Valparaiso and Camping in the Andes

Saturday we had free, so we decided to take the bus to the nearby port city of Valparaiso, as we had heard it was a must see. I had the foresight to take some screenshots of the Wikitravel page on my phone ahead of time, so that when we didn’t have internet, we would still have a little guidebook of sorts. I assumed that it would be easy to find a main square or point of interest from the bus terminal, so I didn’t take a screenshot of a map, or even look at a map.

When we got off the bus in Valparaiso, I started walking in what looked like a promising direction, with mom following me, both of us thinking I had some idea of what I was doing. We walked for quite a while stopped and ate lunch, then walked some more, still not finding anything that looked like it was worth a visit to Valparaiso to see. Finally I figured out how to get a taxi, since they have a shared taxi system that runs particular routes (hard to hail one when you don’t know where you want to end up). Valparaiso is known for its “cerros” or hills which offer interesting street art and amazing views of the sea. I randomly picked the name of a cerro, saw a street full of parked taxis, and the taxi drivers pointed us to one who could take us there.

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It turns out I randomly picked a good cerro, because it was a really beautiful area with lots of interesting shops and amazing street art. Unfortunately the weather was cold and rainy, so we ducked into a café until the sun came back out a little later. We walked around through lots of winding alleyways and up and down stairs, admiring the graffiti and popping into art galleries and shops. Eventually we ended up at one of the elevators that the city is known for, which carry you down the hills and save you a lot of walking. We made our way back to the bus terminal and headed back to Santiago.

On Sunday, we were picked up at our apartment and taken about an hour out of the city to take a horseback riding tour into the Andes. We were matched with horses, a guide, and a mule who was unfortunate enough to have the job of hauling all of our food and gear up and down the steep mountains. We rode about 4 hours into the mountains until we got to a stream where we were going to set up camp.

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Our guide, Leo, pulled out a fishing pole and we headed to the creek to catch dinner. Luckily, we had backup, since the 3 tiny fish that I caught made a great appetizer but weren’t quite enough for a meal. Leo built a fire and threw on some sausages, steaks and chicken. We must have looked hungry. Then he pulled out bread, wine, and beer. We had quite the feast. Leo told us that he had been going to this spot to camp with his dad since he was a small child. When he was 8, he started going alone. Four hours by horseback into the Andes at 8 years old doesn’t sound like the safest thing to do, but he lived. He also told us about the pumas, which luckily only come into that area during the winter time because they have to look farther for prey.

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At night, we got in our sleeping bags and fell asleep under the stars. Which is just as amazing as it sounds for about the first 15 minutes, then the cold sets in and you really start to feel all those rocks that are only separated from your body by a few layers of cloth. In the morning, Leo pulled more food out of the packs. Eggs, tomatoes, apricots, coffee… We had a good breakfast, and then it was time to find the horses and the mule. Leo didn’t tie them down for the night, he just let them wander around to find some good grass to eat.

We hunted for a while then I had the slightly scary honor of riding a couple of them bareback over the creek and back to the campsite. Leo saddled them up, loaded the mule again, and we headed back to the ranch. My horse was a lot quicker on the way back. He knew the drill, and knew that he was going home to some oats and some rest.

We were taken back to Santiago, and it felt pretty great to wash the horse smell off of me. We decided after a night of roughing it in the mountains that we deserved a treat, so we headed to the barrio Lastarria to a restaurant called Chipe Libre that specialized in pisco drinks and Peru-inspired dishes.

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