San Francisco on acid
March 9, 2014
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.