Category Archives: last minute travel

Valparaiso, you’d love it or hate it. Spoiler alert: I loved it.

As I mentioned, I had been warned you’d either love Valparaiso or hate it. Well, Valpo, as it’s lovingly called, was a total win for me. After two nights I loved it and decided to stay longer.

Except when I went to extend my reservation for another two nights at breakfast the next morning, I was told this hostel was booked. So breakfast became quite productive for planning my day and my sleeping arrangements.

First,  I had to make a plan to change hostels since the one I was currently in was booked. It happened that there was another traveler who wanted to stay longer as well so one owner of the hostel made a call and two of us were going to transfer to another hostel.

Over breakfast, all the travelers at the table shared our plans for the day. Mine was not really a plan but I wish that I was keen to visit the wine region. In conversation, I found two other travelers who were hoping to do the same.

And, in nearly one fell swoop, I had one owner calling to find two of us another hostel and the other owner was about to plan the day for the three of us.

Three of us asked the other owner to book us on a tour. He told us that’s not how it works; yet, after making just one phone call, he confirmed that we’d be driven out to one of Chile’s most accessible wine regions, the Casablanca Valley, later that morning.

Planning? Sometimes it’s just for the birds!

 

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Adios Vina and Hola Valpo

Cara still had her Spanish classes in Santiago so her long weekend break in Vina came to an end. We had been so busy in Vina the past few days, I hadn’t had a chance to figure out what and where I was headed and I had absolutely no idea where I was going once I left the Vina hostel. Once we all said goodbye I sat down at a computer in the common area to figure out my next step.

What I knew: I had a flight from Santiago to Calama (getting me to San Pedro de Atacama where I would be meeting Alana and Courtney). The night before that flight I wanted to be in Santiago (and would meet up with Cara again) but that wasn’t for a few days so I had a big to do: figure out a plan.

As I saw it, my options were:

Valparaiso / With Cara and her friends, we had spent a few hours exploring the waterfront of Valparaiso, about a 15 minute bus ride from Vina. I could go back to Valparaiso. I had heard you either love it or hate it and I didn’t really get a chance to make my decision.

WWOOF / I had been looking at WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) volunteer exchanges but hadn’t heard back. They don’t check email often which is why you should book months in advance. Fail on my part.

Volunteering at a winery / A contact from NYC who worked in the wine industry had been asking her contacts about volunteer opportunities but it was the low season and each time she emailed she didn’t have any good updates to share.

Santiago / I could go to Santiago early but I didn’t want to spend days in the city.

Stay in Vina / I could stay another night at this hostel but staying was too easy so this option was the least appealing.

I decided I wanted to find out for myself if I would love it or hate it and Valparaiso was my choice. 

Traveling alone gives you as many options as you want. The only person that needs to make the decision is you.

I booked a single room in a hostel/B&B with excellent reviews, wrote down the name and address and logged off.

I asked the front desk how to get there (a bus to a taxi or funicular). With a very loose plan in place (transportation AND a place to sleep for two nights), I thanked the staff and said goodbye and headed out for my next adventure.


I Obviously Had the Taxi Driver Concerned

My taxi driver was probably so confused. Here, he’s making a pick up from the airport and the direction he gets is ‘the center of town.’

He was obviously concerned for my lack of plans because he literally dropped me off in front of a free-standing visitors booth just a block away from the main pedestrian street in Mendoza. He waved his hands encouraging me to visit the booth.

 

I thanked him and got out of the taxi. He waited until I got myself situated – my big backpack on my back and my daypack firmly secured on my front. I asked the visitors booth for a map. I took it and then headed towards the pedestrian only street (Avenida Sarmiento) where there were tons of cafes. I decided to park myself at Havanna, South America’s omnipresent coffee shop (think Starbucks), hooked my backpack under the leg of my chair, ordered myself a submarino and got to work to find myself a place to stay.

Let’s talk about this submarino for a second. It is hot (steamed?) milk served in a tall glass with a chocolate bar served on the side. You put the bar in, mix it and drink it. Heavenly.

submarino

 

Can you believe it? Not one photo — because I drank it before I could photograph it! Photo courtesy of NC

While I waited for my submarino, I pulled up the top Mendoza hostels on TripAdvisor and wrote down their addresses and phone numbers. I didn’t see the hostel from the Lonely Planet I had booked from the airport for the night before so I let it go.

Learning from my earlier experience in Colonia, Uruguay,  I did not put all of my eggs in one basket and instead made a shortlist of three hostels (TripAdvisor #1, #1 and #3). I marked each hostel on the map, mapped out my walk in case I needed to hit all three due to the lack of availability, shut my computer and took in the morning café life in Mendoza.


Back where we started

Once we were back on the ground in Cordoba (yes, the airport we started out from) was probably one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

In the US when there are flight delays, typically, you have people crowded around the counter, tempers flare and people get angry. It’s not pretty.

Same thing happened here — except I couldn’t understand full sentences because everyone was speaking so quickly.

It was one of those travel moments where you step back out of the situation — and at this point I had to. Everyone was yelling and talking so quickly that I couldn’t hear enough words together to be able to translate fast enough. Everyone was mad and yelling but in Spanish it sounded so beautiful.

So I just observed and hoped for the best. 

My new friends Gustavo and Rafael were also looking out for me. Gustavo did not speak any English so he and I would communicate with my Spanish and if I didn’t know the word, through lots of hand motions. Rafael and the woman were leading the charge and would periodically come back and update us.

They were trying to get the airline to put us up in a hotel (another hotel night for me!!). Once they made that happen, the gate agent had to rebook the entire flight (it seemed to take forever and there weren’t even fifteen of us) us on a flight in the morning — on Aerolineas Argentinas, Argentina’s national airline — because this Sol plane wouldn’t be going. The flight we were rebooked on would depart at 8.15am but the taxis were scheduled to pick us up at 6.45am.

Note: I never found out why we were delayed and I don’t think I’d really want to know. 

Then, those of us staying at the hotel had to wait to be issued vouchers. And then, finally, sometime after midnight, we were able to get taxis to the hotel.

Ten of us crammed into two taxis — the local people went home — and arrived at a pretty nice hotel in the outskirts of Cordoba. There was a golf course, a spa and a pool. Of course I wouldn’t be using any of these amenities since we were leaving only a few hours after we arrived.

After checking in, and asking the front desk for two(!) wake-up calls since I was certain I’d be hitting snooze, I said good night to everyone else — who were all going to meet up at the restaurant for dinner. At nearly 1 in the morning.

I went to the room and conked out as soon as my head hit the pillow. I had about five hours of sleep in free accommodation and I was going to take advantage of it!

For anyone doing the math, it basically made my splurge the prior night cost-efficient! And out of everyone inconvenienced, I was probably the least, since I had only made my plan for my arrival while spending time in the airport. Win win (for me, anyway)!!