Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Valparaíso: The City

We wanted to experience our final weeks in Chile as residents rather than as travelers. We wanted to immerse ourselves in the language, the culture, and the day-to-day going-ons of Chileans. After considering a handful of locations in which to pass our final six weeks, we decided on Valparaíso.

Looking out over Valparaíso.

Valparaíso is located two-thirds of the way up the Chilean coast. Nicknamed "The Jewel of the Pacific," Valparaíso is the second largest city in Chile. Though neither Brian nor I would describe ourselves as "city people," Valparaíso sounded appealing. In recognition of the city's significant contribution to Chile's culture, Valparaíso earned the highly coveted status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. It was this recognition that attracted us to Valparaíso.

The part of the city closest to the shores of the Pacific Ocean is called "El Plan." Though flat, unattractive, and busy, El Plan is crucial to Valparaíso as it serves as the commercial center of the city. Rising out of the city center are forty-two distinct cerros (hills). Each hill rises steeply from El Plan and is separated by equally steep waterless ravines.

The geography of Valparaíso consists of steep hillsides separated by steep ravines.

The cerros and ravines make the city tricky to navigate -- both spacially and aerobically. The existence of ascensores (funicular cable cars) and escaleras (staircases) help to improve the navigability. But even with the benefit of modern technology (GPS and a smartphone), walking around the city at times makes one feel like a rat in a maze.

The near rail of this ascensor provides a platform for a neat three-dimensional sculpture. You can see the carriage at the top of the far rail.
One of the many colorful staircases around town.

Valparaíso has its share of historical buildings, museums, and galleries, and many tourists become googly-eyed at the mere mention of the funiculars. However, as the Bohemiam culture of Valparaíso is most evident in the open air, the absolute best way to explore the city is by meandering its numerous tangled cobblestone streets, staircases, and alleys.

Valparaíso is a colorful city -- both literally and figuratively. Glancing out across the city, the first thing one notices is that the cerros are cloaked in a patchwork quilt of colors, with homes and buildings shaded in all hues of the rainbow. If you squint your eyes, it looks as though a container of confetti exploded over the city.

The confetti-covered hillsides seem to go on and on when the sky is blue...
...but they don't extend nearly as far when consumed by low-lying clouds.

Many buildings have sustained damage from earthquakes and fires over the years. Crumbling buildings, with dangling support beams and sunken roofs, are juxtaposed against more structurally sound buildings.

Crumbling shacks stand aside sturdier homes.
The second floor of this building has suffered from a fire.

Though the city is proud of its UNESCO status, becoming a World Heritage Site brought with it stringent guidelines for reconstruction. For this reason, many of the city's delapidated buildings sink further into neglect.

Breathing new life into this building would require the following of stringent guidelines.
It's difficult to say whether this building is closed for siesta or closed for good.

Constructed out of wood, cement, and corrugated roofs, a vast majority of houses throughout the city look tired. There are, however, a few homes around town that offer a unique construction style. These are the few sparkly diamonds in Valparaíso's rough.

Modern and well-maintained homes, such as this one, are far-and-few between.

Though many residents meticulously care for their yards and meticulously sweep the sidewalks in front of their homes, garbage on the streets and sidewalks are a common sight.

Litter is a common sight.
And although recycling for glass, plastics, paper, organics, and cans exist, as you can see, there are not always well used.
Hopefully this sewer doesn't flow directly to the ocean.
"We want for our kids [to have] a clean and safe environment."
The sign in the photo above is attached to this fence.

Street dogs in all shades of filth roam the sidewalks and leave their deposits scattered about, forcing pedestrians to sidestep and leap as they navigate through the streets. Sweet smells of freshly baked bread from the panaderías or corner stores mutate into unidentifiable scents when blended with the unpleasant odors that waft from the nearby alleys.

One of the many corner stores in Valpo.

But what really colors Valparaíso are the hundreds of murals and grafitti that adorn the city's walls and alleys. Artwork is displayed on every vertical surface and tucked into every nook'n'cranny of every staircase, crack, and corner. Descending one side of a street enables one to view the artwork on the walls of the opposite side of the street. However, it does not enable one to fully grasp the artwork on the walls nearest to one's shoulders, nor does it enable one to visualize the artwork portrayed on the rises of any steps. As such, having walked and re-walked many of the city streets, we've come to realize that in order to fully experience all that a particular street has to offer, one has to walk the street four different ways: up one side, down that same side, up the other side, and then down that other side.

Though some may feel that better-maintained buildings, fresh-smelling air, and shit-free sidewalks would improve the city, I doubt whether the experience of Valparaíso would be quite the same without these elements. They do, after all, contribute to the culture that is Valparaíso.

Stay tuned! In the next few blogs posts, I'll share my favorite photos from this colorful city.



  1. You know, this post helps define exactly why I look forward to every post. Anyone can use the colorful, bread smells and fun challenges of stairs to sell a city. You give us the complete picture, down to the aforementioned dog shit, and I would still like to go! Well done lady!

    1. Ha! I should add that Valparaiso is not a bike-friendly city. Whatsoever. The bikes haven't moved an inch since we got here.

    2. Given just what you shared I got the impression it was foot travel only! Those stairs are steep!

    3. I should have known you'd read between the lines. You are quite skilled at that. :)


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