minutes, we quickly paid and just like that we were on the bus to valparaiso!!

This was our first chance to see the. countryside outside of Santiago's metropolitan area.  The hills came one after the other, sometimes interrupted by a pasture full of cows.  It's spring time here so I the hills you can see the leafless trees filling out with a majority of the branches still bare.  On the ground however there seems to be a full throttle explosion of a yellowish- orange flower that looks like marigolds.  I'm pretty sure they aren't marigolds but from a moving charter bus they can definitely pass.  The bus was equipped with cushioned seats, TV, and a bathroom.  This wasn't the typically hand me down school bus found in many parts of the Spanish speaking world.  We were very comfortable and enjoyed the scenery.  Dude took about 300 pictures... I think he'll be a nature paparazzi photographer when he grows up!   

Toll booth

The ride took one hour and 40 minutes.  We arrived in valparaiso with me knowing only a couple of places that i wanted to see.  Nobel prize winning poet Pablo Neruda's home and the many murals found around the city.  These are pix of the market place when you first enter the city. 

Old school electric buses from the 1959s that are a symbol of valparaiso.

How I was going to see the things I mentioned above? I didn't know.  Luckily as soon as we stepped off the bus tour companies were anxiously waiting for people like us.  I nice lady quickly whisked us away to her day tour booth and gave me a run down of her 5 hour tour through the city for $30 per person.   She offered us an immediate bilingual tour that unfortunately only had 2 seats, and another tour that would start 30 minutes later with 3 seats all in Spanish.  The tour language made jo difference to us, but saving $30 did!! They agreed to send us on the bilingual 2 seat availability tour with dude riding in my lap for free.  Our tour started with a minivan of 4 Peruvians and 9 Colombians.  What was supposed to be a bilingual tour turned into the Spanish your I preferred anyway.  
Our first stop was to see the sea lions at the port.  They were the biggest, fattest, slipperiest, cuties I'd ever seen!  We climbed on the huge rocks near the sea wall and enjoyed took usies and selfies with them in the background.

Our tour guide Christian came to get us and we had a quick conversation in English about why I'm a bilingual American and why I'm teaching the kids to speak Spanish.  Christian living in California for a whole and fully understood the advantage of being bilingual and asked that we speak to him in English to help him practice and keep the language fresh in his brain. 
Our next stop was the home of Pablo Neruda.  I studied his poetry as a Spanish major in college.  I never thought I'd actually get to see the view, city, and country that inspired his literary masterpieces.  

Our very funny tour guide Christian

Picture with a statue of Pablo Neruda

We didn't go into the home but we took pictures around it.  This quote by Neruda perfectly explains this city "valparaiso grabbed me, she subjected me to her will, to her absurdity: valparaiso is a mess, a cluster of crazy houses.  I don't think there is a better way to describe this city's informality and spontaneity.  It like houses were built in the crevasses of the mountains using a deck multi-colored playing cards.  It's seems once a house got old and frail they would just build its replacement on top of the dilapidated cliff- hanging structure.  What?! Now what would make a city like this ridiculous in any other part of the world to see this in a country known for its record setting earthquakes it just really seemed perhaps... Suicidal!  With its intriguing beauty and detail I could absolutely see the charm that took this dearly loved poet hostage. 

While waiting for the other to board the tour bus our guide introduced us to a couple of tourist who were passing by and who I assumed he just met within the last day or so.  2 Spanish speaking African-American from DC and California.  It's great meeting other travelers who belong to the under represented demographic of black travelers.  They were interested in why Chile and why with the kids?  You already know how those answers go... We are world travelers, explorers everywhere is on our list, but this time the time was right for Chile.  They seemed satisfied enough with that answer so we bid our farewells and headed to our next destination while they went to pay their respects to señor Neruda. 

Our next stop was lunch at a restaurant called cafe postales, post card cafe.  Let me tell you how perfect this was.  Last night I filled out the postcards and made sure to carry them with me in case I passed a post office during the day.  Post offices close at 1 pm on Saturdays so I missed my chance to send mine off.  Yes perfect part was that the restaurant sold postcards and stamps and had a drop box.  With our meal I purchased the last 12 stamps get had, put them on my 12 postcards and dropped them in the box for pick up on monday!  Woohoo my cards will be sent! Every thing was exact to get the job done, I always see things like this as a positive sign.  Our lunch was delicious and accompanied by popular old and new salsa merengue and bachata songs.  For lunch Zane had grilled fish and fries, dude had a plate of fries that he barely touched because he'd been eating pizza flavored Doritos during our stroll around Neruda's give store residence.  I asked for a typical
Chilean meal and was served pastel de choco.  Unlike it's name is was not a pastel or cake, it was a corn gumbo mix of yummy ingredience.  What I can only describe and a very corn kernally cream corn stew filled with ground beef, a hard boiled egg, a few olives, a tiny chicken wing and drum stick, all baked over in cheese.  It was creamy thick and GOOD! I ate it all leaving those 3 olives and chicken bones in my aftermath.  

Right across from the restaurant was an overlook spot to look over the extremely busy huge port.  According to Christian (our hilarious guide) the post was on of the biggest in South America until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.  After that it recuperated some but then was hit again 10 years ago when it became outdated compared to new high tech barges coming in.  The government had to privatize then port and the company bought in the cranes and tech power need to get it up and running again.   After lunch we drive around the city and looked at various landmarks, important building and statues.  The early post-colonial history of valparaiso consisted in many European settlers.  Each nationality had their own district.  The Italians had an area where street signs were in Italian even the architecture looked like Italy.  The Germans, British, and French did the same in their districts.  

Pastel de choclo

Our next stop was to the neighboring city Viña del mar this was more like a west palm beach than the crazy cliff-hanging valparaiso.  High rise condos over looking the Pacific Ocean, a casino, high end restaurants, etc. the driver let us out to see an old palace that was destroyed by the 2010 earth quake and another stop to get our feet wet in the very cold beach water.  

Pic of the flower clock in Viña del Mar.

By now it was about 6:30 pm and we still had a 1 hour 45 minute bus ride back to santiago.  Some of our new tour van friends decided to find a hotel and stay in viña del mar.  While the rest of us were dropped off at the bus station.  My original return ticket was from valparaiso to Santiago but then bus company had no problem changing it for me with extra costs.  By 7:20 we were on the bus back to Santiago.  

Here is a cute video about adjusting to close cultures.  To sum up the video the guy seated in front if me reclined his seat until he was almost in my lap.  Latino cultures are close, stranger touch you like you're family, it's just how it is. But I had to take a video of this funny moment to share with you all.  

Other than my new BFF sleeping in my lap? The ride was pretty uneventful,  we arrived at the same train station that we'd departed from and once again ran into the Peruvian family that was on the valparaiso tour with us.  We chatted for a long time.  They loved that i travel with the kids, that they are bilingual etc.  as more people boarded the train they joined in the conversation. "You're American?!" "How do you speak Spanish to well?!" "How do you get your hair like that?" "Can I touch it?!" "Your children are so good-looking" "you are beautiful".. Chiiiiile (that's the Ebonics "child" not the country we are visiting "chile")'you would have though I was Beyoncé traveling with two miniature Barack Obamas.  I don't take offense though.  I try to imagine my reaction if I saw once of those intriguing Asian women with the 30 plus necklaces  stretching  their necks to impossible lengths.  I'd be even worse then the curious (polite) crowd we encountered.  I'd ask to touch... "Can you out a ring in my neck" "how long do you wear it" "do you take them off to wash your neck!" "Uh, do you wash your neck" may questions would be numerous and invasive. For real.  But like these people it would be from curiosity not hatred, not to degrade or to confirm my superiority but our of sheer awe at the spectrum of existence across the human experience.  One lady was so happy to have her questioned answered that she kisses our cheeks (customary greeting and departure in Latin America) before getting of the train.  
As pointed out to me by a fellow black traveller who has experienced this same type of attention while traveling, "we are the only people on the planet with tightly curled hair.  Europeans, Asians, native Americans all have straight straight hair.  When they see our hair that literally defies gravity, they can help but want to touch it.  Our hair is truly something special."

We arrived at the BNB by 10ish.  The housekeeper Gladys was up waiting for us and quickly served us tea.  I sat and talked to her for over an hour, while the kids watch TV in the room.  Gladys deserves her own post to you will have to read my next entry to learn her story.

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