Valparaiso & Viña del Mar

I think I’m more of a Thank God it’s Saturday kind of girl.  I was happy to have a day with no schedules to keep and no sitting for hours on end after a long, long week of work. 

I woke up this morning, well before the alarm I had set on the off chance I sleep in.  It was still dark out but there was no chance of my falling back asleep.  I got up and went to the breakfast room, I had a long day planned; I was going to visit Ramon and Ana in Vina del Mar.  I met Ramon and Ana on a tour in San Pedro de Atacama, we had gone to see flamingos, salt flats and lagoons up in the Andes.  Ramon told me all about Chile’s history and I picked his brain about Chilean culture.  I told him I would be in Santiago for a couple weeks for work and he invited me to Vina del Mar, which is on the coast of Chile and one of Chile’s largest wine producing regions.  He gave me instructions on which bus to take and assured me that he would be waiting for me at the bus station upon my arrival and I could spend the weekend with his family.  

Sunrise over the Andes
pretty flowers and looking down from the hotel

I stopped at the supermarket to pick up a bottle of wine and discovered, much to my disappointment, that in Chile you can’t purchase alcohol before 9 am.  So I walked to the metro station – everyone was super bundled up; it rained yesterday and the temperature drops drastically after a rainfall. I watched a girl pet a stray dog on the street, he got up, wagged his tail and followed her for as long as I could see.  I arrived at the metro station at 9:02 am, there’s a Lider Express (Walmart!) right above the Manquehue metro station.  I ran in, bought a bottle of wine and headed to the metro.

It was a long ride to Pajaritos metro station which is also a bus station but I had fun people watching.  A group of students from the US came on at one point and were loudly taking pictures of just about everything.  A couple stood nearby, infectuously in love.  A little girl sat next to her mom, with headphones that were way too big for her head and swung her feet jerkily back and forth off the metro seat.
I purchased my ticket at 9:49 for a bus departing at 9:50.  The attendant who sold me the ticket said vete al tiro  (go immediately! al tiro is a Chilenismo which David (the driver for the organization I’m working with), explained is a military term, tiro means bullet and so when someone says “go al tiro it means like at bullet-speed.  You will often hear Chileans say “I’ll bring you the check al tiro” so it means immediately, right away, etc.) The bus driver asked me if I was going to Vina, I said yes and he walked with me to the bus.  I found my way to my assigned seat and the woman sitting next to me was eating potato chips and sucking down ketchup from those little packets that you get at fast food places in between each bite.  She said you got here just in time!  I called Ramon to let him know I was on the bus and he told me he would be waiting for me upon my arrival. 
There’s this alert on the Chilean buses that beeps if the driver goes more than 100 km/h.  It’s fine if you have a bus driver who doesn’t speed, otherwise it’s obnoxious…
Santiago is about 520 m above sea level and we were heading down to sea level.  Heading down the mountain we went through the cloud line, it was so enchanting.  The highway is lined with green trees, evergreens I suppose and there are eucalyptus speckled here and there. 

from the bus, look at the clouds!!!

We passed TerraSanta, an olive oil factory, I didn’t know before this trip that Chile produced olive oil.  And good olive oil at that, I have been having it with my bread at lunch and it’s quite excellent. 

We drove through what seemed like a toll road and a cute girl got on the bus with a basket of sweets.  She walked up and down the aisle calling out what she had in her basket, alfajores, calugas de manjar…I bought a pack of calugas de manjar con nueces (a carmel that has the consistency of fudge, with walnuts) and wrapped them up to take back home. 

Ramon was calling me as I stepped off the bus, I picked up but nothing.  I hung up and went in the bus station to wait.  I figured we were running on Chilean time so I ordered a café con leche, took a seat under circling flies and called him back.  Si, Sally! Estas? (Sally! Are you here?) I told him I was and he said that he was running an errand at the pharmacy and would be at the bus station immediately after.  I people watched the people watching the futbol game on the TV in the bus station and sipped my coffee.  I finished my coffee and people watched more, security guards stood chatting to one another and a clearly not Chilean girl ran around frantically looking for a bathroom before catching her bus.  (Oh, how I can relate).  I decided to go look for a bathroom myself while I waited for Ramon.  At the end of the bus station my phone rang, Ola, Ramon.   

Sally, estoy en el terminal pero no te veo (I’m at the bus station but I don’t see you) I turned around and there was a man in the middle of the station on his cell phone.   

Ah, si, llevas un abrigo Moreno? (are you wearing a brown jacket).   

The man lifted his left arm and looked down at it, bueno, es de color café (it’s more coffee colored).  I told him to turn around, we made eye contact and hung up.  He gave me a beso and a big hug.  Ramon is a high strung man who speaks very fast, he’s full of anecdotes, stories, political commentary, you name it.  I trailed behind him, trying to keep up as we wove through people and stray dogs over to the mall where he was parked.  We ended up in a Chilean Home Depot when he remembered he needed to go to the ATM, he turned quickly to the security guard, stopping in mid-sentence and asked where he could find an ATM.   We ran up the stairs, again weaving through people and waited in line for the ATM.  A lady came up and got in front of us in line, Ramon moved forward, senorita.. I didn’t hear the rest of what he said but I imagine it to be something along the lines of there’s a line or we were waiting and he stepped in front of her.  Eventually we made it to his car and headed out.  He told me we were going to drive around Valparaiso in the morning and in the afternoon we would do Viña del Mar. 

café con leche

We drove along the Pacific Coast admiring the houses and he stopped along the way telling me stories, that building used to be a prison, over there you see was a coal refinery, the ocean at that point is 50 meters deep, there are these trees that grow here, that irritate some people’s skin, lots of stray dogs – can’t you see.  He is a talker and I enjoyed every minute of it.  We drove by his elementary school and he pointed to the second story and told me that when it rained he and his classmates used to open the windows so that they would collect water and when someone walked by underneath, they would close the window so that all the water would fall on their head.  (You know, the windows that open from the bottom at an angle).

View of Valparaiso

houses in Valparaiso

looking down a look out.  The building in the bottom center of the photo, with a big chimney used to be a garbage crematory
Our first stop, besides lookouts, was La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s house (the famous Chillean poet).  It’s a 5 story house that has been converted into a museum and still has the layout that décor that Neruda had when he lived there.  The view was spectacular and so was the layout of the house, it was like a boat with narrow stairwells and round windows like those on a boat. 
La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s house overlooking the sea

Neruda and me, deep in conversation

Next we drove up to the highest point in Valparaiso (well almost, the last bit wasn’t paved and the road was really bad). We drove up at about a 60 degree angle and I told Ramon that it reminded me of San Francisco.  The car was in 2nd gear and started to slow down about halfway up the hill, he put it in first and the car gave a little jerk as we plowed up the rest of the way.  We pulled over and took photos; we could smell empanadas baking in someone’s oven, yum… As we got back in the car Ramon told me that the women of Valparaiso are known for having strong legs from walking up the hills.  Makes sense.  He then told me about a bike race they have every year that is just downhill, (crazy) cyclists take their bikes up to the top of the hill (which would be akin to Nob Hill in SF) and soar down, whoever gets down first wins.  The difference between Valparaiso and SF is that it’s not a straight shot down to the water, it winds and turns.  Oh and to make it more fun, they set up ramps and do tricks.  Haha!
Looking out over Valparaiso from the tip-top of the city

The road leading up to the lookout.  This is where the bicyclists do their race. 
We drove down to Valparaiso proper, Ramon narrating.  We passed hole-in-the-wall markets with signs outside that read hay pan (literally, “there’s bread”).  We found a great parking spot and walked down to an Anglican Church – pretty green and Ramon commented that they have a fantastic organ inside. 
Cemetery in Valparaiso

Anglican Church in Valparaiso

Jasmine growing on a pretty hostal in Valparaiso

The houses were all bright colors and there were artists out painting and selling their work.  It reminded me of Montmartre in Paris.  As we walked, Ramon commented that they walk a lot in Valparaiso, hay mucho obesidad en los estados unidos (there’s a lot of obesity in the US).  I agreed.  He said the fall of the Roman Empire was sex and orgies, the fall of the US will be the hamburger,  with a chuckle.  He started singing a song about Valparaiso, a ballad I guess you could say.  Ramon is a porteño (a native of Valparaiso) and there are many songs written about the beautiful port city – of the nostalgic variety. 
Colorful houses, Valparaiso

poor kitty!!!

There was the “El Murcurio” building (The Valparaiso Mercury, newspaper) and the clock tower, Turri.  Across the street from the Turri clocktower, we took an “elevator” (more of a funicular) up to another paseo where we found more artists, handicrafts, stray dogs and pretty patios.  Eventually we made it back to the car and headed to his house for lunch.


Steep streets


Lookout over Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, a few blocks from Ramon’s house
Entra entra, hace mucho frio! (Come in come in, it’s so cold!) Ana called and she let out a squeal as she gave me a kiss and a big hug. I went in their house,  dodging the two dogs in the front yard.  There was an old lady sitting on the couch and Ramon introduced her as his mom.  I bent down to give her a kiss and she said “I’m Mercedes but they call me Merche”  

Encantada! Soy Sally. (Pleasure to meet you, I’m Sally) We sat down to lunch, beautifully arranged salads of lettuce, beets and olives were set on the table.  There were cut up lemons, various oils and salt to dress the salads to one’s own liking.  Merche asked me for the 6th time if I had siblings.  Ana had explained after the 4th time that her mother-in-law is 92 and forgets things. It’s the human condition (one of which, anyhow).  We went on to the next course, a chicken soup.  Ramon added merkén to his and invited me to, too.  Merkénis ground, dried, smoked ají peppers and a typical spice of Chile.  I happily added some to my soup.  Next course was turkey breast with herbs and mashed potatoes.  We sat and talked about all sorts of things, politics, Chile’s history, my life, my family, their children and grandchildren.  The table was cleared and a fruit platter emerged.  We ate fruit and then had herbal tea and kucken (cake, but it’s a German word!) that Ana had made.  I wrote down recipes in my journal as Ramon played Chilean folk music in the background.  Ramon and Ana’s nephew showed up with his son and had tea with us, they live just a few blocks up the road.  Ramon played more music for me and explained the lyrics, they were beautiful.  He got emotional listening to one that reminded him of his childhood.

Eventually we bundled up, Ramon, Ana, Merche and me and headed down to the beach at Viña del Mar; the sun was just about to set and the sky was changing color by the minute. 
Pacific Ocean, Vina del Mar

Vina del Mar


Almost sunset

sun setting over Viña del Mar

different angle of the beach, I couldn’t help but take so many pictures


The flower clock of Viña del Mar
We drove along the coast and I got more stories and anecdotes.  This time Ramon had brought a CD in the car and was playing folk music from Valparaiso, all three of them sang along, even Merche! 

I kept hearing them talking about tomar la once (literally translates to “having the 11”) and I kept thinking in my head what they were talking about?  Tomar, the verb, is usually used for eating or drinking something and 11 I thought could be elevensies but it was 7pm.  Finally I asked what tomar la once meant.  They laughed and said it was the afternoon tea or coffee.  Ramon explained why it was called eleven; during colonial times, in the afternoon the people wanted to have a drink (liquor = aguardiente) but they didn’t want their superiors know so they would say we’re going to “have the eleven” because there are eleven letters in aguardiente (aguardiente is the alcohol distilled from grapes).  Ana said in Uruguay they call it merienda, which is also what they call it in Spain.  So we went back home and tomamos la once (we had the eleven); we had tea with fresh bread and cheese and more kuchen. They recommended places to eat in Santiago, music to listen to, drinks to try and insisted I come back to visit if I am ever back in Chile.  I invited them to California and they said they would come for my wedding.  Merche asked me for the 8th time if I had a boyfriend and Ramon answered for me, no mama, ya te lo dijo varias veces (no, mom, she’s already told you that several times).  We kissed good bye and Merche kissed me three times, held both my hands and gave me blessings, saying soft prayers to my forehead. 

Eventually Ramon took me back to the bus station; we talked politics and human rights for the whole ride.  He pulled over in front of the station and got out to give me a hug and a kiss and told me to take care.

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