All about Viña
A brief warning. This will be a terribly long entry, I believe. However, I´ve titled the sections appropriately so that you may peruse those you find interesting. Introduction to Viña del Mar No. It´s not my idiomatic translation. While I would like to take credit for being oh so clever. The translation is literal: Vineyard of the Ocean. Viña was named so because of its abundance of grapes which are used to make some of the best wines in Chile. And the fabulousness of this fact is that I am able to by a somewhat high end brand of wine for about $4. But, I´ll get to the money/alcohol later.
Viña is definitely a resort. It has several different beaches under different names. The one closest to my house is Playa El Sol (Beach of the Sun). Apparently, the rich and famous come to vacation here during the Chilean Summer – which is December, January, and February – however, since I don´t actually know who any of the Chilean rich and famous are, this really makes no difference to me. What does make a difference is that there are definitely tons of tourists, but most of them are from Chile instead of Americans..
Because Viña is a resport, the beaches are super crowded. I´m talking about barely enough room to squeeze in your towel much less have some space to yourself. And South American definitely do not appreciate that whole American Ï need my personal space thing.¨ I was at the beach yesterday and a family of three sat with their feet, literally, at the top of my head. IT made me quite uncomfortable, as did the sand their three year old proceeded to shovel onto me. There are no nude beaches in Viña (There is one very close in the north which I intend to get to at some point) But there are plenty of nude children. Nothing is more precious that having a butt-naked child, covered in sand, run up to you while you´re tanning and begin speaking in completely incomprehensible Spanish. I´m actually not being sarcastic. It´s hilarious but also adorable.
Tanning is dangerous here. I´ve been slathering on the 40. Chile has the largest hole in the Ozone cap and a high percentage of the people here suffer from skin cancer. I missed a spot right by the edge of my bikini bottoms the other day and within 10 minutes tops my skin was like, 3 shades darker. It´s scary too because you see these teenage girls out for hours in this tiny bikinis and they are pouring on the suntan oil and their skin is seriously bronze. It´s kind of gross actually… There´s lots of trash in the sand after the day is done. There are tons of vendor carts selling food and cheap goods that are totally overpriced. There are also some rides for the kids and teenagers doing break dance and gymnastics on the plaza green that is right by the beach. According to my Spanish teacher, Chileans don´t like to work during the summer, so most teenagers do not have summer jobs. They just ask people for money. And a lot of times, this actually works! Must be nice.
The Language and the Culture
As if I could sum up culture in a brief passage after two weeks, but here´s some points People talk crazy fast here. Craaazy fast. Think you´re good at Spanish? Nope. You´re not good until you can talk to a Chileno and understand what they are saying. There is also a ton of slang. For example, Pico (as in Pico de gallo – as it is normally used in Latin America) means ¨penis.¨ ¨Pololo/a¨means boy/girlfriend instead of the usual ¨novio.¨ I plan on dedicating a later entry to slang once I learn more.
As for the culture, I love it. Chileans are very warm, and friendly. They love inviting you to their house, even if they don´t know you. They always want to lend a helping hand. As I said, there´s not a lot of personal space. Greetings are always accompanied with a kiss and a hug, even if meeting only for the first time. Chileans – and south Americans for that matter, will come up to you in the gym, the store, the street, and just begin speaking with you. I really like it. The society is much more open in that way than the USA.
Mmmm. Deserves its own entry after much more sampling and photo taking. But I will say Chileans are all about their bread. They will line up for it at night after its just been baked. It´s all white bread too. And Viña, as well as the other towns in this area, are famous for seafood (although I haven´t been really impressed by any yet).
There are three meals. Desayuno or breakfast is usually light – toast with coffee or cereal. El Almuerzo or Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and La cena or once, known to us as dinner, is some bread, maybe some salad with tea. Fresh veggies and fruit are so cheap here! La Ferria is a market that occurs on the estuary every Wednesday and Saturday when farmers sell their fruit. I bought a kilo (which is about 2 lbs.) of strawberries, a kilo of peaches, bananas, an avocado, a kilo of cherries, and two corn on the cobs for $3.50.
Transportation Viña (and most of South America really) travels mostly by bus. It´s very convenient and super cheap. There are micros, which travel locally within a city and to close towns. The other buses do longer distances. And there are also international buses to all the countries in SA. Like I said bus travel is convenient. You don´t necessarily have to be at a designated stop. The bus drivers will pull over is you wave them down. Which is interesting when you are on the bus and it stops every five minutes on a route to pick people up.
It takes some time to understand the bus system. Basically because it is super confusing. The buses have signs that tell you where they are going, but it isn´t the destination, it is the route. OK maybe it isn´t that confusing, but when you get here and you don´t know any of the streets and you don´t really speak the language – it´s hard. Also bus drivers drive incredibly – hold on for dear life- fast. And the buses are often crowded. You should always give your seat to older people. And you may well have to stand (have fun trying to keep your balance. The bus never really stops, they just open the doors and you kind of hop off when they slow down. Also they don´t really pause to let you pay. So it´s an interesting challenge to dig for money in your purse while standing at the front of the bus, when the driver is going at 70 mph.
Everyone drives fast here. There aren´t really lanes on the town streets, only a common agreement not to hit the car next to you. It´s really fun trying to cross. Without a crosswalk, only the daring – or New Yorkers, should make an attempt. Mmm what else?
Chile is kid centered. Especially Viña where everybody comes with their kids on vacation. Everyone knows I´m not crazy about kids. But I have to say that Chilean children are the most beautiful, most precious children in the entire world (as you can see in my pictures). However, parental discipline here is lacking in a huge way. More on that at another time…
Viña takes about a day to explore. As it is a resort, the culture is hard to discover and limited in quanity. Yet, after spending the past Friday wandering around, I found some really great places. Should you visit you should go to:
- Castillo Wolf on La Marina: awesome castle with a great view of the Viña coast from the top of the tower. Also houses some excellent art exhibits. It´s also free. Currently they are showing Marcelo Guerra who I am now obsessed with. You should look him up and/ or see his paintings in my photo album: Viña Part II
- The flower clock. Also in the album. It´s made of flowers and it is huge and tells the correct time. Takes about five minutes to see but its worth it. Also along the marina.
- Cerro Castillo. The President´s palace is up here and it has beautiful houses. Viña is sadly mostly apartment complexes now. But here is a great spot to view some terrific old mansions.
- Palacio Riojo: a preserved castle. Fun to walk through. Cheap. Recommended. On Quillota.
- Skip the Rapa Nui museum which is called Museo Fonck. It is useless and they charge you $3 (expensive by Chile´s standards)
Which brings me to money…
The exchange rate right now is at about 545 pesos for a dollar. This will buy you, a liter of milk, a piece of pizza, a soda, and tons of fruit and vegetables. Viña is cheap for food, but all of the clothes are marked up and actually more expensive here than in the US. Sandals at Payless here were like $35. I think that is about it for now. Viña can definitely be a quiet place and a place that seems to lack substance. However, like any city, if you seek out the good, you will find a lot of treasure beneath the surface. For now, I am content.