After San Pedro de Atacama, we took a 90 minute bus ride to Calama in search for a hire car. I had got around to the idea that we should hire a car and make our own way down to Santiago because then we’d be able to stop at a couple of beauty spots I’d found on the internet but that did not sit on any bus route. We couldn’t find a hire car (except for a chevrolet spark and I wasn’t driving a dishwasher on wheels) so then we spent the rest of the day going around Calama like headless chickens trying to get bus tickets onto our next destination, La Serena. It was the first truly stressful day to say the least. Thankfully we did come across a Peruvian restaurant which was a blessing, it was good to eat some delicious food after a couple of weeks of awful Bolivian fare.
Calama to La Serena was an uncomfortable 15 hour bus journey but it was exciting to arrive. After about a month at altitude, we were finally back at sea level and were quite literally at the sea. It was fairly hilly here and I was convinced after our time walking around at altitude I’d basically be really fit, but I was wrong. Hills were still hard, there was just slightly less wheezing involved. There wasn’t much to do here and a couple of days later we got on the bus to Valparaiso on the 23rd of December, another seaside town and where we would be spending Christmas!
Valparaiso is wonderfully charming. There is street art everywhere and we were staying right next to Cerro Concepcion, which was a little section of small alleyways just covered in super colourful art. It was lovely just walking round because so many of the houses were brightly painted and there was just such cool, laid-back vibe to the place.
On Christmas Eve afternoon, I facetimed my besties back in England who were doing our traditional Christmas Eve-ning of pjs, Christmas jumpers, Baileys, cheese and festive movies and felt a little sad that I was missing out. It was glorious mid-twenties weather and I was in shorts. Jonny and I went to the supermarket after and I had to buy cheese and Baileys. We also treated ourselves and booked into a restaurant near our hostel for a three-course set menu dinner that night. Even though I had no fancy clothes, it was nice just to sit down and spoil ourselves a little bit. There was one waitress working and she was lovely, the whole place had a happy little vibe and it was a nice way to bring in a strange Christmas.
Christmas Day was strange. Everything was closed of course, except Starbucks (seriously) so we got frappuccinos before heading to the beach through quiet, colourful streets. It was a total novelty being on the beach at Christmas but it wore off quickly because I don’t really like the beach or sunbathing for hours. I was also quite sad – I didn’t think I’d be bothered seeing as my family don’t particularly do anything exciting at Christmas, we just gorge and watch TV but I found myself missing my boring traditions and even missing grey skies!
Christmas Day dinner rolls around. The day before, we had asked the hostel if they are doing anything food wise for Christmas Day. “Oh we are going to have a barbecue, do you want to sign up?” We said yes. I asked if they wanted the money for it now, because surely they’d need to buy the meat today as all the shops would be closed the next day. They said no. Ok, fine. You know your country better than I do.
…We ended up having pizza (barbecued pizza) because all the shops were closed and they couldn’t buy any meat. Congratulations, you played yourself. So we sat around eating pizza and drinking rum, then stayed up playing cards. An unusual Christmas dinner to say the least. At least there was cheese?
On Boxing Day, we took a metro ride to Viña del Mar which is a bit like Valparaiso’s expensive cousin. It’s more shopping, gambling and entertainment, certainly more polished but lacking a certain charm. It certainly felt like the most modern place we had to been to so far and we had some excellent ice cream but it definitely wasn’t a patch on Valparaiso. The top attraction was a flower clock!
I really loved Valparaiso, so I hope you enjoy these photos. Next stop, Santiago.