The second to last weekend of our program we went to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. These are twin cities (really they are one big connected city) but they’re still very different. We went to Valparaiso first, the city known for the colorful homes covering the hills surrounding the bay. These homes ranged from large compound-like houses to tiny favela-like shacks mixed together and packed in all over the hills. There must have been hundreds of square miles of these house-hills.
Aside from being pretty visually striking, Valparaiso is interesting in that it doesn’t really have a city center. It does have a downtown area filled with tiny shops and bars in small independent buildings, but buildings rarely rise more than a few stories. No skyscrapers, nothing remotely resembling anything metropolitan. We only walked for an hour or two in the city, but it felt like you could spend weeks in the winding side- alleys and staircases. It’s virtually impossible to find flat ground or a level road, you are constantly walking up and down, in and around. The worn, uneven steps (serving as sidewalks), that line the streets range from a few inches to 2 feet tall, sometimes in the span of 3 steps. There are stray dogs and children everywhere, and the walls of every building is covered with graffiti. A friendly local was kind enough to explain that, since every bare wall is bound to get tagged anyways, most building owners pay respectable street artists to preemptively decorate their walls.
This video (aside from being awesome) gives you a pretty good feel for the hilliness and tight quarters of the city, although the part shown in the video actually is fairly tame as far as terrain goes in the city (we unfortunately missed this world-famous race by a month).
After a brief walkabout, we went to Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda’s city house, which was very full of character, although we weren’t supposed to have cameras, so I had to be pretty sneaky about my photo taking.
The interior was incredible because it offered panoramas on every floor of the ocean and surrounding hills: (this is the view out of his bathroom… not too shabby)
The house was understandably nautically themed, full of model boats and old maps. This one was my favorites; check out what California was supposed to have looked like:
But my favorite part of the house was the top floor which, as you can see from the outside, was tiny. The whole floor served as Neruda’s study and the only piece of furniture was his desk. Though it was spartan, the study’s location perched on top of the house offered a nearly 360-degree view of the house’s surroundings, and the whole floor creaked and howled with the wind. It would have been a great place to foster creativity and write… which Neruda tended to do.
After leaving Valparaiso we took a $0.50 bus down the coast to Viña where we spent some time on the beach. A complete opposite of Valparaiso, this city was hugely urbanized, with beautiful 50 floor apartment buildings lining the boardwalks. Viña Del Mar, despite its chilly waters, is a popular vacation destination for Chilenos and Foreigners alike. It was a beautiful day and, despite it being early spring, there were kids (in wetsuits) skimboarding and swimming in the water. There were also a few kids who had 2 hard-packed sandbags stacked up and packed into the softer sand. They were running, springboarding off of the sandbags, and doing flips down onto the beach, which looked awesome. I kinda wanted to ask if I could try but I probably would have broken my neck so I restrained myself. But it looked awesome. After walking back along the beach through the crowded open artisan air market, we hopped back on the bus back to Santiago.