(article from Megan’s Travel Column, Weekly Wanders on Life2PointOh)

I’ve officially been in Santiago, Chile for less than a week and although I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, there is actually a lot of action going on here. First of all, there have been student protests taking place in the streets but it hasn’t gotten out of control as far as I can tell. From what I hear from my window, the students are just ringing bells, which compared to the normal commotion of New York City, is hardly anything to worry about. While Santiago has proven to be quite entertaining so far, I decided to do some exploring over the weekend and headed straight for the coast.

Valparaiso: My first stop was Valparaiso. This little city along the coast of Chile is an easy two-hour drive from Santiago. Despite a bit of rain, it’s hard not to enjoy the scenic view on your way. It’s not every day you drive straight toward snow-covered mountains. The city itself is pretty desolate, at least during the winter. The thing that immediately caught my attention was all the graffiti covering the streets.

Unlike more well-known cities like London, Paris and Berlin, a small South American city like Valparaiso isn’t likely to get the credit it deserves. As a street art fanatic, I was in graffiti heaven. Another highlight was a brief encounter with a family of enormous walruses. I took a little boat ride along the water at night and got up close and personal with them as they lazily slept on the buoy. I used to visit SeaWorld any time I was in Florida, and I’ve never been so close to these creatures. The marine biologist wannabe in me was smiling.

Viña del Mar: If you are a beach lover, I recommend taking the 10-minute bus ride from Valparaiso to Viña del Mar. It’s certainly more crowded and modern-looking than Valparaiso but tourists are still far and few. This particular day there was a children’s festival going on. I was given a taste of home in the form of Justin Bieber karaoke. Another cool thing about Viña del Mar is what I like to call the “rocks of inspiration.” Although I don’t speak Spanish, there were several rocks displaying famous Bible quotes. As I took a picture of one of the rocks, I felt like I should really be submitting these images to Hallmark. It would make a pretty amazing greeting card.

Reñaca: Not terribly far from Viña del Mar is a smaller, lesser-known city called Reñaca.I have to say that this beach is one of the most beautiful I have seen in my short 24 years. In fact, there were moments when I felt like I was back in Ireland: the green grass, chilly temperature and the crashing waves reminded me a lot of Galway. There were about 30 surfers in the water, which held my attention for longer than I’d like to admit. Chile is known for their seafood, and after tasting a few dishes at a local restaurant I understand why!

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