I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go anywhere this weekend. I was just getting over being sick, and didn’t feel like doing much of anything. But then I had to remind myself why I moved here in the first place; to explore! To do things! To have experiences I will never forget. So when I heard about this great horseback riding place in Concón, I knew I had to stop being so lazy and just do it.

So I reached out to my friend Mario and he agreed to go with me; which finally convinced me to start looking for a hostel to stay at. I had been told that the Garden Street Hostel was a great place and a good price; and they were right. I made my reservation Friday night, and left early Saturday morning.

streetWell around 10am. I took the bus to Viña del Mar and walked about 20 minutes to the hostel. What’s nice about weekend trips to the coast is that I only have to pack 1 change of clothes in a backpack. The hostel was hard to find though, I must have passed it up twice. I don’t know if that is a normal thing with hostels, but they are always so discreet with their entrances.

It was still a pretty sweet place though. The decor was very eclectic and colorful. The outdoor patio area must be so popular during the summer, but sadly it’s too cold this time of year to take full advantage of it. 

 

As soon as I checked in and paid, I wanted to leave to the dunes. Unlike the first hostel I had stayed at, there were no convenient lockers to keep my stuff safe. So I left my backpack there, and put all the important stuff in my belly bag, which I wore the rest of the day.

The receptionist was nice enough to show me where I needed to catch the micro (pronounced meecro) bus that would take me to the sand dunes. These micro buses are small buses whose routes go up and down the coastline along the length of the bay. One end starts in Valparaiso, then it travels north through Viña del Mar, Reñaca, and finally all the way through Concón. It’s a giant U shape, and you can see the different areas from good viewpoints.

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In this photo you can see Valparaíso across the water, even though I am in on the border of Reñaca and Concón.

I caught the micro easily enough, and paid my 400 pesos, which is about 75 cents. However, I made a mistake in which route the bus was taking. There’s a road that goes right along the coastline, in front of the dunes, and there’s a route that goes more inland and ends up behind the dunes. I had taken the coastal road, which meant I had to climb all the way up these wooden stairs to get to where I needed to be.

Finally I was behind the dunes and I easily found the boy selling sand boards. It was 1,000 pesos for 1 hour with the board, which is about $1.35. There were 2 different kinds of boards; one you could stand like a snowboard, and the other you could sit. I asked him how difficult the standing up ones were; he told me they were very difficult.

So I opted to sit down. Out of all the boards he gave me, I got one with Spirit on it. I was so childishly excited, and I didn’t care. Even though I felt a little silly sitting down, it was tons of fun.

The sand boarding itself was so much fun. I went so fast! The bottom of the boards needed to be waxed every time so they would glide more easily. The more wax you applied, the faster you went. By the end, I was covering the whole back with wax.

Once I was finished boarding, I explored the dunes. It was quite a workout, but definitely worth it. What was sad was how many buildings rose high above the sand, ruining the overall ambiance. I learned later that the dunes used to extend the entire length of the shore. But without government protection, people had been free to build hotels and high-rises. They want to take away more of the dunes, but the people have finally begun to protest. I hope they win and can protect what is left.2

dunes 3I gradually made my way down to the beach where there were some interesting rock formations jutting up from the sand. I went to find a good spot to watch the sun set, and happened upon some rock climbers who were taking advantage of the crevices and handholds.

There were lots of people there on the rocks, mostly couples enjoying the romantic scene. It was very picturesque with the waves crashing against the shoreline, and the sun sinking. A very peaceful moment.

 

 

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After the sun sank behind the water, I caught a bus back to Viña del Mar and the hostel. Saturday night was surprisingly chill. I made a college kid dinner of instant noodles and mashed potatoes since it was just one night. A hostel employee asked if I would like to watch a movie while I ate. I agreed and found Deadpool; obviously I chose to watch it for the third time. Some of the other guests had never seen it! So we watched it together and talked a bit.

When it was over, they headed out. I was invited to join, but as I wanted to get up early, I declined. Instead I thought I would practice my ukulele in the common room where we had just finished watching the movie. But the night shift employee came and told me to stop since people might be sleeping. For the record, people are rarely asleep in a hostel at 10 pm on a Saturday, but I took it as my cue to go to bed.

street 5I slept wonderfully, except when all the guests returned from the bars in the middle of the night. So in the morning I got to pay them back when my alarm went off at 8am. Hehe. I quietly got my things together and headed downstairs where the free breakfast awaited me. It wasn’t extravagant by any means, but it was free food and coffee, which was all that mattered to me.

I left the hostel at 9am in order to meet up with Mario, who was on his way. He lives in Valparaíso, which is farther south on the coastline. I had to catch the bus that he was already on as we were headed north to Concón. I was so grateful to have him come with me so I 1. wouldn’t have to go alone and 2. would know where to meet up with the employee from Ritoque Expeditions who I had been in contact with. There was a specific roundabout with a gas station that she would pick us up from, and he knew exactly where it was. Jana, our guide for the day, picked us up from there and we were on our way.

ritoque 9The farm was out of the way and in these beautiful hills. When we got there, we were greeted by a little pack of farm dogs and barn cats. We had to wait for the other workers to round up the horses; they were still in the pasture. Sure enough the herd came running in, and the saddling and bridling began. My horses’ name was Paine (Pine-ay) and he is a beautiful paint with one blue eye and one brown eye. Mario rode a nice dun named San Pedro.

The ride was about 3-4 hours and was breathtaking. We started on the beach where Jana asked if we would like to gallop. Of course I said hell yes. So we raced along the shoreline and it was amazing. There is no feeling quite like running on horseback next to the ocean. With so much space and speed, it feels like there are no limits. Jana said it perfectly in her slightly broken English; a free sensation.

 

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Eventually we came to a crossing where we entered a kind of marshland, home to lots of different migratory birds. Three of the dogs had come on the ride with us, and the youngest one, a white and brown puppy, splashed crazily through the water. Thankfully the horses were used to them and completely ignored them. It was so calm and peaceful compared to the windy beach we had just been on.

After the marshes we walked through a lovely pine forest. It smelled so familiar and reminded me of Missouri. Jana pointed out now-dead blackberry and blueberry bushes. Come summer, you can pick them off and eat them. There were also mushrooms that you could eat. I forget what she called them, but she said they taste like butter.

Where the forest ended, the giant sand dunes began. Jana explained to us that in order to climb them, the horses needed momentum, so we had to gallop them up the steep sandy slope. The horses already knew what was coming, I could feel Paine’s muscles tense, and I had to hold him back until it was time. Once she said go, we took off, faster than I have ever gone before. I have rarely ridden a full out gallop, but it is surprisingly smooth. The faster he went, the less I moved. Instead I concentrated on holding his head lest he trip and fall and take us both down. But it was a magical moment. Sure enough the horses got most of the way up before exhausting themselves and stopping for a break.

We leaned forward to help shift our weight and make it easier for them to climb. Once we got up, the views were incredible. I don’t know why sand dunes are so beautiful, but they really are. They look the way silk feels. We traipsed through them for a long time, sometimes running down the slopes, and walking along the ridges the sand made. If there wasn’t an ocean to help you keep your bearings, you could easily get lost; they are so vast. And for the most part, all look the same.

Jana said that fisherman live in the dunes, that the wind blows what vegetation there is into a small house of sorts. If you crawl into it, there’s like a little room. We didn’t find any, but it’s just another example of how fascinating this kind of landscape is. We saw lots of tracks from dirt bikes, jeeps, and four-wheelers, but were lucky enough not to encounter any of them. It was just the three of us, the three horses, and the three dogs in the middle of nowhere. At least that’s how it felt.ritoque 4

We stopped and rested in the middle of the dunes. The animals were tired, and we were hungry. The excursion was 30,000 pesos a person, or around $50, which is a great price since it was over 3 hours and included snacks. Jana expertly cut up a pineapple for us while we munched on cookies. The dogs were super sweet and desperate to cuddle… and eat our food. The bigger one’s name is Temblor, which means tremor in Spanish. One of his paws is a little deformed due to a bout with distemper. So now he walks unevenly, like there’s an earthquake. As unfortunate as it is, it’s still pretty cute. He kept up with us the whole time just fine though.

After our snack, it was time to head back, sadly. We made our way through the dunes and onto the beach. When there was large enough stretch with no people, we raced the horses on the sand. It was pretty epic. Eventually we made our way back; the beach route was much faster. After Jana unsaddled the horses and took care of what she needed to, she drove us back to some restaurants close to where she picked us up from. We paid her and thanked her vigorously for the incredible experience.

Mario and I quickly decided on a place that served seafood empanadas, which is basically everywhere. Concón is known for its amazing empanadas. They have normal pork and steak ones, but my favorites are the oyster, clam, and crab ones. Especially with cheese. So so good. We each got 2 because we were starving, and it was nice to sit in the sun and warm up. The day wasn’t cold, but it was windy, and Mario already had a cough, and I was still recovering from being sick. Needless to say, we made a trip to the pharmacy before heading back south to Viña del Mar.

sunsetInstead of taking the bus all the way back to the city, we hopped out along this beach park boardwalk. It was really nice and full of families and fun things to do. There were pony rides, awesome playgrounds, chess and checkers games. There were artisans selling crafts, and we walked out onto a refurbished dock and watched the sunset to our right, while the lights started to come on in Valparaíso to our left. It was the perfect way to end an awesome day.

The only issue I had was getting back to Santiago that night. Everyone had done the same thing I did. Spent all the time they could on the coast, but needed to get back for work on Monday. So one bus company, Turbus, was totally out of buses heading to Santiago. Not sure how that’s possible, but it happened. So I went back and forth between companies, checking fares. I finally found an acceptable one from Pullman that was leaving in the next 5 minutes. So I chose seat 14, and ran to the terminal. When I got on the bus, there was someone in my seat. So I took the next empty one, hoping no one would come to claim it. No such luck. So I had to go talk to the guy who was in my seat. I asked what his number was, and lo and behold, they had given him 14 too. At that point I went into “every man for himself” mode, and grabbed a seat at the very back of the bus. I figured if anyone tried to sit there, I could explain and hopefully stay. I was determined to get back on that bus. Thankfully no one tried, and we made it back with a completely full bus.

dunes 5I was exhausted but extremely happy by the time I made it back home. I had done everything I set out to do this weekend, and the satisfaction was palpable. Everyone here always visits Valparaíso on the weekends, which is fine, it’s interesting and colorful, but kind of dirty in my own personal opinion. If I go back to the coast, it will definitely be to Concón.