Valparaiso/how absurd/you are,/what a lunatic,/crazy port/what a head–
rolling hills,/disheveled, you never/finished combing your hair,/you’ve never/had time/to get dressed,
life has/always/surprised you
–translated from Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Valparaiso”
After reluctantly leaving Santiago, we took a quick bus ride to Vina del Mar. I had been here before, but way back in the days when Pinochet was in power—there were curfews and armed guards at every corner. But I do have fond memories of the beautiful beaches and elegant clubs in Vina del Mar, and the bustle and artistic culture of its sister city Valparaiso. Today, many things were as I remembered, some things were exciting and new, but sadly, much of these lovely cities seemed to me victims of neglect and disrepair.
I remember Viña del Mar as an elegant beach resort, but it just looked a bit seedy to me this time. (Perhaps this is because we visited in the shoulder season, after the city folk have gone back home.) Nevertheless, the beaches are still gorgeous, although the water was way too cold for swimming, even for New Englanders.
When we moved on to Valparaiso, the colorful bustling nature of the city remains unchanged. Also unchanged, unfortunately, was the infrastructure, meaning it hasn’t been updated or improved. The streets and sidewalks were broken, the wiring and plumbing still dragging remnants of the 1950’s, and the famous acensors of Valparaiso, those rickety old funicular/elevators that carry people up and down the many hills are fewer every year. As they break down they don’t seem to get repaired. Of the original 18, only about 7 are in working order today.
Still, there were some highlights. For me, the first was Neruda’s home up on the hill in Valparaiso—La Sebastiana. This was not open in Pinochet’s days—the poet’s political activism did not endear him with the dictator. As we learned in Santiago, today Pablo Neruda is beloved throughout Chile, and his spirit is so apparent in the port city. It was wonderful to visit the home and see his eclectic collections of art, nautical objects, sculpture, and trinkets. The home is in the Cerro Bellavista neighborhood, as is the Museo a Cielo Abierto (Museum of the Open Sky) a museum of murals from the 1960’s and 70’s. Sadly, the Acensor Espiritu Santo, the oldest in the city, was not open due to a recent accident. A small translated excerpt of Neruda’s poem, “Oda a Valparaiso” is this post’s epigraph. What he says of the port city still is true today–she hasn’t even had time to get dressed. (She hasn’t bathed in a long time either.)
That said, the arts scene is amazing. The city has always had a great polychromatic palette, mostly from the corrugated metal and paint salvaged from the port to shore up homes on the hills. Today, the colors are everywhere. Instead of fighting the graffiti artists’ impulse to cover the surfaces with their original work, the city and its people have embraced and encouraged street art. This has resulted in an embarrassment of riches all over Valparaiso. Instead of “tagging” buildings, there is a mutual respect for those who paint on the buildings, benches and stairways. Apparently, the best way to avoid having someone “tag” your building is to have a mural covering it. Nobody defiles a wall that has been thoughtfully painted.
Naturally we also enjoyed some typical Chilean food and some great, inexpensive Chilean wines while we were here. Some of our favorite dishes are “Machas a la Parmesana” (gratin of razor clams with cheese), or corvina and eel served a thousand different ways. We had a wonderful dinner at Café Vinilo, www.cafevinilo.cl on the restaurant row of the Cerro Alegre neighborhood, Almirante Montt . The chef, Gonazalo Lara, who also leads culinary tours and classes in Valparaiso, prepareds innovative and delicious game dishes. They are also well-known for exotic ice creams, made from everything from local fruits I’ve never heard of, to corn and black olives.
The slide show will show some snapshots of the street art we passed in our wanderings. These are the images and colors that stay with us. Next, we board a ship which will take us to Patagonia, and will sail through the Straits of Magellan and around Cape Horn. Looking forward to some adventures!
Click on any thumbnail image and toggle through to view the pictures. Enjoy!