Ahhh, Christmas vacation. We took this opportunity to do some traveling and chose Chile as our destination. We started out by heading to La Paz, Bolivia’s capital and spent a few days checking out the city. Carved sumptuously into the mountainous terrain of the Andes, I read one description of La Paz as “more jaw dropping than beautiful” which we found relatively accurate.
An added bonus was getting to stay with friends David and Suzannah Nacho and their two young kids. They were even kind enough to drive us North of La Paz to do some mountain trekking and later on took us all the way to Lake Titicaca to enjoy some fresh trout and a great view.
We were expecting a rather quiet town on the 24th and 25th but found just the opposite. On Christmas Eve the main street in town was closed to cars and flooded with vendors trying to make last minute sales well into the evening with great success. Christmas morning was spent on the beach relaxing while the city slowly came to life in the afternoon as people flooded the cost line. Mixed with the +25°C weather, it was one of our stranger Christmases but defiantly memorable and a lot of fun.
We then took a long bus ride down to Santiago, Chile’s capital, which gave us a great look at the county side. Early on we arraigned a trip to the City of Valparaiso, a spectacularly beautiful port town built along steep hillsides with a labyrinth of cobblestone alleyways and rich architecture. Also, because of its steep layout, the city implements several funiculars (slanted elevators, many over a century old) which tote people to highly situated neighborhoods. Valparaiso served as inspiration for Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, was the home town of former President Salvador Allende (a personal hero), and not to mention the whole city is a UNESCO world heritage site. I guess you could say we liked the place.
Santiago is quite cosmopolitan with clear European influence mixed with its own Latin attributes. It’s significantly more developed than Bolivian cities (having the 2nd highest HDI ranking in Latin America) yet notably behind Canada. For instance, the modern financial district towers contrasts with the randomly dilapidated buildings found in middle class neighborhoods. The weather was consistently warm unfortunately due to a damaged ozone layer yet they do parks remarkably well. In hindsight, I don’t think we caught any photos that fully capture Santiago despite spending days just walking its various districts and even with words it’s hard to convey how electric the downtown is late at night.
One highlight was visiting the Concha y Torro vineyard, seeing the variety of grapes grown, and leaning about the modern and traditional methods of fermentation. Chile was also gracious enough to offer several captivating museums for cheep or free including one that stood out for its perspective on the human rights violations during the Pinochet era.
Oh, and of course New Years was great despite not receiving any yellow underwear (a bizarre Chilean tradition). We went to a small party at the home of our host’s parents and enjoyed a smattering of traditional food and lots of broken Spanish conversation.
Wishing you all a Happy New Year!