After spending some time in Patagonia and Antarctica, it felt damn good to return to the heat of a more typical South American summer. I spent around a week in Santiago, mostly dealing with errands and catching up on website entries, before doing what most Santiaguinos do to escape the oppressive summer heat ... head a bit further north to the cooler breezier seaside cities of Valparaίso and Viña del Mar.
Before leaving Santiago, though, I did have the opportunity to experience their national election in which, for the first time in the history of the country, Chile elected a female president. I'm not sure what I expected, but I was at the same time both relieved and strangely disappointed not to witness a huge military uprising on election day. Apparently, and most people would say "thankfully", the dictatorship days appear to be behind Chile.
I stayed in the harbor city of Valparaίso, Chile's principal port, second largest city, and home of Chilean parliament. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 due to its historical importance, natural beauty, original architecture and layout.
Like an amphitheatre, the city spreads up from a beautiful bay into a steep maze of cobbled streets and colorful clusters of houses. Its suburbs, built on sheer cliffs and hilltops, are accessed by steep roads, stairway footpaths, and old funicular railways known as "ascensores" that slowly bump and grind their way up and down the hills. The city is filled with beautiful viewpoints. While walking around town, a great workout for thighs and butt is rewarded with great views of the city and harbour.
While staying in Valparaίso I did a couple of day trips to nearby Viña del Mar, one of Chile's most fashionable and expensive beach resorts. It's a nice place to visit for sure, but definitely not a place to stay while traveling on a backpacker budget! Viña was originally founded as a weekend retreat and garden residence for the wealthy elite of Valparaίso and Santiago, and has remained a top beach destination for Chileans and international visitors. Viña's coastline is a combination of old colonial buildings, new modern highrises, small sandy beaches, and even one huge casino. Although the water was too cool for my liking, I couldn't believe how incredibly packed with people the beaches were!
So, after a week of seaside relaxation, it was time to switch gears again. I returned to Santiago, this time to catch a flight that would give me a little taste of Chile ... Polynesian style.