26.08.2014 - 26.08.2014
The reception desk had phoned up to my room in the middle of the night (!) to inform that my pick-up for today’s tour to Viña del Mar and Valparaíso was delayed by 15 minutes, so new time for pick-up was 8.45am. I woke up in time for breakfast and then waited by the reception desk. I waited and waited and even the academic quarter passed and finally at 9.10am the guide Samuel (“Sam”) showed up. I embarked the bus and the bus drove to a meeting point where even more people from other hotels embarked. The full sized bus was more than half full of people participating in this tour when we started the 1 hour and 30 minute drive to Viña del Mar. Sam, the guide, translated everything he said into 3 languages; Spanish, Portuguese and English. I honestly don’t know if I would be able to keep track of three different languages if I would be a guide. But Sam was great at it and also very fast changing between the languages so you really had to be focused and alert so you didn’t missed anything he said in your language.
The bus drove west onto Route 68 and passed two long tunnels through the Chilean Coastal Mountain Range. According to Sam 90% of Chile’s total land area consists of mountains and about 80 active volcanoes. Every 30 years Chile is affected by very strong earthquakes and Sam made a joke that today was exactly 30 years ago since the last big earthquake. Sam also spoke warmly about Chile having the biggest natural reserves of copper and constitute totally 40% of the copper in the entire world. According to Sam the copper mining also constitute up to 50% of Chiles entire economy. And may I surprise you by telling that Chile is considered the second largest exporting country of Kiwis in the world? At least according to Sam. The climate makes it optimal for viticulture and great production of wine. Viña del Mar and Valparaíso I situated in Casablanca Valley known for its white wine, especially Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Despite that Sam claimed the Chileans drinks more beer than wine.
The first stop for today was Viña del Mar, a city founded in 1874 and due to its geographical location by the ocean it was often plundered by pirates. Viña del Mar is a coastal city and municipality in central Chile, in the beginning situated north of the neighborhood city Valparaíso but nowadays the two cities have grown together and Viña del Mar is now included in the Valparaíso Metropolitan Region called Greater Valparaíso (Gran Valparaíso).
Viña del Mar, often called only Viña, means “the oceans vineyard” since the city is always surrounded by the ocean and the wine. The city also goes by the name “the Garden City” due to all the green areas and big green parks. As Chiles 4th biggest city, Viña del Mar offers El Festival Internacional de la Canción de Viña del Mar (a very popular music festival), a casino, some of the longest sand beaches in the country and the famous bell made out of flowers “Viña Cuidad Bella”. The bus made a stop at Quinta Vergara Park, where you can see the palace Palacio Vergara where the city founder once lived. The palace was badly damaged in the last big earthquake and is now closed for visitors. In the same park you can also visit the Anfiteatro Quinta Vergara with its big stage where world famous artists like Roxette, Robbie Williams and A-Teens have performed.
After a while we gathered onboard the bus again and went to the second stop - the Flower Bell (Viña Cuidad Bella). The traditional story about the bell says if you photograph together with the Flower Bell you will revisit the Bell at least once more in your life. Sam, as the funny man he was, joked and said he had been in so many photograph with the bell and that’s why he keeps coming back time after time (and not because of his profession as a guide). Then it was finally time for lunch. We were driven to an Italian restaurant (don’t remember the name) where the tour company had a special menu for us guests to choose from. I ordered salad as starter, Spaghetti Bolognese as main dish and ice cream for dessert. And together with a drink it cost only 12000 CLP (12 Euros). Tip not included.
Then it was time to start heading for Valparaíso, a city built on top of 45 hills according to Sam. The city is one of Chile's most important harbor cities and even though Valparaíso technically counts as Chile’s 6th biggest city, Greater Valparaíso counts as the second biggest city in Chile. Thanks to its geographical location the city had a very significant role during the late 19th Century since ships could make stopovers here during their cruise between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by passing through the Magellan Strait. The city was also a big attraction for European immigrants and was called “Little San Francisco” and “the Jewel of the Pacific” during its blooming days. But when the Panama Canal opened the ship traffic abandoned Valparaíso and ceased the economy totally for the inhabitants. The wealthy families fled the city, but the city has since regained its status and tourists starts to find their way back to explore the narrow cobblestoned alleys and the colorful houses. During 2003 Valparaíso was declared as World Heritage by UNESCO and then got the name “Chile’s Cultural Capital”.
But I guess everyone thinks about the colorful houses when they hear the name Valparaíso. The bus drove by lively colorful parts of the city and the narrow road meandered itself uphill on one of all hills the city is built on.
One thing that caught my attention was all the doodles or graffiti if you like. Though many paintings were very well made and obviously had a message behind. As a true artist I took a lot of photos of just the graffiti since they got me thinking about all the different statements they were telling.
Pictures taken in Valparaíso often portray the clean and colorful houses which build up an impression of a clean and colorful city in general. But behind the most pleasant and well-photographed houses is a dirty filthy city hidden with abandoned broken-downed houses, street dogs running around and polluted air blowing in over the city from the harbor. I got very disappointed since I had painted up huge expectations of Valparaíso as a city but discovered a totally different reality behind the beautiful portraying pictures. When the bus reached the top of one hill we disembarked and walked for a while to one of Valparaíso’s many funicular railways. In the beginning a total of 30 funicular railways were built all over the city but during the years most of them have been taken out of service or destroyed so only 10 remains which only 5 are still operating today.
In Valparaíso we got one hour to wander around on our own. We had agreed to a meeting point at Sotomayor Plaza where a shopping mall was situated where you could buy souvenirs and food. Just outside the mall was a small marketplace and about 30 meters away from the harbor. A huge American aircraft carrier had just arrived in the harbor and was obviously the big subject in the city. I went to see aircraft carrier for myself and it was huge I can tell you. They do not only look huge in movies… they are huge in real life as well. I’m sorry to say but it wasn’t a pleasure to walk around downtown in Valparaíso since the air was so polluted and smelled bad from all the carriers and ships in the harbor. You really got a headache.
So with an ease sigh you embarked the bus again and started the return trip back to Santiago. I arrived at the hotel in Santiago at 7pm in the evening.