Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Art and Wine. You fancy, huh?

      After the enchanting Atacama Desert, we took a 2 hour then a 15 hour bus drive to the vibrant port city of Valparaiso. It is probably my favorite city in Chile. Valparaiso is a UNESCO world heritage site, so it has many original historical buildings. Since it has been a big port city in South America, it is also very culturally diverse. No doubt, the reason why it is the arts and cultural center of Chile. Valparaiso is comprised of 45 hills (cerros). Each cerro is a neighborhood with its own close-knit community, subculture, ¨hill pride,¨and even stereotypes. The people love their hill and take good care of it together. The city is so colorful because the people paint their houses and the buildings bright colors, and with beautiful murals, or street art. Also, I was attracted immediately to Valparaiso because of its bohemian and Green vibe... just like my home-away-from-home, Portland Oregon! (How coincidental, another port town). The citizens of Valparaiso are adamant about protecting their city and keeping local businesses alive, as well as being sustainable. There are so many artists and the walls of the town are covered in street art murals. Truly impressive artwork, not graffiti tags. You can feel the energy in this city from the bustling people, the street music and art, the colors, the ocean, the history, and the melting pot of culture.

Cloudy day in Valparaiso

     We did a walking tour of the city through Tours for Tips to get to know it and its history better. So how did Valparaiso become the diverse and successful city it is today? Like I said already, it is a port city. The port is the city´s life force. However, Valparaiso did not boom until the California Gold Rush from 1848-1914. Ya, I didn´t think Valparaiso and California were related either. During the gold rush, Europeans travelled by ship to California by sailing around the southern tip of the South American continent in order to reach the west coast of the United States. Valparaiso´s port was a natural stopping point for these ships. Many English, German, French and Italian migrants saw the wealthy merchants in the port city and realized they could strike it rich here without sailing all the way up to the Golden State. Many Europeans settled in Valparaiso, bringing with them their ideas and cultures. This is why Valparaiso had the first of many things in South America, such as a mercantile building, a football team, and a fire station. Most visibly through the bright colors and murals of the city´s buildings, this diversity of cultures brought together different styles of art. Chilenos started sending their children to Valparaiso to study art and architecture instead of to Europe. That´s why it is Chile´s arts and cultural center. Unfortunately, with the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914, ships stopped sailing down to Valparaiso, cutting the port city off the shipping routes. Obviously this was disastrous for the city economically. But it got back on its feet and it has recently resurged in its success during the last few decades.

    Besides being full of different artistic inspiration from the melting pot of cultures, why is Valparaiso so colorful? Fun historical fact: to protect their homes, locals covered the outer walls of their houses with sheets of corrugated metal left behind by ships. Obviously corrugated  metal itself is really ugly, so people painted their houses with bright colors from the paint cans left behind for painting ships (ships were painted really bright colors to be easily identified). From painting their outer walls, it is not a far jump to painting murals on their houses as well. Plus, the benefit of having murals on your house is that it prevented graffiti tagging because the taggers would respect the murals as works of art. People then started hiring artists to paint murals on their houses, resulting in the most amazing street art I have ever seen. It was an Instagram wonderland.


   Another iconic thing about Valparaiso are its funiculars (ascensores), which are like slanted elevators to transport people up and down its hills. They are antiques and I have never seen anything quite like them. Sadly, only a few are still functioning. The city is currently working on repairing the others and adding police stations at each to make them safer.


     Down by the port is a giant statue and memorial of General Arturo Prat. Arturo Prat is Chile´s national hero. He led Chile in the War of the Pacific against Peru and Bolivia, fighting for the land that is now northern Chile (land-locking Bolivia, might I add). Chile was actually the underdog in this war with very few men in their armed forces. In his heroic end, Prat was fighting against Peru on a wooden naval ship. Then he saw Peru´s metal naval ship and thought, Oh shit. So what did he do? He jumped ship, swinging onto Peru´s ship, like a B.A.M.F., with the intent of killing the Peruvian captain himself. Unfortunately, that only happens in movies, and Prat was immediately shot and killed. Nonetheless, the Chilenos were inspired by Prat´s courage and love for Chile. Prat´s death rose military morale exponentially, raising the number of men in their armed forces. Chile won the war, also winning the rich natural resources of the north (nitrites, copper, salt, and other minerals). This is why Chile is far more wealthy and developed than Peru and Bolivia. I love walking tours. Tours for Tips also has a tour in Santiago that I am really looking forward to.

His BAMFness, Arturo Prat

    We left Valparaiso longing for just one more day. But we´re on a tight schedule and there is wine to be drunk in Mendoza, Argentina. It was a 9 hour bus ride from Santiago to Mendoza. Although we arrived at the border at 3am, it was another really easy border crossing. The bus employee took all of us passengers, like a class field trip, to the border counters. Counter 1: Chile exit stamp. Step to the right to Counter 2: Argentina entrance stamp. Easy, but mainly because we paid our reciprocity fee of US $160 online on the Argentina travel visa website beforehand. Our printed receipt with barcode acts as a multi-entrance visa. I really wish the U.S. didn´t charge all these South American countries visa fees. It would save me literally hundreds of dollars right now.

    We arrived in Mendoza, the Napa Valley of Argentina, and it was in full autumn bloom. The beautiful, tree-lined streets and parks were illuminated with the golden colors of Fall. I forgot how much I love this season. I haven´t really seen it in a few years. Back home in California we had good autumns. In Portland, autumn leaves only last for a day or two until the rains start to pour. Plus, the trees were mostly evergreens, not deciduous. Texas...hah! No fall or winter really.
Mallory pedaling in front of me

    We took the public bus to Maipu, just 15 min outside of the city, where the vineyards and olive farms are. Argentinos are such nice people. We did not have a public transportation rechargable card or coins to pay our fare (we didn´t know the busses don´t take small bills), so the bus driver asked if any passengers had extra credit on their cards to pay for our fares in exchange for our 5 peso bill. This little old lady kindly walked to the front and tagged us in. But really, they are so polite. I have been getting good practice understanding and speaking in the formal tense. Surprisingly enough, I could actually understand their Spanish! I expected Argentino Spanish to be the most difficult to understand. Nope. Chilenos win that award. In Maipu, we rented bicycles and they gave us a map and showed us the best route to take.

Entre Olivos tasting

    It was a beautiful Fall day. I was in bliss riding a bicycle along vineyards and olive farms in the golden colors of the autumn-turned trees with blue skies above and the snowy Andes peaks in the landscape. First we stopped at an olive farm called, Entre Olivos. The tour guide gave us a run down of how olive oil is made. The quality of the olive oil is dependent on the type of olives used. He had us try samples of their olive oil and olive spreads, as well as their other products, such as different fruit marmaladas and liquors. Nothing like a couple shots to prep us for wine tasting. Our second stop was at bodega (winery) de Mevi. So classy. Mevi is only 7 years old and built in a very modern style with efficient architecture. The vineyards and the grounds in general were beautiful. For our wine tasting we got to sit out in the sunny patio, overlooking the vineyards with the Andes in the distance, including the highest mountain in the Americas, Aconcagua. I chose 3 wines from 5 options from the Variedad list: a Chardonnay, Torontes, and a Malbec (my favorite). Mallory had 3 reds from the Reserva list: a Syrah, and two types of Malbecs. We shared to try every one. Our last stop was the bodega de Familia de Tomasso. Unfortunately, they closed an hour earlier than we thought so we didn´t get to do a tour or wine tasting. It is one of the oldest, family-run bodegas in Maipu. It had a rustic feel to it. We did get to stay and order a brownie with ice cream. The ice cream, by the way, was amazing. It was vanilla with fresh berries that were very similar to marionberries (my favorite) from Oregon. It was a good way to end the day. Some bicycling, some olives, some wine, and some chocolate.

Bodega de Mevi. View from the patio.

Bodega de Mevi: barrels of wine

Mevi vineyards

Bodega de Familia Tomasso

     I´ve recently been researching travel blogs to help decide what things to see and do, places to stay, recommendations, etc for while I´m traveling. Unfortunately I have not found too many that were practically useful. From here on out I am going to end my posts with some practical travel tips.

Hostal: Casa de Limon Verde. 7,000 Chileno pesos per  night in the dorm room. Plus 10% discount if you have a Get South book.
Tours for Tips walking tour 3pm every day at Plaza Sotomayor
J. Cruz M. Restaurant for the origina chorrillana dish

Monkey Hostel: 70 Argentino pesos per night in the dorm room. Plus 10% discount with Get South
Maipu Bikes: 40 Argentino pesos for a day rental. Until 7 pm.
Entre Olivo: 25 pesos for the tour and tasting
Mevi: 38 pesos for the Variedad tasting (3 copas de vino) and 35 pesos for the Reserva tasting (3 copas de vino)
Familia de Tomasso: 25 pesos for tour and wine tasting

When in Argentina, BRING U.S. DOLLARS. I cannot emphasize this enough. The money exchange houses give you double the market rate. I´m not talking about sketchy exchange places. I mean proper, official exchange houses with security guards. The market rate is about 5.28 pesos per 1 US dollar. The ¨blue dollar¨rate is about 9.2 pesos per 1 US dollar, which is what they give you. Better blue dollar rate for $100 bills, too. Why? Argentinians keep their value in money in U.S. dollars because it´s more stable than the Argentinian peso, which fluctuates with inflation so much. Argentina wants your dollars. You can´t pull out U.S. dollars in Argentina, though. Many travellers I have met who travelled to Buenos Aires hopped the border to Uruguay to pull out US dollars, then changed them in Argentina. We had some US dollars left over from Peru. This makes Argentina WAY less expensive than I expected. Chile is the most expensive country I´ve been in so far.

1 comment:

  1. I love the street art in Valparaiso! How cool to have a whole city covered in beautiful art.

    And your travel tips! Awesome! I will be referencing them someday. Probably so long from now that they will be obsolete. But they're still awesome.