Valparaíso and Vina del Mar

<importexcuses>Sorry for the delay in posting about my adventures on Saturday but I had an obnoxious number of photos to edit and upload, plus homework and such.</importexcuses> On Saturday we met up at the IFSA office and piled into a bus at about 9 am for the hour and a half or so ride north to Valparaíso, a bustling and historic port city on the Pacific ocean.

Valparaíso, affectionately called “Valpo” , has a unique and interesting history. It was never formally founded, it just pretty much happened informally as sailors made settlements. While it no longer holds the title as Chile’s most important port it maintains its old traditions and fascinating culture and in 2003 was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Affectionately referred to as “Little San Francisco” by international sailors, the city sprawls over about 42 hills, making walking around an excellent workout for the calves and thighs! You can pretty much see the sea from anywhere in the city, and the salty sea breeze was a welcome change from the smog of Santiago. Residents actually often refer to the capital city as Santi-Asco (asco=gross).

We started our day by picking up a guide, a friend of our program coordinator, and taking a bus tour through some major streets to the house of Pablo Neruda. Wait, I thought she said that Neruda’s house was in Santiago? I’m glad you’ve been paying attention, reader! Pablo Neruda owned several houses in Chile and abroad. His house in Valparaíso is called La Sebastiana, and he didn’t really use it much except to watch the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks. The house’s architecture was inspired by a conch shell, and the house winds up a center staircase to a tower study. Photography is prohibited inside of Pablo Neruda’s houses, so I only have exterior shots and pictures of his view, which is stunning. I’ve linked here to the website for the house which has some pictures if you’re interested. We enjoyed an audio tour of the house, which was moderately interesting, before piling back into the bus.

We drove to Valpo’s historical district, where the bus dropped us off so we could take a walking tour. The streets are all made of cobblestone that was used as ballast in the many ships that visited the port. Houses in the historical district have to be built or restored in the iconic style of the golden era of the city. They are built with wood or plaster and then faced with sheets of metal to insulate them from the cruel sea wind, winter cold, and summer heat. This metal was also ship ballast, so it was a plentiful raw material. Right away the bright and diverse colors of the houses catches the eye; traditionally ship captains that built houses here would paint them to match their vessels. This area is also full of hostels, restaurants, antique shops, and swanky hotels.

Besides the brightness of the houses, the entire city seems to be a canvas for street artists. Any unclaimed wall seems to have been taken over with gorgeous murals, carefully transcribed poetry, and funny doodles. Walking through the city is like walking through a free open air modern art museum.

Once upon a time, funiculars were the main mode for residents to get up and down the city’s steepest slopes. Now only 15 or 16 remain in operation, and we took one down to the seaside to meet up with the bus and have lunch. Funiculars are hard to explain, here’s the Wikipedia page on them if you don’t know what they are (I’m like 99% sure the picture on the Wikipedia page is the one we rode!). We ate lunch while gazing out at the mighty Pacific and listening to the chatter of tourists from the cruise ship that was docked nearby.

After lunch, we heading down to a dock and were treated to a boat tour of some of the waters off Valpo on a motorboat I’m pretty sure was called the S.S. RinkyDinky but was perfect for our little group. After being away from the sea for so long it felt so nice to be back on the water again. We got to see wild sea lions from about 6 feet away (in Spanish they are called Marine Wolves) as well as a few penguins and pelicans! We scooted by some huge navy battleships (which we were not allowed to photograph) and I saw a diver scrubbing barnacles off the hull, much to the delight of the sea lions that were eagerly splashing about and gobbling them up. We were waved at by people relaxing on a cruise ship that towered several stories above us and workers on a freight ship enjoying lunch.

Back on terra firma and back in the bus, we endured a 10 minute drive to Vina del Mar. We visited the city’s iconic Reloj de Flores (Clock of Flowers) and had a photo op, and then went to a little cafe right on the beach where we could sip coffee and tea and watch the massive Pacific waves crashing down on the sand. Some of us were a little too entranced by the majesty of the waves, and my shoes and socks were baptized in the aquamarine waters of the world’s largest ocean. Now I’ve been in two of the world’s oceans! (SPOILER ALERT: The Pacific is just as wet and cold as the Atlantic, and equally as unpleasant to have in one’s shoes).

Sadly we could not linger for long on the sun-kissed shores, by now the Reloj de Flores read 5:30 so we piled back into the bus and most of us slept all the way back to Santiago. If you are ever in that neck of the woods I highly recommend spending at least an afternoon in the beautiful cobblestone streets of Valpo.  I leave you with a slideshow of my photos and a lovely poem by the very same Pablo Neruda, titled Ode to Valparaiso.

Ode to Valparaiso
By: Pablo Neruda
Translated by: Laney SullivanWhat nonsense
You are
What a crazy
Insane Port.
Your mounded head
You never finish combing your hair
Life has always surprised you
Death woke you
In your undershirt and long underwear
Fringed with color
With a name tattooed on the stomach
And with a cap
The earthquake grabbed you
You ran
Broke your fingernails
It moved
The waters and the stones
And seas
The night,
You would sleep
In the ground
From your sailing
And the furious earth
Lifted its waves
More stormy
Than a tempest
The dust
Covered you
The eyes
The flames
Burned your shoes
The solid
Houses of bankers
Like wounded whales
While above
The houses of the poor
Into nothingness
Like captive birds
Testing their wings

You forget
the tears
and you return
to hanging your dwellings
to paint doors
You transform into a boat
Your are
The patched bow
Of a small
The crowns nest
With foam
Your rope lines that sing
And the light of the ocean
That shakes the masts
And flags
In your indestructible swaying

Dark star
You are
From far away
In the height of the coast
And soon
You surrender
Your hidden fire
The rocking
Of your deaf alleys
The naturalness
Of your movement
The clarity
Of your seamanship
Here ends this ode

So small
Like a cloth
Ragged in a Window
In the Wind
of the ocean
With all the pain
Of your ground
The dew
Of the sea, the kiss
Of the wild angry sea
That with all of its power
Beat the rocks
It could not
Knock you down
Because on your southern chest
Is tattooed
The struggle
The hope
The solidarity
And the joy
As anchors
The waves of the earth.

After our lovely little cruise