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SOUTH AMERICA 12/09

Buenos Aires | Iguaza |  Mendosa | To Bariloche | Bariloche Day 1 | Bariloche Day 2 | To Ushuaia | Ushuaia
Voyage on the Beagle Day 1 | Voyage on the Beagle Day 2 | Santiago de Chile Day 1 | Santiago de Chile Day 2
Santiago to Quito | Galapagos Day 1 | Galapagos Day 2 | Galapagos Day 3
Return to Quito Day 1 | Return to Quito Day 2
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14 December 2009        From Santiago, a day visit to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar

Today we drove to Valparaiso and its next door sister city, Vina del Mar, some 70 miles from Santiago. The drive is through farmland and wine country. Vina del Mar is right on the ocean. It was amusing to drive through downtown Vina and see a real moai (the large carved stone head) like those we saw about a year ago on Easter Island (which is part of Chile). The moai in the picture is a real one from Easter Island. Vina del Mar itself is filled with high rises. Starting just about now, tens of thousands of people seeking relief from the Santiago summer heat start coming here. The kicker is that there are warnings on almost all of the beaches that swimming is not permitted. The waves are surprisingly rough and we were told that there is an abrupt and steep drop off once you get about waist deep in the water.

Valparaiso is a city with a large protected harbor. It was an early seaport that supplied all the ships that sailed around the Cape (in pre-Panama Canal days). Since it was a very rich city, there were a large number of mansions. Today, although the city is still a booming center with an active port, its economic base has shifted to tourism. The mansions of Valparaiso, unlike those of Santiago that lie fallow in its historic district, have been changed to schools, galleries, hotels, restaurants, apartments, and, in general, refurbished. There are museums to everything.

What was fun about Valparaiso was the layout of the town. The town is sprawled all over a steep hillside. The residents live on the hillside and the commerce is on the flats below. There are 32 trams up the hillside (only half of which work). The streets are winding and narrow. One portion of the hillside has been declared a UNESCO historical site and so is a tourist attraction. One of the biggest problems the people who live in the area have is that the tourists park on the street to go to the shops, restaurants, or just walk around and take up all of the limited parking space in the area.

The houses, like those of Punta Arenas, are painted in riotous colors (meaning that color coordination, even on a single building) is non-existent. The reason for the collage of colors is that the houses were traditionally painted with whatever paint was left over from the painting of the early sailing ships. A hundred years ago, sailors painted the decorations on their ships in bright colors. Whatever the origin of the rainbow hues, it makes for a gaudy but charming landscape today.

Further, the hillside is amazingly dangerous as a place to live. Earthquakes, mud slides, and fires are not uncommon. Squatters dot the landscape and, as I mentioned yesterday, expropriate electricity from the electric company, causing fire hazards. (The picture shows illegal connections from a main power cable.) Refurbished and high-end homes are located next door to slum dwellings. The real estate market must be mystical.

We ended the day back in Santiago with a trip up the highest point. The peak is a city park and popular with the residents. From there we were able to see the smog that is endemic in the valley that houses the city. Although the smog hasn't been bad for the last several days because a nice summer wind is blowing it away, the smog problems during the winter are said to be horrible. One cannot help but think of Los Angeles. The top of the mountain has still another reminder that Santiago, indeed the country, is very religious. A statute of the Virgin Mary oversees the whole of Santiago. The city, which has a population of six million, basically surrounds this mountain peak in the plains below and spreads out for many miles in all directions.

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Buenos Aires | Iguaza |  Mendosa | To Bariloche | Bariloche Day 1 | Bariloche Day 2 | To Ushuaia | Ushuaia
Voyage on the Beagle Day 1 | Voyage on the Beagle Day 2 | Santiago de Chile Day 1 | Santiago de Chile Day 2
Santiago to Quito | Galapagos Day 1 | Galapagos Day 2 | Galapagos Day 3
Return to Quito Day 1 | Return to Quito Day 2


HOME  |  AUSTRALIA 2003  |  ACROSS AMERICA  |  IMPRESSIONS OF CHINA  |  VIETNAM  |  AFRICA  |  AROUND THE WORLD 2009  |  SOUTH AMERICA 2009  |  LEGENDARY CULTURES 2011
  |  TURKEY AND GREECE  |  CIRCLE THE ARCTIC