The Kindness of Strangers

Trip Start Aug 31, 2012
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Trip End Apr 30, 2013


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Flag of Chile  ,
Monday, December 10, 2012

I feel almost at a loss for words (note almost), and so am pleased to offer you in much fewer (than usual) this week one chapter in our life that may be better expressed in pictures than in writing.

We are very pleased to present to you these visions of Santiago, capital of Chile, and the nearby coastal city of Valparaiso ('val-para-yeeso').
The one thing we do want to say that can never be fully expressed in pictures or in words is the gratitude we have felt these last few days. This chapter is called The Kindness of Strangers because it is dedicated to those such people who have taken us in as strangers and seen us off as friends. 

In Santiago, first off, we were offered the apartment of Sandra, whom we had met a few months previously whilst staying with our first ever Couchsurfing host in Quito, Ecuador: Jose (who actually turned up at Sandra’s place unannounced early one morning with bottles of duty-free booze to share – it was so brilliant to see you again my friend).  Sandra’s apartment is small, yet she bid us treat the space like our own and gave us great advice and help to get around Santiago.  We were very happy to take advantage of this offer for a few days whilst we navigated our way around the parks, cathedrals and hills of one of the most beautiful cities we’ve ever had the pleasure to goggle at. 

Santiago is not only beautiful to behold, but has an ambience equal to that of its plethora of great art, sculptures and spiritual sanctums. We wandered into one cathedral on a Tuesday late-morning to find a considerable number of citizens enjoying the sermon of a grandly-robed, sweetly-singing priest. Are Tuesday morning sermons really necessary? In Santiago they are.

On Sundays, museums and art galleries in Santiago are free, so we drowned ourselves in it.

In Valparaiso, we were actually spoilt for choice of couches on offer (well we had to choose between two), and so first spent a couple of nights with Gaspar, a student of neuro-science who passionately introduced us to some of Chile’s local folk heroes in music and poetry. Gaspar gave us so much information about where to go (and not to go) in this town, and from the moment we walked through his door he gave us so much else. As we arrived he was painstakingly preparing  (washing, opening and topping) lots of little local shellfish called Machas, and so served us these amazing little melted cheese-covered delicacies while his friends Camila and Nico plied us with home-made chocolate truffles that are normally reserved for sale in their restaurant, La Golondrina (The Swallow), and which taste like a  childhood Christmas Eve.

Gaspar lives on the 25th floor, with a view of the sea and hills that breaks the heart, and a balcony full of home-grown herbs that added a delicious flavor to every meal we ate. On Friday night Gaspar took us to see one of his favourite bands, but warned us that "there might be some punks there."  Intrigued, we met up with some of his friends and followed them through one of the more “dangerous” areas of town, sneakily supping beer away from the eyes of the Carabineros (police), and into a basement at one o clock in the morning for a couple of hours of hardcore thrash punk, while huge, decorated rockers wildly swung their heads and elbows amid the glorious smells of fresh sweat, beer and cigarette smoke. Just like the heady days of my youth. Ah, we breathed it in… for about two days after. 

Our other host in Valparaiso was Cesar, an Ecuadorian software engineer who has lived in Chile for the past twelve years or so. We first met Cesar (through Couchsurfing) in Santiago and enjoyed some local cuisine together. When we told him of our plans to visit Valparaiso, he called up his mother (who lives there), and arranged for us to stay with her for the weekend while he himself also came to show us around. Imagine a world where people who don’t know you and have no vested interest in you offer you a bed for free, and wake you in the morning with breakfast; who take time out of their lives to walk around for hours with you on a hot sunny day, taking you up and down hills to share their knowledge and their culture with you; driving you to local beauty spots; paying for you to ride horses on the beach and buying you amazing seafood dinners, all without asking anything in return. Cesar – and his mother Aurora - created this world for us.

We can never thank them enough. Of course, everyone who has given us a place to stay has done more than we have a right to deserve. We may never see them again. We may never have a home suitable to return the favour. We ask ourselves constantly, what have we done to deserve this? To all those people, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Valparaiso is a city that we may forever dream of retiring to. Enjoy the hundred and odd pictures when you have the time …
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Comments

Gav on

Wow I actually got a lump in my throat reading that. What a fantastic place.

And I want to also express my gratitude for looking after our friends & keeping them safe. The world would be a much better place if more people like you guys were in it.

Gav on

The pictures of the artwork are just the most amazing artwork, I love the idea of a town that really has become a living gallery.

The whole set of pictures are just the best images I've seen in ages (Not that your other are pants or owt) but these are just amazing!

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