Dec 25, 2011

Mendoza - Parks, Wine, Steak and late night action

In a traveler's pursuit for happiness and the perfect place, different people look for different things. Some look for a place where you can live on $2.50 a day; others for spiritual enlightenment; or perhaps a sunny beach with ongoing live music, naked women and an all you can drink, snore and smoke buffet. Mendoza almost hit the mark for me; it has an amazing array of parks, where to take an afternoon nap on the grass, after a delicious and affordable 500grs steak lunch with a bottle of "around the corner" malbec wine.

Plaza Independencia
Siesta certified tree
Parque San Martin
Mendoza exercises mandatory siesta from around 1 pm to 5 pm, every day. Mendocinos are certainly service oriented, and you can assume to have a great meal with great service everywhere. But, do not expect anyone, to be available for anything, during siesta time.

So, if you want to function in this green oasis in the desert, surrounded by the irrigation system inherited from the Huarpes indians, take your nap, get up early night or late afternoon (whatever makes you feel less guilty) and head into town to enjoy true night life that kids and adults alike seem to enjoy on a daily basis.


With all that being said in front of me, I decided to take a short vacation from travelling in this town. When in Rome as the romans do;  I candidly accepted the offer and started an uninterrupted daily routine of  running, breakfast, city stroll, lunch, nap in a park, city stroll, dinner, and drinks. Repeat.

Daily Running around Parque San Martin's lake
Plaza España
Looking up in the middle of the day. A religious experience !

Always something going on downtown 
Bife de Chorizo and Malbec. Soooo right !
I had initially stayed at an apart-hotel, needing the privacy and comfort post Valparaiso. But it started getting  boring after a couple of days and I moved to a hostel in the middle of the action. Itaka was a pretty good place except for a lame breakfast, with a pool, wine night every other day, and a barbecue a couple times a week. The hostel is in the back of a bar/restaurant right on Aristides Villanueva which is the street with some of the best nightlife in town. 

Barbecue @ Itaka

Although there are no many discos  or "boliches" per say (these are in the suburbs), Aristides is where a lot of Mendocinos and tourists come together for food, drinking and partying. 

I met a few Argentinians since it was a long weekend, and people from Cordoba, Rosario, Neuquen and Buenos Aires found their way to party town Mendoza.  As I started to feel guilty for such a lazy travel routine, I booked a rafting trip in the Mendoza river, although I might add that I was running every day. 



The rafting promised to be a Class IV run but it was more like a Class II-III with a couple of surprises. Nonetheless, it was a great way to spend the day, chill in the pool afterwards, and meeting cool people.

When I got back to the hostel, I had a pleasant surprise.  In Valparaiso, Anna and I had gone separate ways. We had exchanged messages of her coming to Mendoza but had no idea when. It was great to see her there checking in at the hostel. That night we went out for dinner, drinks and partying until morning with a Chilean couple and two Porteños (from Buenos Aires) that I had met the night before, and had gone rafting as well. Although Johan spoke German, it was unavoidable for Anna to get lost in translation. There is no way two Chileans, two Argentinians and a Colombian speaking loud and quickly can be followed and understood.

For the remaining stay in Mendoza, Anna and I hung out in town, napping in parks yet again,

 but also went to Maipu to do a bike tour of the vineyards, 

went to these very cool termals day spa, 

and went always looking for good food, wine, and decent nightlife around town. To summarize the dining experience, we found decent sushi, decadent gelato, outstanding vegetarian food, and perfectly prepared Italian as expected.

Mendoza is a great town but if you ever go, drink all the wine, eat all the steak, have all the naps, party all night long, and then get out; run away... This kind of lazy and pleasant lifestyle is very tempting, and you may just blow all of your vacation days and money here.

Dec 21, 2011

Chilly Waters and Warm People in Valparaiso, Viña and Concon

It is time to continue my solo trip, heading for the central coast of Chile. Being Valparaiso the more pintoresque town in the area, I booked my stay there, and decided to try the hostel thing again after more than ten years.

Jorge and Sergio, the guys at the hostal (Casa Valparaiso) were very nice and super friendly. I did not go as far as sharing a bedroom with ten other backpackers, but got me a private room instead to get some "work" done, and honestly for plain comfort. Excellent breakfast, pisco sour nights, and above all, great socializing with both locals and other travelers. That is what hosteling is all about. Although is best to avoid having to socialize with some negative, nagging, and pain in the ass travelers, staying in a hostel remains a good deal.

My first impressions of the neighborhood and the hostel were not positive. Everything looked really aged and almost dirty.  After strolling around town for a couple of hours, I realized that this unique look, is part of the appeal of this town. A place filled with tons of self expression and shocking contrasts. 

As much as it is artistic,
Street Theater 
It is an important port for Chile,

Valparaiso's harbor from Almirante Mirador
With a lot of bohemian history and 100 plus years old bars and restaurants,

Chorrillana dinner at Casino Social J. Cruz

A lot of tourism,

Tourist boats take people for $4 USD to cruise the bay.

and a pretty large college student population.

It is not a place for everyone; in most cases people either love it, or hate it. I loved certain things about it, but I have to say that besides being a photographer's paradise, the one thing I could not get over was how ran down and dirty a lot of it looked, and how ghostly many parts of it seemed at night.


Elevators are still effective means of transportation

But only a few elevators remain working.
Art in this town is everywhere: in every house, every alley, every park, every bar and restaurant.




My friends Santi and Alvarin from Miami, would certainly go nuts here !

Valparaiso certainly has a lot of character, it breaks the mold of Santiago in every way, and it is for sure on a league of its own. 


On total contrast, and only ten to fifteen minutes from Valparaiso, Viña del Mar is this clean but almost stereotypical beach resort town. One thing probably worth visiting in Viña, is one of the restaurants near the main square where they serve this double beef-frank, avocado-filled, cheese-spilling hot dogs, that by no coincidence are known as "Completos".

That wetsuit must be thick ! The water is too freaking cold !

Further north from Viña, there is a small town called Con Con. It lives up to its fame on regards to seafood. Although, you can find excellent and fresh seafood everywhere around the coastal region, Con Con's little shacks and huts make a nice place for lunch of crab filled empanadas or congrio eel soup, or maybe both. 

So I ended up the day, strolling from beach to beach all the way back to Valparaiso.

For the next day, I met up with Anna who I had met in the Isla Magdalena tour, while freezing going to see the penguins. She had made it to Valparaiso the day before, wrapping up her old people's cruise. Ha ha ! Just rubbing it a little more Annita ! 

We spent the day doing not much at all, having great sushi for lunch and chilling at Reñaca where my favorite beach in the area is.

My favorite thing about these beaches, is that both stray dogs and pure breeds roam free, play together and seem so happy and relaxed. A dog's life, a cliché says...

When did these simple ways stop being a human's life too?