One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.Henry Miller
Dec 29 2016-Jan 6 2017
Following our time in the Atacama Desert we headed back south to Central Chile, flying into Santiago and then taking a quick shuttle bus for about an hour northwest to the Pacific coast.
We walked a short distance from the bus terminal to our AirBnb, noticing that everyone was already getting ready for New Year’s, selling fireworks, confetti, hats & glasses, and yellow underwear (a South American tradition that is said to bring a year of romance if worn during the holiday).
Valparaiso is the second city and cultural capital of Chile, home to the country’s main port as well as the national congress. It’s nicknamed the Jewel of the Pacific, as the colorful hills filled with houses surround the coast. Valpo, as it is called for short, is also the street art capital of Latin America, with nearly every available space decorated with murals, street art, or graffiti. The city was also home to many ascensors, or funiculars, which added to its unique charm (providing a cheap way to ascend the many hills instead of taking the stairs).
Our first full day was spent getting the lay of the land. We walked across The Plan, which is the flat part of the city surrounded by hills, home to most of the commercial district and government buildings. We hung out for a bit near the port and watched the boats come and go and then strolled over to the Plaza Sotomayor, the main square of the city. After The Plan we headed up some steep stairs to Cerro Conception and Cerro Allegre, the tourist part of the city and a UNESCO heritage site. This part of the city, and all of the other hills, or cerros, were like a playground for adults. Colorful artwork everywhere, stairs going every which way, alley mazes, and even adult (and children) slides. The city had a very hipster vibe yet was just starting to be gentrified, so it still had a rough edge to it.
The next day was New Year’s Eve. We got to drinking fairly early after picking up supplies at the grocery store. Maggie sourced the ingredients for roasted chicken and asparagus, while I picked up the ingredients for making Micheladas (and a bottle of Tequila). We hung out at the AirBnb apartment building which consisted of two 30 floor towers, planning to catch the fireworks show from the roof. We headed up and watched as the self-proclaimed largest fireworks show in South America took place. Basically, it was several miles of barges set along the coast as Valparaiso and the nearby cities (Vina del Mar, Renaca, Concon) all coordinated to do their shows at once. After the fireworks and to bring in the New Year we headed down to the party in the streets, hanging out and drinking until the sun began to rise. New Year’s Day would be spent sleeping in and recovering.
After a day of rest, it was time to hit the beach, for Maggie anyway. I decided to climb through the hills of Valparaiso and wander for most of the day, I then hopped on the local metro train and headed to Vina del Mar (where most of the beaches are located, as Valparaiso’s coast is mostly a port) to meet up with Maggie. During this time a large fire started in one of the woods above the Valpo hills, and the city began to fill with smoke. Over 100 houses ended up being destroyed, but luckily that was it as the firefighters were able to get things under control (a couple of years’ prior a fire devastated over 2,500 homes and took many lives). We walked around the more upscale and orderly city of Vine del Mar for a bit and took the long walk along the coastline all the way back to Valparaiso, stopping to have some seafood and one of the fishing piers along the way.
Maggie spent most of the next few days working while I ventured out around the hills of Valparaiso once again, including Cerro Artilleria, which overlooked the port and the many colorful shipping containers, and also contained the main base of the Chilean Navy; Cerro Polanco, which contained the cities only completely vertical ascensor; and Cerro Bellavista, where we visited one of Pablo Neruda’s (famous Chilean poet) three houses, known as Sebastian. It was very interesting and it gave us inspiration for our last day.
Since our flight out of Santiago wasn’t until late in the evening, we decided to hop a bus and head down the coast about an hour to Isla Negra, home to Neruda’s favorite and most impressive house. The home sat along the rocky shoreline and contained many rooms filled with the various collections of the poet, a very interesting person indeed. Isla Negra also contained the final resting place of Neruda and his wife. It was then time to head back to Santiago to catch our next flight, so we hopped on another bus for the two-hour ride, ending our wonderful three week visit to Chile.