Exploring Viña, Valparaiso, and Punta Arenas

We’ve just completed our second week of Spanish immersion in Viña del Mar and have made our way south to Punta Arenas to begin our exploration of Patagonia. It’s hard to believe the first phase of our trip is already complete.

During our second week in the beach resort community of Viña del Mar we explored the surrounding area and its beaches. One day we took the bus to the large port city of Valparaiso, which is less than 30 minutes south of Viña. Valparaiso saw its heyday in the late 19th century when it served as a major stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. The opening of the Panama Canal meant considerable decline for Valparaiso and it has only recovered a little. You could see in the design of the buildings that it was once a rich vibrant city. Now it’s pretty run down, dirty, and unpleasant.

Valparaiso has been staging a comeback (at least that’s what they say) and has attracted incredible artists who have created unbelievable murals throughout the streets of the hillside town. We spent most of our time here wandering the cobbled hillside lanes looking at the artwork on the city walls. The photos will give you some idea of what we saw. We also took a little cruise in the harbor to get an up close look at the Chilean military ships and shipping traffic.

Just north of Viña are the popular beaches of Reñaca and Con Con. One day we joined the thousands of tourists on the beach by renting lounge chairs and an umbrella. It was a relaxing way to spend a warm afternoon.

During our second week in Viña del Mar we continued to attend language classes in the morning. ECELA, the school we’ve been attending draws a mix of students from around the world. In our classes we joined students from Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Brasil, etc. and learned about their lives and customs while practicing Spanish, our common language. Most afternoons we relaxed, studied, and took walks through the beautiful neighborhoods of Viña del Mar.

One highlight of our time here was spending time talking with our Chilean family. Cristina, her cousin Eduardo, Eduardo’s wife Alexandra, daughter Constanza, and renting student Fernando seemed to enjoy our company, as we spent many hours around the table talking about “stuff.” Our conversations, all in Spanish, ranged from music to politics and from families to travel. Almost every night we spent an hour or two enjoying “once” which is a meal in Chile, sort of like tea time right before bed. Instead, we usually had a glass of wine. While attending classes is a great way to learn a language, nothing beats the casual conversation you get while living with family. We’ll miss them!1.1485684416.family

Yesterday we travelled by plane from Santiago to Punta Arenas, a four hour flight south. We are here for just one full day. Punta Arenas is the gateway to Patagonia, so it’s kind of a mandatory stop. While here we’ve explored the duty free shopping area, the massive cemetery, and the streets of the city.

Tomorrow we’ll head to Torres del Paine National Park to begin our stay at EcoCamp Patagonia. Here we will explore the “W” trek, a classic hike around this beautiful region. Stay tuned for lots of pictures when we get back online in a week or so.

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