As excited as I have been to come to Santiago, its not the city that gets people most excited around here. For as long as I’ve been talking about Chile, people have been insisting that I go to Valparaíso. So when a friend from the hostel said she was going on the Sunday before class started, I decided to join the adventure.
Valparaíso is a port city about an hour and a half drive out of Santiago. Previously an economic centre of the country, Valparaiso is now known as a cultural hotspot and it was designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.
Valparaiso is super easy to reach by bus, a direct and cheap ride from the central train stations in the city. The drive offered very cool views of the hills and low hanging clouds as we drove, but the windows were too dirty for photos and the drive quickly made me feel nauseous, so I focused on getting there and getting off the bus asap.
We arrived in the city with no idea of where to go or what we wanted to see. This meant that the day was a bit of a mess, but that seems consistent with the overall vibe of Valparaiso. We got hold of a tourist map and headed towards the hills full of street art.
On our way, we passed through a huge open air market that sold everything from books and souvenirs to kids underwear and toilet paper. We stumbled through that labyrinth to climb up the crumbling pathways to explore the streets. The art was beautiful and the bright and bizarre colours of the houses make even the most dilapidated paths come to life.
However, our plan to ride one of the ascensores (hillside lifts) up the hill to admire the views of the harbour were quickly foiled by the discovery that most of them were closed on Sundays. This became a recurring issue throughout the day. One piece of advice if you ever visit Valparaiso: do not schedule your trip for Sunday! A lot of the ascensores, view points, and almost all of the restaurants are closed.
The restaurants were our biggest concern. We had gotten up at 7am for this adventure and we desperately needed coffee and some food. Valparaiso is a beautiful bohemian city, so we assumed it would be easy to find somewhere cute to sit down, eat, and plan out our day.
No such luck.
We kept walking around in hope of finding somewhere, but eventually we gave up and just sat down in the first bar we could find. This turned out to be a bad call.
The bar was so weird. We sat down and asked what food they had, and they just looked at us blankly. The coffee we ordered came in the form of instant coffee brought to the table to make ourselves. The empanadas, that took three different attempts to order before the chef decided he did indeed have some, were basically empty with a little bit of cheese in one end. The beer was expired.
And then the carabineros walk in. They are the national police force in Chile, and they spoke to the staff at the bar for a long time and then spent a long time filling in lots of paperwork. We didn’t get involved – we just paid for our questionable food and left.
We caught a tiny mini bus up the hill and the drive was insane – no amount of holding on could stop you from falling across the bus as it swerved manically around the corners. We made it to La Sebastiana, the house of Pablo Neruda, but we couldn’t justify waiting hours in the queue when we only had a day in the city, so we admired the view and wandered back down the hill.
The rest of the day was spent walking up and down the hills and exploring various corners of the city. We had no idea what we were doing, so we probably missed the main sights, but we had fun. Every street has something new and weird, including destroyed baby dolls hanging outside the house, buildings that look like that they’ve been blown up, and very cool street art.
The group that I went with were a mix of international students, so we switched between English and Spanish all day. I’m more comfortable speaking English when I’m meeting new people and trying to make friends, but it was fun to be able to experiment with just how much I could say in Spanish before needing to switch back, and as the day went on I was comfortable with speaking more and more in Spanish.
The day was a lot of fun and a good way to explore the city, but I will definitely be coming back for more. Next time, it won’t be a Sunday and I will go with a much better idea of what I actually want to do and what I want to see. I might even go for a little longer – it can be done in a day, but it was non-stop walking and we were absolutely exhausted by the time we got home.
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