Copiapó is a dusty and largely skippable town. We had scheduled four days here thinking the city would have more to offer than it did. Most of the tours were extremely expensive and the museums closed.
We found that they local discoteca was inconveniently close to our hostel room window and the window was the only source of cool air. Sounds of late-night car alarms and drunken arguments regaled us for our four nights there.
We started booking our next leg immediately. Over dinner and beer at the hostel, we enjoyed chatting with our hosts. They were nice folks that tended to have workers stay at their hostel more than tourists.
6-12-2019 We took a local bus to Caldera and then a taxi to Bahia Inglesa. Caldera is a fishing town with a fish market on the pier and a museum at the head of the pier. The museum was closed when we were there, but the pier was hopping with the smell of fish, fishermen, and all of the wildlife that sought to get an easy meal.
After a quick ride to Bahia Inglesa we walked the more touristy beach and had lunch at a local restaurant.
After lunch, we wondered the town before reversed our route and returned to our noisy hostel.
7-12-2019 Deciding to get a little exercise, we decided to hike the nearby high point of Cerro de la Cruz. We found a well-maintained trail to the cross on the summit and the remains of a radio(?) station. A few locals were videoing something at the cross. We hiked along the ridgeline for a mile or so to check out what there was to see. It turns out, not much. Lots of extremely dry hills and a few wondering trails.
After the hike we found a nice restaurant called Juljardan.
8-12-2019 It was our last day in Copiapó. We left our bags with most of our stuff with the hostel and roamed the town. I had purchased dog treats and had been enjoying handing them out until a guy aggressively pan-handled me. We also had trash thrown at us twice! The first was a trying to get us to buy him lunch and a water bottle. The second was pretty obviously high and repeatedly licking his fingers and until he decided to be mad at us and throw an apple at us. As late evening rolled around, we picked up our stuff and went to the bus station. We caught the overnight bus to Calama, Chile. It was good to get out of Copiapó and on our way to San Pedro de Atacama.
La Serena, Chile is a regional capital. A pretty place with beaches and access to one of the many “Poor Man’s Galapagos” scattered around South America. We got off the bus at the bus station and walked along the highway for a block or three to our turn and then along the boarded up mall. Recent protests had reduced the hours and appearance of the mall to a gated and condemned structure. As a throwback to our childhood and a huge bit of humor, we found a vandalized Chuck E. Cheese. Someone managed to put a red paint splash on his head. 1. A f*cking Chuck E. Cheese in South America!!! 2. It looked like a Deadmou5 cover art.
We eventually found our apartment for the next few day and it was far better than we expected.
1-12-2019 We only had a few days and only one worked for a tour of the Poor Man’s Galapagos (AKA Isla Choros) and the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. Due to the protests, we were not allowed to land on the island, but we could see most of the island and animals from the water, so we proceeded with the trip. An 830 AM pickup was followed by a bus ride to a gas station for coffee and breakfast. We got coffee and fed the street dogs. After the brief stop, we made our way into the countryside. Desert landscapes were dotted with the sight of guanacos and cacti. The bus pulled off on the shoulder of the road and we were directed to get out to see the foxes. There was about 20 zorro chillas or small gray foxes. They appeared to expect handouts from motorists, but we didn’t humor them. The foxes were very photogenic.
After a few dozen photos, we funneled back into the van to finish our trip to the beach. From there, we took a boat to sea.
We couldn’t land at the island, but we could cruise around it. A dolphin was sighted on the way out, but I missed it. As we got closer to the island, we started seeing Lobo Marinos (sea lions), and sea birds.
Pelicans soon became visible and as we rounded the point, Humboldt penguins and more sea lions started appearing.
The captain of the boat pulled in close to one tiny bay to get a better look at a group of penguins when someone spotted a sea otter!
It was smaller than I thought it would be… maybe 18 inches (45cm) long. After risking our lives for a while close to shore in the breakers, the captain backed us out of the waves. We cruised further up the coastline looking at Humboldt penguins, when someone spotted a whale.
The boat instantly went into whale mode. The motor revved and we took to the deep water. Our crew called to other captains to let them know a whale was about. We got close several times and it was identified as a fin whale. The second largest whale in the world. As we lost sight of the whale, another boat called out that their motor was dead and they needed a tow. Our boat rendered assistance. The trip back was slow, but the other passengers, crew, and captain were happy to have a safe trip back.
Back on land we stopped at restaurant for lunch at a little restaurant and then a long ride back to our Air BnB.
03-12-2019 We walked around La Serena. The museum and Japanese Gardens were closed due to the manifestaciónes. We walked through parks and viewed the statues that had their eyes painted red to warn of what theCarabinerosdid to protestors and those that stood up. As of Nov 22, 2019, 222 eye injuries had been reported at the hands of the police.
04-12-2019 In the morning, we packed up and took a bus ride to Copiapó. We are now approximately 800 km (500 miles) from Santiago. This is the regional capital and the site of infamous 2010 Copiapó mine accident that trapped 33 miners.
After less than two weeks at our home in Colorado, we boarded a plane heading to Santiago, Chile. We had already been to its namesake, so we hoped we were ready for another Santiago. Concerns about the riots and civil unrest troubled our thoughts, but didn’t stop us from getting to Denver at 7 AM. As we drove down, our flight was delayed by an hour. By the time we arrived at our layover in Toronto (I know Toronto…why is it cheaper to head north first??) the flight from Toronto to Santiago was delayed and would keep getting delayed until it was more than 2 hours late leaving. The airport was packed with people sleeping, pacing, and staring blankly at a wall…. It was after midnight and the flight was going to take more than 10 hours to get us to Chile.
Several movies and meals later, we landed in Santiago. The luggage delivery system broke, so we had an hour to wake up from our stupor but without coffee. The airport for Santiago is way out of town, and we knew we would be not thinking clearly, so had arranged with the Esquela Bellavista Spanish for a ride to our homestay. At the last minute, the school also put Laura and me in the same homestay while we took 2 weeks of Spanish class.
Santiago gave me the initial impression of being in Phoenix or southern California. The city is sprawling and dry. The mountains and hills in the distance are dry and mostly covered with low shrubs and desert plants. After settling in and getting a chance to meet our host Edel, went out to explore the area close to our homestay.
Since we arrived a few days before class started, we had time to tour around the city and checkout some museums, parks, and other sights. We started our first full day in Chile by walking the ~3 kilometers to the school. This helped us figure out how hard it was to navigate and timing for going to school, but it also got us downtown so we could look around. The area close to the school was impacted greatly by the recent manifestacíons. Street lights were torn down or off. Graffiti marred walls, statues, and pavement. Windows and doors were frequently boarded up or armored with metal roofing and steel. Spray painted tributes to the Negro Matopaca could be found scattered around different walls. Traffic was even more chaotic than most areas as drivers were determining who’s turn it was by how anger they got. We made our way down to the tourist information building near the Plaza de Armas. The employee there told us that in addition to the manifestacíons, several government employee groups were on strike. We had notice trash piling up, but it hadn’t clicked until then. The strikes had shut down several of the local museums and parks. Luckily for us Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Museum of Pre-Columbian Art) and Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) were both open. We decided to visit the Museum of Memory.
The Museum of Memory and Human Rights is a museum dedicated to remembering the Chileans that fought and some died to overthrow the dictatorship that took over Chile by military and police coup in 1973. It catalogs the numerous human rights violations, torture, murders, and general horrors that were inflicted on Chileans by the dictatorship in hopes that remembering will help prevent it from happening again. It was sobering to see the violence inflicted on people and to read about those that were murdered and their bodies dumped. More than 400 Chilenos were tied to train rails and dumped in the ocean in an attempt to hide their deaths. While the topics were deep and disturbing, it was important for us to understand the backstory for the recent riots.
That evening we went with our host to a vigil for those killed and blinded in the recent manifestacíons. It was a quiet and somber affair with candles and music.
Over the next few days, we took a walking tour of downtown, we climbed up the hill made in 1919 to Castillo Heldalgo, and sampled a few good IPAs. Castillo Heldalgo is an interesting set of structures, walls, and lookouts made to resemble an old castle or lookout set in the middle of old town Santiago. It is worth the climb to see the city from a vantage.
The next morning we decided to walk to and then climb to the statue of the virgin on San Cristόbal hill. It is a pleasant hike/walk up mostly paved road and/or trail depending on route to the summit. For the less physical, you can ride a tram to near the summit. Along the way, a nearly endless stream of walkers, cyclists, dogs, and rollerblade riders. The crowds reminded me of the people you see on hikes like Camelback (Phoenix, AZ) or Angel’s Landing (UT). Some are just there for fun and not really feeling that they are doing *something*, others treat it as if they are climbing Everest. It is always strange to me to see the different groups meshing and being so different.
18-11-2019 – The first day of class went well, but not easy. I enjoyed it more than the class we took in Spain. It helped that Jannis, a German fellow with a Chilean wife, was in the class. He made me feel like I wasn’t the dumbest person on Earth. To give him credit, he was taking Spanish with instructors that spoke English as a backup. So he had had to translate from German to English to Spanish…I could barely do Spanish to English. He was a super nice guy. A young father learning Spanish, since he was immigrating to Chile, and trying to get a job in his profession as a chef.
The next day was still tough and a bit stressful. I went for a run after class and that helped immensely. It is always nice to use old good habits to deal with the stress of new places and languages.
The next few days we did class and then did the after school activity. We walked the Italian district (Burrow de Italia), talked and learned some history in the conversation group, and toured various local neighborhoods. One Friday evening, I took off while Laura did the study group and traveled by bus, train, and foot to a sporting goods store on the far side of town. After I got back, we had a beer and planned our route north out of Santiago. While huddled around a laptop and trying to decide the best towns and sights to see, our desk started to shake. We were getting a minor earthquake (terremoto but not the drink). Our host candidly informed us that this earthquake was only a tremor.
On Saturday, we took a bus to Valparaiso. After walking the wrong way, towards the poor and run down area, we found our way to the area where street art and good food rule. We rode the funicular or ascensore up the hill. An ascensore is an odd elevator meets escalator contraption. You ride up a steep slope in a gondola on rails. This took us quickly up the hill to a lookout and then narrow streets. On our walk a woman gave us a flyer for a restaurant. We checked a few restaurants as we wondered the street art and murals and ended up trying out the one from the flyer. It was very good. Many courses, with a pisco sour included, and nice presentation. We found out that the restaurant had only been open a few days. After a large lunch, we walked back to the bus station and made our way back to Santiago. A nice day and a good test of buses in Chile.
For Sunday, we had scheduled a wine tasting through the school and several students were going. Since the pickup point was in downtown, we walked down early and had pizza and helado in Barrio de Italia (Little Italy) before catching the van to the winery. The group was fun, but the tour was poorly planned and it ended up being in English instead of Spanish.
The week progressed with class and Spanish extracurricular activities after. Tuesday’s activity was a tour of a famous cemetery. By the time we made it to the cemetery, half the group had left. The instructor kept going and pointing out famous gravesites for 5 hours. By the time we made it back to the host family’s house, I was done. I wanted to eat and be left alone, but there was a birthday party and lots of Spanish speaking family members about. My Spanish isn’t great in the best of situations, but after an extended day of it, I wanted nothing but to hide in my room, have a beer, and watch a mindless program.
The last day of class was nice. Beer, pesto salad, apple pie, and saparpilla at the going away/graduation fiesta. Afterwards, we prepared for traveling north by bus to La Serena.