So you remember our first experience with crossing the Andes in a plane? Well the second time was a bit smoother, I think it helped that it was daylight, although it was still disconcerting when the final turn was so close to the mountainside that I could see individual trees.
Once we arrived in Chile we immediately picked up our rental car to drive a couple of hours to Valparaiso, a small port town. We had read all along on various posts from other tourists how difficult it is to navigate Valpo by car, but, being the extra savvy travelers that we are, assumed that we would do better than everybody else. We are expert navigators after all…
Our first clue that we might be biting off more than we could chew came when a taxi driver asked about our trip and where we were going and how, and then whistled and shook his head when we told him Valpo by car.
Our second clue was the dead dog on the side of the road being stood upon by a rooster…ok well, that really had nothing to do with our ability to navigate, but it certainly added to the overall atmosphere of a story about to go completely haywire. *Insert dramatic music*
The drive to the outskirts of town was a breeze and gave us some great views of Chile’s arid, slightly desert environment complete with the beautiful Andes as a backdrop. Once in Valpo city limits, however, we quickly realized that our little tourist map (complete with drawings of the sights to see a la amateur sketch style)
sucked wouldn’t suffice, and the directions we downloaded meant nothing as there were no legible street signs. So here we were in a completely strange town, unable to speak the language, and driving up streets that are as wide as a smartcar at a 70% incline (Adam says there’s a slight chance I’m exaggerating…I beg to differ).
Sidenote about how a passenger’s memory differs from the drivers. Mandy’s Driving Memoralis Conundrum, if you will. Ahem. The Driver is more prone to not remember exact details in extreme driving conditions due to being in survival mode – you only focus on how to get everyone out alive. The Passenger, however, is in complete Traumatization Mode. Meaning everything that happens in order to get you out alive is emblazoned in terrifying clarity in the deepest recesses of your brain.
Science. It makes the world go round.
Luckily Adam’s iphone had GPS which more or less got us up through the twisting, winding mountain streets…until we hit the after effects of Chile’s most recent earthquake. (What is our affinity for earthquake stricken places?). Streets were completely torn up in places and completely barred the path we were on. We found a second route in and took that until, of course, the road inexplicably ended in a staircase.
Did I mention we were driving stick?
We called it a day and located a parking spot to make sure that the GPS had, in fact, gotten us remotely close to our hostal which, thankfully, it had. We made it just in time for one of the most spectacular sunsets we’ve ever seen (and when you’d done as much sunset chasing as Adam has, you know a good one when you see it!).
Long story short – if you ever find yourself in Santiago as a first time tourist wanting to visit Valparaiso, take a bus! It will save you a car rental fee, highway tolls, and, oh yea, the complete craziness of Valparaiso streets.