Chile: Valparaiso *Street Art*

Valparaiso is located two hours to the west of Santiago on the Pacific Ocean. The city is wedged into the hillside along the coast. We had a fantastic time walking up and down the myriad of staircases and windy alleyways to explore different neighborhoods.

Valpo used to be a booming seaport, but things changed drastically for the worse when the Panama Canal opened in 1914. Since ships no longer needed to cross the Straights of Magellan when sailing from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Valparaiso took a huge financial hit.

Efforts have been made over the past 15 years to bring Valparaiso back to life. Home to many artists and universities, the city feels very bohemian with all the colorful artwork, murals and brightly painted houses. There were surprises around every corner!


Chile: Santiago

The bus ride from Pucon to Santiago was 11 hours north. We opted to make the trip during the day instead of overnight and I’m pleased to say that we survived without any drama. We’ve actually become rather efficient bus travelers at this point. The most noteworthy thing that happened was that I stayed awake about half the time, crazy I know. Harry actually had someone to talk to!

Santiago, the Capitol of Chile

Santiago is a huge metropolitan region surrounded by the Andes. Our taxi driver said that the Andes are actually IN the city, and after spending 12 days here we know what he meant. There are several large hills in the city that offer fantastic views that were much appreciated after the effort it took to walk to the top. However, Santiago, which is essentially in a bowl surrounded by the mountains, has a serious issue with smog. Every day we remarked how amazing the views would be without as much pollution.


Rested, Relaxed + Recharged

We stayed in a great little airbnb apartment while we were here. It was so nice to unpack and settle in. Going grocery shopping and cooking meals was a luxury we haven’t had since Buenos Aires. Spending so much time here allowed us to explore different parts of the city at a slower pace. We were also able to do lots of research and planning.

City Life

We became quite adept at using the Metro and zipped around to all corners of the city in addition to exploring by foot. With seven million people living here, Santiago is crowded, loud and full of energy. We visited museums, walked through parks and explored different neighborhoods. We were lucky to experience the impressive “changing of the guard” ceremony at the presidential palace. We were blown away by the scale of the city’s cemetery, which sits on over 210 acres of land and is home to ornate mausoleums and statues. We also took a few day trips outside the city, including Pomaire, which is the Chile’s ceramic’s capital, and the port city of Valparaiso.

There were fruit stands all over the city and we quickly got into the habit of buying fruit cups and fresh juice. We loved the fact that Chileans put avocados on everything! We ate more than our fill of perfectly ripe, inexpensive avocados.


Market Madness

Santiago is known for its massive, bustling markets where you can buy anything from meat, fruit and vegetable to socks, batteries and nose hair trimmers. We went there on two different days because there was so much to take in. Streets and alleyways seemingly went on for miles. Vendors were selling wholesale to restaurants as well as retail to all walks of life. If the aisles weren’t packed enough with people crammed side-by-side, many folks were also pulling a wheeled-cart behind them to carry their goods. The stray dogs and little kids running underfoot just added to the frenzy of it all. As crazy as the scene felt to us the first day we were there, by our second visit we understood the energy a little bit more and could tap our feet to the rhythm of the jumbled market dance.

Have you ever wondered how a side of beef gets from the truck into the market stall? Well, now you know. I’m sure they don’t pay that guy nearly enough!


The Missing Chilean Flag

You might have noticed that in blogging about Argentina I included a lot of pictures of the Argentinean flag. I couldn’t help but notice that the Chilean flag is rarely seen around the city. We found out the reason is because during Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990) so many protests included the flag that it became more a symbol of rebellion than of national pride. Therefore, Pinochet banned citizens from displaying the flag except on three holidays a year when it’s mandatory to display it. He also made it difficult to change laws, which is why this one is still in effect today.


Speaking of Argentina, we’re crossing the Andes and heading back there tomorrow (April 13). First stop is Mendoza… we heard there might be some Malbec there. Adios, Chile!


Chile: Pucon *Active Volcano*

Chile is Argentina’s neighbor to the west. The two countries are divided by the volcanic Andes from north to south. Chile is a long, narrow land mass with its widest point only 217 miles from east to west. Even though I’ve loved my time in Argentina, I was excited to experience something new.

As the crow flies we’ve been really close to Chile several times the past month, but officially crossing over the Andes takes some planning as there aren’t that many bus-worthy roads connecting the two countries.

We decided to use San Martin de los Andes, Argentina, as the launching pad for us to enter Chile. Our first destination was Pucon, five hours northwest by bus. The old man who sold Harry the bus tickets winked as he assigned us seats on the left side of the aisle because he knew we’d be staring out the window at the amazing volcanic mountain Lanin for hours.


Immigration: No Meat Allowed

The reason the bus ride took five hours was because we had to stop at two different immigration centers. The first time we got an exit stamp from Argentina, which we needed because our ninety-day stay was almost up (I know, can you believe it?). Now our slate is cleared and we can spend another ninety days in Argentina if we choose.

The second stop was at the Chile immigration center. We’d been reading how Chile has really strict laws against bringing any food into the country. Normally we bring lots of snacks on our bus rides, but not this time. We made sure our food bag was empty before we got on the bus. Apparently this young Israeli guy didn’t do his homework because, under the instruction of an immigration officer, he reached into his backpack and pulled out a raw steak. I’m not kidding! Everyone standing in line burst out laughing while he looked bummed about having to throw away his dinner.


Pucon + Volcano Villarrica

A go-to destination for outdoor adventure activities of all kinds, Pucon is a thriving tourist town during the summer and winter months. We were more than happy to be there during its tranquil off-season. Surrounded by the volcanic Andes, Pucon is a beautiful place. We spent a few days taking local buses to the outskirts of town for hikes and walks. We spent an afternoon at a beautiful mountain lake one day, and on another day we bathed in some nearby hot springs. But honestly the most exciting part of staying in Pucon was was being surrounded by the smoke-breathing Volcano Villarrica!

Three weeks before we arrived Volcano Villarrica, one of South America’s most active volcanoes, blew its top after 30 years of dormancy. The explosion didn’t hurt anyone or damage any of the surrounding towns but it sure created a lot of excitement. The volcano is the region’s showpiece, visible from every angle. Everywhere we went we stared off into the not-so-distant sky to see if it was smoking or not; its behavior seemed to change hourly. Locals stood on street corners looking at Villarrica with awe, respect and fear, wondering if, or when, it would blow again.

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Up Next: The Big City of Santiago

After spending the last month on the road, we had a hankering to spend some extended time in one location. We’ve both come to realize that we prefer to stay in places longer rather than moving about every three or four days. Santiago seemed like the right choice so we booked bus tickets for an 11 hour journey north.