I'm torn here whether I should talk about Chile's national parks or Chile's unbeatable public transportation (at least in the central region, in which Santiago is located). I guess tons has been written about the national parks, and not that much about transportation (but lookie here, an article by yours truly lauding the Santiago Metro as the Cadillac of metros, and the Viña-Valpo metro as having one of the best views of any metro. And it does).
At any rate, this weekend brought a few things I really like.
Good times with friends
Good public transportation
Outside (whether biking, hiking, or just being)
Views (see: outside above)
C and I took off on Friday night to head to the coast to his cousin's family house, where we would be lodged, caffeinated and otherwise acogidos (pampered/cozied) for the weekend. This in Quilpué, which is technically a suburb of Valparaíso, but if you hadn't told me that, I'd never have known, as it seems like its own little town. Anyway, cuz and fam live in a cute-as-a-button house in one of those little neighborhoods which look a little like maybe the photocopier got stuck. Chilean suburbs often look like this. A Brazillian friend once commented, "N (her husband) would love to live in a place like this. So orderly, so safe!" It did seem to be both of those things, but let me say only in Chile (and many other countries, but not the one I was born in) will a bus driver leave you by the side of a road and leave you to snail your way across the pitchblack highway to the drainage culvert and beyond to get to the house in question.
Exhibit A: Honey they've cloned my house!
In the morning we woke up, indulged in more caffeine. Yo! stop it with the coffee. I'm an addict, and trying to cut down. Ahem. From here we grabbed a quick ride to the Quilpué station of MERVAL, the aforementioned Viña-Valpo metro. It goes out to Limache, and for 500 pesos (plus the metrocard, which I already had) and about 25 minutes of sheer commuting pleasure, we passed over hill and dale (except it's in the flat plateau before the coastal range, so actually there were no hills, and what's a dale, anyway?) From here, we got off in Limache, which I would gladly have hung out in for a few hours, taking pictures of the old classic train station, people, and the gorgeous alameda, which is what we call it when there are big, leafy, shady trees on either side of the street. Which makes our own (Santiago's) Alameda a bit of a joke. So sad.
From Limache we asked some lugareños (locals) how to get to La Campana, and amid hand motions and lip pointing, we discerned that a whopping 40 metros from the train station's entrance, a bus was to be had. The 45, in fact. This we boarded, and wound through Limache and Olmue, past the chocolate shops and any possibility of buying goat or other fresh cheese, or even the famous Limachino tomato (most of the tomatoes sold in Santiago are advertised as being from Limache). Another about 25 minutes and we were deposited at the bottom of a hill with a sign pointing to La Campana.
Information galore is available on the park from the CONAF website, the only caveat being that um, you have to read Spanish to know what it's saying. No problem. I have a couch, come stay and I'll put you in Spanish camp. It will be so divertido (fun), it will! Also, for a diehard La Camapana summiter, check out this guy's Valparaíso-based blog.
We arrived to the park somewhat late, with the other stragglers, including a middle-aged couple and their pokemon son, who was totally adorable, and if he really was gay like I suspect, I hope he gets into the city sometime, because how unbearable must it be to be a gay Chilean teenager in a small town?
Because we arrived late, they took our 1500 pesos to enter and warned us not to try for the summit. You have to be out of the park (or camping) by 5:30, and we arrived at 11:30. The summit's four hours away. Simple math. If you want to get to the top of Darwin's peak, as they call it, hoofing it all the way (you can drive to Sector la Mina on a 4WD track), you have to enter by 10. Punto (full stop).
Resigned to a shorter hike, we hoofed it and hoofed it the 5 km up to the Sector La Mina, smelling honey-scented leaves, saying hello to the Litre tree (Hola Señor Litre!) like you do, and marvelling at how Chile does fall.
I have seen Chilean fall in exactly three places. The cordillera de la costa, which is where La Campana is, and also El Roble (remember that fun bike trip? And also near Pucón, which is a leafier, more robustly autumnal fall. But we didn't do too badly re: glimpsing fall on this hike either.
We found a bunch of berries that smelled like green condensed, and some that smelled like nothing at all. They didn't appear to be edible, so we didn't nibble, saw a fleet of sleekly designed hummingbirds diving some tree or another, and enjoyed the snowy look of those umbrella-like seeds which in this case came from quila/colihue (local bamboo variant) and another plant, and which didn't make either of us sneeze. We are both people of the allergy, so this is a minor miracle.
This is the second plant that coated the ground with its fluffy seeds.
I was pretty grrrr at not getting to climb the last steep ascent to the peak, which is where all the amazing coastal views are, and where Aconcagua can be seen. But it really was just not to be, given the time constraints. It's close though, and I'll certainly go back to do that, and also to check out the Chilean palms in the Ocoa sector. The park is open year round, so I have no excuse not to go. Next time I'll stay in Olmué or camp in the park.
We saw a fair number of people during the day, maybe about 20, and when we got down to the campsite, several families had installed themselves for their evening snack. We checked out of the hiking area with military precision, and headed out. I don't know if they are more stringent with the checking in and out since an American exchange student died in 2007 after falling off a cliff on this hike. Notwithstanding this poor girl's unfortunate misstep, the hike, while steep and occasionally slippery, is generally considered to be not unsafe.
We left the park, and like clockwork, the yellow and green bus arrived (this time the number 46, it still cost 450 pesos), and spirited us back to Limache, where we took the train back to Quilpué, first to grab a meal, and then to our hosts, who were waiting for us with wine and nibblies.
As many hands as you have, that's how many thumbs up I give Chile this weekend. For her parks, transportation, and of course, for her people.
As an aside, the next day we went to the botanic gardens in Viña, which deserve a whole day to explore, and a whole post to talk about, neither of which I had/have time for. But I did snap this little one ambushing a goose while his father looked on. And it was too much fun not to share.