by Jenna Elwell, Greenheart Travel Volunteer in Chile
In one of my initial posts I introduced a Chilean woman who I met before I had even left for Chile, Natalia. After I arrived she I had tried to coordinate a time to meet for weeks, but between our crazy schedules we didn’t manage to make it happen until I only had a few weeks remaining. I am so grateful that it eventually worked out, Naty truly was not only incredibly helpful but also became one of my closest friends! She introduced me to the discotecas of South America, where the entire city comes to life and dances the night away until 6 AM, she led me around Santiago’s most fashionable shopping districts, and the most memorable of all, she and I made a weekend getaway to Chile’s little pieces of paradise: Viña Del Mar y Valparaiso.
Viña Del Mar, literally meaning the vineyard of the sea, is an absolutely stunning coastal city about an hour outside of Santiago. Viña certainly caters to a tourist population, offering ritzy hotels, casinos, and nightclubs, all of which have been fairly Americanized. Starkly contrasted is Valparaiso, Viña’s neighboring city about 15 minutes south down the coastline. Valparaiso is known for it’s escalating cerros, or hills, upon which houses are delicately balanced quite similar to the blocks of a Jenga game, as well as the bright and beautiful colors of all of the architecture. Both cities offer some of Chile’s most flavorful seafood, richest wines, and mesmerizing beaches, explaining why this is the #1 destination for Chileans who need a weekend getaway. It was incredible to me that such a beautiful paradise existed not even 100 miles outside of the noise and smog of Santiago!
It was my last weekend in Chile, and since I had yet to cross off visiting these two cities Naty and I decided to take the weekend off and make the drive out. Naty’s aunt and uncle were kind enough to offer the vacation property they own there for us to stay in over the weekend, lodging that they had described as “simply a a modest apartment”. However when Naty and I arrived at the towering beachfront apartment building and walked in the front door my jaw dropped to the floor. After nearly two months of living in the “cardboard box” in Malloco and hostel-hopping in Peru, I felt like we had just walked into The Grand America. This was the first time since I had arrived that I stayed someplace that had a nice television, a tiled bathroom, nice carpet, and something I had thought didn’t exist in Chile- a heater! Once again though, everything was completely Americanized; the entire facility appeared as if it had come from downtown Salt Lake City, making me feel as if I were back at home, yet weirdly out of place at the same time.
After we settled in we went out in search of food, a task that we realized was much more difficult than anticipated. For nearly a half hour we walked along the countless beachfront restaurants all offering equally tantalizing seafood menus before finally making a choice. Once again, after nearly two months there this was the first time I had gone to a restaurant that had waiter service, let alone an actual printed menu. After devouring what had to have been the richest meal I had eaten during my entire trip, Naty and I went out to walk around Viña.The city truly is beautiful, but for the majority of the time I couldn’t manage to take my eyes off of the ocean! I am now convinced that watching the sun set over the water, lighting the sky on fire and reflecting the colors across the waves, is one of the most beautiful scenes that a person can see.
We devoted the next day to touring around Valparaiso, and it didn’t take me long to decide that this was by far my favorite of the two cities. Valparaiso has an incredibly rich sense of culture and although it is just as much of a tourist location as Viña there are far less signs of Americanization.
Naty and I spent the day hiking up the infamous hills, quite similar to the layout of San Francisco, and riding the ascensores, very crudely made rickety cable cars that rattled their way up and down the sides of the hills. Every corner we turned held something new in store; the city is just brimming with creativity and uniqueness. Bare city walls had been taken up as an easel for some wandering artist, filling the space with beautiful and colorful murals. Even cement staircases had been painted and adorned with shimmering pieces of colored glass.
Later in the day we toured through Pablo Neruda’s (Chile’s most renouned, Nobel-prize-winning poet) Valparaiso home, which was equally unique and creative as the rest of the city. As the afternoon came and went, Naty and I simply continued wandering, stopping to talk with vendors and peek into shops scattered among the houses on stilts. Valparaiso starts right on the shoreline and slowly crawls up the mountainside, so the further up we got on the city’s hills the better views we got of the coast– it was utterly mesmerizing. As the name suggests, Valparaiso truly is a hidden paradise (paraíso= paradise).
Overall I had such an amazing weekend that couldn’t have been better spent, and I was incredibly grateful to have the company and companionship of Naty. Spending time with her gave me the opportunity to experience the Chilean life “on the other side of the divide,” hypothetically. Because most of my time there was spent in Malloco I had yet to meet hardly anyone who owned their own car, had anything more than a prepaid cell phone, or who had even set foot into a shopping mall. Naty, on the other hand, was certainly living a more privileged lifestyle with luxuries unheard of for the families I grew close to in the smaller suburban areas. Of course this distinction doesn’t necessarily carry over into the types of people or personalities, however it was really interesting just to get an inside look at the two very discernible social classes. Naty truly was such an amiable host and an invaluable friend to have had, and I can’t thank her enough for the weekend she spent with me in Viña Del Mar and Valparaiso!