We enjoyed a relaxing few days in Valparaiso and Viña del Mar before moving on to Buenos Aires.
by Mandan Lynn on November 11, 2011
The big news in Chile during our time there was the student strike. University students all over the country were speaking out -- protesting, marching, striking, rioting a bit -- against the idea that they should pay for higher education.I went to school in the US, where you not only pay for university, you pay a LOT for university. People in more than one country have stared, struck dumb, when I tell them what I had to pay for my education. Chilean students have no desire to go in that direction, and rightly so. They believe you deserve to be educated no matter what your financial background, and they are doing what they can to make sure that happens.In various cities, it wasn't unusual to see college campuses deserted, chairs and desks piled up against fences, roads into the university blocked, signs draped across doorways, graffiti painted on walls, and students organizing marches.One of the biggest occurred in Santiago while we were in Valparaiso, and the students in Valpo staged one at the same time. We were just coming back into town when we noticed spectators lined up on an overpass and in the streets, watching riot-gear-clad cops spraying water at the protestors. As we walked down the street later that evening, our eyes and throats stung with the residue of tear gas -- which, upon asking, we learned had been used hours earlier. That stuff lingers. Even the next day, people were covering their noses and mouths as they walked down the street, and my eyes continued to burn.I don't think I realized until halfway through my own college education that, unlike the US, not all countries require their students to pay such high prices to learn. And it makes sense. What better way to keep the rich rich and the poor poor than by making education available only to those with money? As some of the signs in Chile said, For equality in Chile, keep free education. Good luck, students.
What drew us to this unassuming little hostal was its proximity to the bus station. We knew we'd have a lot of luggage by the time we left (see journal entry 'Renting a Car'), and we wanted an easy-as-possible luggage transport situation.Patricia is a lovely woman, very helpful and friendly. Each room is a little bit different; the first one we looked at included a couch and a television, but since we had no need for either of those things we took a smaller, cheaper room. There are a couple of kitchens available where you can prepare your own food, or you can pay a little extra to enjoy the breakfast that Patricia prepares each morning (we did not). Hot water gets turned on at 8:00 am each morning for a certain period of time; if you need to shower at a different time, just ask. We never had trouble using the bathroom when we wanted it; there are several bathrooms available, and it didn't seem like there were a lot of guests there when we stayed.I believe we paid US$36 per night, which is more expensive than what we had seen online (and more expensive than what is currently listed online), but still a great deal on a beautiful, adequate room in what was, for us, the perfect location.
We dropped by El Pimenton early in the afternoon: not really a meal time, not really a drinking time. It was empty, and the workers were all gathered around a meal with some of their friends. It was a small place, just a few tables.Brent had a beer and I had a terremoto.Terremoto is Spanish for earthquake, but in this case it referred to a drink consisting of red wine, fernet, and pineapple ice cream. I have not seen this on any other menu, and I had to give it a try. It has pineapple ice cream in it. Sounds like a winner to me.Fernet is a popular alcohol in Argentina. It reminds me a bit of cough syrup, but there was just a splash of it in this drink. The dryness of the wine was a sharp contrast to the ice cream, and I loved it. Brent still thinks I’m weird for trying it: wine and ice cream? I say, why not? Ice cream: good. Wine: good. Together? Pretty darn good.We didn't look at the food menu, so I don't know what you're in for there, but I definitely recommend this as a nice little place to stop for a drink.
Our last day in Valparaiso was spent in a spirit of celebration, as we were about to leave Chile for Buenos Aires and start our lives in South America for real. Our first stop on this journey of overindulgent joy was Matiz.I classified this as a ´restaurant´ because the other choices were less applicable, but it's really a bar and I can't remember what, if anything, they offer in the line of food. We just went in for a couple of drinks.This cozy little bar has an upstairs and a downstairs and it got packed quickly as the night wore on. The crowd was young, the music Top 40, and you can expect to leave smelling like cigarettes. However, happy hour drinks were two for one, making it a cheap option. I ordered a mango sour because I like mangos and I like drinks with ´sour' in the name (amaretto sour, Pisco sour, Midori sour, etc.) and was so happy I could dance. I’m not even sure what a mango sour is, I couldn’t tell you how to make one, but it was really, really good. I´d never had one before this night, and have had no luck when I've tried to order it at other bars. If you like sweet drinks, give it a try.
The ViaVia Café is up on one of Valpo’s many hills, affording wonderful views of the city and water below. We sat at a table on the patio and ordered from the set lunch menu.Brent got the swordfish, which turned out to be a better choice. It came with a salad and dessert, which tasted pretty good but I’m still not sure what it was: it was a square piece, spongy, mousse-like but not as light, milky tasting. The highlight was that it was covered in an orange caramel sauce. Next time, skip the milk sponge and just give me the orange caramel sauce in a bowl with a giant spoon.I ordered the oriental noodles, because I love Chinese food, but the noodles were spaghetti noodles and there weren’t a lot of vegetables.Price-wise, this is a little on the higher end of many of the other set lunches we found in Chile, but certainly not out of line for a mid-range budget traveler. For as fancy as the food concepts and showmanship were, I expected more exciting flavors. The atmosphere is so delightful, though, that it makes your visit worth it.They also have a book exchange shelf – drop off the books you’ve already read, and pick up a new one left by a fellow traveler.
Due to some bizarre circumstances that colored and defined our time in Chile, we needed to rent a car in Valparaiso to drive to Santiago and retrieve our luggage before continuing on to Buenos Aires. We wandered into Viña del Mar, following maps that should have but didn’t lead us to any car rental places. We finally came across a Budget, but there were out of cars. We were about to start laying out Plan B when we came across William Gonzalez Rent-a-Car. A sign on the door told us that William was in the restaurant next door when we arrived, so we wandered over and asked for him. He emerged after a few minutes and started getting us set up with a vehicle.It seemed pricey, and when we held out a little bit he lowered the price. We still had to cover the cost of the many toll roads, both the roads leading to the city, which you pay at a booth with cash, and the ones within the city that are tracked on a device that the car has, and you pay the rental company after you return the car. And gas is expensive in Chile. All in all, our three-hour round trip ended up costing about $100, but it was much less hassle than any option we could have come up with using public transportation, given our luggage circumstances.When we got back, there was no place to park, so Brent drove around the block while I went inside to ask where we should put the car. William (I admit, I’m totally just assuming this guy is William, I really have no idea) came outside with me and pushed a car forward so that ours could fit in.In Valpo and Viña, there isn’t a lot of purpose in having a car, so you might want to stick to public transportation to save money and avoid the stress that comes when you drive in another country, but if you need a car, William Gonzalez Rent-a-Car is a good place to get one.
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