Vina del Mar

After a few days in Valparaiso, we were ready for a change of scenery and made plans to move a few miles up the road to the neighboring city of Vina del Mar. Since our boat was scheduled to arrive in a week, we were happy enough to stay nearby and explore the area a bit more. We also wanted to be close by in case we needed to take care of anything in advance – dealing with customs, meeting our shipping agent, or filing any paperwork. We don’t really know what to expect and staying close by gave us some peace of mind.

Once we checked out, our Airbnb host met us and offered us a ride to the metro station we wanted to reach. Since wandering around with our awkward luggage is anything but fun, we took him up on his kind offer and pretty soon we were on the metro making our way towards Vina del Mar. The violinist on the metro playing Christmas carols made my day :)

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Once in Vina del Mar we had rented another apartment, close to the metro and the beach – best of both worlds! When we found ourselves on a street corner carrying our luggage and trying to figure out a map of the area, we were relieved to see the security guard from a nearby building waving at us from across the street; he’d been keeping an eye out for us. We were happy that he was expecting us and were pleased to see a nice, clean apartment where we would be spending the next week.

We took advantage of the location and started our visit with a walk along the coast, just a few blocks away. The highlight of our wander was Castle Wulff. Too bad they spelled it wrong :)

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Our first impressions of Vina were pretty positive between the lovely waterfront promenade, the hordes of horse-drawn carriages offering city tours, and the pretty flower clock that reminded me of Disneyland. We had a memorable lunch in which we devoured a huge pizza. Although we decided against the maraschino cherry/peanut combination.

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As has become typical, we went grocery shopping and considered ourselves settled in.

The next few days in Vina were pretty low-key. We took advantage of feeling settled for a week, which in hindsight was much needed. For me, I left California in late October, so I’m at the point where I’m starting to feel the time on the road and I’m craving a bit of normalcy. Hanging around the same city for a week gave me that. It meant I got to watch some trashy TV, work on planning a wedding, catch up a bit with people back home, do some reading… just regular life type things. For Wolf, it meant much of the same, except he doesn’t watch trashy TV :) It felt luxurious to be able to go for runs along the water in the mornings or get a work out in at the apartment in the afternoon. So, while we don’t have a lot to show for most of our time in Vina, it felt really good to just chill out.

We also made it to the local mall on a mission to find a big grocery store – we keep hoping to find quinoa, and thought maybe even tofu would be available at the Super-Walmart-esque location. Another failed attempt, it was still interesting to walk around the mall. We checked the home improvement mega-store for lighting options to add to the van, and instead walked out with a string of Christmas lights – a worthwhile investment in Christmas spirit :)

One night we brought a few adult beverages out to the beach in the evening to take in the last hour of sunshine and check out the scene. It was a little disappointing to see that this Hamburg Sud vessel which had been unloaded already… It was one of the options we had looked at when choosing a shipping company; ultimately we chose a different boat because it was scheduled to arrive a bit sooner… We toasted to our adventure anyway, enjoying the sunset and the happy dogs running along the beach.

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Saturday afternoon we went to the local history museum, the most interesting part was the wing devoted to Easter Island. As we thought about how to spend time before our van arrived, we explored options for visiting Easter Island, but ultimately decided that we couldn’t justify the insane expense, so we’ll have to settle for the Moai statue at the museum, an actual original brought over from Easter Island.

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After the museum, we were trying to find the farmers market our host had suggested we check out. Unsurprisingly, I must have misunderstood the directions he provided in Spanish. Still hoping we’d find it and have the chance to stock up on some fruits and veggies, we stumbled across what we thought might be the market.

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Once under the pleasant green tent, we realized we had hit the jackpot – the market was full of rows of stalls selling a bit of everything: bikes, clothing, souvenir shops and, most importantly, Christmas decorations! All of a sudden, we were no longer wandering the streets of Vina del Mar aimlessly. Now we were choosing a Christmas tree! For those of you who may have chosen your tree this year by hiking through snow and chopping down a mature spruce while enjoying crisp mountain afternoon with the smell of pine sap wafting through the air… you should stop reading now. Our tree shopping experience was a bit more basic – the most challenging part was deciding which size of ugly, plastic, Charlie-Brown tree would fit somewhere in our van. Wolf found the perfect little guy, along with some tiny lights and ornaments, and we were set. Christmas decorations DONE.  And while it may not have been a hallmark-worthy process, I had an emotional moment realizing that this was the first time I would pick out a Christmas tree with my future husband. The fact that our little plastic tree came from a market we stumbled upon in the middle of Chile just made it all that more sweet.

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At this point, with our boat’s arrival just a few days away, we had received an update from our shipping broker with particulars about where and when we would start jumping through bureaucratic hoops before we could drive our baby away. Since we would need to present ourselves at the customs office in Valparaiso, we decided that it might be a good idea to scope out the scene ahead of time so that, at the very least, we knew where to go. With that, we decided to head back to Valparaiso the next day for another stroll about town. This time, we started with the port, feeling like kids in a candy store looking at all the boats and containers everywhere.

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We found the customs building we would be returning to in a few days and, satisfied that we had accomplished our mission, we made our way to a lunch spot I had been eyeing.

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The place was just so darn unique. Nestled between a stairway and a crumbling building, the little open air restaurant had three things on the menu – pizza, juice, and chai tea. The guy running the join three our pizzas into the oven and then ran back to the art gallery where he split his time. The pizza was awesome, the juice was fresh, his art was cool, and the setting was, for me, quite memorable.

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We finished our walk with one last ride on the ascensor and then headed back home.

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If we had planned a bit further in advance, we would have realized that Monday was a national holiday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. On our bus ride from Santiago to Valparaiso we had passed a nice looking church which we later realized is the destination for a massive pilgrimage which takes place each Dec 8th. Apparently they shut down the highway to accommodate the millions of people who walk, cycle, or horseback ride their way to the church in celebration.

I’m not sure I would have wanted to make the walk all the way back there but it would have been fun to see. Instead, we spent the afternoon at the beach and pretended we were on vacation :)

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