Decaying and totally charming

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
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Trip End Aug 01, 2007


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Flag of Chile  ,
Friday, June 8, 2007

He Said:

From Cusco we flew to Santiago, Chile via Lima. The next morning we headed out by bus to the nearby city of Valparaiso. Valpo, as it is known locally, is not visited for any specific blockbuster "sights". It's faded charm, brightly colored houses, century old asensores/funicular railways, and house of Nobel Laureate poet, Pablo Neruda, seems to draw a light but steady stream of visitors. The town is a bit decrepit having seen its glory days pass almost a century ago. When the Panama Canal opened in 1914, ships could bypass Cape Horn when crossing between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and therefore didn't have to resupply in Valpo. Despite all that, the town seems to be steadily on its way up with numerous restorations, revitalized neighborhoods, and a slow rising of fortunes. Actually the story of the thriving port turned derelict then finally renewed was a historical pattern that seemed quite similar to that of our home of Hoboken, New Jersey. One big difference though, for the price of a small apartment in Hoboken you could buy an entire building in Valparaiso!

A highlight of our two days here was a walking tour we arranged with a local guide named Michael (a transplanted German man). The tour was awesome. There was so much that he showed us that we would have never seen on our own, from the former Chilean stock exchange, to the movie set-like inside of a formerly glorious century old office building that was in an advanced state of decrepitude. Actually it was a bit sad to see how many magnificent structures that the city had, most of which were in various states of decay. But all things said, I really enjoyed our time there, and would love to come back!


She Said:

Upon entering Chile, it was easy to see the relative wealth of the country, particularly compared to Boliva and Peru. The Santiago airport is new and modern, and our shuttle bus zoomed us down an 8 lane interstate highway to our hotel. All of the Spanish style architecture with big looming cathedrals and imposing government buildings makes it difficult to remember that you are not in Europe. After a freezing night in a hostel in the middle of downtown, we took an amazingly nice and comfortable bus to the town of Valparaiso (the bus had a video system with in seat headphone outlets, and a screen that displayed how fast the driver was going...something they definitely could use in Turkey!). After staying in hotel rooms for 2.5 weeks without heat, we were overjoyed that our little guesthouse in Valpo had a space heater! Heat really does make it easier to sleep when it is near freezing outside.

Just a quick aside... Chile is in winter denial, refusing to believe that they are not a tropical country. Most places do not have heat, and people walk around in short sleeves with winter hats, shorts with heavy coats, or flip flops with gloves. What? It's like they don't want to commit to the cold, and if they just pretend that it isn't cold, it will really be warm. And people regularly leave their windows open to let the balmy air in... the balmy 40-degree (Fahrenheit) air, that is. We froze everywhere we went, which is why that space heater was amazing, and we just sat around it and practically worshiped the thing. In fact, our big entertainment each night was to go back to the room and sit next to the space heater.

Valparaiso is both inspiring and depressing at the same time. It is easy to see that this city was once the financial and social powerhouse of the southern pacific coast (like 100 years ago), and how it is really about decaying buildings with grand architecture. To appreciate most of the town, you really have to use your imagination to see what was. However, there seems to be a bit of a revitalization going on now, with several big restoration projects, and a few entrepreneurs getting in early on the expected boom in tourism by opening new restaurants and hotels. Also, Chilean wines are tasty and cheap ($4 for a pretty good bottle), so we made up several months of tea totaling in a few days.

I enjoyed Valparaiso, but I think that was more of a function of the walking tour with our knowledgeable guide and the really nice and genuine woman who owned our guesthouse. She was about our age, and we talked with her at length about growing up in the military dictatorship, and the changes she has seen since democracy was restored in 1990. Prior to coming to Chile, I really didn't know that much about the history here, so I found her viewpoint to be quite interesting. Read Todd's section in our next post (Santiago) for a summary of the history of Chile

Tomorrow we head back to Santiago to explore the city for a few days, and then on to Buenos Aires. I am looking forward to hanging out in a more cosmopolitan place after all this camping and roughing it in non-heated rooms!
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Comments

aurangabad
aurangabad on

i LOVE valpo!!
i find that town charming and amazing, also. it used to be the capital of chile of course. don't know if i could hack the cold. i was there years ago in january, which is their summer, and i stayed up at vina del mar and even THEN the water was freezing even though it was 90 degrees F. temperature, there is that cold current that comes up from antartica the makes the waters frigid all year round. the surf at the really great beach in renaca was high and strong at the time, also, but people were swimming in it like crazy, again a denial of the cold, but maybe they have different genes by now.

the water was a bit warmer when i went up to arica, but still cold, even by new york city summer standards.

aurangabad
aurangabad on

Re: i LOVE valpo!!
this is gene in nyc, btw. i always forget to sign.

matttheboy
matttheboy on

Valpo is great
Random stranger commenting on your post here...

It's great you enjoyed Valpo. I live here (i'm english) and it is such a cool city. there are so many possibilities here and it's only recently that chileans have actually cottoned on to the idea that Valpo is a unique and spectacular city that is worth not only admiring but also investing in. A few years ago and nobody had any faith in this city. Many, many chileans still don't...but that's partly because Chileans tend to lack vision and are more late adopters than innovators. now that they're seeing what's happening in Valpo, people are changing their opinions of the city. It's now got some of chile's best restaurants and hotels. there's a long way to go but i think we're getting there...

as for the heating...tell me about it..i've never understood why chileans seem to enjoy being cold...luckily most new apartments now have central heating and, in valpo at least, the decent boutique hotels also have central heating.

Enjoy Buenos Aires...it's a one of a kind city and great fun.

If you're interested in seeing more of Valparaiso, then have a look at my blog here: http://www.corrugatedcity.blogspot.com packed full of fascinating info about myself :-) which guest house did you stay in, btw?

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