Are you tired yet? We were! A travel day was welcome after all that activity.
We arrived back at Santiago, easily got a rental car on New Years Day (blessing) and we promptly headed for the beach! (it started calling to us during our rainy nights in our tent) The drive was great until we hit the popular beach towns and found ourselves in grid-locked holiday traffic. An attempted escape from the traffic got us lost, but we finally found our way back to the freeway and made a beeline in the opposite direction, towards a little beach town recommended by our guide book. We soon found ourselves at the dead end of a dirt road in the no-stoplight town of Quintay. Remarkably, we were also in front of a friendly, clean hotel with a perfect ocean view – we found our spot to thaw out for a couple nights.
Camping and flying had turned us into early risers, which gave us the perfect beach. Up for a beach walk to the fishing village at the center of town gave us a chance to explore in peace while the tourists slept in.
A path through a forest of eucalyptus trees brought us to a rocky beach with plenty of tide pools and cliffs to explore. The tourists gradually filled up the town, but we were no longer surrounded by Gringos, Quintay is primarily a summer destination for families from Santiago. When the afternoon sun got to be too much, we were only a short walk away from our room with a view, where we could enjoy a fresh lunch of avocado and tomato sandwiches. All that was missing was the mayonnaise to create a local special sandwich, the Italiano—so named because the combination represents the colors of the Italian flag.
After a thoroughly relaxing beach sojourn, we were off to Valparaiso the famous port city. First, we had to make a quick stop. Quintay is so small there wasn’t a gas station, so when a tire became concerningly low, the only option was for Josh to change it.
Valparaiso is a chaotic, fast moving city requiring attentive team work to find our way around – Aminda navigating with an old school paper map, and Josh busting out his mad skills in fast Chilian style city driving. Who needs a GPS? Narrow, hilly one-way streets, filled with aggressive cabbies and prone to sudden dead ends. Driving consumed our morning until we secured a hostel and parking spot.
We chilled for a couple hours in our downtown hotel then hit the busy street by foot to explore this very cool, historic city, which was the most important Pacific-coast sea port until the Panama Canal opened in 1914. The city continues to battle the fallout from that major economic hit (not to mention a couple of earthquakes since then).
We walked and walked and walked in the warm temps to see street art around the downtown area, a UNESCO world heritage site. We rode the Chilean funicular’s up and down the steep hill sides providing great views and close proximity to strangers.
That afternoon we connected with Lucas, a guide from Hernan’s outfit who makes Valprisio his home when not guiding in Patagonia. Lucas was the man, taking around to several more sites and giving us the low down on the area. Better yet he took us to a place with great dinner with large servings for a good price, just the way we like it. Chorriillana is an amazing dish that piles grilled meat and fried egg on top of a huge plate of papas fritas. (We enjoyed digging into a vegetarian version.)
It was time to head back towards Santiago, which meant our trip was quickly winding down. Wanting to postpone the inevitable, we took a quick detour into the Andes mountains which creates the eastern border of the city. The high-desert landscape was hot, but we camped, hiked and swam, as if at an adult-summer camp. We also discovered more amazing food in a little street cart that makes made-to-order, freshly deep-fried empanadas. Heaven!
Back in Santiago, our downtown hostel provided the perfect home base for our final few days of travel. From there we walked to parks, architecture and markets. After Long walks in the sun (we are in shape now) through the crowded streets, we were ready to wind down with some more avocado sandwiches.
Then all too soon, with tired feet and avocado-filled bellies we were off to the airport for our return journey. Nice to be home and back on the grid, but those mountain peaks and glacier lakes are still with us.