Saturday, November 28, 2009

Valparaìso, CA (I mean CH) to now

     I didn't wait for tomorrow to roll around for heading out to Valpo, as the bus would've left at 8:30am and arrived somewhere near 5pm, wasting the day. I showed up to the terminal at 10, grabbed the 10:30pm bus directly after wolfing down another cholesterol-friendly lomito completo (slab of beef with fried egg and ham slice), and got (yet) another terribly discomforting seat. Luckily for me, Mission Impossible 2 was playing, only in terribly dubbed Spanish-speaking voices. This didn't help the sleep. The drive rose into the dark mountains, following a heavily winding road for a few hours. At 2:00am, we reached the aduana (border customs station), and everyone filed out into the extreme cold air; afterall, it was probably 4,000m in elevation. The long hour of checking for smuggled fruits passed rather uneventfully, and we all shambled back onto the bus, either half-asleep or half-alive zombies. I will address this further into the reading.

     The hour of 8 brought me down the other side of the mountains into Chile, which, although it looks terrestrially [?, sic] similar to Mendoza or any of the Western "Cuyo" cities of Argentina, feels completely different from Argentina. The roads, the signs, the smells are all different.
     And there were a TON of ad campaign signs for the next up-and-coming Presidents and Senators for Chile and Valparaìso, respectively. Every single space on a telephone pole or sidewalk was bathed in these signs, X for this and Y for that, and Q & Z for this, and G & 67 for that. I guess the Senators do a photo op with whoever they support in the running for lesser positions, leading to some funny photos. One guy looks like Colonel Sanders with the facial hair... and another guy, Lavin, whom I ran into at one point further into this story, had an ad of him profiling from the shoulders up like a Roman statue, jacket draped over his shoulder with his hand.

     Also, everywhere I looked were masses of telephone wires, all bunching up like frantic spokes on a giant bike wheel, all disorganized and jerry-rigged together. We stopped briefly in the sister city to Valpo, which is Viña del Mar, a city relatively popular for its beaches, where I first saw all the signs. But don't worry, Valpo has just as many, if not more, campaign signs in all forms. And telephone wires. Loads of them.
     The weather was overcast, which I should expect from any city on the Pacific Ocean at 8am, a heavy marine layer dangling above the city buildings.

     As we continued on the route to my destination, the hills grew larger and the city was in full view. Valparaiso, here we are! The city was an important maritime city back in the pirate age, continuing through until the day that dastardly Panama Canal was built. Now ships had no need to pass the rough and longer Cape Horn route to reach The West. And speaking of pirates, this place also was sacked by pirates quite a few times, so there were constant fortifications of some of the hills. They were probably destroyed during one of the numerous earthquakes to shake this region bluer than a baby.

     Anyway, I arrived into the terminal and caught a cab with some guy who was on my bus, who was from Chicago and doped up on Xanex at the time of meeting. But hey, it was a cheap cab ride that way. We checked into Casa Aventura, which had spacious hostels with only 3 real beds to each! I guess they value comfort more than money, allowing less people in their hostel, and staying fine and steady in the economy crunch. We were treated to our first real breakfast of fruit, eggs, fresh bread and TWO homemade preserves, strawberry and kiwi ¿interesting flavor?

     Out and about in the city, there are tons of hills, and TONS of colors. Every single building, trash can, and available wall is either painted some interesting color or completely decked out in either physical art or nice graffiti pieces. Art types would fully dig the bohemian, anything goes vibe here. Of course, this place is a little more expensive than Argentina, and I spent about 600AR worth of money in my 3.5 day stay. The houses here are more poorly constructed than in Argentina, but mainly off the beaten tourist path far up the hills. Still, they are bedecked in all the lavish colors and shapes that would make Picasso go crazy, if he didnt already.

     The terrain is hills, then port, then sea. There is a narrow strip of flat between the two, where the downtown center resides, with all of its commercial buildings and mini skyscrapers. It very much resembles San Francisco in that aspect. The weather, however, is far from Frisco, and actually much more resembling San Diego. Some clouds or grey skies in the morning, and the sun viciously burning away all soon thereafter for lots of sun. The air is fresh and salty, and the breeze is equally. Random fact that made me confirm my dubious comparison - San Diego lies around 32.5 degrees Latitude, and Valpo at a mere 33! So it is quite true that, despite the fact we are on different hemispheres, our weather is equally opposing.

     It`s so easy to get lost simply wandering the streets, especially in the hills. There is hardly any city grid, save for the downtown area, and the streets curve and wind and wrap around the hilly mounds all the way up. There are sidewalks and sidestreets and sidesteps and doorsteps and more steps and stairways and walkways and more, but if you can`t find them, don`t try and deny them, since soon you`ll be wishing you just stayed indoors. What a badass poem I just wrote. I don`t even know what it means, but it`s surely true. Valpo is an incredibly secret city. Secret because...I never seemed to know where I was, no matter how many times I looked on the map. I could never tell where people were going or what they were doing, or who they know or don`t want to know. Quite a different feeling than Argentina, but I kind of like the chaotic  and slightly darker-feeling change.

      Anyways, I checked out the famed ascensors (vernicular elevators throughout the city that cut through hills, saving the walk), and thought they were a little interesting, not too spectacular though. There`s really not too many touristy things to do here except wander the streets, and whenever I wanted to visit some place, I ended up somewhere else or not able to find it. That also lends to the subvertive, clandestine feel. Otherwise, the houses themselves, many of which belonged to the Victorian Era, were quite the site, some with rusting tin roofs or fences.

     I tried the local seafood, but only in the form of crab empanada (DELICIOUS), and almost bought some fresh stuff right in the outdoor market to have them cook it for me in a nearby restaurant, but I didn`t. That is because of food poisoning I got from that dammed lomo completo back in the Argentine bus station, which came full-force the first afternoon in Valpo, limiting my normal risk-taking in the foreign food world. I recovered by drinking fresh fruit juices and sipping water, but going out with a couple people to a restaurant and watching them eating made me sad. But the sadness equalled out the nausea, and I recovered fully by Day 2 in the port.

I also had the privelage of stumbling across a carcel (prison), that had been built in 1853, abandoned in 1999, and partially converted into a cultural center. Kids were playing futbol in the prison yard, with two goals set up. Otherwise, the place had a very eery feeling to it, as if someone was always watching you. And there were random shady-looking guys who appeared every now and then on the grounds, lending the feeling of never knowing if someone will jump out and attack you to the mix.

     And for Thanksgiving, I had to be American for a couple hours. I went to the store, bought some raw turkey, a potato, a lemon, two tomatoes, a red pepper, and an avocado, and whipped up a Thanksgiving dinner for myself.

It consisted of turkey breast covered in a tomato-red pepper wine sauce, with lemon-pepper potatoes, and a whole avocado. Superb. And, I shared a bit with another American, adding that aspect in as well.

     After walking probably over 15 km in the few days I was there, up and down and around the city, I grabbed an 8am bus back across the border to Mendoza, and arrived yesterday at (roughly) 5pm. I decided I wanted to return ``home`` to Buenos Aires, and skip Malargùe this trip, and possibly make it a journey for next time. I caught a 6pm bus for the 14 hour trip to Bs.As., and arrived at 8 this morning. I am going to possibly do a day of polo on horseback tomorrow, and would like to head North of Bs.As. on Monday to Rosario, a slightly subtropical town on the brown Rio Parana, to hang out with mosquitos for a few days. I could then head East to Colon, situated right across from Uruguay, separated only by the Rio Uruguay. From here I can visit a nearby subtropical national park, then return to BsAs next weekend for a futbol game and relaxing time before leaving. I leave here for San Diego in only 9 more days!!!!!¡¡¡¡¡!!!!!

All for now, more for later (if possible in these few remaining days), this is Drew Peters.

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