Valparaíso

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.

stairway

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.

la-sebastiana-view

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.

hippy-wall

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.

port-at-night

 

Viña del Mar

I quickly got tired of wandering around trying to find a hostel and couldn’t believe there wasn’t one closer to the bus station. After asking a taxi driver for directions it turned out that I’d walked straight past one, but the sign was so small I hadn’t clocked it, an unassuming white door in the midst of shops with their peacock displays. The hostel was full of Argentinians and Chileans but they were all in huge groups which made trying to fit in a whole lot more tricky. I was only staying for 2 nights so I wasn’t that bothered.

The main attraction in Viña del Mar is the beaches, which stretch for kilometres, lined with cafés, restaurants and market stalls. Even for a Monday, the beach was packed, with a lot of tourists visiting from neighbouring Argentina, as the beaches are supposedly better on the west side, if not only for the fact that you can watch the sunset. On my walk up the beach I obviously wasn’t paying enough attention to the puddles dotted around along the pavement. I peered my head over the side of the sea wall to get a better view and just after I’d continued on my way along the path, an almighty wave crashed against the wall and launched a barrage of water down on me, soaking my whole backside.

beach

I spent the day relaxing at one of the cafés, reading and people watching. There were lots of families stretched out on towels, sunbathing, reading and listening to music, as you’d expect. The sadistic part of me did get a good laugh when the tide would suddenly catch them off guard and chase up the shore further than they expected, soaking their towels and disrupting the peace. The curious thing was that they didn’t really seem to learn, as every 20 minutes or so the same thing would happen, I’d hear an orchestra of “Oohs” and then see the desperate scrambling of arms and legs, as if trying to evade an invisible stampede.

I left the next day on a local bus to neighbouring Valparaíso, which only took about 15 minutes, a world away from the 20 hour bus trips I’d become accustomed to.

 

Santiago

I’d booked a highly rated hotel before arriving in the capital to appease my aching body and planned to take a couple days to recover from the trek. I had fallen quite a way behind with work as well as keeping this blog up to date, so perhaps I didn’t give the city the time it deserved, but at least I felt better after leaving.

On one of the days I was riding the underground metro system, when a man got on the train and was standing directly opposite me, about a metre away. I hadn’t taken much notice, until he revealed a microphone from his pocket and switched on the speaker that I hadn’t even clocked until this point. The carriage wasn’t very busy, so the majority of people were sitting down and I was the only one really that close to the singer. I just stood there, as this stranger started singing to me, or at least that’s what it must have looked like for the other passengers, while I tried to concentrate hard on which station I needed to get off at, hoping it would speed things along. It wouldn’t have been that akward, but the speaker kept cutting out, with awkward silences in between, as he frantically tried to get it on again. The doors opened, it was my stop. I slid past, no tip.

On one occasion I go to get money out, but the cash machine isn’t working. The lady behind me sees this and tries to help out, but even using her advanced ATM skills, it still doesn’t work. She takes me by the hand at first and leads me to another machine close by, where my card works without an issue. After thanking her, we have a little chat and she asks me where I’m heading while motioning to come around the corner with her. The cogs have turned by this point and soon after she asks me if I’m looking for a “good time”, I decline with a smile and go on my way. It was only the next day that I realised the street near to where I got the money out seemed to have quite a few of these ladies hanging around, either that or they were wearing some traditional make up that made them look like street workers.

As I was walking around the city, on nearly every traffic light stop there would be some sort of performer, or “traffic light opportunist” as I dubbed them. Some would simply sell water and other refreshments, while others would dance, perform acrobatics, or juggle for their dime. The passing motorists paid up more often than not and it seems like an efficient use of time that would otherwise be spent daydreaming.

After a couple days locked away in the hotel I wanted to do a bit of exploring. I soon stumbled upon the pre Colombian (pre Colombus) museum, which was very modern and informative. It had pieces from many of the ancient civilisations from all over South America, before Christopher Columbus showed up and started screwing with everything. Some of the pieces were in exquisite condition, considering how old they were and the detail in some of the pottery and textiles really surprised and impressed me. I arrived at the museum about 2 hours before it closed, but I could have spent at least half a day in there, to really inspect all the items in detail. The museum even had an app you could download and get audio guides for the majority of the displays, in both English and Spanish. I had watched a few documentaries on ancient South American civilizations, so seeing these memories come to life had a lot more impact than in other museums I’d visited. Unfortunately the lighting in the museum wasn’t very helpful for getting good pictures of the pieces, but I did get a couple okay ones.

DSC_0122 DSC_0116

I met up with Justin again, just before he got on his flight back to the Netherlands the following day. We found a similar urban space like I’d seen in Córdoba previously and necked a few cocktails before heading out to some clubs. I had to go back to the hostel to put on some jeans as apparently my shorts weren’t fit for the public. We soon moved on to a different club which had a better vibe, and drank and danced the night away, I lost Justin as I do everyone when I get to a certain stage and somehow navigated back to the hostel. I was butt naked when I came to the next day, on top of the sheets. It must have been quite the wake up call for my room mates. I had to get the padlock smashed off my locker as I’d lost the key. I decided to get out of the rut I’d found myself and in and got on the next bus to Viña del Mar.