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Good ole Chile-trip report

Good ole Chile-trip report

Old Jul 22, 19, 12:14 am
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Join Date: Jul 2012
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Good ole Chile-trip report

So, we got back after a vacation in Chile, mostly to watch the solar eclipse in La Serena. We visited only urban cities-3 of them- Santiago, La Serena and Valparaiso.
Santiago: We stayed in the Provencia area, pretty safe, touristy. Some restaurants, cafes etc. It is a big city so no problem in finding a hotel. We took the subway for wandering around, very easy, fast and comfortable. Just consult the map that is also available online-and the stations/routes are color coded. Get a Bip card at any station and give them the money to fill it up. You don’t even have to say much at the counter, just hand over your BIP card, then slide the money to them and they just add it to the card.Most of the travel within Chilean cities was done by buses/subway and some by Uber which has a good presence in these cities. Most rides are cheap (around 2 to 5 US dollars). We paid by the credit card option which works well as you don’t have to deal with cash. Uber drivers there have a habit sometimes of asking you where you are going even though it shows on the app. If you have language issues, just point to the app and they get it. Other than that, we didn’t have any issues with traveling within any city.

Cellphone stuff:-just buy a SIM card from any telco store -we got Movistar, 2GB+200 talk/msg for 3000 CLP in Santiago (2000CLP in Valpo) valid for 7 days. Make sure they fit it into your phone, and ask them to call your companion's phone so that you know it works. We had some issues with one of our phones and were glad that we ensured it worked, before we paid. After 7 days, just buy a new SIM all over again instead of recharhng it-it is a pain if you don't speak much Spanish. Besides you could get easily cheated as we did, in a Walmart in La Serena mall (Lider).

From Santiago we took SKY airlines to La Serena, pretty good service, comfortable, no problems there. The flight was cheap and frankly we found Sky airline better than LATAM which had long lines at the airport. The airport as La Serena was nice and clean. There is a nice restaurant/cafe there, didn’t have to wait much for our bags. Step outside and you can get an Uber, if you are staying at the beach area it is around 35 minutes to the beach in moderate traffic.

La Serena: was wonderful, we saw the eclipse on the beach there...it is a good 2 mile+ beach with beautiful sidewalks, bike lanes, lots of cleaning done by poor folks hired as cleaners, cops all around, it is a rich area. There were 80K tourist in La Serena to watch the eclipse and we were one of them. It was a mind-blowing experience-the eclipse that is, if you have never seen one, please go and do so. The collective applause by the entire 2 miles of packed audience on the beach when the sun was totally eclipsed was something to be experienced. I felt like I was in a concert. Seriously. Eclipse watching here was something else totally. We covered the complete beach and walked over to Coquimbo where we saw a few seals hanging out. Chile’s deep rooted and systemic racism and classism pretty much results in a very marked demarcation between the rich and the poor and Coquimbo, a smaller region from the beach, was one example, where the streets were dirtier, less cops, crowded small markets, broken down buildings. We were told that majority of Chileans considered themselves more White than other central/south Americans (even though more than 65% of them are hodgepodge of many other races-mestizo being one of them). However the blatant and obvious disdain Chileans have for other races was experienced by us first hand. You see it in cafes, restaurants, in day to day interaction with lighter skin Chileans (one of our group members was nonwhite and they would treat her completely different than us).

Another aspect of Chile that was disturbing was the abandonment of pets-Chile has 1.5 Million dogs/pets on the street. It is mentioned as ‘strays. These are not stray dogs, these were pure breed dogs that have been thrown on the streets by callous and unethical owners, to fend for themselves in the heat and the cold. We saw German shepherds, labs and other breeds like this, or this one or even this guy, running around everywhere in Chile. We were told that owners buy expensive pets and either when the dog gets older or when they want to go for a vacation, the dogs are thrown out. We have seen abandoned pets in El Salvador and some other central American countries which are poorer however Chile is supposed to have a better economy than most other central/south American countries. It is not poverty that is throwing these dogs on the street, it is pure lack of civic and ethical standards that leads to this abuse. Once again there were kinder souls who would provide food to these pets (expats or restaurant owners or just regular security guards in massive building complex). But these pets are ignored and suffer abuse/pain on the streets.

From La Serena our trip was to Valparaiso. We took SKY airlines back to Santiago. There is no direct bus from Santiago to Valpo, you have to drop off at Pajarito bus station and change into the Pullman bus. From the airport we took a Centropuerto bus (walk outside from gate 4, the island in the middle has the blue bus - Centro Puerto right there). There is a window to buy a ticket or a conductor from whom you can buy a ticket for 1.900 CLP one way. The bus is comfortable. Get off at Pajarito bus station. Walk to the Pullman Bus window, buy your ticket to Valparaiso. Wait for it, it will show up (the buses just pull up on the platform there, it is very orderly-you can always ask at the window which platform will your bus pull up). These buses have reserved seats so you will have your seat number. Very comfortable, lot of leg room. It took around an hour or so to get to Valparaiso bus station.

Valparaiso is a rundown city with a huge population. The station was much dirtier, a bit more unkept than the other bus station we mentioned. It has crime and as a tourist you will be a prime candidate for pickpockets at the station and mugging/assault. It is rough around the edges and depending on what area you land up in, it could take a bit of growing into. We took an Uber to our Airbnb. The touristy areas are Cerro Alegre and Concepcion. We found these to be overrun with tourist and basically a prop of cafes and restaurants that were tourist focused. I doubt any locals hang out here. There are fancy French name cafes and a menu that is geared for the visitors. Valparaiso is much hyped as an artistic place with a wild spirit. We chatted with an old timer who has seen the city change, much like most of Chile has and shared his thoughts. Remember Pinochet the dictator that was overthrown 20 years back? Chile recently elected, after a gap of 20 years, a conservative neo liberal President-Pinera, very much like our own Trump. Populism is back and there is a backlash against liberals and the intelligentsia. Much of this was spurred when immigrants from Haiti were taken in. We saw them in Chile but due to the inherent racist attitudes of mainstream Chileans (lighter skin, rich), they suffer from discrimination everywhere. We saw only 2 Haitians working in a cafe/bakery, behind the counter. The rest were selling items on the streets and are trying to make it in this country which recently deported a few of them. The rich left Valparaiso a long time back and there have been efforts to redevelop it only in a past few years. The graffiti that you see? Those artists are long gone (we asked him where were the artist/artist colonies). Graffiti is illegal here-yes you read that right. In fact, the guy who painted the piano steps, tried to repaint on of it again and was arrested. The only new graffiti you see now is on the sidewalks, on business properties, on back stairs and in run down areas made by kids. While on that topic, avoid stairs and back alleys after dark. Keep to the main streets.

Some of the highlights here is Pablo Neruda home, the Naval Museum. Try the funiculars-great way to see the skyline. The port is very active all through the time and sometimes is interesting to watch. We visited the regular cafes but got tired of them pretty fast since our taste is to try more local than tourist traps. We wandered away from the two Ceros mentioned and found Cafeteria Totto Benne -another ma and pa place, got our cappuccino and Torte with Plata (avocado). Also try empanadas at Delicias Expresswhich has over 80 types to choose from. Go to Vina Del Mar also, it is a suburb, a short ride away. We took the Metro to Vina Del Mar. Nice pretty place. Check the birds on the water, especially the Pelicans, beautiful. You can also take an Uber to Vina Del Mar which would be better as it is safer than the metro.

So, where do you stay in Valparaiso? When facing the sea, avoid anything left of Port Mueller-it is run down and assaults occur frequently (this warning was on our Airbnb welcome leaflet). Sure, only one tourist, a Canadian, was killed last year. However, as per locals, most tourist do not report robberies/assault as it is not worth the time/effort and also due to the language differences. We were accosted by drunks all over the place-do not wander in downtown areas, or the port after 5. All our Uber drivers had stories about this. Even shop owners in the business areas would warn us specifically.We took the bus route back to Santiago and it was easy and convenient. (btw, you can see pics we took of all this on Imgur -just search for user: johnyboygreen).
Overall, we found that Chile is much hyped in blogs/reviews and forums. We found inherent racism in rich white suburbs, deep demarcation in society and attitudes of Chileans that we have rarely seen elsewhere (we have covered most of Central America and South America). We experienced that first hand and it was off putting. But also, this is our experience in cities/urban areas, in 3 largest cities in Chile-however 83% of Chile’s population lives in cities. Maybe other parts of Chile are different. Good luck.

Last edited by travelnewbie; Jul 22, 19 at 12:20 am
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