Travel Blog: Valparaíso street art heaven and dog poo

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East London hipsters would cum into their trendy pants walking around Valparaiso, what with all the vibrant street art covering every patch of wall. Though they ought to be careful of the less appealing dog shit that is equally abundant on this town’s labyrinth streets.

Valparaiso is one of my favourite places in Chile so far. Not just because of the omnipresent street art but because of the character of the town itself.

 

Valparaiso has quite rightly been listed a UNESCO World Heritage Site to preserve its uniquely colourful painted houses and ‘Cerros’ (neighbourhoods) that reside on massive hills so steep that in the late 19th Century ‘ascensors’ (essentially funicular trains) were built to carry residents up them. Anything on flat land in Valparaiso is considered the town’s centre and business district.

However, despite strict UNESCO rules to keep Valparaiso a monument for tourists it still feels very much like a living, breathing, functioning town that refuses to be UNESCO perfect.

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The streets need a good wash. The port is crammed with shipping containers and naval ships. The market is bursting with locals doing their weekly food shop while navigating lanes strewn with food waste. A drunk or two can be spotted swaying in the distance. Dirty but well-fed dogs roam the streets barging people out the way (they also don’t like homeless people or people on bikes, but love a group, so if you do the free walking tour on offer you’ll inevitably be joined by several dogs for the duration).

They also shit a lot and obviously no one picks it up. Therefore, when walking around Valparaiso it’s important to look down as much as it is straight ahead. Unfortunately, my husband learnt this the hard way.

We spent most of our time Valparaiso just walking the streets admiring the street art, the unusual houses and taking in the views from the hills. After which we treated ourselves to some very good pisco sours and locally brewed beer. Bliss.

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I’ll leave you with a poem about Valparaiso by former resident famous poet Pablo Neruda. Also, click here for more Valparaiso street art.

Ode to Valparaíso
by Pablo Neruda
(translated by Molly Allison-Baker)

VALPARAÍSO,
what an absurdity
you are,
how crazy:
a crazy port.
What a head
of disheveled
hills,
that you never finish
combing.
Never
did you have
time to dress yourself,
and always
you were surprised
by life.
Death woke you up,
in your nightshirt,
in your long johns
fringed with colors,
naked
with a name
tattooed on your stomach,
and with a hat.
The earthquake caught you,
and you ran
crazedly,
you broke your fingernails.
The waters and the stones
the sidewalks,
the sea,
the night,
all were shaken.
You slept
on the ground,
tired
from your navigation,
and the furious
earth
lifted its waves
more tempestuous
than a marine gale.
The dust
covered up
your eyes.
The flames
burned your shoes.
The solid houses
of the bankers
trembled
like injured whales,
while above,
the houses of the poor
jumped
into the void
like imprisoned
birds
who test their wings
and fall to the ground.

Soon,
Valparaíso,
sailor,
you forget
about your tears.
You return
to hanging your dwellings,
to painting doors
green,
and windows
yellow.
You transform
everything into a boat.
You are
the patched-up prow
of a small
brave
ship.
The foamy crown
of the tempest.
Your ropes that sing
and the ocean light
that makes the shirts
and flags tremble
with your indestructible swaying.

Dark
star
you are
from far away.
In the height of the coast
you shine
and soon
you surrender
your hidden fire.
The rocking
of your muffled alleys,
the uninhibitedness
of your movement,
the clarity
of your seamanship.
Here I conclude
this ode,
Valparaíso:
so little
like a destitute
undershirt,
hanging
raggedly in your windows
rocking
in the wind
of the ocean,
saturated
with all
the sorrows
of your land,
receiving
the dew
of the seas, the kiss
of the wide irritable ocean
that with all its strength
beats against your stones.
It couldn’t
knock you down,
because within your southern chest
are tattooed:
struggle,
hope,
solidarity
and happiness
like anchors
that withstand
the waves of the earth.

Tips for fellow travellers:

What to do: We did the Valparaiso Free Walking Tour. I highly recommend this tour to find out more about the history, stories and legends behind the town. There are quite a few. It’s not completely free as you need to give a tip at the end. We also did the Chile Cooking Class, which was really fun and great value for money. More on this later. There’s also an art and a naval museum.

Travel: Valparaiso is a two-hour bus ride from Santiago.

Food: There’s plenty of cool restaurants and eateries offering ‘menu of the day’ and other foods but we ate mostly empanadas late at night in a semi-drunk state.

Drinking: Cervecer Altamira does excellent beer. It’s rammed full of locals in the evening.

Accommodation: I recommend Hotel Ecomusic. Clean, cheap, central and it serves a good breakfast.

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