This year, Valentine’s Day was celebrated with boarding a sleek, modern bus (no chickens in my lap) to journey from Santiago to Valparaiso “Valpo” as it’s known. The 1 hour, 45-minute ride was a time of relaxation as I left the sprawling Santiago. We rolled past scrubby desert hills, navigated through a small mountain range speckled with ram-shackled homes, then dropped down into the wine country and emerald green agricultural fields. It felt reminiscent of Sonoma, California, my old stompin' grounds. Gliding past produce stands made me hungry to sample more of Chile’s bounty. Did you know Chile exports a whopping 46% of their agriculture to over 190 countries? Think about that next time you purchase your salad greens. As we approached Valpo, the air grew thick with ocean mist, and the city revealed itself as the shipping port and artist hub it’s known for.
Houses clutching precariously to steep hillsides, some made of nothing more than corrugated metal, black sheet plastic, and scrap wood.
CHECK OUT On The Streets of Valpo.
The bus station was noisy and chaotic as people clamored into Uber’s, city buses- greeting friends and family. Since my Uber app decided to take a vacation, I was restricted to an expensive taxi, costing more money than I had, (I demanded the driver reduce the fare since he got lost, but no dice). Upon arrival at the Airbnb, and after a brief exchange of words with Mr. Taxi himself, my gracious host paid the difference and I was at my new home. Yes, I reimbursed her the 1,000 pesos ($1.38 US dollars). Unfortunately, as soon as I entered the house, I knew this was not the place for me. It literally felt like it was falling down. The floors flowed like waves, and the neighborhood was a bit rough for this single female. My host was a large, full of heart, welcoming lady, who was “Mama” to the entire neighborhood, her guests, and could put a taxi driver in his place. She was great; humming Jingle Bells over-and-over on Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Que Sera, Sera on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. She had a love affair with Pine scented air freshener that she liberally sprayed about the house. Together, we communicated via Google Translate with some success.
My upstairs room was generous in size and every morning, I awoke to a cute, wide-eyed stray cat staring through my window while Seagulls barked on the rooftops. This home had no outdoor living space. No front porch, balcony, patio; lesson learned.
TRAVEL TIP: When researching your next visit, make sure there is outdoor living space. I must have this. Needless to say, I cut my stay short by 9 days. However, during this brief time, I met 4 new friends from France, Spain, Germany, and well, Chicago. Brian, who left Chicago, has been exploring our great world with nothing more than a daypack...for 3 years! Now that's a serious explorer.
Being a travel newborn, I was eager to learn from a seasoned adventurer and knew the best way to accomplish this was to offer dinner in exchange for his wisdom. Food speaks volumes to young travelers living on a shoe-string budget. We walked across Valpo, enjoyed chatting over Chorrillana and Beers at a noisy Diner packed with couples celebrating Valentine’s Day. He was patient with my endless bombardment of questions. Like all youth, this young man devoured his dinner with enthusiasm; I took ⅔ of mine home in a box, lest it cling to my hips. Brian has visited over 30 countries, was dark and leathery from sun-exposure, slim, gracious, and exuded an understanding only found from experiencing life on the road alone. He is years beyond his age in wisdom.
He shared tales that would send most travelers running back to the comforts of their homeland; yet, he told me the only place in the world he didn’t feel safe was Chicago. Go figure. He plans to write a book about his journey and I hope he follows through with that goal. After dinner, we spent time sitting in my room, thumbing away on our smartphones, exchanging tech tools and tips. The next day he left for camping his way through Peru and we continue to stay in touch. Thank you, Brian, for your generous heart and encouragement; I hope our paths cross again in the future.