I woke at 6:18 am refreshed after a great sleep. Soon Margaret was up too and we were out the door around 8:30 and headed for Cerro San Cristóbal, or hill of St. Christopher. It would be quite a hike and we wanted to hike in the early morning coolness. And…can I say…after the heat of the day yesterday, it cooled down overnight and was deliciously pleasant sleeping weather. The morning was cool and breezy and perfect.
We walked a few blocks north, a few blocks west, and there we were at the bottom of the hill. Rather than go up, we backtracked a little through the tree-lined empty streets in search of coffee and sustenance. I am impressed by so much street art here, and stopped so often to remark and take photos that Margaret began to point murals out to me!
We found the perfect cafe, some sandwiches to go, and off we went on our trek uphill. It was a slog, but with plenty of shade, continuing morning breezes, and fabulous views of a hazy city, it was really no chore. At the top we found the beautiful white statue of the Virgin Mary. Surrounding it at the top of the hill were a lovely garden area with many benches in the shade, and a small and lovely stone church called the Motherhood of Mary Chapel. To save our feet, we rode the funicular (a….train?) back down.
Our host Angelo had raved about Valparaiso and Viña del Mar (vineyard of the sea) the previous day, enough that we were convinced, and made on-the-spot plans to catch a bus there after our hike up the cerro. And that’s exactly what we did: back to the room, freshened up a bit, and headed for the metro. We took the metro to the bus station, and then we asked enough people in broken Spanish to express our need. (bless the patient Chileans) Tickets in hand, we jumped on a bus for the nearly 2 hour ride to Viña del Mar.
Our plan had been to explore both cities, but we stumbled serendipitously upon a Chilean-born Canadian, who was working for the Viña del Mar tourist office. She easily explained why we couldn’t do both cities – not enough time. And since we were walking, she quickly mapped out the best walking route through her fair city, so that we would return before the last bus of the evening.
We were so impressed we followed her suggestion exactly. First through the Parque Quinta Vergara, a lovely park but not especially remarkable. Margaret pointed out that the tourist lady was very proud of the place and eager to send us there, and for that reason, we were happy to go see it for her. There was renovation underway at the park, of the old Governor’s mansion. Restoration is something we have seen regularly here, and I think that’s a good sign of how well a city is doing.
We continued walking toward the beach, and enjoyed the small landscaped flower garden pointed out to us by the tourist guide. Almost as soon as we reached the sand, one of the many women selling things offered us something we actually wanted: a flaky sugary pastry and we scarfed it down, only after a very long discussion about how much it should cost. We began the conversation at something that sounded a lot like $5,000 pesos for a single pastry (close to $8). When it was clear that we were shocked and walking away, the women quickly explained that we didn’t understand. After much talking and confusion, many prices being discussed, always with the woman saying we weren’t understanding her. Finally we paid $1,000 pesos for two pastries, which is more like 75 cents each. Now THAT I can understand just fine. 😉
We ate our pastries on the beach and I was not able to resist the water. I stripped off my shoes and socks and splashed in the sea. Imagine! Swimming in the ocean in December.
We were able to walk inside Castillo Wulff (you can barely make it out in the shore photo above). It was purchased in 1906 and transformed into a castle in 1916 by Gustavo Adolfo Wulff. Inside was empty but for an art show of local bird photography. We crossed the mouth of a river and continued on along the playa, past a splendid casino in a huge building with classic architecture. There were horses with carriages out front, but that was too touristy for our mood just then.
Finally, tummies rumbling, we went in search of a place to eat. Margaret has been pining for local seafood, possibly a Chilean seafood soup, so we walked past the Peruvian Thai restaurant (Er?), the many pizza places, the Italian restaurant. We skipped a few that looked promising because they were closed. Finally we stepped a place advertised as a pasta restaurant, because we spotted fish on the menu. The beach here is touristy, and thus the waiters brought us menus in English. Sure enough, seafood was on the menu, so I ordered Chilean Pot (mussels, squid, and shrimp sauteed in garlic butter) and Margaret ordered white fish ceviche. We sipped Chilean Pisco Sours, an alcoholic drink made of egg white, Pisco (a brandy made of grape wine), syrup, lemon juice and bitters, and found that our luck remained with us because the generously-sized dishes came out made to order and scrumptious.
We have been admiring so much of Chile’s architecture. The lovely folks at Castle Wulff had provided us a walking map of some of the more remarkable homes in the city, so after we ate we headed for the bus station via these homes. We spotted a couple, but even more fun was that in front of one such gorgeous mansions was an event of some kind. At Palacio Carrasco we stood with the crowd and watched schoolkids take the stage and sing songs – one song for each school – and watched the parents and grandparents cheering and smiling and holding up their phones to get videos.
We left for the bus station and settled in for our 2-hour ride back. After that long long day, and after two days together, Margaret and I had finally exhausted our supply of things that needed to be talked about in order to catch each other up on our lives, and our trip home was somewhat more subdued than the one earlier. We caught the metro back to downtown Santiago and were surprised (shocked actually because of the deafening volume) when a man came up and played his boom box, then accompanied the song with his saxophone and pipe. He had a woman in tow, who was asking for money. Eventually they moved off. Soon they were replaced with two teenage boys who looked like they were having a blast earning their coins. They also played boom boxes, but brought mics and began rapping about the passengers on the subway. Smiles all around showed that their show was much more appreciated than the first one. But it was our stop and we hopped off and easily made our way in the dark to our apartment. It was about 11 pm as we sat down at the kitchen table with a glass of wine to get ready for bed (me to begin my blog post), and M figured we had spent $40 each today for all those adventures. Wonderful!