So this Saturday we went to Valparaíso, with a little jaunt over to Viña del Mar toward the end of our stay for coffee and a chance to gaze reflectively out at sea, to listen to the soothing sound of waves crashing against rock (we were thwarted in both endeavors, unfortunately. There was a rather opaque white curtain blocking the view, and Adele was delighting the café patrons over the loudspeakers). Also, by the time we got there, the day, which had started awesomely, weather wise, decided to become a bit more dreary, so sitting outside wasn’t an option. But that was at the end, and I still haven’t told you about the middle or the beginning, which means that once again I am getting ahead of myself. Disculpa, I’ll try to continue in a more chronological order.
The two cities are actually only 9 kilometers apart and have grown closer and closer over the years, ever since Viña came into being, in the 70s, as the place to which all porteños (as people from Valpo are called, because it is a port, you see) that had a bit (or a lot) of money began to flee. They were joined by more affluent santiguinos wanting to escape the press and bustle of the city and capture a little of the sea air. Because of this, Viña was at its found, and still is, a much richer city than Valpo. Although the city is the seat of the Chilean Congress and acts as Chile’s most important port, Valpo, and its 300,00 inhabitants distributed over 42 (or more, depending on whom you ask) hills, is rather poor. It’s more well-to-do citizens live in Viña, only coming to Valparaíso to work. Our tour guide even told us that the city literally does not have a wealthy class, or wealthy part of town. Valpo is filled almost entirely with people belonging to the middle and low-middle class, for whom it is unfortunately very difficult to escape. They are only able to find some relief via the tourism industry. Regrettably, our tour guide also told us that tourism is mainly handled by foreign or Santiago based companies, so the porteños see remarkably little of the money. What they do see usually comes via small hotel, hostel or bed and breakfast type enterprises, of which we saw many on our walk through the city.
Valparaiso itself was never actually officially founded. The Spanish came to the area looking for gold, didn’t find any, and promptly left. Over time, the city simply grew spontaneously, without real rhyme or reason. It’s made up of the hills, as I mentioned above, and the flat part, near the ocean, which the porteños call el plan. Out tour guide stressed that, unlike Santiago, Valparíso doesn’t have a centro, or even a central plaza. Instead, el plan serves that function. It’s where most of the businesses are and where most people work, returning again to the hills (called cerros in Spanish, I realized I forgot to mention that) at night. Most porteños use either the long twisting, highly inclined roads, the just as twisting and steep stairs or the acensores – the word literally means elevator in Spanish, but they are actually more like funiculars – to reach their homes. Our tour guide joked that porteños have the strongest leg muscles in Chile because of their constant walking up and down the hills that make up their city.
But I’m getting ahead of myself yet again. We left Santiago around 9:30 in the morning and arrived in Valpo around 11:30. Our first stop was la Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s house in Valparíso, which is near the top of one of the hills and has an absolutely amazing view of the city and the ocean. Unlike la Chascona, which one could only view on a guided tour, la Sebastiana was a bit more relaxed. On the ground floor we were giving an audio guide, along with a map that told us what numbers to type in on each floor. Speaking about floors, la Sebastiana has 5, although none is very large. That is actually a characteristic of houses in Valpo: they often seem to be simply built on top of one another, with a different family inhabiting each floor. Also, another thing about the houses there: they are all painted in different, and very bright, colors. The idea was that in the past, when Valparaíso was a bustling port, when the sailors returned home from their long journeys, they would be able to identify their house from afar. Another thing about the houses (it’s the last, I promise! I can’t help myself, it’s all so interesting!): Valparaísan houses are usually covered in zinc siding, which ships from Spain used to carry back as ballast (having emptied all of the resources torn from the South American soil on Spanish shores and having little else to carry back). It serves to protect the adobe, from which houses there are traditionally built, from the salt in the air. Anyways, returning to Pablo’s crib. It was really nice. And it was also very relaxing to be able to simply walk about and to look at everything as carefully – or simply slowly, in my case – as one wanted. The view of the sea which every floor had – and which I already mentioned but will mention again because it was so astounding – also helped things.
After la Sebastiana, we walked down Cerro Alegre (the Happy Hill), so named because the people that come from there have a reputation for being happy (no, seriously). There are a lot of very pretty and very fascinating murals and other art works on the walls, which made the trip a joy. All in all, we walked around the hill for about an hour, before we went down to el Plan via one of the acensores (on our way there we walked past the oldest one in the city, which has been running since 1883!). After eating lunch on one of the outlook platforms – the most famous and important, our tour guide told us – we went down to the harbor for a short scenic boat tour. I, much to my chagrin (hmm, where have you heard that before?) didn’t have my camera with me on that part of the trip, as my failure to charge it after the ski outing meant that it wouldn’t have been useful as anything but a toy for the sea lions we saw. This tour around the harbor was really cool. The fourteen of us had a rather large tourist boat to ourselves, the sky was blue and there was nary a cloud in the sky. In short, it was perfect, albeit a bit windy. It was, all in all, a very soothing and tranquil experience. After coming back to the docks, we ate ice cream (which I must confess, was actually my second ice cream within an hour and a half or so. On top of one of the hills I bought a Magnum White Chocolate Raspberry ice cream in a little shop) at a small fast-food type restaurant (which I am pretty sure is a chain, because I saw another one on the way to Viña) where the scoop sizes were simply humongous. I got Chocolate Zurich (which wasn’t actually chocolate, white or black) and something else whose name I didn’t quite catch (but I ordered it anyway, after the guy working the counter let me taste it), both of which were scrumptious.
After this followed the experience with which I started this blog post, coffee – though I actually had hot chocolate and the three other people at my table had tea – in a café (a rather fancy one) in Viña. We left for Santiago around 5:40-5:50. On our way home it got dark and I fell asleep very contently. It had been a very good trip.
Enjoy the pictures! Quick question for anyone reading my blog. Do you prefer it when I put up lists of pictures, or do you think this slideshow thing I’m trying out today is better?
P.S. This is a sign pasted in the micro I use to get to la Católica and back. It says: “For your security, this vehicle begins to move only with the doors closed.” This is a lie. The drivers of the D18 line are maniacs. They, to a man, drive extremely fast – passengers are almost always trying their hardest to stay on their feet, clutching desperately at hand holds – and, most frightening, have a tendency to open the doors of the bus at least ten seconds before arriving at a stop. Going straight this may not appear to be such a problem (though it’s still hard to see how no one falls out), but the Santa Isabel, Diagonal Oriente, Doctor Pedro Lautaro Ferrer roads that form the path of the D18 buses are anything but straight. But it’s actually kind of fun, I must admit. And you can get used to it quickly. It’s just another study abroad adventure!
P.P.S Really quick: I found out today that some Chileans (and maybe Spanish speakers in general; in my Spanish class today we only talked about the Chilean case) use usted, which we always learn is reserved for relationships that are more distant and more formal, with people that they care for very much, with their girlfriend or boyfriend, spouse or children for example. So that’s why I hear my host mom and grandmother using usted with my host brothers so often! It absolutely blew my mind!
Chao for now! ¡Hasta luego!