A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: tdeits

Valparaiso

semi-overcast 69 °F

The best way to get from Santiago to Valparaiso is by bus. I used a company called Turbus and had a window seat on a nice modern two level bus for the 2 hour journey. I did have some trouble figuring out the connections between bus and subway in Santiago, and frankly there is a fair amount of misinformation about this online. Briefly, buses to destinations within the city including the airport leave from a terminal just outside the University of Santiago metro station on line 1. Buses to other cities leave from a station which is upstairs from the Estacion Central stop on the same line. So a trip from the Santiago airport to Valparaiso on the bus requires an intervening short metro trip.

The trip itself was pretty interesting with a fair amount of elevation change and various climate zones.

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Here's some of the more arid country near Santiago and fairly high up and, on the more temperate coastal side of the hills, some truly enormous orange orchards.

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I have always been intrigued by Valparaiso as it is often compared to San Francisco (my home town). It's a reasonable comparison, but I kind of feel it's more of a larger version of Sausalito, a smaller, equally hilly town in Marin County across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Sausalito is extremely gentrified and expensive today, but I remember it from many years ago as a child and that memory is the one that seems to best fit the Valparaiso of today.

I actually stayed in a small condo in Vina del Mar, a town just north of Valparaiso proper and easily reached using the local metro line. Here's the view from the condo - nice! Walking around the neighborhood I encountered another very nice Chilean park that also took me back to the park by the ocean in Sausalito, including the palm trees.

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Valparaiso is a fishing and naval town, with the headquarters of the Chilean Navy and a small local fishing fleet. Here are some of the fishing boats pulled up at the central fish market in the afternoon as well as a mural next to them that expresses a not uncommon attitude towards factory fishing.

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Needless to say, seafood is a prime ingredient in Valparaiso meals. I stopped in an unassuming restaurant for lunch and had ceviche (Peruvian style, with the fish chopped into little cubes) and a seafood stew. The first picture shows the stew as presented and you might imagine that there are a few bits of seafood in a sea of broth, but no - it is a sea of seafood just barely covered with broth; the next picture gives you an idea. It was packed with tiny clams and mussels and other mystery seafood bits and, of course, quite delicious. I guess I should mention that prices are very low in Chile - a meal like this is well under $10.

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The town itself is extremely vertical with a downtown along the seafront and very distinctive neighborhoods up each of the flanking hills. You can get up to the neighborhoods by some rather impressive stairs or by way of ascensors - funicular cars, most from the 19th century, that will take you to the top for about a quarter.

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Unfortunately, this ascensor, which goes to the Chile Maritime Museum, has been non-functional for months (although there were some guys working on it with welding torches) so I hoofed it up there after lunch. It's a nice small museum with some interesting bits.

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I actually wanted to see it because my favorite author, Patrick O'Brian, wrote a couple of his Aubrey/Maturin naval historical novels set in Chile during the time of its independence movement. In particular, he deals with Thomas Cochrane, a British naval officer, who is a Chilean hero of independence in rather uncomplimentary terms. No sign of that in the museum, that's for sure!

A few items of interest. An albatross, a chicken (?) and a nice ship model as well as one of the vehicles used to rescue the miners from the Chilean mine disaster of 2010. Interestingly this was a Chilean Navy operation and they created a rescue squadron for the purpose.

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The next day I hopped on the metro again and headed for the Valparaiso museum of fine art, the Palacio Baburizza. It's a nicely restored mansion of a wealthy resident and art collector.

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Mr. Baburizza primarily collected Impressionist era paintings but did not manage to select the better-known artists. For example there is a Rosseau in the collection, but it is the 'wrong' Henri Rosseau (there are two- the better known one is famous for his jungle paintings and unique flat style).

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The Valparaiso art museum collection, primarily of local works, is also housed here. There is also the occasional howler like this one, 'Youth tempted by vice' - which looks a lot more like 'guy really enjoying vice' and perhaps does not quite send the moral message the artist (or the commissioner of the piece?) was going for.

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There are a number of pictures of Valparaiso and environs as well. This one, from 1844 shows the Chilean Navy headquarters, which are still in use.

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I like this town. Here are a couple of views from the hills. One of a hillside from the art museum and another which is a reflection from a glass building adjacent to Chilean Navy headquarters.

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The glass building is an interesting story. A major shipping company needed to expand and proposed sticking this cube into the middle of an existing historical building, retaining the lower facade. This was viewed as extremely inappropriate in the context but, as often happens, they threatened to pull up stakes and move down the road if they couldn't build it, and so approval was granted. This controversy did inspire the community to seek UNESCO designation as a world heritage site to prevent further such encroachment, which was granted. This, too, though, is not without controversy as it turns out that renovation and rehabilitation of buildings under UNESCO rules can be extremely costly; there are some burned-out homes that haven't been rebuilt in decades because the owners can't afford to rebuild to meet these standards. The two-edged sword of protection.

Valparaiso is also a town that has embraced murals/graffiti. Unlike other cities such as Athens, there is a tacit agreement between artists and taggers. Taggers still tag, but in general they don't do so on wall art. Here are a couple of smaller examples and one truly enormous one.

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I really enjoyed my few days in Valparaiso. Not a lot of purely touristic stuff but just a great setting, fine weather (cloudy mornings, sunny afternoons, much like Sausalito) excellent food including amazingly good and cheap fruit - I bought the stuff below for about $5 and it was all perfectly delicious) and great people.

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On my last day I decided to take a Chilean cooking class. We went to the market in the afternoon and picked up ingredients and then cooked and drank piso sours (the national cocktail of Chile) and then ate and drank carmanere (the national wine of Chile) among others and ate and drank and.....a good time indeed. Our instructor, Boris, has a cookbook coming out and promised to email me some excerpts.

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In addition to the empanadas and ceviche above we also made a corn pudding dish that is quite versatile and tasty - I plan to experiment with it soon!

Wow - I hate to do it but at this point I am going to bring my visit to Valparaiso and the entire magnificent round the world adventure to a close. What could be more appropriate than yet one more wonderful sunset. Goodbye world, hello Lansing!

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Posted by tdeits 11:45 Archived in Chile Tagged museums food fishing sunset navy valparaiso ascensor Comments (1)

a few final thoughts

924,601 steps later

Yes, that's how many steps I took on this trip (step counter app)!

What an excellent trip - so many great places and so many really terrific people along the way. Plus the fact that I planned this thing and executed it successfully! I also had only one item in my suitcase I didn't use (sewing kit) and my suitcase only weighed 12 kg. I didn't lose anything of note (one close call, admittedly) and I had no flights delayed/canceled/rerouted.

I had great weather almost everywhere - a cloudy November in Paris counts as great weather, by the way. I got rained on exactly once! I had two extra summers, too!

Most of all, I have to simply say how privileged I am to have this opportunity. So many of us are so fortunate and we really need to occasionally reflect on that fact, life's vicissitudes notwithstanding. I am grateful that my health made this trip possible and I am most grateful for all of my friends and family who were excited and happy for me to do this thing. That is a true friend - one who can be happy for your happiness - and I have so many!

Thanks for joining me on this journey. May we all have many more excellent adventures!

Posted by tdeits 13:04 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Belize - getting there and getting organized

Airfare, cell service and data plans, oh my!

sunny 83 °F

This fall I was able to organize a trip to Belize with my son and his girlfriend. I have never visited Central America before, so Belize sounded like a good first foray; it's pretty politically stable, reasonably safe, and the official language is English (although Spanish and Creole are commonly used). I planned the trip in two parts; 5 days on the Caribbean coast and 5 days in the interior highlands. I would be traveling alone in the second part of the trip.

My first pleasant surprise when getting this started was that I was able to grab a really good fare on American. I currently use Google Flights site as my starting point for scouting airfares, although I have found that it can give wildly inaccurate results for travel between overseas destinations (quoting airfares like $130,000!), so use with care For domestic (US) and European travel it works very well and allows you to quickly explore options. I got a round trip from Detroit for $550, which is less than half what Delta, for example, was charging at the same time. I also needed to book a short hop from Belize City to San Pedro (a barrier island off the northern coast). My son and I used the two different airlines servicing this route and both were fine - pretty casual travel in twin prop planes for a 20 minute flight. My son even got to sit in the copilot's seat; does that count as fun or is that scary? I'll let you choose.

As I often travel alone, having connectivity is important to me. I scoured the intertubes to try and understand how phone and data service were handled in Belize. Honestly, I ran across a whole lot of contradictory information. If there was a consensus, it appeared to be that connectivity was hard to come by and quite expensive. Well, my experience was very different. I went to the BTL (Belize Telemedia)office about 5 blocks north of the airport in San Pedro. The provided me with a SIM card, $10 phone credit and 1 gig of data for $26 US (Belize dollars are pegged at $2 Belize = $1 US). I had good connectivity along almost all the main roads and in the cities I visited, with perhaps a few dropout zones in the south of the mainland and off the beaten track (more on that later). That is a pretty good deal to my mind. I don't know if other services are comparable, but this should give you a current baseline for comparison if you are planning to visit.

We booked an apartment in San Pedro located about a half mile south of the airport through Airbnb . We took a taxi there ($5 US - no meters, so ask the fare before you get in!) and settled in. The apartment was clean and comfortable and in a pretty good location. We like to walk, so hoofing it up the main road or along the beach into downtown San Pedro was easy and convenient. Downtown itself is small enough to completely cover on foot; no vehicle needed.

Speaking of vehicles, the predominant modes of travel for tourists are taxis and golf carts. The carts are small, noisy, open gas-powered vehicles that reminded us of Disneyand Autopia cars. We were in San Pedro over the New Year's holiday which is absolute peak visitor time, and the streets reflected that. They were full of golf carts, delivery vehicles, taxis, etc. The relatively low speeds and narrow streets helped mitigate the rather casual attention to stop signs and other traffic 'laws' downtown. Golf carts are expensive - rates seemed to run in the $60 US range per day so you may want to add that as a budget item if you plan on renting one; taxis would probably be a cheaper alternative.

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When we left the island after New Years, it was considerably quieter.

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(photo credits to Robin Deits)

We hit the grocery store for provisions (prices are quite reasonable) and settled in for our visit.

Posted by tdeits 12:11 Archived in Belize Tagged shopping golf san pedro lodging downtown tips carts service airfare cell data Comments (0)

San Pedro Island, Belize

sleep eat repeat

sunny 82 °F

If you are looking for a laid back Caribbean experience, San Pedro delivers.

The eastern shore of the island is pretty Caribbean coast with a variety of restaurants, bars and hotels lining the beach.

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The hotels range from luxury to budget, as might be expected. If you were looking for the closest approximation to a Hawaiian beach resort with all amenities in downtown San Pedro, you might want to look in to Ramon's Village Resort. We didn't stay there, but wandered the very attractive grounds, peeked into room windows and had a good lunch on the beach by the pool. Not a huge resort, but very pleasant looking.

We ate at several good restaurants - made our own breakfasts. Our favorite turned out to be Sunrise Island Cuisine. It's a little place; it's not on the beach but is tucked into the courtyard of a small hotel about 1/3 mile south of the airport along the main road. We had lunch there twice and dinner once. Ceviche is a restaurant staple in Belize and we had really tasty shrimp and conch ceviche. Seafood is excellent on the island - here's a snapper dinner at the same place. By the way, the owner was most friendly and positively effusive when we came back again! It's a very restful and quiet place that makes a nice brief respite from sun and sand.
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By the way, Izzy's smoothie shop is another not-to-be missed treat a few blocks north of the airport.

The best meal we had was at another well known island restaurant El Fogon. It's a white-tablecloth restaurant where they prepare stews in an open pit in the dining room. It's very popular and everything we ate was delicious. The only downside was that I didn't do enough research on my meal. One of the items offered was gibnut stew. Gibnut is a rodent of unusual size that is considered a delicacy in Belize. Here's a picture of my meal and its source. Up top are my son's and his girlfriends shrimp and fish meals.

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Credit to Trent's blog for the gibnut photo.

The gibnut is a rodent (I don't think I have eaten a rodent before, so that was part of my interest in the dish) also called the Paca and other names. The origin of the name gibnut is a bit obscure; it may have to do with their diet of fruit and nuts. It tasted quite good; a rich and not gamy dark meat in a really tasty mild chile/tomato sauce.

The downside is that I later learned that the gibnut is overhunted and that the current level of hunting is not sustainable. So, while it was an interesting diversion for me, I would not eat it again and you might want to think twice about choosing it as well.

By the way, prices overall were moderate and I don't think I had a bad meal the whole trip. In the next entry, we will actually do something!

Posted by tdeits 06:18 Archived in Belize Tagged hotels restaurants san pedro downtown ceviche Comments (0)

San Pedro outdoors

sunny 86 °F

In between all of the eating and drinking (many beach bars!) we did manage to get outside on San Pedro. We did a lot of walking along the beach and through town, just taking in the sights and drinking Izzy's smoothies. We also signed up for a couple of snorkel trips. The first one was to a place called Mexican Rocks. Wish I could provide some pics, but (for the second time!) my GoPro waterproof case failed - despite extreme care in testing it before use and in inserting the camera on site. That's if for them as far as I am concerned.

Soooo.... well the water is a beautiful blue and the clarity was decent considering that very high winds had stirred up the sands. There is a barrier reef about a half mile offshore from the San Pedro beach which protects the island from swells and waves (but not hurricanes...) and the usual snorkeling/diving trips are on the island side of the reef. A good selection of local sealife was to be had.

On our second trip, we went to Shark Alley and Hol Chan. Hol Chan is a large marine preserve to the south of San Pedro of which Belizeans are understandably proud. Despite its large size as far as I can tell snorkel trips are restricted to one mooring area. It was extremely crowded when we were there, with at least a dozen tour boats moored to the seabed or to each other. The seeing and sealife were very good, but this is a trip that would be much better at a less crowded time of year. Trying to find a trip that went elsewhere in the Reserve (don't know if that is even legal) might be worth the effort as well. We booked this trip through Ecologic Divers

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but due to missing staff (the day after New Years - I wonder why??) we were sent to a different group. The good news is that the folks at Ecologic Divers were very diligent in helping make sure we got our trip, even to the point of bicycling down the beach to find us and direct us to the right destination.

Shark and Ray Alley is another very crowded diving site outside the Marine Reserve. The highlight here is to encounter sharks (nurse sharks) and rays. Unfortunately, some operators (not ours) chum the water to bring in the sharks and rays and clearly they are very well trained; a dozen or so sharks were writhing together to get at the bait. If you wish you can get quite close, even within touching distance. Moments after the bait was exhausted they disappeared again. There is not much else to see at this site so if the chumming frenzy is not your cup of tea, you might look elsewhere.

I have done quite a bit of snorkeling/free diving around the world, so maybe I am getting a bit jaded, but I found both trips to be too rushed and also quite crowded compared to other snorkeling spots (It was the holidays, of course). If I were going back I would seriously consider one of the multi-day snorkeling trips that are on offer. This requires a bit more planning - for example, should you break your hotel reservation into two pieces? We also were told that they couldn't confirm a trip until about 2 weeks before arrival which further complicated our plans.

Another alternative that we were eager to try was on the island of Caye Caulker (more about Caye Caulker in the next post). We ran across signs in San Pedro for a tour that included more exploration of the mangrove swamps near Caye Caulker but were never able to make contact with the proprietor, Captain Richard. He has a Facebook page but we couldn't get to him by phone. Probably the best was to reach him would be to go to Caye Caulker - his office is about 50 feet south of the ferry dock on the beach.

Our other 'outdoor' activity was to rent a golf cart for the afternoon and head out to the northern half of the island. As you head north through San Pedro you come to a small bridge with a pretty large toll ($2.50 US each way) that leads to the north. The road is partly paved and occasionally very rough, but there's no reason to hurry. Most of the way you have mangrove to the west and low bushes/palms to the east. The entire length that is relatively easily accessible by cart is lined with restaurants and resorts, some of which are very large. If you were planning to stay out in this area, you would be well advised to check on what options you might have to get into town.

We saw a few iguanas along the road

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and some shorebirds (egrets and cranes primarily) in the mangroves. It was an enjoyable outing and pretty much satisfied our need to cruise around in golf carts.

As we were jostling down the road we were very surprised to see what looked exactly like a hipster food truck facility, obviously brand new, along the west side of the road. The Truck Stop had some quite tasty food, a nice bar and ice cream place as well as a boardwalk that takes you out over the mangrove swamp where there are picnic tables. It also includes the requisite cornhole game spot. Makes for a very pleasant break in the trip. Here's a picture apparently taken during construction (credit to Ambergriscaye.com for the photo).

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By the way, we ate there non-ironically.

Posted by tdeits 07:46 Archived in Belize Tagged mexico rocks golf san belize snorkeling chan pedro shark carts caye ambergris alley hol Comments (0)

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