As soon as I set sight on the colourful houses that lined the steep hills above the port and the artwork covering the walls, I was reminded of Bristol. It was only a 15 minute bus journey from Viña del Mar and it wasn’t long before I was on the search for a hostel once again. I started my ascent up one of the streets and seconds later I was greeted by an elderly woman, inquiring as to what I was looking for. After giving her the 411, she warned me that the street was dangerous and that I should head to one of the lifts, that bypasses all the scariness. The lift wasn’t signposted at all, but I guessed from the queue of people forming outside that it was what I was looking for. I found out later that this specific lift (Concepción) was built in 1883 and originally powered by steam. The little wooden hut that we entered to start our ascent and the track below certainly appeared to be from way back when. We safely made it to the top, after a rickety but novel ride, with great views of the city as we rose.
I had a little wander round the upper part of “Valpo” as the locals had dubbed it and joined the hordes of would be photographers, roaming from street to street, documenting each and every art piece, big or small. You have to be very observant while walking around all the narrow streets and alleyways, as it’s so easy to miss some of the murals as you traverse the city, coming down a flight of stairs for example, there could well be a magnificent piece of art lingering just beneath it and if you don’t look round, you’d never know.
In the evening I’d decided to give fish another try, after a long period of abstinence. When I mentioned this to the lovely lady at the hostel, she rang ahead to one of her friends who worked in a nearby restaurant and told him to expect me. He was working in the kitchen but still took the time to come and go through the menu options, recommending me certain dishes depending on my preference. It was a relatively classy restaurant, but of course I turned up in a t shirt and flip flops, but was given a table overlooking the sea and nearby Viña del Mar. I went for seabass, served with shrimp sauce and salad. It was delicious and has got me rethinking my stance on fish in general.
I took a trip La Sebastiana, the house of poet Pablo Neruda, which had been recommended by the lovely people working in the hostel. I must say that before I’d arrived at the museum, I knew nothing about this guy, only that the name rang a bell, but I wasn’t sure on his claim to fame. Upon entering I got given a audio guide and a floor plan. I quickly got the impression that he would have been a great person to hang out with, from how he was described in the guide and also from how he presented his house. In his living room, he had a painting of a queen on one of the walls and directly facing her on the opposite wall was a painting of a king, which Neruda wanted so that the queen didn’t get lonely. The wooden floor in a quarter of the room was raised slightly and formed into a semi circle, with a horse taken from a carousel placed on top of it, to make it feel as if it were still moving. He liked collecting interesting items which could be seen on all floors of his house, as well as beautiful mosaics on the walls that his wife designed. He seemed like a funny man who would be great to hang around with and I found it intriguing that you could understand all this just from taking a tour around his house. I think this quote from Neruda explains his mentality quite well – “A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him”. Unfortunately taking photos of anything inside the house was forbidden, although you could still take pictures of the city, which the house was placed perfectly for.
I went on a mini tour of the city with the boyfriend of one of the ladies running the hostel, as I had seen a lot of graffiti, but didn’t know much about the city’s history. We went to the open sky museum, which was opened in 1992 and was a government funded project to showcase the local artwork and culture. Some of the pieces were done by artists that later went on to become famous, such as Roberto Matta. Unfortunately, having been on display for over 20 years, some of the murals have been vandalised, but there is an ongoing effort to keep the museum in good nick.
I really enjoyed Valparaíso, in terms of urban locations it’s the most interesting place I’ve been. The fact that I could go back there in a month’s time and see completely different artwork on the forever changing walls, makes it a very dynamic and unique place. I think other cities should start taking notice of how graffiti like this can really transform what would otherwise be a run of the mill port, into one of Chile’s top tourist destinations.