After breakfast I head down the hill to the port. Along my way are: steep streets; crumbly cement staircases; painted steps; buildings snug up to the street, some colourful, some decrepit; a banging drummer on the propane truck; colourful surreal murals and ugly graffitti; sleeping dogs occupying narrow sidewalks; window-occupying dogs; balconies of barking dogs. Down down down I go until I hit the dense collection of dingy commercial highrises and beeping buses and cars and pedestrians that crowd the waterfront.
I enter a nondescript building containing offices, a small shopping mall, and a metro (Merval) station. The metro is a 47 km electric train that connects Valparaiso on one end with Limache at the other end. I am only going as far as Vina del Mar, the next town up the coast. I put a few thousand pesos on the metro card and walk onto the clean, modern train for the quiet ride.
Vina del Mar is a beach town about the same size as Valparaiso but in a bit better shape though of course i can only describe what i see and I don't claim to provide a definitive assessment from such a short visit. Many attractive buildings hug the hillsides but at my superficial glance it lacks Valparaiso's chaos and color.
I walk down a wide boulevard, cross a river, then walk along the beach boardwalk fronted with condo towers. Summer vacation is over so the beaches and boardwalks are largely empty. There are no lifeguards so no-swimming signs are up, and the vendors' stands are vacant.
Vina del Mar is called the garden city because, well, they've lots of flowers, including hanging baskets on streetlights like Victoria, BC.
After walking around the city awhile , i return to the metro and head back to Valparaiso. Sharing my raiload car is a four-piece band and i wish the ride were much longer as i so enjoy their music.
Dinner is Chilean (at Vinilo) at a neighborhood restaurant recommended by Jorge. Stylish - seems to be a requirement in this neighborhood - with good food and service. I am accostomed to bare-bones service in North America so I am again struck by the number of people working at even the smallest establishment. My apartment has six units with almost as many employees.
One thing i keep struggling with is menus. I carry a dictionary and phrase book but menu usage doesn't always match what is in the book. For ex, there are a lot of words for beef that aren't in a book. The Chilean wait staff is invariably great about translating the menu but i feel like i need to take notes during their translations. Fortunately i'm happy to try whatever they put in front of me.
I've pointed out a number of Valparaiso's flaws - decay, neglect, dogs,... - but it is a visual treat. I love the colors, i've never seen so many murals, and the locals have a wonderful eye for style. Chile has been a big surprise for me: the food, the style, the friendliness, the countryside, even the polite drivers. Who knew?
And today is my last full day in South America. Tomorrow evening I'll be in Santiago to catch Air Canada to Toronto then Vancouver then Victoria. I've enjoyed South America, made a lot of great memories, met very friendly and helpful people, but I am ready to go, back to my routine and the comforts of home. Once i'm home I'll clean up this blog - editing on a phone is awkward - and post pictures. Ciao.