Another day , another country :)
Jan 04, 2008
Dec 17, 2008
Iīve moved on from Mendoza to cross the Andes and the border into Chile , where Iīm starting off my travels in Valparaiso. After the last border Bolivia-Argentina was easily the most frustrating border crossing on my entire trip, Iīm pleased to say that Argentina-Chile at Los Libertadores was easily the most spectacular ... with some fabulous scenery on both sides making for an very enjoyable bus ride. I really enjoyed my couple of days exploring Valaparaiso and it made a great start to my Chilean adventures. Itīs a really quite unique place, unlike anywhere else Iīve been on my trip due to itīs geographical setting , higgledy-piggledy layout & cultural character. Valaparaiso is a UNESCO world heritage site and designated as the "cultural capital of Chile" by the Chilean congress, which meets here in the city and not in the capital Santiago. Valparaisoīs character comes from itīs setting amongst many hills or "cerros" which rise up from the coastline and which have a range of buildings from mansions to shacks in a completely sprawling layout & many of which are either brightly painted or covered in murals/street art or just graffiti ... very cool & very different. I stayed in a hostel up in one of the "cerros" ... was a decent enough place if perhaps a little overhyped in the guidebook, not too surprisingly as the author of the Chilean section apparently owns the hostel ! The city is a working port and does have a flat part called "El Plan" down towards the coastline aswell as the hills , where there are some places of interest ... basically I spent roughly one of the days down in "El Plan" and one of the days in the "cerros". The grandest space in "El Plan" is the big Plaza Sotomayor which has the very impressive Admiralty House (which used to be a government house) , a splendid statue/monument for the heroes of the Battle of Iquique between Chile & Peru in 1879 (which is permanently guarded by a sailor) , the customs building , fire brigade house and some other large buildings. Nearby is another plaza , Plaza Echaurren , which is the oldest city square and used to be one of the most elegant and wealthy parts of Valparaiso but today is pretty run down and full of rather dodgy characters some of whom seem to like to shout at tourists such as myself , although mostly friendly ... I hope ! Valparaiso has a great trolley bus system which runs along roughly parallel to the coast and adds to the character of the place with the green and yellow carriages trundling along the roads , some of which are dating back to the early part of the last century. The Chile Congress building is impressively large and rather dominates the skyline but itīs not a very nice design in my opinion ... looks like it could be a Department of Engineering block at a modern concrete university. Valparaisoīs prime came along after independence when it rose to prominence as a trading port , so it totally lacks the colonial splendour of many big Latin American cities which were established earlier under Spanish rule . For example the cathedral is a modest relatively modern design in an equally modest plaza , not like the grand and historic plazas I have seen elsewhere. After the Panama canal opened in 1914 Valparaiso suffered hard with itīs trading port business heavily reduced .The city went into a decline and the influential & wealthy people moved away until relatively recently ... it has been under a revival since the 1990īs both economically and culturally. I wandered down to the harbour where you can see all the boats and the line of trucks coming into the port ... there are many touts trying to get you to take a speedboat ride for a view of the hills from the harbour but it was so cold I didnt really fancy going out to sea. Up in the hills it was great to walk around and see the different types of houses with their different colours , designs and the street art and graffiti which is simply everywhere ... itīs all very "bohemian" and lots of creative cultural types - artists, writers and musicians apparently live here. Of course also the hills offer some great vantage points for fantastic views out to the harbour. You can either clamber up steps or walk the steep roads to get up into the hills or alternatively there are a number of vintage "ascensors" which are little funicular railways which run up & down to the cerros. I visited a couple of historic mansion houses which are up in the hills , the house of Pablo Neruda and of Renzo Pecchenini aka "Lukas". Neruda was a famous Nobel prize winning Chilean poet , writer and diplomat who represented Chile in a number of overseas countries ... he was also very politically active and a member of the Chilean communists. His house which sits high up in the hills , "La Sebastiana" , is really quite fabulous with itīs superb views out to the whole of Valparaiso and an amazing attention to detail in the design of the house. "Lukas" was a famous Chilean cartoonist and caricaturist and you can visit the "Casa de Lukas" , a mansion with an exhibition of his work . Again the house was really nice and although the captions to his cartoons were in Spanish you can kind of get the gist of many of them from the cartoons themselves. There is a collection of outdoor murals called "The Open Sky Museum" which are painted on various walls of buildings up in Cerro Bellavista and were created by different Chilean artists .... thereīs a map on a sign of where to look & you wander around trying to spot the next one which is fun , although some of them are a bit worse for wear these days and daubed with graffiti. Valparaiso and Chile have come as a bit of a jolt to the budget ... thereīs clearly a price for cool as itīs easily the most expensive place Iīve been on my trip for the travellerīs necessities such as hostels, food and coffee. A couple of days was sufficient to see the things I wanted to see so on the Thursday morning I caught the bus for a short and pleasantly scenic hop across to the capital Santiago , where I plan to stay for a long weekend before heading down to the Chilean Lake District.