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Chile: The Beginning of Our Vacation…from “Our Vacation”

by Dave
March 12-16

 

¡Estamos en America del Sur! ¡Finalmente! That’s Spanish… for “We are in South America! Finally!”

It’s been a long time comin’, and in addition to the thrill of being able to practice more of that brilliant Spanish I just showed you, this leg of the trip started off with a little extra incentive. Two of our friends from home, Caitlin and Jeff, would join us to begin our tour of the continent with stops in Chile and Argentina.

We treated it as a vacation, Jeff and Caitlin were all business.

We treated it as a vacation, Jeff and Caitlin were all business.

We often referred to this as the vacation portion of our trip. “That is hogwash. You guys are on a year-long vacation,” you may say. But that’s not exactly accurate. Yes, we are traveling for a year and traveling on a non-work-related trip usually equates to vacation. But not always. Follow me… 

When you are on a vacation, do you ever wake up in the morning not knowing where you’re sleeping that night? Do you get downright giddy at the thought of access to a hot water shower? Do you pray that your toilets are more than just holes in the ground? And do you typically have an income that’s replenishing your bank account as you travel? My guess is you answered “yes” to most or all of those questions. In our case, the answer is often “no” to many if not all of those. Don’t get us wrong – we are not looking for sympathy here. We’re aware of how fortunate we are to be taking a trip like this and seeing all the places we’re seeing. But my point is that we were finally on the cusp of what we had budgeted as a “treat. yo. self.” portion of the trip.

These two with us two.

These two with us two.

Enter Jeff and Caitlin (until they make things official with the same last name this November, we’ll smash up their last names and refer to them with their preferred current moniker: the Immelways). The Immelways had been planning on visiting us ever since we set off on this journey, and after landing on South America as our rendezvous destination the anticipation was palpable. (EDITOR’S NOTE: He may or may not be referring to my “happy dance” routine that frequented the days before Caitlin’s long – and not always patiently – awaited arrival.)

Our first couple stops on this glorious vacation were in Chile. For those of you who may not think of yourselves as geography buffs or map whizzes (I’m looking at you, Noelle) (EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s not supposition. It’s a fact, babe. I get lost in Lincoln Park.), think of Chile as the strip of fat on the side of the ribeye that is Argentina. It provides some flavor, but it’s often just disregarded in favor of the meaty part.

 

The surprisingly sprawling Santiago skyline.

We begin in Santiago, the capital city of this strip of fat coastal country that serves as home to more than a quarter of the Chilean population. What can I say about this city that can’t be summed up with a yawn? Friendly people, clean, easy to navigate and quick to feel familiar, Santiago’s charm lies in its underwhelming comfort. You can walk around the city and feel like you’ve just picked it out of a grab bag of big cities, but I don’t really mean that in a bad way. That might sound harsh, but a must-see destination it definitely is not.

Exploring the hills of Santiago.

Exploring the hills of Santiago. We may or may not have underprepared for this unexpectedly steep hike.

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Dos Amigos. Mucho sweat.

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While the ladies, of course, stay cool.

A look out over Santiago's smoggy skyline from Cerro San Cristobal.

A look out over Santiago’s smoggy skyline from Cerro San Cristobal.

After our breathless hike to the top, we opted for a ride on the funicular down.

After our breathless hike to the top, we opted for a ride on the funicular down.

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Enjoying the ride. In hindsight this may have been a better option on the way up.

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There isn’t even a caption for what this is.

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Post hike snack. Normal: Hot dogs are a popular street food. Not normal: The serving style is heaped with mountains of mayonnaise and guacamole (not that it deterred Jeff).

During our two days and nights in this unforgettably forgettable city we walked, we sweat (see: genetics), we enjoyed some sidewalk beverages and most importantly, caught up quickly with the Immelways, making our ten months away feel like no more than ten days in no time.

Mercado Central, Santiago’s fish market. Also a good place for a seriously fresh seafood lunch. Try Tio Willy’s.

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Oh these little guys? I wouldn’t worry about these little guys.

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Colorful stroll through a local market.

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What we first thought was over fertilized corn proved to just be a popular variety of corn that produces large, chewy kernels, served with many local dishes.

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In retrospect, it seems odd that none of us were worried about the fruit vendor holding a knife to my neck. It’s all fun and games until someone gets shanked.

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A pop-up market set up on a bridge sold everything from watches to shoes and veggies to radios. Caitlin accurately dubbed it, “Santiago CostCo.”

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A view down the cafe and bar riddled main street in the Bellavista neighborhood.

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Cause we’re the three best friends that anyone could have.

 

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After the quick stopover, it was off to Valparaiso. This coastal city comes complete with street art, sea views and grit for days. Pablo Neruda, the famous poet who called this place home once wrote, “Valparaiso, how absurd you are… you haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you.”

It’s a good description of the city that looks and sounds discombobulated and chaotic, but after spending time there you quickly realize that there’s an infectious method to the madness.

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A view up the hills of Valparaiso.

The city emulates a giant color palette, with building walls, sidewalks and pretty much any outer surface marked with street art and graffiti. Unlike many other places we’ve seen with frustratingly annoying graffiti (the always classy:  “’[INSERT INITIALS] were here” signs on ancient statues), Valparaiso’s street art helps provide its identity.

A local artist at work.

A local artist at work.

Even the approach to the art is a universally accepted practice followed by everyone – artists will find a wall, sidewalk or other surface they’d like to paint, ask the nearby tenants if they’ll approve, and upon getting verbal permission they’ll get to work. It makes sense when you think about it – the last thing you’d want to happen to your hard work is for someone to whitewash it or cover it up somehow. We went a little nuts with the photos of all the art, but here’s a snapshot of some of the work around town:

Street Views starry night copy

Street Views wine copy

Street Views Jeff copy

Street Views spongebob copy

Street Views graffiti copy

Street Views graffiti 2 copy

Street Views clown copy

Street Views bug copy

Street Views marilyn copy

Street Views alien copy

Street View tiger copy

Our home base for three nights in this eclectic city provided amazing views and a good, central location to explore from. Valparaiso has become a popular spot for tourists and Chileans alike – since Chile’s dictatorship rule ended in 1990, the population has steadily increased to 700k, nearly double the number that lived there 24 years ago. The city itself is set on a wide hill and for generations there were funiculars set up around the city to help climb the hills between neighborhoods. Many were in service as recently as five years ago until tragedy struck with a devastating 8.8 magnitude earthquake (the sixth largest earthquake on record since the turn of the 20th century) that rocked 80% of Chile, leaving over 500 casualties in its wake.

A sunrise view from our balcony.

A sunrise view from our balcony.

A foggier morning from the same balcony

A foggier morning from the same balcony

Late breakfast of empanadas on our balcony. Yeah, I said breakfast. Why?

Late breakfast of empanadas at home. Yeah, I said breakfast. Why?

We secured the empanadas by employing a special signal at the barred doors of a hole in the wall. You could say we're empanada ninjas.

We secured the empanadas by employing a special signal at the barred wooden doors of a hole in the wall. You could say we’re empanada ninjas.

Guys, quick. Strike a pose.

Jeff. Like a boss.

Luckily, this portion of the story finishes with a happy ending, where rebuilding has been underway and the busy port that Valparaiso’s economy revolves around is back in full service. However, the funiculars are the one major part of the city that has yet to be fixed. Hence our winding, sweaty hike up the massive, steep hill (luggage strapped to our backs) to our beautiful apartment upon arrival. We’ve become accustomed to these wonderful missteps that budget travel lends itself– aka our insistence against a taxi – the Immelways were not. We’re still sorry.

Proud to have made it to the top, sweat and all.

Proud to have made it to the top, sweat and all.

An unused funicular track. Thanks for nothing, funicular.

Thanks for nothing, broken funicular.

(Sidenote: Unfortunately, it seems as though the city can’t catch a break. After dodging another earthquake bullet weeks ago when a 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck off the northern coast of Chile, Valparaiso has been fighting off perhaps the worst fire in the city’s history” in recent days.)

Our continued exploration led us through the vibrant city as we visited Pablo Neruda’s home and wandered the narrow streets of the colorful neighborhoods.

One of our many uphill hikes.

One of our many uphill hikes.

Hey, sweet thang.

Hey, sweet thang.

Chile!

Viva la Chile!

The happily engaged couple.

The happily engaged couple, looking out over the city from Pablo Neruda’s house.

Another "candid" shot. Noelle's favorites every time.

Girl talk in Pablo’s garden.

See how happy they are?

See how happy they are?

Us on the other hand.... just trying to rekindle the flame.

Us on the other hand…. just trying to rekindle the flame.

Salud!

Salud!

Cityscape at night.

Cityscape at night.

Monument in Plaza Sotomayor in the heart of the city.

Monument in Plaza Sotomayor in the heart of the city.

The ladies at Plaza Sotomayor.

The ladies at Plaza Sotomayor.

In between all the wanderings around town we did to take in the views and art around town, we found a few great restaurants for some memorable meals, but our best food may have come from our own efforts.

Following the lead of our trusty cook/leader/possible-MMA-fighter-on-the-side Vlad, we spent a day learning about Chilean cuisine and rolling up our sleeves for our attempt at making a few dishes ourselves. After a visit to the local market to pick up our vegetables, fruit, fish and other ingredients, we headed uphill to an unassuming kitchen on an unassuming side street to get to work.

For those of you who no habla español... cebolla is spanish for onion.

For those of you who no habla español… cebolla is spanish for onion.

Muchas verduras, si?

Muchas verduras, si?

So thoughtful of this stray cat to keep the goods warm.

Yes, stray cat. We would love it if you would sit atop the fresh fruit we were going to buy. Muchas gracias.

Freshly caught fish for our ceviche

Freshly caught fish for our ceviche

More good stuff fresh from the sea.

More good stuff fresh from the sea.

We came here to do two things: drink wine, and prepare food. And it appears... oh, it looks like you put wine glasses in our hand. Cool, thanks.

We came here to do two things: prepare some food and drink some pisco sours. And it looks like we’re all out of… oh, it looks like you put pisco sours in our hands. Cool, thanks.

Noelle playing to her strengths.

Noelle playing to her strengths.

Things got started with a quick wine tasting, where we were given samples of a few regional reds and whites, including Chile’s signature wine, Carmenere (Chile happens to be the only place in the world Carmenere grapes are able to grow, much to the chagrin of the French). Over the course of the next few hours we would slice, dice, mix, stir and watch a little bit of everything as we prepped a four-course meal complete with wine pairings and a pisco sour (because Chile).

Jeff doing the smart thing and watching the one person there who graduated from culinary schooll.

Jeff doing the smart thing and watching the one person there who graduated from culinary school.

The master studying the pupil.

The master studying the pupil.

Totally not crying while cutting onions. Zero tears.

Owning an onion.

Vlad either telling Caitlin how to pick apart a fish filet for ceviche or how to pick apart an opponent in the octagon. Anyone's guess.

Vlad either telling Caitlin how to pick apart a fish filet for ceviche or how to pick apart an opponent in the octagon. Anyone’s guess.

Noelle cut this tomato. But only after setting up a photo, of course.

Noelle (claims to have) cut this tomato. But only after setting up a photo, of course.

Ingredients for our empanadas -- hardboiled egg, beef and olives.

Ingredients for our empanadas — hardboiled egg, beef and olives.

The finished product.

The finished product.

Nom.

Nom.

And a little bit of pebre to add some flavor. More nom.

And a little bit of pebre (Chilean salsa) to add some flavor. Mas nom.

Second course -- ceviche with freshly cut amazing local avocados.

Second course — ceviche with freshly cut amazing local avocados.

Third course -- corn-based casserole. There's corn in there, along with a heap of butter, sugar, salt, a little basil and one lonely olive.

Third course — corn-based casserole. There’s corn in there, along with a heap of butter, sugar, salt, a little basil and one lonely olive.

Dessert -- a drunken pear. Peal the pear, cook it in a red wine sauce, drizzle it with some sort of dessert-like sauce... who knows, but it was amazing.

Dessert — a drunken pear. Peal the pear, cook it in a red wine sauce, drizzle it with some sort of dessert-like sauce… who knows, but it was amazing.

And of course, the ever-present pisco sour.

And of course, the ever-present pisco sour.

Three extremely late nights and many bottles of wine later, our time here was done sooner than we would have liked. Lucky for us, it was only the halfway point of the Immelway visit. Next up: Mendoza, Argentina to sample some more red wine and plenty of red meat.

What do you think?

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  1. Que Syrah Syrah: Our Mendoza Romance | Best Kind of Lost reblogged this and added:

    […] It started in Chile. We had fallen head over heels for our travel partners, Caitlin and Jeff, and we were ready to bring it to the next level as we hit the Mendoza border. […]