A land of hills, graffiti and more and more of my beloved four-legged friends, Valpo took my heart and gave my legs a work out! Without the 2am quick shoot-about car tour provided by my host (confusingly yet also conveniently called Cristian, like my host in Santiago), I would have been dreadfully lost for the entire time…as Valparaíso is a chaotic mix of winding streets, uneven stairs, sudden drops and views onto neighbouring cerros (hills). To my mind, we’re talking about the love child of Lisbon and Marrakech.
Once the most important port in the South Pacific, Valparaíso is now a vibrant student city, a place were people congregate every where at any time to chat, drink and listen to live music.
The lovely Pamela took me to a previously-recommended hole-in-the-wall bar, El Gato en la Ventana which gradually fills up after 10pm, and where $2 will buy you a litre of beer to work on while a selection of strange and colourful singers perform (or, luxuriate in self-obsessed vanity) from a makeshift stage. By 1am, the place fills up with locals swinging in time to the beats of indigenous-inspired drumming beats…and tables and chairs become a workplace health and safety hazard as hips and arms whack into them at every opportunity.Locals in Valpo, as with any touristy place, are either bored by, or very interested in foreigners making their way through their streets. Once lost atop a cerro near Plaza Aduana, I was followed timidly by children who, judging by their whispers, were on their way to tell their mother that I was close behind…should I steal from them, I wonder? Others are delighted to see you.
One afternoon, a sixty-year-old ex sea-dog, Mariano, invited me into his place to have a mate and chat with his much younger neighbour. His place was very modest, almost like it had been constructed bit by bit as he needed extra space; and his stories were the same. Like a piece of a giant puzzle that formed his very nomadic life at sea. Women featured heavily: from the Japanese lass who he fell in love with to his most recent ex-wife (of two) who he’d left when her cocaine addiction proved too much. She’s in Argentina now, with his two sons whom he visits periodically. “No tengo problemas,” he said, grinning toothlessly as he sipped mate through its metal bombilla.