February, the second month of my adventure, was l-o-n-g. To say our accommodations were lacking would be diplomatic and kind. Decrepit and malfunctioning would be more like it. Pangea196 really messed up on this one. My room-mate and I just bucked up and made the best of it with grit, determination, and a sense of humor. Despite the daily difficulties, I managed to have some fun and interesting experiences.
Free city tours
I took group tours in both Viña del Mar, where we were staying, and nearby Valparaíso, a UNESCO world heritage site. Each offered a broad overview of the city. On the Valpo tour, we traipsed around, up and down the hills, and rode a bouncy local bus while learning about the history of the port and the street art movement. We saw the oldest funicular, the oldest Protestant cemetery in Latin America, and infamous jail houses, one of which is now the present cultural centre, Parque Cultural Ex-Cárcel.
By comparison, the Viña tour was ho-hum. We met at the floral clock called Reloj de Flores and heard its soccer-related history, proceeded to walk to a high hill for a scenic view, and then scoped some varied architecture, mostly luxe Euro-style castles built by rich German immigrants and the pink house of the Chilean president. We took the Metro to the city center, heard about local food and customs, and ended at Quinta Vergara, a municipal park where they were setting up for a huge annual music festival.
Two small museums
On a leisurely stroll along the coast, I stopped at Wulff Castle. Built by (surprise!) rich German immigrants in the style of a medieval English house. It hangs off a rugged promontory and now shows contemporary art in the galleries on the main floor.
The Fonck Museum is another repurposed grand building. It houses a treasure trove of Chilean native fauna, flora, and archaeological artifacts. It includes exhibits explaining the history of the indigenous peoples and the mysterious Easter Island, replete with mummies and shrunken heads. Located outside its front door is the only genuine Moai statue in Chile, originally from Páscoas Island — an Instagram favorite!
Pablo Neruda’s retreat
I went with a small group to visit the famous poet’s famous house on Isla Negra, 50 miles south of Valparaíso. It is not on an island but does sit on a promontory facing the Pacific ocean and its unusual buildings (resembling a boat and train) do command magnificent views. This well-maintained museum — filled with his numerous collections of large and small items, from huge ship figureheads to tiny shells and insects — is as charming and quirky as advertised. The audio tour ensured that we noted all the details to support Neruda’s reputation for being sea-loving, romantic, and whimsical. We finished with lunch in the museum restaurant and felt compelled to order Caldillo de congrio, a hearty and delicious soup immortalized in one of Neruda’s poems.
I did get out to swing dance, though the scene was lightly attended due to summer vacations. On one of our Pangean group outings, we went sand-boarding in the dunes of Concon. Memorable! Typically, I got most of my exercise walking every day, everywhere.
Maybe there are a few. I think I let my dismal surroundings and isolation affect my mood, which might have kept me from venturing to Valparaíso more often. I did not visit La Sebastiana, Neruda’s house in Valpo, or Palacio Baburizza, which displays contemporary art. I did not take the Valpo street art tour. And, sadly, I did not get to Santiago, the capital of Chile. But I prefer to take the positive view; I will consider these all reasons to return.