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Thursday, August 4, 2011

valpo part I

Valparaiso, perhaps one of the more striking, scenic, eventful, diverse, colorful, and crazy trips we have been on in a while. We have so much to say there is no way we can sum it up in a single post, so this is the first in a two part series, valpo part I followed by valpo part II.

The journey back to Chile and the coast started with a bus ride up and over the Andes from Mendoza. The rather uneventful ride allowed us to take in the desert landscape stretching into the high alpine environment. We gazed at the views and snacked on cheese and nuts for a mid morning snack.

When we made it to the border of Chile, we got off the bus and snapped a few pictures, and spent some time looking at a crappy ski resort with dirt streaked runs and exposed rocks right next to border control. The border starts where a tunnel from Argentina ends, and cars, trucks, and busses all have to wait in line to go through an insanely arduous but thorough customs check. All of these cars, not restrained into the same EPA clean air standards we are used to in the US, sat running noisily spewing diesel fumes to the resort. While the ski area looked challenging and pretty due to the fact it was in a high mountain pass, I could not help to think about the unfortunate location of the resort, over looking customs and border control. The more I examined the resort, I realized this was Portillo, a ski area in Chile that I have sort of dreamed of for a long time. When we first moved to Chicago I found a brochure and pinned it on my desk at work to remind me of other potential adventures for down the road. Now a few years later here I am, staring at the grandness and sort of shabbiness of this place.
Border and Customs
At Area Control
While waiting, we met a few other travelers, and passed the time chatting about our travels until it was our turn for customs. Chile is a huge agriculture state, and takes extensive precautions regarding this industry, so you have to declare EVERYTHING plant and animal based or suffer hefty fines. So when we were at the airport in Santiago early July with two pounds of coffee and six different jars of cooking spices, I was a little nervous about them being taken away. Nonetheless I showed the items to confused customs officials and we were waived past. On this day at the border on our way to Valparaiso, we had bags of roasted nuts for snacks. When you pass through customs everyone lines up and puts their bags on tables for perros (dogs) to examine. The labrador ran straight to my bag and found my nuts, good perro! Now, I should have been fine, because as long as the item is roasted or salted (mine were roasted), the items can pass into the country. So when the customs lady stuck her nose in my bag of nuts, smelled, declared these nuts UNroasted and UNsalted, then threw the bag an a table with other unsightly and illegal substances, I was pretty pissed off.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, but beautiful, we dropped out of the mountains and into endless valleys of wine country, becoming more and more exciting about Chilean wine.

We made it to Valparaiso on a sunny evening, walked to our inn Via Via Cafe, and checked in then took a walk to find dinner. We dined on sushi (while the salmon was great, every type of sushi in Valparaiso was made with cream cheese, this became tiring), gyoza, miso soup, and wine on the second floor of an old building, pure bliss. The sun was setting, the windows were open, there was banter on the street, we knew the sea was nearby, life was good. Then the sun set, and we were remembered by a chill of cold evening air lowering through the sushi bar, people do not heat buildings much here. This region is very mild, and it only becomes cold enough to need heat a few times a year, so what is the point of heating right? So we dined in a chill of cold air, even the wine became cold!
The Cerros of Valparaiso
Via Via Inn and Cafe
On our way back to our inn we knew we were in for a chilly night if I could not light the little wall hung furnace, a model that we have found in South American that typically does little more than heat the area five feet around the furnace, limited but better than nothing. I think the first night Nicolette slept in her sweater and I fell asleep with my hat on. The joys of low season winter travel :). While it was chilly the inn was great, and the cafe was better. Every morning we were greeted with kiwi juice and double espressos.

We walked, photographed the city, enjoyed dinner, wine, and Onces. Lets talk about Onces. Once is the number 11 in Spanish. 11:00 AM is also the time for English tea time Elevenses, for all of you Lord of the Rings geeks:

In the Middle-earth universe by J. R. R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings), it is a meal eaten by Hobbits between second breakfast and luncheon. via wikipedia

So Chile took Elevenses, Latinised it by moving it WAYY later, making it a bit edgy, extending the hell out of it, making the deserts way cool, and adding wine and beer with coffee and tea, and there you have Onzes. The funny part is, we keep mistaking Onzes (in Chile) and Media Noche (in Argentina) for dinner, because these events extend way into the evening, and while we are on gringo time we stroll into places around 9 PM thinking we can have dinner, and we find surprisingly people are still pounding cake and coffee.

That is all for now, the second part of this two part installation will be presented in the next few days, for now enjoy a few more pictures of Valparaiso

Local color

Kids fun and games
Chatting with the locals

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