I loved Valdivia. Not in spite of, but because of the damp, misty weather. I loved the fish market we stumbled upon and the sea lions that surprised us. I loved the historical museum with the attendant who let us dry our shoes on the hot radiators (and this after her finding we had sneakily placed them there without asking. I am ashamed of this – really! – but my feet were just so wet).
One afternoon we took a tour boat. With a cold beer in hand and damp air around us, we rode slowly for a couple of hours through a hazy landscape of autumn foliage and mirror-like water. We got to an island somewhere, with an abandoned house that had been damaged first by earthquake and then by fire. We drank some homemade herb-flavored alcohol and then got back on the boat and stopped at a tiny village where we went into a wooden church. It was almost dark by this time and an old lady was selling miniature marzipan fruit outside as we left.
I could say that I don’t remember any concrete facts because it happened over a year ago. Or maybe it’s because of the dream-like landscape or the garbled Chilean Spanish.
Catch a boat at the Feria Fluvial, 8,000 Chilean pesos per person for a four hour tour.
Santiago was meant to be the place we would stop our travels and live. It’s big and cosmopolitan, with a nice subway, international restaurants, cheap student bars, and old buildings hidden away among mostly modern constructions. It’s the least intimidating and the easiest to deal with as a visitor. But it just didn’t feel right for us when we arrived. Of all the capital cities we’ve visited, it felt the least South American.
In Chile, fast food (burgers, hotdogs, sandwiches) usually involves mayonnaise and mashed avocado. Not as a sauce, side or dressing, though. No, here they are more like fillings. Whilst a quarter-pounder of avocado isn’t so bad, that much mayonnaise is just gross (and this coming from the girl who puts mayonnaise on everything).
So we avoided fast food in Chile. Even though it was tempting to order an ‘ass’ just to find out what it was. Instead, good old google came up with the answer: it’s an odd spelling of ‘as’ which means ‘ace’. So there you go. Next time you’re in Chile you can order one knowing its the best choice of hotdog swimming in mayonnaise that you’ll ever get.
We spent two weeks farm-sitting in Olmué, a couple of hours outside of Santiago. We learned how to live by ourselves without external entertainment (although we did find a DVD player during the second week) And at the pace of life dictated by the farm’s needs. In theory, we got an education in how to make hand-made organic wine – but sadly our efforts in this area were not too successful. By trial and error we discovered how to cook meals from absolute scratch, without any kind of processed or pre-packaged ingredient. I also learned that dogs will go crazy for peas.
See here and here for more of what we got up to.
Our volunteering was set-up through Workaway.
I love looking inside people’s houses. Peeping through cracks in curtains or looking in every room when I’m invited into someone’s home – I just can’t help it. I love looking at how space is used and how it shapes the behaviors of the inhabitants. I love to see what someone’s living space tells you about them.
So when I found myself outside La Sebastiana, home of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, I didn’t hesitate in visiting. It didn’t matter that I’d never read any of his work, or that I only knew him from his appearance in Il Postino. I wanted to see the colour of his wallpaper, the layout of his kitchen and how much natural light there was in his living room.
I saw all this and more. I saw his eclectic collection of fine art and kitsch. I felt the extension of space created by the wide windows which took up the whole side of the house, looking out over the city below. I navigated the odd-shaped spaces of stairs, tiny corridors and split-level rooms. I smiled at the holes in the bathroom door, the sailors’ bar of alcohol and the old carousel horse with gaudy colours and flared nostrils.
Visitors’ info: La Sebastiana
“Es caro, pero vale la pena. How do you say ‘vale la pena’ in English? Is ‘It’s worth the pain’?”
“It’s more natural to say ‘It’s worth it.'”
“It’s worth it the pain.”
As a tourist town isolated in the middle of the driest desert on earth, San Pedro de Atacama is a bit expensive, but certainly “worth it the pain.” Attractions include the expansive and stunning Valle de la Luna (not to be confused by the valle of the same name near La Paz), sandboarding, and the ghostly and chilling Geyser El Tatio. At 2,400 meters, it’s also a good place to spend a few days acclimatizing before you cross into Bolivia.
Santiago is surrounded by towering snowcapped mountains. This sounds like an ideal city backdrop, and it may be in the summer. Unfortunately, smog gets trapped in the city during the winter months, obscuring what might otherwise be a stunning vista.
Even with a substandard view, Cerro San Cristóbal is an easy and cheap way to spend a few hours. A ride up the old funicular is a fun little ascent and a touch of living history in this thoroughly modern city.
The mirador sits 485 meters above the city, and offers potentially great views, depending on the weather. There’s a museum, a zoo, snack and souvenir shops, and of course the ever present stray dogs of Chile.
How to get there The funicular leaves from Plaza Caupolicán in Pío Nono, Bellavista. Or, if you’re up to it, you can walk to the summit from the same point.
Cost CH$1300 per person.
Hours 1-8 p.m. Mon, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tues-Sun
Sometimes my favourite places are the ones I never know exist until I visit them. We stopped off in Ovalle with the plan to do laundry – a visit to the Valle del Encanto was just a way to use up our time. But it’s ended up being one of the highlights of our journey so far.
You can read more about our visit here.
As the departure point for the Navimag ferry as well as the nearest town to the magnificent Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales gets its share of visitors. Most, however, don’t come for the town itself; a charming, weather beaten old fishing village, with faded wooden houses and temperamental clouds.
A visit to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MNBA) in Santiago is almost worth it just for the first floor lobby. Topped by a glass cupola, it’s an expansive and impressive space which lets in light to better view its striking collection of statues. The museum hosts temporary exhibits from modern artists on the second floor, as well as a collection of paintings from Chilean and international artists. All in all, the collection is rather sparse, and a ticket to the fine arts museum doesn’t also get you into the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. Still, it’s a tranquil space and a nice escape from the wide, car-filled streets outside.
Located in Parque Forestal by the Bellas Artes metro stop. It’s in the same building, but with its entrance on the opposite side, as the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo (MAC).
Cost is C$300 for adults, children under 13 free and free for all on Sundays.
Opening hours are Tues-Sun 10am-7pm.