Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Amazing Race 16, Episode 2

Valparaiso (Chile) - Puerto Varas (Chile)

Mural of skeletons on bicycles, Valparaiso

Valparaíso narrowly missed my short list of a dozen favorite new destination discoveries from my last trip around the world: if I had let the list grow to a baker’s dozen, it would have included Valpo. For what it’s worth, the picture of me in an orange life jacket smiling at you from the sidebar of this blog was taken on a small-boat tour of Valparaíso harbor.

Ascensor Villaseca, Valparaiso

After five days on the road through small towns in the northern Chilean desert with sparse, overpriced accommodation options intended for mining-industry business travellers, followed by an all-night bus ride, we splurged on an ocean-view room at the impeccably-run Yellow House bed & breakfast, which was fleetingly visible on “The Amazing Race” at the top of the Ascensor Artilleria, one of the funiculars that signify Valparaíso the way that cable cars do San Francisco.

Panorama of Valparaiso from the Yellow House

Our view over the harbor stretched from the naval academy over the container port, drydocks, and cruise ship berths to downtown business district and the surrounding hills. It’s a compact city with a distinct neighborhood on each “cerro” (hill), and walkable if you pay close attention to the contour lines on the map and take advantage of the ascensors.

Street going uphill, Valparaiso

Despite the inevitable (and apt) comparisons to my adopted home town, Valparaíso’s vibe reminds me more of Lisbon — less pretentious than San Francisco — and the continued domination of the local economy by the port makes it reminiscent of Vladivostok (which has its own hills and its own less widely-known funicular.

Valparaíso is one of the most important ports on the South American Pacific coast, where neither ship chandlers’ shops nor marching formations of naval cadets attract a second glance in the central business district. It’s a common staging base for Cape Horn and Southern Ocean cruises, and with little local market for luxury cruises — it’s a small, basically blue-collar city — it can sometimes (but entirely unpredictably) be a great place for last-minute cruise-only deals on unsold cabins for as little as US$50 per person per day, especially at the beginning and end of the southern-hemisphere summer cruise season or for “repositioning” cruises. If your schedule and route is flexible, check the specials posted in the windows of local travel agencies.

And as anywhere we went on the Chilean coast, the seafood was extraordinary and, if you ate at stalls in the markets rather than white-tablecloth restaurants, extraordinarily affordable.

But the racers, as usual, didn’t get to settle in or do justice to Valparaíso. After just one night (we weren’t told where they stayed), they had to go back to Santiago and then on to Puerto Varas by bus.

As in neighboring Argentina , Chilean long-distance bus companies all have computerized but separate reservation systems. It’s a challenge to figure out which bus companies go where, and from which of Santiago’s four main long-distance bus stations .

The racers’ task would have been much easier, however, had any of them consulted a guidebook or map. The best guidebook to Chile is Wayne Bernhardson’s Moon Handbooks Chile and the best tourist map of the entire country is the waterprooof Chile map from Rough Guides. But any map or guidebook that showed Puerto Varas at all would have been sufficient to make clear that it’s only twenty kilometers from the much, much larger city of Puerto Montt. Some Puerto Montt buses stop on request in Puerto Varas as they pass through — but not all. Because they only asked about direct buses from Santiago to Puerto Varas, almost all the racers waited all day in Santiago for overnight buses that arrived in Puerto Varas the next morning, when they almost certainly could have gotten there the night before if they had made connections via Puerto Montt. The team that finished first was the one team that asked about possible connections (even without having a map or guidebook) , and found them via the smaller intermediate city of Temuco.

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 21 February 2010, 23:59 (11:59 PM)

Is it quite easy to go from Chile to Argentina, by car? Any papers required?

Posted by: Maralee, 21 October 2010, 11:20 (11:20 AM)
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