Although this may sound weird, it has been a bit of a culture shock coming out of San Pedro de Atacama to Valparaíso. While obviously still in Chile, and also still a tourist destination, Valparaíso is predominately a working class port city whose most notable feature for our visit will be experiencing tear gas for the first time (at least remnants of tear gas from 12 hours earlier… more on this below).
From San Pedro de Atacama we took an airport shuttle to Calama. Calama is a rather small airport (there were literally no planes anywhere on the tarmac when we arrived two hours before our flight) and I had to resort to the classic vegetarian option for a grab and go lunch: cheese & ham sandwich with the ham peeled off. But it was also home to our $30 flight (baggage included) to Santiago. Yes, you heard that right. It only cost $30 for a 90 minute flight! If you’re booking a trip to Chile, make sure to check out JetSmart.
Before arriving in Valparaíso, I knew it was hilly, but I also knew it was along the coast. I hadn’t been able to go for a run since Lima, and I was really looking forward to another coastal run. If you have a coast, that means there has to be at least one flat-ish runnable path…right? Well, kind of. When we arrived Monday night, I asked our Airbnb host: “Es seguro para correr al lado del mar?” Her response was hesitant… “Pues, hay un huelgo…no se la palabra en ingles, pero cuando los trabajadores no trabajan. Como los Franceses!” I confirmed that “huelgo” does indeed mean strike and Dom and I chuckled at France’s international reputation. So I set off Tuesday morning hesitant but determined. While I was completely safe, I did confine myself to the same 1.1km stretch of sidewalk to avoid crossing the dozens of police in riot gear.
Valparaíso is divided into 41 “cerros”, or hills, with the two most touristy ones called Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción. We spent Tuesday afternoon wandering around those neighborhoods, admiring the street art and brightly colored hillside homes. The street art actually has its roots in the 1960s when Salvador Allende, then an aspiring politician and native Porteño (someone from Valparaíso), used his bohemian neighborhood as a canvas for political statements. Although there was a complete ban on street art during Augusto Pinochoet’s rule from 1970-1989, the porteños brought it back with the Museo a Cielo Abierto in the 1990s and the art has blossomed in the past 15 years.
Wednesday morning we headed to Plaza Sotomayor to begin our Offbeat Valparaíso walking tour. About ten minutes into our walk, my nose began to burn and eyes began to sting. I noticed other pedestrians holding their shirts over their nose and mouth and turned to Dom, “So, is this what tear gas feels like?” We both assumed as such, and our assumption was confirmed when we found our tour guide in the plaza. Apparently the workers had not come to an agreement with Terminal Pacifico Sur, so naturally that meant police threw tear gas. (More on the strikes via Reuters.)
Needless to say, our tour group was very excited once we boarded local transportation (dubbed the roller-coaster bus by Porteños) and ascended into the hills for the rest of our tour.
The walking tour was great and our guide fantastic. Fun fact: our guide actually lived in Utah from age nine to 14. “It was actually hard coming back to Valparaíso since Valparaíso is so liberal and Utah has a lot of Mormons,” she explained to us. Outside an old prison turned cultural center, she also explained that Pinochet’s dictatorship is barely taught in Chilean public schools. She only had one class on it when she was 15! I suppose it is hard teaching relatively recent history, especially when, according to her, about half the country still looks back fondly on his rule.
After the tour, we headed back to our Airbnb and had a quiet night in. There were supposedly going to be more riots, so I was happy to use that as an excuse…not that I really needed one 😉
I’m about to break the narrative of this post, but I just want to share a few observations I’ve had in Chile thus far:
- Pico de gallo is served with bread at restaraunts, and it is fantastic. America should definitely catch on to this.
- Everything in grocery stores is packaged in bags here–pasta sauce, large quantities of yogurt, etc. It’s as if cans, jars and bottles are superfluous.
- Rice is so much better here (this was true of Peru too). Plain rice has a lot more flavor than plain rice in the states.
- Restaurants usually have salt on the table, but no pepper. As Dom said: “That’s because they need the pepper for their spray!”
Well, I should now pack up my stuff so we can hop on a bus back to Santiago, where we will be staying through Boxing Day. Hope everyone has a lovely Christmas…more from me later!