Valparaiso; the eternal muse of so many poets, painters and philosophers, also illuminates the shadows of so many sullen faced port workers, prostitutes, pickpockets and life’s peculiars.
Arriving from the fresh mountain air and rosy cheeked smiles of Patagonia, Valparaiso felled my ‘joie de vivre’ with it’s heavy axe of bus terminal gloom. A notoriously sketchy city a few hours north of Santiago, the same sun that warmed the frost of Bariloche now suffocated by deep grey clouds as I broke out into the morning. Against advice I walked the hour or so towards the ‘centre’, questioning my decision as I walked south down the dishevelled main road past the inquisitive eyes and saturnine faces of its crawlers, old beaten up shop fronts carpeted by rugs littered with whatever for sale you couldn’t dream up; blank cd’s without cases, half a child’s doll, car headlight casings, several handles for a saw, a box of old screws, sole less shoes and a myriad of everything and anything.
Rounding a corner the port came into view, giant sea tankers bound for nowhere floated curiously amongst the freighters and black cranes that soared in multitude, but then, with the arc of a neck the hills of Valparaiso revealed themselves. Concrete dunes adorned with a kaleidoscope of buildings, set to no rhyme nor reason on top of a high wall wrapping the street, old beaten up mansions sit even higher above. It’s a majestic sight to behold from the bleakness of the port.
As I creeped up through the stairs and sloped streets, the heart of this town beat like thunder. No two buildings alike, narrow pathways weave and unravel like animated veins, music from high windows tunnels by, spices fill the breeze, did I follow the second star on the right and straight on till morning?
Casa Valparaiso was my home here for almost a week, I met Tiffany that I had travelled up to Mancora in Peru with on Christmas Eve, joining the rest of the hostel we spent a glorious Christmas getting drunk, singing Aerosmith songs, dressing up stray dogs, and eating great food. Boxing day i met Ariel, one of my favourite people from this trip, we had struck up conversation in a hostel in Cusco and she beguiled me from the off, a small American from a Jewish family we bonded over a shared love of classic literature and great tunes, effortlessly friendly and enduringly positive, I was glad to be in her company again, especially in the vibrancy of this town I was rapidly falling in love with.
Together we headed to the mesmerising area that a few years previous had held the world graffiti championships, beautiful street art is everywhere in Valparaiso (allowed under supervision by the government), but this area is exceptional. Giant murals adorn every building, and I mean every building, the colours are breathtaking in what is ostensibly a poor area, bringing the walls almost to life. We sat and ate ice cream in a city painted beautiful, it was a good day.
The next few nights I spent getting drunk by the menacing port, in a strange abandoned building that held impromptu raves, and hanging around the streets of the hostel that come alive at night time with jazz bands playing in dimly lit stairways and people messing around like children till late into the night.
New Year in Valparaiso hosts the second biggest party in Latin America, a million people flood in for the celebrations and an already buzzing city nearly implodes. The price hike at the hostel was too far fetched for my budget, Ariel kindly offered me a mattress at the apartment she had rented for a few months and all my problems were solved. We left hers at around 8pm and strolled the streets already teeming with people to her friends apartment to commence the evening, after meeting some really great people whilst smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap rum on a balcony we set off for the top of the hill to watch the midnight firework show over the port. I had to catch them up at the top after finding myself swilling cheap piss and singing Agnostic Front songs with a gathering of crusty punks on one of the stairwells up, at the strike of midnight the fireworks began, for fifteen minutes they were extravagant, furious and unwavering. The giant crowd cheered, screamed, kissed, hugged and sprayed champagne. A shared euphoria amongst a usually tame population. Heading down the hill, the mass euphoria only intensified, literally a million people swayed as one through every twist and opening in the city, music everywhere, we partied deep into the morning, drinking champagne from the bottle and dancing more than we walked. One hell of a new years.
A little worse for ware, new years day we hopped a local bus to the pretty Vina Del Mar, a small but quite affluent beach town just down the coast. We ate chicken on streets with a ceiling of leaves, and baked on the beach with Ariel’s American friends. One thing of note was a round of applause that echoed from a corner of the beach, not a street performer as I thought, but the Chileans way of alerting the presence of a lost child, apparently to not scare the child whilst also alerting what must be a quite frantic parent. Lovely stuff.
My last day in Valparaiso, I helped Ariel sneak all her things out of her rented apartment early in the morning, so she didn’t have to face the landlord as she bailed on a six month lease. That afternoon we explored a beautiful little cemetery in the hills, concrete angels with fresh roses and tulips pinned to their breast, hid in the undergrowth around spectacular white tombs. As dusk approached we sprawled in the gardens of an old converted prison, and I wondered why I couldn’t just stay here forever.