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Day 37 (8-10): Chile Valparaiso

CHILE | Tuesday, 10 August 2010 | Views [251]

- Fully aware that I only have a day to explore Valpa, I woke up at 7 to catch the 7:30 am bus to Valpa. Valparaiso is an interesting city - from what I heard, people either love it or hate. Some are fascinated by its spontaneous, bohemian charm and other just don´t get it. Now I have a chance to see for myself.

- As always, I asked for a city map at the bus terminal (first thing I do when I arrive at a new city) and one thing I noticed was the number of asensors (to the top of the hills I guessed) scattered around the city. Having had a better feel of the orientation, I opted to walk along Av. Francia which eventually leads to the main Plaza (Sotomoyor).

- Tried out a local street snack sopaipilla (some kind of fried bread) served with mustard, ketchup and hot sauce.

- I arrived at the first ascensor - Ascensor Monjas - which supposingly takes one to Cerro Monjas. Operation does not start until 11. I turned around the corner to the stairs, and before me were magnificent graffitis painted on walls of stairs and houses (I later found to be a norm at Valpa). It reminded me of San Francisco (the Mission District), just hill-ier and shabbier. The area was kind of deserted, and the shantytowns stretching up the hills looked pretty rough. I snapped a couple photos and decided to head to the next ascensor. There were tons left to explore.

- Guided by my city map, I tried to make my way to Cerro Bellavista and Mirador Camoogli and still came up empty. The area was like a chaotic labyrinth with criss crossing paths/stairs. A couple times I thought I was on the right track, only to find out later that I was on another alleyway branched out from the main a blocks blocks earlier. I did get a postcard view of the crumbling mansions and colorful rooftops though.

- I could totally do without the ascensors, but nevertheless decided to try out a few since that are THAT famous. Ascensors are basically funicular elevators (made of wood) creaking at various angles of ascension. They were built in the early 1900's to help people in the hillside commute back and forth from the commerical area down below, and 9 remain functioning to date. The two that I took were Ascensor Concepcion, which has the steepest angle and Ascensor Artilleria, which has the largest capacity. At the top of Ascensor Artilleria is the naval museum, an art and craft market, and also a great view of the gritty port below.

- Valpa has a bad rep of being a dangerous city loaded with petty crimes, and I was lucky to get away (together with my belongings) in one piece. At various points on my trip when I stopped to ask for directions or snap photos, locals warned me of certain areas I should avoid and reminded me to hold tight onto my camera. For that I am really grateful.

- In Chile, Pablo Neruda is larger than life. Everywhere, the house he once lived in became a musuem. In Santiago Bellavista, the house he built for his third (and last) wife became a not-to-miss musuem; here the house he dwelled in for periods became the ´La Sebastiana´ Museum; Not to mention the famous ship-like Casa de Isla Negra. My plan was to stop by Isla Negra on my way back, but did not make it as I was short on time.

- Valpa is definitely a city with two faces. One a gritty port town full of homeless dogs (you need to watch your steps at Valpa because shit is everywhere), crumbling buildings and dirty rundown streets. The other is an artistic hillside town of narrow cobblestones bursting with color and life. I like to think of it as the latter, and I am particularly impressed by the wall after wall of elaborate graffiti (not that much by the rainbow colored buildings). It wasn’t just one particular street that had character – every now and then there was a gap in the tightly packed buildings and the horizon opened up to reveal an endless stretch of corrugated iron houses/walls dawned with street art. It may not be for everyone, but if you like San Francisco, you will definitely appreciate the beauty that lies beneath Valpa´s rugged cover.

- Grabbed a quick bite at Santiago before catching the overnight bus to Osorno, southern Chile.

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