Oh Valparaiso

Of all the cities we’ve visited in the past six weeks Valparaiso is by far our favourite.  The majority of people we met before arriving informed us that two or three days would be plenty. We ended up spending a week in Valpo, as it’s affectionately called, and could’ve stayed even longer. Having said that we do realise it’s not for everyone.

So why did we love this port city so much? Good question. I suppose if I said ‘we just did’ it wouldn’t make for an interesting read now would it.

Valpo has a charm that is hard to explain. It’s gritty yet wonderfully colourful and artistic. Each house in a street is painted a different colour and often has artwork plastered over the walls. There is an unwritten agreement that kids won’t tag over art, and as such many people opt to have street art decorating their property so they’re not cleaning off, or painting over tags constantly.

There is something interesting around every corner- mosaics, odd art, antique stores, artist studios and hidden cafes. I just can’t comprehend how someone could get bored here after two days. Walk around people! And when you think you’re done, walk some more. Or if you’re legs are sore jump on a funicular.

A lot of Valpo’s appeal had to do with the fact that it was such a contrast to home. Not in the way that many Asian countries are vastly different to home. Rather, a number of small differences. Little corner stores still thrive, buses come by every minute or two, you can share a cab with someone heading in the same direction, the gas bottle salesmen play music on the gas bottles to let you know they’re driving by and the rubbish is picked up every day (below is a picture of the waste collection system). And perhaps most importantly there is a wonderful sense of community.

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I guess to sum it up you could say Valparaiso has character. Ocean views and friendly stray dogs just added to the appeal.

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So here are some of the things we got up to in Valpo:

Chilean cuisine cooking class – we couldn’t leave South America without doing at least one cooking class. First up our lovely chef Pierre took us to the fruit and veg market. The produce here is frickin huge, and smells sublime. And yes, that’s a cat sitting on our cherimoya.

We spent the rest of the day preparing a number of traditional dishes- pebre (a salsa), empanadas (like a pastie), ceviche (raw fish marinated in lemon juice, chili peppers, onion & coriander), pastel de choclo (similar to a shepherds pie but topped with caramelised sweetcorn) and of course pisco sour. Like little pigs we ate all our hardwork and washed it down with a delicious glass of red (or two).

Boat trip- for a different perspective we took a (very cramped but cheap) boat ride along the coast. You don’t realise how massive the freight and navy ships are until you’re practically under them.

La Sebastiana- this is one of Pablo Naruda’s three houses. For those of you who don’t know Pablo Naruda was a Chilean poet and diplomat. He won the nobel prize and was, shall we say, a bit eccentric. He loved collecting random bits and bobs, which makes a tour of his house quite fascinating. It sits atop a hill, with stunning views of the harbour. It’s no wonder he wrote an ode to the city.

There is still controversy over whether or not Pablo was murdered by the military regime in the 70s. He was a well renowned member of the communist party and was in hospital for prostate cancer, with plans to flee the country. Parts of his body have been sent to a few countries for toxicology tests in order to prevent a government cover up.

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More food- a meal that you wouldn’t expect to be a national or ‘traditional’ dish is Chorrillana. A heart attack on a plate and we imagine a great hangover cure. Chorrillana is simply a plate load of french fries covered with slow cooked beef, fried onion, cheese and egg. Yum but siesta-inducing.

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We also caught a bus out to the seafood market. Being Christmas Eve it was fairly quiet but we still had a good time watching the sealions sunbathe by the jetty.

Of course it’s not all dining out and I was stoked to find soy sauce for the first time. Oh how I had missed stir fried veg with soy!

Navidad! South Americans celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, so following suit we had a big sit down dinner at the hostel. There wasn’t a turkey in sight but travellers from all over pitched in to put together an amazing spread- ham, roast chicken, potato, salads, nachos, empanadas, mulled wine and an amazing dessert of apple strudel, rice pudding and icecream. The hostel also had a trapezeze and tissues hanging from the ceiling. Not the best idea really. After dinner a few people had a play around, and with a collective gasp we watched as Juan, a lovely German, almost broke his neck falling to the floor with the tissue catching him just in time.

One of the perks of celebrating on the 24th was that we were awake to skype our families back home for Christmas which was wonderful.

And more walking- starting with a very entertaining walking tour that went from the harbour up through Cerro Concepcion and Alegre, ending just past Plaza Victoria, where we had fun watching out of towners try to drive up steep and winding wet roads. Even the locals were watching and egging them on.

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Walking was a particularly good way to spend Christmas day as the city was deserted. We wandered the streets and settled in for Christmas lunch at a cafe with a view. And by lunch I mean cake and a mojito.

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And this isn’t everything we got up to, so I guess it’s lucky we didn’t listen to those people who said two days would be enough.

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