After hearing so much about the small city of Valparaiso, I knew I had to go, and finally I went ahead and did it. On Friday I took the metro line all the way west, and got off at a station called Pajaritos, which means birdie. From there I bought 2 bus tickets; one to get to Valparaiso and one to get back to Santiago. It was cheaper to buy both at once. Since I had gotten up early for a morning class, I was able to sleep the whole way there. Once I arrived, I called an Uber. The walk to the hostel I wanted to stay at wasn’t too long, only 20 minutes, but I was very wary of carrying around precious cargo like my phone, laptop, wallet, etc in a new city.
The Uber took me up into the hills. For a moment the driver was confused, which was not reassuring, but then she realized she could only take me so far. She explained to me that not everywhere was accessible by car.
I would have to walk the rest of the way to the hostel, which wasn’t a big deal, except all the stairs weren’t on the GPS and the city is like a maze. It took me an extra 10 minutes to find the hostel, and that was only because I asked a local man that was walking by. I never would have found the place otherwise, the entrance is very nondescript.
As you can see, the name of the hostel was La Casa Azul, or The Blue House. And yes, it was a very bright blue. There was a nice yard out front, and the house was nice and clean. There was a small living room area and a decent sized kitchen with plenty of silverware and dishes. The dining room was cool too, with large tables and benches surrounding them on all sides. Each visitor got a set of 4 keys; one for the gate at the bottom, one for the door to the house, one for the door to your room, and one for a cubby where you could lock away your valuables. Everything was super colorful and warm and welcoming, I loved it. And the place is only 7,000 pesos a night, which is equal to $10 U.S.
Even though I had to share my room, I kind of loved the bunk beds. I mean who doesn’t? They even had little shelves to store things, and a light. What was really nice was the little curtain you could use to pull shut and have some privacy. That way no one could see me eating Oreos in bed while watching Netflix.
The only thing I didn’t like about the experience was that I went alone. Which isn’t a problem, I don’t mind going it alone, but everyone else had a traveling buddy that they could talk to in their mother tongue, which was the crucial thing. It’s hard to make friends with someone who doesn’t speak your language, or know it well enough to have a real conversation with you. The first night, some people went out and got pisco and soda, and on the way back, picked up a few guys to join us. Piscolas are a popular drink here; it’s just a mixture of pisco, which is a kind of brandy, and Coke.
I did hang out with the other people staying at the hostel, it’s always fun meeting new people. Though most of the time I was trying to understand the Spanish being spoken, there was no hope of me understanding the French, which was the majority of the conversation. I was able to talk to some pretty cool people though. There was a 19 year old girl who was German, but spoke 5 languages. Her mother was from Norway, so she had 2 native languages. She also knew Spanish, English, and French. It was so amazing to me; I wish the U.S. was as good about teaching languages as Europe is. There were 4 other French people, and they all knew a fair share of Spanish and English. Now I know what language I need to learn after I master Spanish. I ended up going to bed around 2:30am, and the rest of them went out clubbing until 7am. As much as I wanted to go with them, I wanted to get enough rest so I could explore the city the next day.
I woke up around 10 to a gorgeous morning, and an amazing view from my room. It was so nice to wake up, pull the curtain back, and see the bay shining in the sun.
All I have to say is that Tinder is a great tool when traveling. It’s not always the hookup app everyone thinks it is, especially among travelers. It’s an easy way to meet new people, which is exactly what I did on Saturday. I met up with a guy from Tinder, and got a free one on one tour throughout the city.
He showed me the best scenic overlooks, or paseos in Spanish. To get to these places, we used old fashioned elevators. It’s kind of hard to explain, but they’re basically little cable cars that are on some sort of pulley system (I think). They are about 150-200 years old. Some are out of order because the maintenance was not being funded. But now they are being refurbished, which I think is very important, as they add character to a city bursting at the seams with creativity. I loved all of the colors of the houses, and the murals on the walls and floors and stairs. Everywhere you looked there was so much vibrancy. These stairs are saying “Welcome to the neighborhood”. As we walked through the streets and passageways, my tour guide told me about things I needed to see next time, or some of his favorite places.
On our way to the third paseo he was going to show me, we walked by the harbor. I had expressed my desire to see wild sea lions for the first time, and we were looking for some when we were approached by 2 men selling harbor tours. They offered us a tour for 5,000 pesos for the both of us, or $7. He said that was a really good price as they are usually 10,000 pesos a person. So I agreed; I mean why not? The day was nice, and the smell of the ocean was so familiar and perfect. I think it was my first time seeing the Pacific ocean as well.
There was about 10 of us on this small boat, and we all had to wear life jackets that were so old, I wasn’t sure if they could keep anything afloat. Once again, I was very thankful to have my tour guide with me as the entire speech was in Spanish. He translated everything for me as quickly as he could, for which I was very grateful.
The first stop on the tour was this giant mechanism used to restore ships. You can see one in there now. The boat goes in, and is lifted up so they can repaint it and do any other necessary repairs. It was massive. As we rounded the corner, on a huge round buoy were 3 sea lions. I got so excited!
The driver got right up close to them, and I did understand it when he said that they are very lazy and sleep all day long. They were so big, much bigger than any I’ve seen in zoos. The dark one yawned, and I was amazed at how huge it’s teeth were. Then I started to get a little nervous once I remembered that these were still wild animals. However the tour guide clearly didn’t care as he got so close that the male, the one in the middle, sat up and roared at him. The dark one leapt into the water, and I was afraid she might leap into the boat, which would be cool if she wasn’t so big and would crush us.
Eventually we left them to sleep and continued with the tour. There were a lot of boats from a lot of different countries: Japan, Russia, Norway, and the United States had a destroyer docked there and we waved to the soldiers on board.
Around this time I was starting to get a little nauseous, which was strange, as I have never been seasick before. By the time the tour was finishing and we were heading back to shore, I was debating on moving to the edge of the boat so I could throw up over the edge. Thankfully I made it to land without incident and dry heaved into the shallows next to the dock. My guide was super nice and went to get me a drink with sugar in it as apparently that helps. I sucked down the lemonade, hoping to feel better soon so I wouldn’t ruin our day. As soon as I finished it, I threw it all back up into the ocean. This time he went to get me some napkins. Afterwards, I felt so much better, as you always do, and we debated on where to eat lunch.
There were tons of people in the street that day as well as a small parade to honor a fallen war hero from the Pacific war. With lots of people comes of lots of vendors. Waitstaff were everywhere, passing out small paper menus and trying to convince us to go to their place. It was quite convenient actually because that way we got to compare prices. My only request was seafood since I knew it would be nice and fresh. I let him pick the place since I couldn’t understand the menu too well. He ended up choosing very wisely. I got an amazing shellfish soup that was super full of oysters and clams; it even had a fish body stewing in there, and for only 5,000 pesos! (Which as I mentioned before is $7)
The place was very nice, and we were down in the basement part of the restaurant eating when I felt my first earthquake in Valparaiso. It was super small and only lasted about 6-10 seconds. I got kind of nervous, but by the time I started think about what to do in case of emergency, it was over. Living with earthquakes is so strange; they happen at random, it’s never that serious, there’s nothing you can do while it’s happening, and once it’s over, all you can do is continue with whatever you were doing. I was so nervous there because of how close we were to the sea. In Santiago, the earthquakes don’t bother me much, but in cities on the coast, they have to worry about tsunamis as well. I was told by my trusty Tinder tour guide that they are rare since the ocean floor in the harbor is 110 meters (360 feet) down. So I felt a little better.
After lunch, he had to go rehearse with his band, and I went and picked up some food I could eat later for dinner, then headed back up the stairs to the hostel. After throwing up and everything, I had an intense headache and took an awesome nap. By the time I woke up, the sun was setting. I went downstairs and socialized a little, but everyone was French, and I could see how hard they were struggling to have a conversation with me in English. So I left and went upstairs where I chilled by myself for a little while, and enjoyed the night view.
Checkout was at 11, so I packed up my things and headed downstairs for breakfast.
I also got my animal fill before I left. The hostel has a pet cat named Luza (azul spelled backwards). He was super cool, except when he was trying to steal everyone’s food. I really miss Katara and having a pet around; the apartment feels empty with just people in it.
This time I did walk to the bus station. Since it was early on a Sunday the streets were pretty empty, and I felt safe enough to walk around with my backpack, hoping no one would try anything on Mother’s Day. I made it without incident, and promptly found a bus headed to Santiago. I tried to fall asleep, but somehow the fumes were getting into the bus and the smell made me nauseous the whole way back.
Once I got onto the metro, I felt much better, and it wasn’t even raining that hard by the time I got to the train station by my house. As much as I love adventuring, I will admit it’s nice to have somewhere familiar to come back to. I really liked Valparaiso and all the colorful culture there. I hope I can go back sometime soon and explore the city even more.