Valparaíso (30 November 2013)
Being in Santiago gave me the chance to take a day trip to another city. I had heard good reviews about Valparaíso (or Valpo for short) and so I thought I would go see it for myself. People usually do both the city and the Viña del Mar in a day. However, since I am not interested in beaches and resorts and wine, I decided to devote my day to Valpo instead.
The bus station in Santiago was madly crowded by the time I got there. It was a Saturday and it looked as if everyone was going to Valpo for the day. I almost wanted to give up and try again the next day. Fortunately there were a few bus companies that offered trips to Valpo and I got a ticket quite soon after I was starting to lose hope of ever going to Valpo that day.
A very good way to do an introductory visit in Valpo is to join a city tour I think. In my case, I joined the Tours4Tips tour with Priscilla as my guide.
Valpo was a major port of call in the 19th century for ships plying the sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Almost a hundred years later however, the Panama Canal was opened and this took many ships away from Valpo. The city lost its shine after that. I could not help but think about Singapore when I heard that story. If a canal had been built north of Singapore we would have been hit hard and gone the same way as Valpo. In fact, the Arctic may become open to shipping soon thanks to all that ice melting away and then Singapore’s importance as a seaport will be threatened. I felt an affinity to Valpo just thinking about that.
Valpo is really interesting with its colourful houses built all over its old city and especially its hills or cerros. Its past as a former vibrant seaport also meant that migrants from different countries came flocking to the city and contributed to the city’s cultural identity. Some of the street names in the city do not even sound Latin.
There are quite a few hills in Valpo and one can either leg it up and down or take a funicular. It is practically a must to take a ride on one of these funiculars when visiting Valpo. That is unless the visitor is like me. Just about every funicular was closed when I was in Valpo. There was one that seemed to be open but I did not have enough time to take it since I was just too busy wandering about aimlessly and getting lost among the colourful houses along interesting streets.
Some parts of the city are apparently not too safe unfortunately. Priscilla described those areas as more “working class” and advised us to avoid them. I have to add that the street outside the Valpo bus station felt somewhat “working class” to me and I had to walk down that street to reach downtown and then back. But nothing bad happened to me. All I had to do was walk really quickly like I had to go save the world.
The most distinctive feature of Valpo however must be its street art. Not everything drawn on the walls in the city can be considered art though but the graffiti, both the good and bad ones, gives the city a livelier and at the same time grittier character. The graffiti is to the city what a tattoo is to a sailor.
I wish I had woken up earlier that day to do the trip to Valpo. In the end I only had about just over an afternoon to see the city. It was of course not enough.