November 25, 2006

Chile - Parque Nacional La Campana, and Olmué

I realized a couple days before we left on our trip that Stacy and I had planned no outdoorsy excursion while we were in Chile -- though, from what I could tell reading the guidebooks, getting your outdoors on was the main reason to visit Chile. We didn't have time (or equipment) for anything extreme (no Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego), but our reading revealed a national park between Viña and Santiago (where we had to go to get a plane to Peru) with a mountain you can climb.

According to the guidebooks, Parque Nacional La Campana is among Chile's premier national parks, and it's centerpiece, Cerro La Campana, is famous for two reasons -- you can see the ocean and Santiago from its peak, and Charles Darwin climbed it in 1834. So would we.

There are a few towns near La Campana, the largest and most practical being Olmué. We stayed at the Hosteria el Copihue right in the center of town.

I'll take the city first -- Olmué is dull. As Jorge warned us before we headed there, it's a resort town for old people. There's pretty much nothing to do in Olmue but hang out in your hotel and eat at one of the few restaurants in town.

As a hotel, Hosteria el Copihue was uninspired. It cost too much money (it ended up being around $100/night with tax), and provided too little in terms of service. Also, the restaurant there was mediocre. I cannot recommend it, though I wouldn't know where else to direct you in Olmue.

My favorite place in town was La Cafetta, on the main avenue, which served tasty coffee drinks and good jugos naturales. We went there a few times for a relaxing beverage.

But really, we weren't in Olmue to be in Olmue. We were there to climb La Campana. So, on our first morning in town, we woke up, fortified ourselves with desayuno, and set out for the park.

And, in short, we didn't like it.

We didn't like it for a number of reasons. The primary one was that there was no real warning as to how difficult the climb was. The guidebooks mention that it's very steep, that you shouldn't wear sneakers, blah blah. They don't mention that for long stretches the trail pretty much disappears as you scramble over broken rock. That "steep" is an understatement. That it's a remarkably difficult slog up the hill. So, we weren't prepared for what lay ahead, and that upset us.

Also, when you get to the top, while the view is spectacular, it's not, well, interesting. Chilenos love La Campana because they have a context in which to put what they're seeing -- the ocean, the surrounding valleys, the cities. As a foreigner, all that context was lost on me -- seeing it all in one sweep didn't *mean* anything, so it was just a view. And while a good view, it wasn't worth the 4.5 hours of getting up the mountain, nor the subsequent 3.5-4 hours return.

Simply put, I just don't think La Campana is really "worth it" to a non-Chileno. I've never been on a hike before that felt so much like work, just a slog.

So, I cannot recommend it.

Olmue and La Campana were travel experiences, and, when you adventure a bit, well, you'll occasionally be disappointed. And we were.

Basically, what we realized as we left Olmue and headed to Santiago (where we spent the night before getting on a plane for Cusco, Peru) is that we simply spent too long in Chile. We should have shaved two days off of our Chile travel, and spent longer in Peru, specifically Cusco, because Cusco is simply amazing. But that's for another post...

Posted by peterme at 01:07 PM | TrackBack

More on Chile - Valparaiso and Viña del Mar

When I last wrote, I mentioned we had just arrived in Viña del Mar, a city on the coast of Chile about 90 minutes drive from Santiago.

Viña is a perfectly pleasant beach town, pretty much geared toward Chilean tourists getting away for the weekend. It has a passel of restaurants and cafes, strolls along a beach, and some uninteresting shopping. Viña provided a welcome respite from the bustle of Santiago.

We particularly enjoyed this bar on 8 Norte near the main Avenida...

I forget the name of the bar, but you'll know it when you see it. Very comfortable local.

We had some good food at Otro Estilo, a teeny Italian restaurant staffed by two people (I'm guessing husband and wife -- husband cooks, wife prepares drinks).

And the Hotel Monterilla, where we stayed, was extremely pleasant -- comfortable rooms, free wi-fi, and ideally located to walking all over the city.

A 20-minute bus or commuter rail ride south of Viña is Valparaiso ("Valpo"), the port city of Santiago (i.e., where all the shipping happens). Valpo is justifiably famous for it's peculiar city planning -- the bulk of the city rests on a series of rather steep hills...

Arriving in Valpo by commuter rail, your find yourself in the heart of "El Plan," the flat, gridded area that hugs the coast. Take my advice: get out of El Plan ASAP. It's smoggy, congested, squalid, and overall unpleasant. Get yourself on an ascensor (Reina Victoria will do very well) and head for the hills.

There's not much to "do" in Valpo -- time is best spent wandering the hills, taking photographs, and stopping occasionally for a bite to eat, something to drink. Some particular photo favorites in my flickr feed:

I call this Thank God It's Pie (click that link to see a large one, with the Pie graffito in the lower right hand corner)

Stacy amid the orange bars. This was in the "Museum of the Open Air", a series of murals painted by artists.

"OMFG Crazy Stairs" that just go up and up...

"Color" (click for larger size)... Valpo has a San-Francisco-like love of pigment

I just love this mural...

In terms of sustenance, we found two places we liked. Kabala, on Almirante Montt was a good, somewhat hip restuarant, and Cafe Con Letras, up near Concepcion, was a very comfy coffeehouse.

After a couple days, we felt like we had gotten a robust Viña/Valpo experience -- any more time spent here would have been simply lounging.

Our next destination was the little town of Olmue, from where we would set out for Parque Nacional La Campana, to climb Cerro La Campana. More on that in another post!

Posted by peterme at 12:39 PM | TrackBack

You don't have our excuse...

When Stacy and I planned our Chile and Peru trips, we figured we'd end with a couple days in Lima before returning to the States. We'd heard great things about Lima food, and we found a charming-looking "hostal" in Miraflores, reputed to be the most comfortable neighborhood.

We told many people we were going to Chile and Peru. Not one of them told us the one thing I am going to tell you:

Don't go to Lima.

Really. Don't bother. There is pretty much no reason to visit here. And many many reasons not to. Stacy and I have disliked it almost from the moment we touched down. We've had some perfectly fine experiences, but none worth traveling for. We should have stayed longer in Cusco, which was great (and which I'll write about later).

But Lima, as a traveler's city, is pathetic. Forget about it. Make sure the only time you spend here is at the airport, transferring to a plane to Cusco or some other point of genuine interest.

There. Now you have no excuse.

Posted by peterme at 11:37 AM | TrackBack

November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving from Cusco!

(We actually ate this a couple days ago, but cuy seems about as analogous a "Thanksgiving food" as we will find in Cusco!)

Posted by peterme at 02:33 PM | TrackBack


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Chile - Parque Nacional La Campana, and Olmué
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You don't have our excuse...
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