Category Archives: history

Walking Tour of Valparaiso

A quick bus ride from Vina and I arrived in Valparaiso. Once in town, I made my way to a lovely hostel, that was more bed and breakfast than traditional hostel, at the summit of one of Valparaiso’s many hills (cerros).

I met two more travelers – Stephanie and Chris – and we chatted a bit until we realized we were hungry. Together we went to a nearby market to bring back some dinner – which, for me, was a personal-sized box of wine, cheese and crackers.

Before breakfast, I reserved my room for another night. At breakfast, I met Quinn and Joe, who, like me, had also left great jobs in NYC to travel. Over breakfast we realized we were planning to take the same walking tour. Together we headed out and it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the city aptly nicknamed the ‘Jewel of the Pacific.’

Our free, organized walking tour started in Plaza Sotomayor in front of the Armada de Chile (Navy Building) and Monumento a Los Heroes (Heroes Monument).

Our guide started the tour with a brief history. We learned that neighboring Bolivia, now a landlocked country, once had access to the Pacific Ocean but during the War of the Pacific, Bolivia lost its access to the sea. Barricading Bolivia’s access has been detrimental to the country’s growth. This is still quite a big deal between citizens of both countries and there’s plenty online. More info can be found here and here.

Before the Panama Canal opened, Valparaiso’s port was an important stop for ships traveling around Cape Horn. Today, Valparaiso is a major seaport and shipping center in South America.

Speaking of major seaports and expansive shipping centers, our second stop: Valparaiso’s impressive port.



Exploring Cordoba Day Two

After breakfast I headed out. Cordoba is a big university town. There are a lot of churches and museums. Because it was Sunday, my options were limited.

I decided to hit a modern art museum. It was fairly small so did not take much time. I went into the wrong museum first but it was more classical art and while it looked nice in the lobby, it wasn’t what I had in mind. This is what I had in mind.

art gallery2art gallery

art gallery3 art gallery4

art gallery 5art gallery6

The structure below was the entrance to the museum. It was just sort of ‘there’ yet I still went to the wrong building.

art gallery7

The art museum did not take much time at all. One of the other places on my short list was the Paseo del Buen Pastor. It piqued my interest. It was a women’s jail – and most of the women were held for political reasons.

I basically circled the area several times because it didn’t even look like a jail. There were exhibits and cafes and a waterfall surrounding the facility and it was easy to miss — if you thought you were looking for an old run down jail.

waterfall  jail cordoba ana maria

These tiles were in the cement all around the jail. They each had quotes and I thought this was a nice one. This is the translation as I figured.

Translation: One word, one extended hand, a hug, advice, always someone who has to fight.

Since these women were detained for political movements, I thought this summed it up perfectly.

Seeing the Celebration of Yemaja

Once the sun went down on the day where I saw the sheep’s head, Romina, her friend and I headed to the Yemaja Festival on the Rio de la Plata — on a different beach from where we had been earlier in the day.

There, was a religious festival on the beach, in the river and on the streets. Yemaja is the Goddess of the Sea.

The beach was full of people celebrating this spiritual holiday. The beach and the surrounding streets were full of people like us, who were observing.

In the sand, people had scooped out holes to put candles. Families gathered around their ‘hole’ and you could see them enjoying the company of those around them.

these were the holes in the sand

the beach was covered with candles in holes

It made the beach look beautiful but if you weren’t watching where you walked, it could have been dangerous.

it looked pretty

People were dressed in all white as they walked from the beach into the river to make their offering to Yemaja. Long white cotton gowns and pants dominated the fashion scene of religious participants.

women walking into the water

On the beach there were bands playing and on the street just parallel to the beach there was music coming from nearly every car.

It was very interesting and I didn’t take many photos, or try to get good ones, because I felt like an intruder on a spiritual journey. If you Google “Yemaja and Montevideo” there are photos if you wanted to see more. The spellings vary as this is celebrated in a variety of countries with an African influence.

And no, I did not see any other animals on the beach.

Heads Up! You Won’t Believe It Until You See It!

I know I didn’t want to spend time in cities, but after being so far from civilization for a few days, I couldn’t have been happier being in Montevideo.
With Romina's mate
As for food, jamon y queso sandwiches are everywhere! That’s ham and cheese — and they cut the crust off when you order them in a restaurant.
The other popular food item — dulce de leche. It’s very sweet and I was introduced to this during a vacation in Argentina. But the locals love it!At this point I had stayed one night with Mariela in her high-rise apartment and one night with Romina in her rented house. I didn’t want to be the houseguest that never left but the girls convinced me to stay just one more night.
My third, and final full day, in Montevideo had Romina and I heading to the beach!
View to the left…
Montevideo in the background
View to the right…
 Beach view away from the city
Shot of the city and the beach
The beach was pretty dirty with smashed watermelons and a fair amont of trash scattered on the beach.
 Dirty beach
Romina explained that this was the start of a native holiday. The fiesta, celebrating Yemaja, was for native people to send off watermelons, and boats, as gifts to the Goddess of the Sea. It was an African tradition and there would be many people celebrating again, on beaches around the city, tonight. We should go, Romina said. It wasn’t something she celebrated but it would be good to show me. I agreed.
Romina's shot of me after she took the picture of the head. Still note trashed beach.
We continued to soak up the rays and I headed to the water to stick my feet in. I walked along the edge of the water realizing that I was in Uruguay. It was like I had to keep pinching myself, knowing I was there. Being around Romina and Mariela made me a lot less lonely and their hospitality was incredible. I was having so much fun with them but I knew I needed to leave the next day. I continued along the beach until I was stopped in my tracks.By a head.

Yes, you read that right. A head.

Without even taking a double look, I ran back to Romina skeeved and shaking in disbelief at what I just saw. I started speaking in Spanish and English telling her that I think it was a dog’s head. I even woof woof’d a few times to get my point across!
There was no blood but there was most definitely a head. She erupted in a fit of giggles. I was puzzled but still freaked out by what i just say so I was asking what, why?
When she caught her breath from her laughter, she said it’s probably from one of the gifts from the festival.
I said you have to go take a picture of it. I can’t go back and look but I wanted to see it again. Plus, no one at home would have believed me.
She took my camera and went to document the body- less head.
When she came back I asked more questions. And I kept saying perro (dog)? She replied with baaaa baaaa.
So sheep it was.
Another shot of the head

Exploring Colonia with Laura

Before we left, Laura’s mom, who was visiting from Miami and did not speak any English, had asked what we wanted for lunch. I knew I was in meat lovers country but I did let her know that I wasn’t much of a meat-eater. And she said no problem. That, I understood!

Note: I became a “vegetarian” later in the trip, not because of my experience here, because apparently pollo (chicken) is not considered meat. I love hamburgers but this is not hamburger country. This is a land that loves carne (meat) and enjoys all kinds of tastes and textures that, unfortunately, I just cannot appreciate. It was easier to just say that I was soy vegetariano (I am vegetarian). If you know me, please laugh. If you don’t know me, I say this because I am not the biggest fan of cooked vegetables yet I ate more than my share on this trip.

Laura and I ventured out and we walked into the historic center of town. We passed a lot of places I had visited the day before, but this time I got a fully translated explanation of what I was looking at, and the history behind it. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide!

Laura gave me a history lesson on the Spanish and Portuguese influence on this very important port city.

There are eight museums in the (for lack of a better word) system. Each focuses on some part of the Spanish and Portuguese history that this city is so full of because of the history that created this city. All of the placards in the museums were in Spanish with no translations anywhere.

As a teacher, Laura was keen to improve my Spanish before I left Colonia! She’d let me read the plaques in the museums and once I got the words translated to the best of my ability, I had to give her my best guess of what it actually meant. Then she would give me a proper English translation since many of my translations didn’t make much sense! Close, I was told. I think she was just being very nice.

We walked along the waterfront and chatted like old friends. I learned that Laura didn’t like heights but she insisted I climb to the top of the lighthouse for some incredible water views while she waited on solid ground below.

The walk up, was not for the faint of heart.

I did love these trees on the way up.

The views up were incredible.

Laura was sure to point out the Calle de los Suspiros, a famous street in Colonia that I had noticed the day prior but did not know why everyone was taking photos since there was no signage noting the street had any significance.

After museum hopping for a few hours, we went back to Laura’s apartment where her mom, Marcela, had prepared us a traditional Uruguayan lunch – Ravioles Con Tuco. She had made the raviolis from scratch while Laura and I were out exploring Colonia.

Tuco, is actually like a meat sauce. But it was more meat, less sauce.

I was slightly nervous to dig in as I knew I was in meat-eating country so I asked for a small, pequeno, portion of sauce. I made it a point to try everything put in front of me on this trip.

I don’t know how she did it but Marcela had me asking for seconds. With extra meat sauce.

Yes. Really.

Word of the Day: Ferrocarril

As Laura continued showing me around Colonia on my first night, I learned my first new word on this adventure; ferrocarril.

The second attraction we visited was the Museo del Ferrocarril, a railroad museum.

We wandered around and Laura translated the guide’s explanations for me.

I learned about the railway lines that transported people, animals and cargo around Uruguay many years ago.

Everything was the original and all of the items had been restored. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos in the actual train cars but we walked through them.

Laura and her mom needed to get ready for dinner* for a friend’s birthday so they dropped me off at my apartment at 10.30pm so we made plans to meet at ten the next morning.

Thanks to the kindness of Laura and her mom, I received an incredible welcome on my first day in Uruguay!

* Yes, really. I was quickly reminded that dinner is not served early.

Visiting a Bullring … Not in Session

Laura drove me to a part of town that I hadn’t visited on foot earlier that day. We had a little bit of daylight left and Laura took us to two historic places.

The first was, in its heyday, an amazing and architecturally amazing bullring called Plaza de Toros Real de San Carlos.

Unfortunately, the Plaza de Toros is no longer in use … as anything.

It is such a shame because if someone had the money to restore it, it would be quite an amazing place/concert venue/museum.

It’s quite run down and if there were safety codes, I’m sure it would fail all of them.

We had ducked under barbed wire and entered through a hole in a rusted gate – thank goodness for the tetanus shot – to enter the land surrounding the bullring. (No photos of this set up, it was only my first day and I was trying not to break any skin!)

As we walked under the stadium seating to enter the center of the bullring, Laura warned us to watch for loose and falling stones.

Along with the warning signs outside of the stadium, when I Googled the stadium later I also learned that  Wikipedia states that it is forbidden to enter the bullring.

It was well worth the risk. It was gorgeous inside and if you can use your imagination to picture this place in all its glory, it must have been incredible.

The center of the ring was full of grass that wasn’t too overgrown – which leads me to believe that someone must be caring for the property. There was also a fair amount of graffiti all over the stadium walls that a good scrubbing should be able to remove.

If it were to be restored, I think that it could be turned into an amazing concert arena. There is no shortage of seating, the stone work is beautiful and the acoustics are stellar.

The first two were easy observations the third I found out when Laura told me to shout ‘Hola, Hola!’

I wish I had an audio recorder!