16/07/12 – 19/07/12 – Valparasio, Chile
Valparasio or ‘Valpo’ as it’s affectionately known is a mere 2 or so hour drive from bustling Santiago; and it’s a popular route. So much so that there’s a bus going there every 15 minutes. So we didn’t bother to book ahead, we simply jumped on the highly efficient metro train and disembarked not at the Central terminal, but at a fringe, slightly outer terminal as advised by staff at the hostel; and smashing advise that because within 5 minutes of getting off the metro, we were onboard a green Tur Bus to our next stop Valparaiso, easy as. Some yuppie latino had his seat all the way back as I sat down behind him and although I’m not the tallest man on earth, I reckon I’m taller than most latinos, so I bumped the seat a bit; which I could tell he didn’t like because he removed his imitation Ray Ban aviators from his slick hair and gave me that ‘who in the hell just did that to me’ look. Anyway aside from that small interaction the trip was reasonably uneventful and it wasn’t long before we were rolling through the gritty outer streets of Valpo.
Off the bus we determined it was only a kilometer or so to the hotel so we took in a walk along the surprisingly busy Calle Pedro Montt. Kind of the downtown area, with smog stained heritage buildings in various stages of disrepair, ramshackle electrical work, political graffiti and there’s rows and rows of street sellers with various articles of winter clothing, kids toys, mechanical parts, you name it. I suppose it could be a legacy of Valparisios heritage as a flourishing trade port, and indeed financial capital back in the day. An earthquake in 1906 and the Panama Canal did away with much of it’s glory days of port activity and nowadays it’s evidently among the districts with the highest rate of unemployment. But at least it’s cultural.
Though considered Chiles cultural capital but it’s not immediately clear why straight out of the bus station (high expectations I suppose), but you do get a glimpse of it; there’s a ‘tetric’ array of houses beautifully stacked and scatted among steeply rising hillside at the back of town. By the time we’d marched the kilometer or so to our hotel just off the plaza at Almirante Montt we were familiar with a slightly grubby city, where the streets are lined with bus services, busy people, department stores and smutty advertisements. It had all the hallmarks of a much larger city but in much closer, more personal confines.
Sweaty backed, we climbed the stairs of our hotel and quickly ran outside to explore. Following the twisting Av Almirante Montt, Valparisios bohemian charm becomes suddenly apparent. It’s a steep uphill climb but there’s world-class street art on either side to keep you company, and it subtly blends in around art studios and boutique cafe’s spilling out of heritage buildings with their aging facades.
Cerro Conception is toward the top of the hill there’s more great cafes turned art gallery turned book shop cut in by more amazing street art. It’s an experience enough to wander the streets in this area, take a winding escalera down to a lower area and you’ll find yourself in the middle of close concrete apartment living. Cats on a ledge, withering clumps of pot-plants nearby, peoples washing strung out. Turn a corner and you’ll find a hotel or cafe with an amazing vista of the port out to the ocean and around the coastline to Villa Del Mar which climbs steeply and hauls it’s way back to Santiago. There’s plenty of tourists around and it’s clear to see why the top of the hill draws them, but it’s the consistency and quality of the art dotted all over the city that makes this place stand out. Rebecca and I created our own walking tour and ended up in a colourful neighborhood that clearly had it’s dodgy parts. Even these parts can’t escape the beautiful artisim throughout the city, even the breakfast we had every morning was in an art cafe next door to the hotel. It had a beautiful mosaic floor and paintings strung up on the walls but then some ultra-modern pieces like a mannequin, covered in mosaic tiles and wearing a cat-woman mask.
We took in some really exceptional meals. The produce here is amazing. Avocados and tomatoes are particularly good but we splashed out and took in a local restaurant, ordering local salmon with nothing more than olive oil and capers. Home-made squid ravioli and local red wine. Bit spesh for us, but after weeks nay months of churrasco sandwiches (not that I’m complaining), it’s a nice change. We were accompanied home by hounds again on this occasion. The Chilean hounds are in full effect here again and we were chosen as company on many occasions while walking around.
We’d stopped outside the beautiful Iglesia Angelicana San Pablo to take in the view of the houses scattered across the hillside when an open-mouthed woman somewhat resembling Jackie Weaver twangs out an astounding ‘Heeeeey you guuuuuuuuuys’. I was a little taken aback, one because of the strong American accent and second because she did look kind of familiar and this put me off guard.
‘How did you get here, did you hire a car? Where did you come from?’
‘Umm.. nope… Yep.. Santiago’
Blank stare.. awkward silence.
‘Hey Ron! These guys were on our bus yesterday’ and she leaves affectionately punching me in the arm.
We weren’t on any bus yesterday.
It’s a charming, if not unsettling case of mistaken identity.
Considering we hadn’t ventured further along the main road toward the port, we thought we’d give that a go considering we had a great big picture of a market on our map, and how we love markets. It wasn’t a bad, if not too long walk. But we took in a coffee at the surprisingly reflective ‘Melbourne Cafe’, which has a fantastic position in the Plaza Sotomayor which is flanked on all sides by beautiful heritage port buildings and open, semi-pedestrianised square and war memorial. The market was a few blocks up from that but it was literally boarded up. It’s salmon pink paint decaying and flaking onto the street below, some of the letters in ‘merccado’ missing. But we got a decent coffee and a nice late afternoon walk out of it so who’s complaining. Valparasio would mark the start of our journey north toward the Atacama desert and indeed the beckoning Andes.