To give context to this city I consider this visit was a visit to a land that time forgot. Once one of if not the biggest port in South America, back in the days when ships sailed around Cape Horn to get to and from the Atlantic, and Pirates with one leg and canons ruled the sea, now a mix of dilapidation and renovation. There were impressive mansions and schools and churches:- people clearly had money back in the 1800’s. Then the Panama canal opened and suddenly industry stopped, the wealthy left town, and houses were abandoned. Earthquakes hit, the poor moved in and squatted in the old mansions and built shanty towns all over the hills, and something very unique has evolved. The city is now World Heritage listed for good reason.
Today some of the grand houses remain abandoned, some are renovated, some are now hotels and hostels, and the shanty towns are still growing over the hills. We spent a whole day wandering up and down the safer parts of town with a tour guide and a German couple on their honeymoon – they were relieved they had shared the experience with us and not stumbled across an American tour group off a cruise ship for this journey into history! I am not saying anything here but we were happy they were a nice young couple too.
I am confident many ghosts wander these magnificent abandoned houses and I believe, particularly the dilapidated homes, would be excellent settings for the making of horror movies and the new found craze for zombies!
Anyway Pablo apparantly once said that if you walked all of the stairs in Valparaiso you would walk around the world. Thank heavens I’ve been working out in the gym and building up thigh muscles for this test of stamina. And thank heavens the blisters are covered in top quality bandaids, the twisted ankle is not noticable and the knee surgery has apparantly worked. Up and down up and down – along with a funicular or two. This is good preparation for the Mirador at Torres del Paine. The locals like to compare the place to San Francisco – not that I’ve been to San Francisco but I can only imagine that a San Franciscan might be a little offended at the comparison.
So this process of gentrification is happening alongside extreme poverty and it is difficult to understand how the next town along (probably only a couple of kilometres away) is so modern and clean when Valparaiso is so complex and old.
The artists have moved in also. Apparantly these “happy hippies” come from all over the world and, it seemed our tour guide was a well known local and this meant we were able to visit many of the artists homes many of which were works of art themselves. The young artists engage in poetry, sculpture, tapestry and street art inter alia (sorry just had to throw in my favourite Latin). Oh my good heavens – the street art is fantastic. I may be slightly exaggerating but I believe we walked about 20 kilometres up and down up and down. Hopefully I have captured enough photos to create art of my own as a photo collage when I return. I shall try and attach a couple here for those who may be interested. I believe my sister in-law Marjorie would be in seventh heaven immersed in this city with all the artists. Maybe San Francisco was like this in the sixties. We even passed people sitting on stairs smoking joints in the open air gazing out to sea (clearly imprisonment in Chile is not as scarey as it might be in other parts of Latin America.) Living la vida loco! Reminds me of a Led Zeppelin song, “all the people on the grass with flowers in their hair”. Just realised they never were lying or sitting on the grass as on the grass has a very different meaning now that I think about it!