I rented a car and drove from Santiago to Valparaiso, where I spent New Years Eve and -day before continuing my journey to the South of Chile.
Many travel enthusiasts (and of course, Chileans) rate Valparaiso as one of the best places in the world to spend New Year’s Eve, and judging by epic fireworks display over the harbour when the clock struck midnight I could understand what the fuss is about.
I sneaked up a ramp to the entrance of the local Ibis Hotel’s parkade to get a nice view over the harbour, from where the fireworks were ignited non-stop from various strategic points in the harbour for approximately 20 minutes. It was breathtaking.
Apart from the fireworks, the streets were filled with thousands masked and fancy-dressed New Year’s revellers barbecuing meat (asado), local musicians held a concert at the town square and it was a big, loud, party.
It was the first major New Year’s fireworks display I’ve witnessed since spending New Year’s Eve in Sydney Harbour in 2005/6, and just like then I was travelling on my own. There was, however, one distinct difference between these two experiences: I was completely lost in translation this time around thanks to my already limited Spanish that became rusty over the seven weeks in Kiwiland. It was weird and lonely in a positive way, finding myself in the middle of a huge celebration with my senses overstimulated by Latin American sounds and spectacular visuals, but also removed from it thanks to a rather vast language gap.
It wasn’t unpleasant – it was a nice way to take stock of a year that did not go exactly as planned, accepting and closing the chapters to some of the bad things that happened over the past year, counting my blessings for the wonderful things I was able to experience in spite of the bad things, and promising myself that I will do my best keep 2013 as interesting and constructive as possible, regardless of what it might have in store for me. That’s all I am willing to do this time around, as 2012 taught me that nothing ever goes as planned.
You can resolve to pursue a successful career and personal life, to quit smoking, take up yoga, drink less, become a rocket scientist, save the world, read and/or travel more, “choose” to be happy… Planning is good and necessary, but there are no guarantees that things will ever go as planned, and one should accept that and be ready to confront and even embrace the curveballs that life has in store for you. That’s what 2012 taught me, and I am as ready as I can be for 2013 having come to accept this.
I spent New Year’s day strolling lazily around nearby Viña del Mar, a much prettier town next to Valparaiso, and the day after that I visited La Sebastiana, the poet Pablo Neruda’s house in Valparaiso, which probably was my most heart-warming, sentimental experience so far in Chile. I am not very familiar with Neruda’s work, but the house and museum provides an inspirational glimpse of Neruda’s love for life, sense of fun, creativity and colourful imagination. It triggered an interest in him, and I am looking forward to read more of and learn more about his work.
After the visit to Neruda’s house it was back to Santiago for one more day before I started heading south by bus, towards Chile’s lake district.
The first stop was a town called Chillán, where I spent two nights. I could not help but draw comparisons between Chillán and Kroonstad in South Africa thanks to the impression that I got that it’s a generic town that thousands of vacationers happen to pass through during summertime.
The landscapes around Chillán also resemble the Free State province in South Africa, and the town centre is nothing special. One cannot help but to try and spot the local Pep store… I nevertheless will cut Chillán some slack, as it is said to have lost most of its charm and character in the big earthquake of 1939.
There are two attractions in Chillán worth mentioning in this blog post. The first attraction is Chillán’s very impressive fresh produce markets, and the second one if the very striking, interesting cathedral which was built to replace the one that was destroyed in the 1939 earthquake, and, of course, designed to withstand future earthquakes.
After Chillan, I travelled to Pucón, a much more charming town, said to be the adventure tourism hub of Chile. It is based in the lake district at the foot of the Villarrica Volcano, which I will be climbing tomorrow. More pictures and thoughts on Pucón and the volcano will follow in the next post.