Valparaiso, located on the coast West from Santiago, was our first stop in Chile, as we were craving some sea-time after many months away from the coast. We crossed the border from Argentina (Mendoza) via a long bus ride and wait at the border. The road just after is steep and sinuous, and we found out a few days after, that unfortunately a fatal bus accident happened on this route, with one of the companies we usually take. We briefly stopped over in Santiago to decide on the next steps and get our tickets for Valparaiso.
Valparaiso, or ‘Valpo’, reached its prime in the early 20th century when it was still a transport hub and stopover for ships and their international sailors on their way to or coming from Cape Horn. But since the construction of the Panama Canal, Valpo has had difficulty reconverting itself. It was left in disrepair and even to this day many neighbourhoods outside the small center are poor and dirty, and petty theft is rife.
Valpo has however found a new purpose in street art and culture, since the years of the Pinochet dictatorship. It was home to many great artists, writers, musicians and poets, including world-acclaimed Pablo Neruda.
We spent 2 days exploring the city, its hilly streets, markets and outskirts, taking in the kaleidoscope of colour of this ‘open-air art gallery’. Even private homes and shops pay street artists to decorate their walls to avoid them being vandalised by graffiti. It is hard to figure out the meaning of most of the images, but they are certainly open to interpretation.
Above, artists at work in the street.
Valpo is also known for its nightlife, which we enjoyed on both nights we were there. The first night we went to a bar by the harbour very popular with the locals called ‘La Piedra Feliz’ (The Happy Stone!). The bar is low-lit in red lights and hosts tango classes and live music throughout the week. The band playing that night was composed of 4 musicians, and double the amount of instruments! Classic and electric guitars, electric piano and accordian, drums and djembes, and others I do not even know the names of. The style was quite mixed: ranging from folk, fanfare and rock, to cumbia, salsa, and ‘porteno’ songs everyone knew the words to (except us!).
The second night we had a ‘before’ at the hostel, getting to know all the other backpackers, from New-Zealand, UK, Holland, Switzerland, Canada, Venezuela and India! We shared beer and wine, and good music and conversation until we got hungry and headed out for a Jamaican fast food. We ended the night at a local bar decorated like the inside of a bus, and host to many live local bands, mainly salsa and cumbia. The very talented Venezuelan from our group even got up to play the clarinette with one of the bands!
On our last day we wanted to get out of the city to actually see the sea! The closest option was the small town of Quintay an hour South from Valparaiso by bus. The town in itself isn’t note-worthy, but a few paths lead out from it along the coast in both directions. They pass through private properties, but the owners/locals don’t seem to mind the odd visitor passing through. There is a large beach an hour’s walk North from Quintay that we didn’t have the time (or energy?) to get to, but we were very content taking in the sun and warm sea air on a more isolated, rocky beach closer to town. The only forms of life we saw were seagulls and starfish, no other humans to be seen!
We enjoyed a lengthy lunch and siesta before heading back to civilization via a shared taxi with some locals. Tomorrow will be another travel day, onwards to Santiago!