So Chris left you travelling up from The lush green area of volcanoes and lakes near Chiloe Island off the coast of Chile. We were back to city life in Valapariso about 2 hours away from Santiago, on the coast of Chile. “Valpo” is a coastal town built on hills overlooking the bay shared with Vina del mar, a beach town with not much else to shout about, home to the biggest new years fireworks display in South America in the bay. It is subject to a fair amount of seismic activity some of which we felt a few minutes after arriving in the city, but nothing near as bad as what the city has suffered in the past.
First thing we did to get our bearings was to take the free walking tour of the city. This makes our 4th Free tour in South America. They’ve all been led by super enthusiastic guides who purely work for tips and the love of their city. This one was extra great as we got a free bus trip, free shot of pisco, free funicular ride and a free alfajor cookie- so we left a big tip!
The tour made me feel a bit sorry for Valparaiso. It used to be THE major port on the way to California in the gold rush as Europeans traveled round south america to get there- the main square still retains some of its former glory, but since the opening of the panama canal in 1914, it has been in decline and it shows, first stop on the tour we turn from the statue of O’Higgins to see a man pulling up his trousers after squatting in the main square- nice.
The geography of the town makes building works difficult with narrow cobbled streets winding their way up steep hills and UNESCO world heritage site status adding to the difficulty of repairing and re-building.
At first glance you might think Valpo is just a run down town, but as we explored it showed its true colours to us. Over looking the bay from half way up the hill helped us see some of the redeeming features.
Pablo Neruda one of Chile’s Nobel prize winning poets, had a house here which we visited, also with a spectacular view of the city and bay, The walk there revealed some of the outstanding graffiti art that makes the city so enjoyable to walk around and look at, making it one big open air gallery.
We were lucky that there were a few events going on while we were visting- a wine exhibition and a drumming festival. The wine exhibit allowed us to taste wines from around 20 different bodegas for a one off entrance fee, where we bumped into a few people from the free tour that day- including the tour guide! Hind from France and Jase from Australia became our best friends as we made our way around the show, exploring all the delights that the carmenare and syrah had to offer. Not satisfied with all the wine and the bottle of champagne that we charmed out of one of the stands, we hit the town and did a bit of dancing, which all got a bit too much for Chris who fell asleep at the edge of the basement dance floor!
What seemed like a good idea at 2am, didn’t at 10am when we realised we were meeting up with our new friends for a boat ride at the port. We all admirabley made it to the meeting point by 1pm and boarded our boat with Titanic-esque life savers on to bob along to Vina del mar and back. The only good thing about the trip besides the sea-lions was that we were all feeling as bad as each other, although, maybe Jase a bit moreso.
Valparaiso would’ve been a great place to cure a hang over with the amazingly greasy invention of the Chorillana dish which is a big pile of non-discript meat piled on top of a mountain of chips and fried onions, polished off with an egg, however the drum festival antics meant that there was some left over tear gas hanging around the streets. It was a new sensation for Chris, Jase and me but not Hind (in Hind’s words- the French like to protest). The burning sensation in your throat and nose is frightening even from just the left over fumes we experienced.
The day was rescued by delicious ice cream and an amazing Pisco cocktail bar with fantastic staff that Jase, Chris and I enjoyed, up until that is the riot police came to tackle a group of hippies from the drum festival!
It was definately worth the few days we spent there exploring Valpo, but it was time to head further up north to the Atacama desert, stopping off at La Serena for some more seaside town life.