This morning I pack, hop on the subway to Universidad de Santiago, then take the bus to Valparaiso, which is 90 minutes west of Santiago.
From the bus window Chile is hilly and parched with scrubby trees. As the bus approaches the coast vineyards become common and large pine trees appear. Chile reminds me of California.
Suddenly the hillsides are covered with shack homes and the bus enters vehicle- and people-packed Valparaiso. I hope where i'm staying isn't so crowded.
I walk out of Valpariso's bus station feeling what I always feel in a new city: disoriented and uncomfortable. Every city's street life feels unfamiliar at first though it doesn't take long for that to recede. Fortunately the geography of Valpariso, the ocean on one side, the hills on the other, reveals where I need to go. I walk parallel to the ocean through the congested commercial center that is compressed between the port and the hills. This part of the city has seen better days but the light of the seaside and the cool ocean breeze feels good. I pass several pastry shops but keep my focus on getting to the apartment.
After fifteen minutes walk I turn to the east and walk up a windy narrow street. The sidewalk becomes a twisty staircase . The noise of tires on cobblestone reveals the approach of a car without having to look. The buildings become more colorful. Camera-toting tourists replace locals. I must be near my destination.
After about fifteen minutes of climbing I turn onto Galos street and am immediately at number 595. My apartment (Casa Galos) is spacious, airy and modern.
Jorge, the proprietor, preps the apartment's kitchen with food (juice, cheese, coffee,...) for the next morning. Guests make their own eggs and fresh morning bread is left at the door. Jorge stays awhile to recommend restaurants and ice cream shops and funiculars and neighborhoods to avoid.
I've come to Valparaiso to see funiculars and colourful buildings and ocean views. I also want clouds to appear overhead - sunny days suck for photography: glare washes out colours - but I don't expect my wish to be granted. I unpack then walk a short block furthur up the hill to the market but it is closed. I'm still not accostomed to the closing times of Chilean businesses. Restaurants close on Saturday evenings, grocery stores close for afternoon siestas. Work-life balance is all very nice but some choices strike me as odd.
I rest a bit then head out for a walk around the neighborhood, Cerro Alegre, and down to a neighborhood nearer the water, Cerro Concepcion. I am struck by the colours of the buildings and the murals and the art everywhere i look. Inside, outside, art and architecture and decay compete for attention. I love it. It is a visual feast. I am reminded of San Francisco, the hills, the light, the colourful victorians, but it is all turned up a notch or three. Many buildings are in a serious state of decay , the sidewalks are rough, the streets are steep, and some streets are just staircases (some painted in rainbow colors). What fun! There are plazas overlooking the ocean and colourful old buildings perched on hillsides.
I then head back towards the apt but stop for dinner at a Chilean restaurant (Cocina Puerto) for a tasty meal accompanied by a couple of pisco sours, the official mixed drink of south america. The waiter translates the menu which helps a lot. My dictionary and latin america phrase book don't include all the words used in menus so a helpful waiter earns an extra tip.
I'm struck once again by how different this city is from the previous and how friendly the people are, and i am very pleased with the variety that south america has to offer. From Buenos Aires to Tilcara to Salta to Atacama to Santiago and finally Valparaiso, each is worth a visit.
More tomorrow as I explore my last city on this adventure. Ciao.
The morning is cool, fog shrouds the bay, and the rumble of tires on cobblestones wakes me. After breakfast i walk a long windy street to Pablo Neruda's home- well, one of his homes . I like a country where a poet is financially well off. Neruda's is closed Mondays, I discover, but the walk is worth it, block after block of hillside homes, bay views, and colourful murals. And of course dogs. Dogs are everywhere. Not scary dogs, but dogs sleeping and investigating other dogs. Curiously, the poop situation is not bad like in Buenos Aires.
On the other hand, many Valparaiso homes are badly neglected which strikes me as odd as i would think the real estate is valuable. This to me is the Valparaiso puzzle: beautiful location , comfortable seaside weather, many tourists, and an abundance of artistic talent that fills the city with colorful and surrealistic murals. But my neighborhood aside, much of the infrastucture is in poor shape.I suppose there isn't the wealth to maintain the homes, sidewalks, stairs and roads. Most streets are clean and i see people sweeping sidewalks and washing and painting, but Valparaiso could be much better.
From Neruda's home I walk down the hill, taking a long staircase which belies what i've just written, it is trashy and smells of urine. At the bottom of the hill, near the bay, I pick up sandwich makings at the supermercado then head back up another hill to the apt on Galos street. Most grocery stores are tiny, not much bigger than a couple of phone booths; the town only has a few large grocers.
I then set out for Sotomayor square which I find surrounded by a few attractive old buildings and, on one side, the seaport. The most beautiful building is military so i leave my camera in my bag. Earlier, while standing on a hill, I photographed a few military ships but it was from a discreet distance. I am struck by the thought that Chile has more military ships in this little harbor than in the whole Canadian navy. You may have to be Canadian to see the humor in this.
I ride up a funicular, Ascensor El Peral (100 pesos or US$0.20), to Paseo Yugoslavo, which provides a great lookout over the harbor snd saves a lot of climbing. The funicular, one of a handful that are still running, is a rickety wooden box pulled up a rusty track. Another example of infrastructure neglect.
As i walk up the hill i stop in several shops selling arty stuff. A photographer with a studio on Lautaro Rosas (Hiperfocal) spends time with me explaining how he takes digital images and prints them on cloth, producing wonderfully moody black and white prints, and each print, even from the same original, looks very different. I love black and white and I buy three of his prints.
So my day is spent wandering the city, enjoying the murals and the views, walking up and down steep streets and stairs, and trying to understand why the city is in its current state. I think most of the buildings will collapse in the next big earthquake. Dinner (at Totobistoto) is soup (very good) and pasta (a bit bland) , and now it is late and i'm in for the night. Ciao.
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.
Once I've visited a place I feel more of a connection with it and its people. News from these places always catches my eye.
Chile has had two disasters since I visited. The first, an 8.2 quake on April 1, reminded me of the quake that woke me early on my first morning in Santiago. Then this week there comes news of a forest fire that threatens Valparaiso. From the fire map if looks like the fire hasn't hit where I stayed, the touristy hills with the murals and funiculars, which is the part of town just above the port. The fire was further away, in the mountains, where those who can least afford a disaster live.
I like this time of year. If you know me you know that hanging decorations and shopping for gifts aren't my idea of fun, but it's a good time to reconnect with friends. So hello to all and here's wishing that you have a good year ahead.
The photo is of a mural in wonderfully dilapidated Valparaiso, Chile. Spread over several hills, Valparaiso is famous for its old funiculars and its colorful shabby architecture. A moody photogenic seaside city.
The song of the day is Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John Lennon.
I have no problem with taking a photo and manipulating the hell out of it, as long as it looks good, whatever good means. A couple weeks ago a local photographer shared a photo he'd processed with Topaz Simplify. The resulting image of the front of a building was more painting than photograph and I loved it.
So I had to try Simplify. And the first candidatethat came to mind was a staircase in Valparaiso.
Simplify seemed the perfect tool for Valparaiso. Valparaiso envelopes a cluster of seaside hills with crumbling buildings, tangles of overhead electrical wires, and lots of loose dogs. Against this background are many colorful murals and a seaside light and it all adds together to give a lot of pleasure to one's eyes.
In this picture Simplifythrows away the grubby detail so that all you see is color and shape and light. I like this example of Valparaiso's popular colored steps because of the addition of the cat and I think its a dog. There is a snake to left of the door but it appears simplified out of existence. Across the top, the black lines are actually electrical wires and the colored panels between them are artifacts of Simplify's simplification process.
What I'm listening to: The annotated Hamlet.
What I'm reading: Persuasion by Jane Austen.
24-120/4 at 6.3, 1/100 sec.