Okay, first off: we didn't win the Chilean lottery, sorry guys. That was my extremely lame attempt at an Aprils Fool joke (I try to direct as few lame jokes as possible at Wes, so you guys might pick up some of the spillover).
BUT good news is, we're in Chile, and it's awesome. The drive here was amazing- straight through the highest part of the Andes (really- we're talking 20,000 ft mountains here) along a river (where Wes actually did a rafting tour two years ago, which is kind of funny. But no worries, he assures me that the bus ride with me is way more fun than a rafting tour through all this beautiful scenery). Also, getting through Chilean customs is ridiculous- you cannot enter with any vegetable, animal, or organic material product, because Chile believes that any nasty foreign material could destroy their delicate ecosystem (which is kind of fair, as they've avoiding most of the foot-and-mouth disease and insect/pests that have plagued Argentina. Looks like a 20,000 ft mountain range and aggressive customs officials are really effective at keeping out bad stuff. And Wes almost got busted for a chocolate bar he was smuggling in his guitar case (very scary), but luckily our Hamlet Bicolor emerged unscathed.
Valparaíso itself is very cool. There are a lot of different and distinct areas of the city- the clear frontrunner to be our favorite is Calle Condell, which houses the best panaderías ever (so many delicious pastries in Chile, filled with cream and chocolate and dulce de leche- wait for the forthcoming photo of me right my 8 inch diameter Boston Creme-inspired doughnut) and a ton of awesome fresh fish, veggie, and meat markets. We also purchased some incense for our stinky tent called ¨Success and Happiness¨and ¨Open Doors¨(¨Ward off Evil¨didn't smell as good) so hopefully we'll be basking in the easy passage to success very soon.
There's also a ton of fantastic little artisan stands where I continue to look at pretty jewelry and not buy any (our fear is that once one purchase is made, it will open the floodgates and I'll end up buying an entire kitchen set with llamas on it, or something). I came pretty close to buying everyone in my family ¨Tu eres Especiale!¨mugs at one of the dollar stores ($500-$1000 Peso Stores- this exchange rate is ridiculous) but thankfully saw reason before it was too late. Also, apparently juices and smoothies are really popular here, which is great for us because I do love to start my day with a freshly squeezed kiwi juice. And I've taken a very strong liking to Pisco Sours, which has resulted in lots of little siestas scattered throughout the day.
We've also spent a ton of time on Valpo's hills- Valpo has something like 43 hills in total which all rise up from the main port, Barrio Puerto (pictures will explain all). It's always really misty over the ocean in the morning, which makes for a sort of haze that blankets the city and makes it kind of chilly though really pretty (our first day here was super overcast and cold, and we got really close to seeing Hombre Lobo (Benicio del Toro's werewolf movie) with Spanish subtitles but thankfully the weather cleared up at the last moment).Though Valpo has its roots as a port city (like Buenos Aires, its residents are called porteños), Pinochet appointed it the legislative and 'official cultural' capital during his regime. So the extremely steep hills house (ironically) one of Pablo Neruda's houses, all kinds of amazing architecture (really, amazing), fantastic arts museums, good street performers, a patchwork of colorful (shantyish) houses that rise up to the very tops of the hills, and tons! tons! of graffiti. Brief aside- the graffiti here is everywhere, and amazing. I have a feeling Wes is going to talk at length about it, so I won't say anything more, expect that you could dedicate your entire trip to Valpo wandering around and gawking at the awesome graffiti.
Also there are stray dogs everywhere and they are terrifying. They're all really mangy and beat up looking, and I don't know if it's from inbreeding or fighting amongst themselves, but most of these dogs have one or both eyes the color of pale, pale blue, almost white. There is nothing creepier than being followed back to the hostel at night by a dog with white eyes. Speaking of the hostel, there is no-one here but us, which would be creepy if this hostel wasn't so awesome (great breakfast! Actually, we're just excited to have real milk after having Argentina's powdered milk for three months).
So yeah, that's the story so far. Today I think the plan is to hit the beach at Viña del Mar, just north of here (I'm sorry to hear it's getting warmer at home so I can't rub that in your face anymore)- it's the weekend beach retreat for wealthy porteños (and poor U.S. backpackers). Ciao todos! Besos y abrazos!