Most Monday evenings pass without much consequence. These nights generally consist of a meal of minimal effort, homework, and mindless Facebook scanning. This past Monday, however, I will forever remember.
Finally feeling adjusted to our new South American homes, my fellow American friends Kelsey and Caterina decided we should celebrate by visiting the nearby dunes at sunset. To prepare for our salute to the sun, we bought raspberry tortes and manjar (dulce de leche) sweets from Pastelería Stefani, a Valparaíso favorite since 1950.
With our packaged pasteles in hand, we boarded a microbus and began the 35-minute winding journey along the rugged coast. For a $1 bus ticket, we were treated to stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the entertainment/terror of watching the micro driver simultaneously conquer the steep hills, give change to boarding passengers, and drive manually.
After passing the luxurious high-rise apartment buildings and expensive beach homes of Reñaco, the town bordering Viña del Mar, we finally reached the sand dunes. They loomed before us in their ancient grandeur and we stood in awe of their beauty. But not for long, as we had only minutes to spare before the sun set. Because it is currently winter in Chile, the sun sets at the early hour of 6:30 p.m. It was 6:24 when we arrived.
The huge dunes presented us with a challenge, but one we were glad to accept. We raced up the steep incline, making as much progress as we could in the loose sand. We finally reached the top… only to find more dunes separating us from our coveted views of an ocean sunset. Undaunted, we raced over more dune tops, reaching a summit with an ocean vista just as the sun disappeared below the water line. The sky burned yellow, orange, and magenta. A single star punctuated the pristine scenery.
The warm breeze, cold sand, delectable torte and good company filled me a rare bliss. Behind us was the majestic cordillera, or mountain range, tinted purple in the setting sun. We could glimpse pastoral grazing fields and farmhouses at the base of the mountains. As the sky grew darker, the lights from Viña del Mar and Valparaíso, Chile’s third largest city, began to shimmer. We sat in awe of the spectacle taking place before us and attempted to capture the beauty with our cameras.
We lingered as long as we could. When the darkness forced us to leave, we reluctantly began our descent. Just as we reached the base, a shooting star streaked across the sky.
And then we looked across the street and saw the buzzing fluorescent lights of Jumbo, Chile’s answer to Walmart.
We may have returned to reality, but the magic of the dunes will remain with us forever.