Jan. 7, Valparaiso, Chile

Germans immigrants started the first fire hall in the city, and the firetrucks still have the German word for fire department on their trucks!

Take the loo paper before you enter the loo!

Valparaiso, the “Jewel on the Hill”, is a really funky port city that has all the administrative and commercial palatial buildings on reclaimed land down by the water, and narrow curving streets and alleyways with residential houses spreading like a fan up the very steep hills around the bay. It’s funky and charming because of the brightly coloured houses, often decorated with murals, and the tiny artisan boutiques, restaurants and bars that are here to discover.
There are funicular hill elevators to whisk you up small lower sections of the steep hills, but otherwise you are on foot navigating steps and very uneven sidewalks to get around. You don’t need fitness classes here as you’ll get your exercise walking!
Most tourists seem to be Spanish-speaking, but we’ve bumped into a few Brits, a Belgian couple and a French-Canadian couple. We need the dictionary and in particular iTranslate to get around as in many places most people don’t speak English. I have a cheat sheet of words and phrases, but it’s all a muddle still as I try to memorize new phrases and vocabulary. Each country has a slightly different pronunciation, so communicating will remain interesting!
The weather has been sunny and around 25 degrees celsius so it’s nice and hot for us coming from our winter. Best of all, there are no mosquitoes!
By the way, Santiago, which is about 120 km from the ocean, was founded by the Spanish in 1541, and Valparaiso was designated its natural port three years later. Until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, the city thrived as a port as ships had to travel around the southern tip of South America to get to the east coast of the Americas and to Europe. It’s still an important port though, and the city is popular with tourists.


Different Twist to Squeegee People

In Santiago Chile we encountered several street performers while touring the city at traffic lights. They are quite different to Vancouver’s squeegee people and seem to do well off the tips. The traffic lights are 90 seconds and the performances generally last 60-70 seconds, then they walk down the row of cars collecting ‘tips’. We saw this rather entertaining young lady plus jugglers, flag dancers and other street entertainers at different traffic intersections.

January 4 “What Campervan!”

We went to the shipping agent to pick up our campervan this morning in San Antonio, about 90 km west of Santiago. The clerk came back saying “Bad news”. The camper is on its way from Panama on a different ship and will arrive in about 12 days instead of arriving yssterday:(
As a result we will rent a car for 12 days and nosey around Valparaiso, Isla Negra where Pablo Naruba owned a home, and into Argentina. Maybe the sign I read at Houston airport had a message for us: Don’t cry over spilled milk. It could have been whisky.

As you can see, we are flexing our “adventure muscles”!

Whiskey anyone?

January 3 Dentist Visit

Santiago: Ken lost part of a tooth in Houston airport, but luckily got a dental appointment within 9 hours of our arrival in Santiago – unbelievably fast. The clinic had great reviews online, but even better, the dentist not only spoke excellent English, but also had nice small hands which was important for Ken as his childhood dentist had massive hands that hurt his mouth each visit and put him off dentists for life. Furthermore, the cost of the rather large filling he required was only slightly more than the taxi ride from the airport. The icing on the cake, you could say, was that the dentist, who was young and extremely handsome, greeted me with a kiss on the cheek. I was a bit surprised to be greeted by a stranger with a kiss, but heh, welcome to South America!

Knew Better but Still Got Scammed and Robbed by Taxi Driver

Should have stuck to the plan.

We had planned to take a bus and subway directly to hotel upon arrival to Santiago Airport and that was the plan right up to the point when Sarah lost and retrieved her reading glasses at the airport. We left the plane retrieved our luggage and Sarah upon retrieving our luggage realized she forgotten her reading glasses on plane. We spoke to United rep at the baggage carousel and they radioed the gate rep that retrieved the glasses from the plane and all we had to do was pick them up at United office on third floor after we cleared customs.

Immediately upon exiting International arrivals there was a food court and I said I would wait with our luggage while Sarah went upstairs to 3rd floor get her prescription reading glasses. Then the plan was to get bus to subway, and subway to hotel, that was our plan in Vancouver and we had already researched from Santiago tourist information inside arrivals area and that had still been the plan.

Sarah however met a man upstairs in airport arrivals area who spoke great english and said we can get group tourist shuttle bus for almost same money directly to hotel and he would show us where to be picked up. Alarm bells should have been ringing but he seemed trust worthy to Sarah and by the time she returned to me at the food court with Mike, he was helping us by getting us directly to shuttle upstairs at arrivals area. After 28 hours of travel with very little sleep and 15 hours flying catching a group shuttle bus directly to hotel with possibly a couple of stops at other downtown hotels at almost same price as bus/subway was a ‘no brainer’. Ya it was a no brainer and neither Sarah or I were using our brains.

Probably the next clue should have been when shuttle driver asked if we had Chilean money for the ticket and then escorted me to the ticket machine to get tickets and ticket machine turned out to be Scotiabank ATM. We already had US$40 of Chilean money that we had exchanged in Vancouver (that was all Vancouver airport exchange had), so I took out $200 US more of Chilean money from machine for next few days.

We then hopped in a unmarked shuttle van as directed by Sarah’s english speaking helper expecting to pay US$7 each to hotel. Upon immediately leaving airport the driver asked for 4 of the pink bills for toll road and fare to hotel at the airport toll booth. Wasn’t a problem until immediately upon handing over the money I figured out in my tired state that I had just given our non english speaking Spanish driver the equivalent of US$130 but he paid toll and asked toll booth operator for smaller change for whole amount. Now we are literally speeding down a hi-way in a van with a non english speaking driver trying to determine what the fare is going to be to hotel and the driver has our US$130 equivalent of Chilean money! Driver now gets lost on way to hotel has to call dispatcher to get ‘Spanish’ address of hotel, meanwhile Sarah is using her very best Spanish to try and determine what fare will be. Best we can figure is driver says its 4 pink bills and I am working my calculator on my phone with Vancouver and Chilean local exchange rates and after several tries it ranges from US$130-140!

Sarah says that we will get hotel staff to help us with Spanish driver with fare upon arrival but the driver is now ‘lost’ on way to hotel. He stops and calls dispatch who apparently gives him directions to our boutique hotel. We drive around in circles, down several small one way streets then the driver parks in open parking spot and motions that hotel is down street and best we can make out in Spanish is there is no parking available in front of hotel. The street is narrow, one way and with cars parked on both sides of street, so Sarah has driver escort us to hotel bringing her bag to the hotels locked gate that we buzz to get in, then the driver has the nerve to ask for tip but when we decline further money or tip at gate before we can get to hotel reception the driver is gone. Our $14 fare was US$130! Ouch! Welcome to Chile 🇨🇱 We had just been scammed with a smile.

We had read about using non licenced vehicles from airport and our hotel receptionist politely said that often unsuspecting tourists are taken advantage of by unlicenced taxi drivers and that the official direct taxi fare should have been between US$50-60 from airport. Sarah said she thought Mike to be trustworthy but his good english scammed us. What can we say, robbed by what turned out to be non official taxi that seemed legit until road toll booth – but by then it was too late.

The pink 20,000 peso bills are worth roughly US$32 each at yesterday’s exchange rate. The bus/subway fare was 800 peso each or US$1.30 each. I sure hope we have learned our lesson.


Next Posts – Broken Tooth in Houston TX and Visiting Dentist in Santiago; Picking Up Van San Antonio Chile

Friday and 3 more sleeps

Hi everyone,
Only three more sleeps until we leave at the crack of dawn on January 1, 2018 on our trip! We are pretty excited especially now that the snow is melting after our white Christmas, and it’s pouring with rain here in Vancouver. The weather in Chile will be around 28 degrees celsius, so we will switch from warm winter clothes to shorts and T-shirts and no doubt feel very self-conscious of how white our legs look😅 Until our next blog entry, best wishes to you all and a very Happy New Year, Sarah and Ken


This trip has been several years in the planning. We decided we wanted to make our own South America Expedition and travel from top to bottom which as the draft plan came together is now bottom to top. Then we had to decide on a mode of travel and we opted to purchase a 25 year young Volkswagen Westfalia Hightop Camper (1992 with 98,000 km) in March 2017 that was imported from Germany to Japan in 1992 and recently from Japan to British Columbia in early 2017. We then got to know ‘Simplicity B&B’ (BB for short) over the next 6 months with several mini trips around BC and the Pacific Northwest (+13,000 km).

The van preformed admirably all summer with no major mechanical issues however upon further research into T4 Volkswagen vans we decided to preemptively add a transmission cooler to the automatic transmission, plus the convenience of a trailer hitch and a rear storage pod so that we could put our bicycles and other items in, like camp chairs, axe, shovel etcetera, keeping everything dry, secure and out of sight. We replaced the original spare tire with two more matching rims equipped with mud and snow tires for spares for South America. We added a small ‘on demand’ propane water heater for outdoor hot showers, a shower tent for privacy and a port-a-potty as required. Both Sarah and I previously owned Volkswagen Westfalia pop-tops in the past, but in our memories they seemed much larger in the 70’s although in reality they are just the same size. Some of the great features of the hightop is that the inside height is 6’8″ (great for 6’4″ me and not available in many campers) and we don’t have to worry about wet canvas in the rain plus in cooler weather the van stays warmer.