Chile: A day at the beach
special to the daily
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles chronicling Breckenridge resident Brandon Spence’s time in Chile.
It had been just over three years since I last stepped foot on a sandy ocean beach upon my arrival in Chile. It took me all of three days of being here to end that streak.
During the summer months, Valparaiso and its neighboring town of Vina Del Mar become tourist destinations for much of South America. Their popularity may have something to do with how easily accessible they are from my current home of Santiago. It’s less than a two-hour bus ride to the beaches of Vina Del Mar and Valparaiso with buses leaving Santiago every 15 minutes. Imagine in the time it takes to drive from Denver to Vail, you could be sitting on a beach gazing out across the South Pacific. This short bus ride to the coast provides amazing window views as you wind through canyons and wine valleys.
Valparaiso is one of Chile’s most important cities. During Spanish colonial times, Valparaiso was a small village with just a few hundred residents. Today, it is the second largest metropolitan area in Chile and serves as a major seaport of the Southern hemisphere.
Together, these two cities offer something unique for all who visit. If you’re looking for beach parties and insane night life, Vina should tame your appetite. Valparaiso offers a much more relaxed setting and serves as the cultural cornerstone of Chile.
Hostel living has its share of adventure, uneasiness and fun. They are generally much cheaper than hotels, and for the backpacker, they really are the best way to get the pulse of city and meet like minded people. The hostel I chose to stay in was located about 5 minutes walking distance from the beach in Vina Del Mar. As you might expect, this was a popular hostel. So popular that I, for some reason, thought I could just wing it after getting off the bus. I’m not sure when I developed this habit of forgetting to look at the map before I visit some place I’ve never been before.
While getting “lost” is a good way to learn your surroundings, it’s not a great idea when you’re carrying around a full pack with about 25 pounds in it during the hottest part of the summer day.
Ninety minutes after getting off the bus and wandering the streets of Vina Del Mar – lovely place by the way – I arrived at my hostel. Fortunately, I could see the beach from my hostel and new exactly where to head – no map needed! The ocean is inviting for surfers however the water temperature, averaging in the mid 50s, keeps would be swimmers ashore.
Back at the hostel – it’s a United Nations of travelers more commonly referred to as Expats: Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, England, etc, – everyone has gathered around drinking wine and Pisco (a grape brandy that mixes well with just about anything and serves as the official drink of Chile).
I’m seated next to a girl from Argentina named Lali who lives at the hostel. We strike up a conversation in English as my Spanish is crap. In fact it’s pretty easy to get by in Chile without knowing much Spanish. It seems everyone under 30 has been studying English for years. At the end of the night, Lali invites me for a tour of Valparaiso the next day…I accept.
The next morning Lali, her friend Andrea from Argentina and I set out for a day of walking the streets of Valparaiso. Our day begins at the house of Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, a revered poet and political activist in Chile. One of Neruda’s three homes, this being the only one that serves a museum and is open to the public for tours.
From there the three of us roamed the colorful streets in search of the famed Funiculars of Valparaiso. These are old rail cables that pull trams up and down the steep hills of the city. For about 20 cents you can ride these for fun or use as a practical mode of transportation.
The Funicular spits us out at the Bahia De Valparaiso, or Valparaiso Bay, where people come to take boat rides, eat lunch or simply sit and watch the busyness of the day. At this point we are hungry and head home for dinner at the hostel.
As my short beach weekend comes to an end, I decide a taxi is the best method back to the bus station. I wasn’t about to test my fate in walking it on my own.
While on the bus back to Santiago, I begin to check off this trip from “Must Do” list only to look outside the window at the sprawling fields of grapes. It becomes clear, next on the list Wine Country!
Brandon Spence is a former station manager and afternoon host of KCMV in Breckenridge. He left the station this past summer with the idea of traveling abroad and plans to spend at least six months in Chile.
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