Chile – Day 8 – Anita & Chacabuco Ghost Towns

Today I woke up at 6:45am coughing uncontrollably. My cold was definitely getting worse. C was still sleeping and I let her sleep until 8:00am and then woke her up. We had the complimentary buffet breakfast in the hotel and then set off to explore.

Today we visited a very famous Chilean ghost town near Calama called Chacabuco. On the drive out to Chacabuco we came across another ghost town called Anita. Anita was an abandoned Nitrate or “Saltpeter” town that was founded in 1902 and abandoned in 1912. The town fell into quick disarray and is not that well preserved. Vandalism covers most of the Anita property. Our next stop was Chacabuco; the main highlight of the day.

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Chacabuco is an abandoned Nitrate or “Saltpeter” town that was founded in 1924 by the Lautaro Nitrate Company and soon fell into ruin as the nitrate mining boom in Chile came to an abrupt end in the 1930’s The Germans had invented synthetic nitrate and by the end of the 1930’s most of Chile’s nitrate industry came to and end. At one point in time nitrate provided 50% of Chile’s GDP. Chacabuco finally shut its doors in 1938, where it remained closed until 1973. In 1973 things took a dark twist and the town was reopened as a concentration camp during the Pinochet regime in 1973. Chile was under a Military dictatorship from 1973-1990.

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I was really starting to struggle with my cold so we drove back to Calama and went to a pharmacy to get some decongestant medicine. We spent the late afternoon resting before venturing out for some delicious corn and egg pizza from La Pizzata; yes you read that correctly it was corn and egg.

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After pizza we walked back to the hotel and watched half of a movie before going to bed.

Chile – Day 7 – Calama & Alto Loa National Reserve

Today we woke up at 7:00am and had some delicious complementary breakfast, probably the best we had on the trip to date. We checked out of the hotel and started a 3 hour drive towards Alto Loa National Reserve. On the way to the reserve we stopped at Lasana and visited some prehistoric ruins that overlooked the valley. The ruins date back to the 12th century. On our way back to walking to the car we noticed a young local girl trying to break into our rental car. I hit the panic button and she casually backed away but still sat on a wall near the car. When I approached the car to get in she still stayed there. C had to go to the washroom so she went and the girl followed her in there. When C was coming back to the car the girl was talking to her loudly in Spanish demanding Pesos. C got in the car and I backed out and started to drive off when we noticed the girl get on her phone. About two minutes down the road there was a woman (probably the girls mother) who was on the phone and standing in the middle of the road demanding that we pull over. I drove around her quite quickly and sped off into the distance. We deduced that they were trying to either steal from tourists or demand compensation for the “free” ruins.

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We continued our journey towards Alto Loa was created 14 years ago in 2005 and is Chile’s largest reserve. The park is full of mountains, hills, flamingo’s, and guanacos (llama’s). An interesting fact about Guanacos is that they can live in some of the most hostile environments on earth, some living in areas where it has not rained for over 50 years. fog that condenses to water droplets on cacti and lichens that cling to the cacti. The lichens soak it up like a sponge, which are then eaten by the Guanacos.

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We checked into our hotel; Geotel Calama and were welcomed with a pisco sour and mango sour as welcome drinks, which were delicious and quite strong. The hotel was well appointed and even had a small kitchen so that we could prepare and cook food. After checking in we went to the nearby Lider (Walmart) to get food for dinner and for tomorrow. Dinner was simple; we made mushroom soup. After dinner I still wasn’t feeling great so I had a bath and listened to podcasts. After my bath it was time to go to bed. The bed ended up being extremely terrible for a brand new hotel… it felt like a broken mattress that transferred movement very easily.

Chile – Day 6 – Travel Day & San Pedro De Atacama

Today we woke up at 5:15am because we had the airport shuttle departing for SCL Airport at 6:00am. Security was a total breeze which makes you wonder if they’re even looking at the screens or peoples tickets and passports. I recall when I travelled to Peru in 2014 with my father that there basically was no security for internal flights; this basically gives the same perception. We then purchased some Starbucks; I had a drip coffee and C had a Chai Tea Latte. Our 8:15am flight boarded quickly and we arrived at Calama Airport (CJC) at 10:50am.

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The day fell apart from here and it started with the Budget rental car agency. The rental car took almost three hours to figure out and we were given about ten different excuses as to where the car was, but it was obvious they were not prepared. I left a nasty 1 star review on Google Reviews during the whole process. While waiting for the car we talked with a bunch of people dropped off cars at other rental agencies and they said the entire park was closed due to flooding and heavy rain; which was not great news for us… more on that later! After finally leaving the airport at close to 2:00pm, three hours later we went to Lider (Walmart) and purchased water and a few groceries and started our adventure.

We drove one hour to San Pedro de Atacama and saw the Valley of the Moon from the top of road. The weather looked okay at this point in time and we had yet to see the flooding until when we drove into the town. That’s when things really changed… the roads were red mud and completely flooded. We drove to our hotel; Hotel La Casa de Don Tomas. The hotel was absolutely beautiful and we were greeted with Champagne. After checking in we decided to walk into town and get some dinner at Las Delicias de Carmen. We both ordered vegetable lasagna with a side of potatoes and quinoa. We were told the portion was large and could probably share it, but we didn’t heed to her advice… we should have though! While we were waiting for our meals to come out there was a torrential downpour and the power in the entire city shut off. Our server casually came over with a candle as if this were a regular occurrence. We ordered a thousand layer cake to go for C as it was her birthday. We wanted to have it while watching a movie back at the hotel, but sadly with no power there was no internet.

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We watched a previously downloaded episode of Marvelous Miss Maisel, the second last one before we’re all caught up. If you have not seen this series I highly recommend it! I came up with a plan B for tomorrow for us to explore Reserva Nacional Alto Loa. It was still raining, my cold was getting worse, and it was time to go to bed.

Chile – Day 5 – Valparaiso & Santiago

Today I woke up with a headache at 6:45am so I got dressed and walked across the street to the Shell gas station and purchased an Americano and then sat in the lobby of our hotel while catching up on Social Media. I went upstairs at 8:00am and C was ready for breakfast. For breakfast we went back to the Panini Cafe that we went to two days ago. I had a Neapolitan panini and a double shot americano, while C had a Belgian waffle with strawberry syrup as well as a Cappuccino.

We hung out in the hotel room in the morning while I did some work and C drew on her iPad. We checked out at noon and left our bags at the hotel for a few hours while we explored Valparaiso a bit more. We explored the community of Bellavista. We decided that even though Bellavista was nice that we enjoyed the other cerro’s that we had visited on the previous day more than Bellavista. After exploring Bellavista we decided we wanted to track down a restaurant that served Arepas, which is a bun made of ground maize dough or flour and then stuffed with meat and cheese. Arepas are actually not too common to Chile, as they are a Colombian and Venezuelan food, but we were craving it since we had them at one of my colleagues houses back home. We came across the one of the only places in town that served them (according to Google Maps); Sazon Chevere. I had pulled brisket with cheese, and C had pulled chicken with cheese.

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We picked up our bags at 3:45pm and took the train (also saw a homeless dog sleeping on the train who seemed very cute and peaceful) and walked back to the bus terminal to take us back to Santiago. While walking back to the bus terminal a guy tried to pull a typical tourist theft scheme on C but we caught it in time and nothing was stolen. The scheme typically occurs by someone saying that your bag is open (even when it’s not) and that some stuff fell out, which you then scramble to find, and someone else will then quickly slip into your pockets while you’re panicking and steal your phone and/or wallet. I recognized this right away. This type of scheme is very common in South America and some parts of Southeast Asia.

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We took a 5:15pm TurBus bus back to Valparaiso. We were fortunate enough to have seats on the upper deck with a view out the front, which was a really nice view. During the bus ride I started to come down with a cold.

We arrived in Pajaritos at around 7:00pm and took a $6.40 Uber ride to City Express Hotel beside Santiago International Airport (SCL). We checked in to the hotel and had some dinner in the bar. I had a burger and some local beers (Quimera Amber Ale & Quimera Pale Ale), while C had spaghetti and a glass of white wine. Both beers were quite excellent! It was then time for us to head to bed as we had to wake up at 5:15am for an early morning flight.

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Chile – Day 4 – Valparaiso & Vin Del Mar

Today we decided to sleep in a bit until 8am. We ended up having a buffet breakfast down in the lobby of the hotel since it was only $9 and included coffee. After breakfast we got ready and started walking along the waterfront to Vin Del Mar. The waterfront was very relaxing and was a mix of a modern reconstructed boardwalk and old decaying train depot buildings with abandoned trains along the side. We noticed a ton of homeless dogs and with a quick Google search we determined that there are an estimated 2.5 million stray dogs in Chile and the canine population is growing faster than the human population. A sobering statistics is that with 17 million Chilean’s; the canine population is slated to surpass the human population in as soon as 6-10 years. Something needs to be done about this.

Half way to Vina Del Mar we came to Portales, where there was a small beach with some food booths setup. We were not quite yet hungry so we decided that we would come back here later on. At this point in time it would have been nice to walk along the waterfront more but I had drank way too much water and needed to find a bathroom.

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We boarded the train to Vina Del Mar and found a Starbucks to go to the bathroom and we ordered some Frappuccino’s. Catherine had Java Chip Frappuccino and I had a half sweet Cookies & Cream Frappuccino. I was starting to run low on money so we stopped in at the bank and picked up some more money before continuing our walk along the waterfront. The beach in Vin Del Mar was very beautiful and packed full of people, including some people fishing from the boardwalk. After walking along the beach we explored the city of Vina del Mar. We saw a flower clock that had real moving hands, a magician that appeared to be floating, a castle, and an old Palace.

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After exploring Vina Del Mar we took the train back to Portales, where we both got delicious freshly made empanadas for only $4 each, which is about double the going rate they were in Santiago, but this is more of a touristy area. I had pulled beef, chorizo, mushrooms and cheese; while Catherine had chicken, mushrooms and cheese. After eating our food we took the train back to the hotel, where we relaxed for a few hours before venturing out back into the cerro’s of Valparaiso.

We head back out at 6:00pm to explore the cerro of Artilleria. This was definitely one of the more dodgy areas of town and has a rating of “orange” on the scale of neighbor safety. The scale includes the colours from Red, Orange, Yellow and Green; with red being the least safe to green being the safest. I’m glad we visited it though because it was quite the unique community with beautiful views of the port and entire city, as well as some unique art. While we were up in the community we met this family that was visiting from Montreal. The dad was originally from Valparaiso and moved away when he was only 12 years old. This was his first time visiting since he moved away. He told us that practically nothing has changed since he was a child, but they were trying to do a better job of preserving some buildings and the funiculars.

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Chile – Day 2 – Santiago

Today we woke up at 7:00am. We got ready fairly quickly and then walked to a nearby Starbucks. I had a regular drip coffee and C had a Chai Tea Latte. We then walked back to Santa Lucia Hill and explored the hill. Santa Lucia Hill sits on top of a volcano that last erupted an estimated 15 million years ago. On top of the hill is a beautiful park, chapel, and Fort Hidalgo. Fort Hidalgo was recently restored and reopened to the public and traditionally a cannon shot is fired at exactly noon.

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After exploring Santa Lucia Hill we walked over to Plaza De Armas. Plaza De Armas is the main square of Santiago. It is the centerpiece of the initial layout of Santiago and the square grid pattern of the city was laid out from here. Santiago (officially known as Santiago de Chile) was originally founded in 1541 by the Spanish conqueror Pedro de Valdivia. Santiago has a population of 6.3 million people and is home to 40% of the entire population of Chile.

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Right across from Plaza De Armas is Cathedral Metropolitana de Santiago which took 52 years to build and was first opened in 1800. Previous cathedrals stood in its spot but were destroyed by earthquakes. Chile is known to have some of the world’s largest earthquakes in recorded history, with the largest being the 9.5 magnitude earthquake on May 22, 1960 near Valdivia, Chile. That particular earthquake left 2 million Chileans homeless, killed approximately 6000 Chileans, and created Tsunami’s that reached as far as Honshu, Japan. The 18 foot high waves reached Honshu about 22 hours after the earthquake and left 1600 homes destroyed and killed 185 people.

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After visiting the beautiful Cathedral Metropolitana de Santiago we walked through the nearby Central Market and over to Centro Cultural Estacion Mapocho, which was a former railway station (built in 1913) that was converted to a cultural center/musuem. The beautiful semi-restored train station is built in Art Nouveau style architecture, which is some of my favorite architecture, alongside Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern. You can refer back to my France blog posts, among others to see some other beautiful Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture.

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We continued exploring the area and came across a hip modern area called Eurocentro, and narrowly avoided a protest in front of the University of Chile. There were about 30-40 armed military personnel with riot shields ready to pounce if things got out of control.

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After that we took the Yellow Metro line from Santa Ana station to Departamental station. Santiago is home to one of my favorite style of Metro systems; the rubber-tyred Metro. There are only about 25 systems like these in the world and I’ve been on about 1/4 of them. The rubber-tyred Metro was first applied to the Paris Metro in 1951, and is also used in Montreal, Canada. The benefits are better grip, quieter, and a better ride.

After exiting Departamental station we walked to the nearby community of San Miguel, which is a rundown lower income community with many tenement buildings. The appeal of this community to us was the huge open street market and the massive murals on the sides of the tenement buildings.

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We were getting hungry and were in search of Arepas, which is a Venezuelan & Columbian food that is fairly popular to Chile as well. Arepas is made of ground maize dough and is cut in half and stuffed with cheese, meat, tomatoes, etc. You can have it in many different styles. We took the Metro and walked to numerous places on google maps that supposedly sold Arepas, but sadly they were closed or didn’t sell them. We settled on some amazing freshly made pizza at a nearby restaurant. We ordered a Neapolitan style pizza, which absolutely delicious.

After eating we explored the rustic community of Varrio Italia, before walking back to the hotel and calling it a night. Originally we were supposed to stay one additional day in Santiago but we opted to go to Valparaiso a day early starting tomorrow.

Chile – Day 1 – Travel Day & Santiago

I have to start of with an apology for a half month delay for this travel series. Internet connectivity was questionable at the majority of places we visited, and I was combating a very nasty flu which left me with little energy to write. Anyways, let the adventure begin!

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Today was mostly a travel day for us. We woke up at 8am, got ready and my dad drove us to the airport. We travelled from Calgary to Toronto on one of Air Canada’s last Boeing 767-300ER flights before they are retired from mainline service to Air Canada Rouge; a low-cost subsidiary of Air Canada. The flight departed Calgary at 11:45am and we arrived in Toronto at 5:15pm. After a 2 hour layover in Toronto we departed for Santiago on Air Canada’s flagship Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. The flight arrived the next morning at 8:45am.

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After landing in Santiago we went through customs, which was actually a fairly painless experience contrary to what I had read online. After clearing customs we boarded a Centropuerto Bus that took us to the city center station of Los Heros for only $3.20/pp. Once we reached Los Heros we took the Red Metro line ($1.30/pp trip) to Manuel Montt station, which was right below our hotel; the ibis Providencia. We checked into the hotel and had a quick two hour nap before venturing out into the city.

After waking up from our nap we walked along the Mapocho River, which was extremely turbid and fast flowing. The river led us to the beautiful community of Bellavista, where we stopped at the Fukai Sushi restaurant and ordered some sushi rolls. We tried three unique rolls that we’ve never had before; Guacamole Rolls, Baked Brie Rolls, and Seared Salmon with Almond Slivers. We’ll call this lunch/dinner since it was about 3 in the afternoon.

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After having our meal we walked to Funicular de Santiago, which took us to the top of San Cristobal Hill. The funicular was opened in 1925 and definitely shows its age. The views provided from the top of the hill are absolutely fascinating. We had 360 degree views of the entire city, including one of my favorite of the newest flagship building in Santiago; Gran Torre Santiago, which is a 300 metre tall skyscraper that towers over the city. Gran Torre was completed in 2013 and is the tallest building in South America. Also at the top of the hill was Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (Virgin Mary).

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Instead of taking the funicular back down the hill we opted to take the gondola across the hill and down the other side, exiting near the Gran Torre. We ended up walking around a bit before taking the Red Metro line to Baquedano station, where we got off to get ourselves some of the famous ice cream from Heladeria Emporio La Rosa. C had I both had two scoops of Ice Cream. C had Raspberry & Pineapple, while I had Vanilla & Cookies and Cream. It was starting to get late and we were tired so we walked past Santa Lucia Hill before walking back to the hotel. We walked a total of 23km today, which our feet and bodies definitely felt considering we only got 1.5 hours of sleep on the plane as well as a two hour nap.

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