Today I decided to leave Santiago and head to Valparaiso. It's an easy bus ride to the coast, only two hours each way, including stops. And the buses here are nicer than most domestic (American) airlines, with more legroom, seats that recline, foot rests, movies and even plugs at each seat. It's definitely a cheap, safe and easy way to travel around Chile. The overnight buses even have seats that recline all the way, turning into beds.
(View of the Pacific from the hills of Valparaiso)
Since Chile wasn't part of my original itinerary I don't really have a guide book for anything outside of Santiago. I ended up buying, what I thought was Lonely Planet Chile for my Kindle, but it turned out to only concentrate on Santiago. It's kind of liberating though, going it on your own. So, I arrived into Valpo (as it's known to the locals) without any idea what I was going to do or where I was going to stay. Based on my past travels, I expected to be greeted by a handful of people trying to get me to stay in their hotel or taxi drivers making commissions off tourists they drop off at various hotels. I was stunned to find none of this here.
Instead, at the tourist office, they gladly gave me a map and told me to grab a taxi and head to Cerro Concepcion where I would find many great hotels in all price ranges. I'm still not sure, but I think the taxi driver took me on the scenic route to Concepcion. I'll never know for sure because the roads are essentially switchbacks winding their way up and down the steep hills that make up this city. All I do know is that it was a very expensive taxi ride, considering the limited distance we covered. He did give me a rather comprehensive tour of the downtown area, though. After stalling out twice, we finally made it to Concepcion and he pointed me in the direction of several hotels. I skipped the ones with views of the Pacific, knowing they would be out of my price range, and I settled on a quaint little B&B called Casa Latina. I liked the vibe I got from the woman running the place and it felt safe. Throughout she had also added many touches to the place to give it a trendy, modern feel.
(Vina del Mar)
After I settled into my room, I headed out for some lunch, realizing I hadn't eaten yet and I was starving. I ended up picking a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the ocean. Touristy, I know, but you couldn't beat the view. And actually, the food was pretty good. It seems that you absolutely can't go wrong with the fish here in Chile. It's pretty damn good everywhere. I had the most amazingly fresh octopus carpaccio ever. It was so tender. I want to eat this every day for the rest of my life. I even chatted up the couple from Boston sitting next to me. They were just in Valpo for the day and heading to Easter Island in the morning. Can you say "jealous"?
After lunch I took the metro to Vina del Mar, the next town up the coast. While a quaint town, it felt more touristy than Valpo. And I have to say I think I prefer Valpo better. I walked along the beach and put my feet in the icy waters of the Pacific and I intended to stay there to watch the sunset but I met an older Italian gentleman who seemed desperate for my company and insisted on walking me back to the metro. Don't worry, he was harmless. Just an old flirt. He was sweet enough, but insisted on making jokes about me not being married since my husband was back at home. He invited me to join him the next day for pizza and wine, and then asked if I had any children. When I answered, "No" he winked and said that if I joined him tomorrow he would give me one. That one took a minute for me to process since Spanish was neither of our first languages, but when it sunk in I politely declined his offer of pizza and descended the stairs to the metro.
While waiting for the metro, leaning against the wall, I felt the tunnel starting to shake. Thinking it was an oncoming train, I looked into the tunnel, both ways but saw nothing. The shaking continued. I was a bit confused but thought nothing of it until I got to dinner that evening and overheard some tourists talking about the earthquake. Then my server asked if I felt the earthquake today. Yep, another one. This one made the news back home and I quickly got a message from Marc. Thankfully I was fine, and they weren't reporting any damage, but reports were saying it was a magnitude 7.2, and it was a long one. I guess I brought a little something from home with me. Oops!