It’s the Saturday morning before I return to the USA. The usual soft foggy air holds the threat of afternoon drizzle and rain. A perfect day to venture out one last time to Valparaiso to view its famed street art. Although it's a short 15 minute train ride from Marina del Mar, there's a world of difference. You are greeted by a mish-mash of shanty neighborhoods, deferred maintenance, a great funky vibe, and more stray dogs than you can count. Beyond
the chaos of chirping street vendors on narrow cobblestone streets and sketchy alleyways, you begin your ascend up into the hills where artists make their visions a reality. I chose the areas of Bellavista and Concepción for my exploration with streets so steep San Francisco would blush, and so filthy a landfill would blush. Eyes up and forward; which is preferred as your senses quickly become overwhelmed at the colors, the poverty, creativity, endless steps, and the flow of this bizarre port city.
There's a reason why people visit Valparaiso. You can spend days wandering neighborhoods, viewing some of the most creative, raw street art imaginable. It's ever in flux so multiple visits may be necessary...Woot Woot! The famed poet Pablo Neruda summarized it best with this excerpt from Ode to Valparaíso when he said, “Valparaíso, what an absurdity you are, how crazy: a crazy port. What a head of disheveled hills, that you never finished combing.” The majority of houses are dilapidated to the point I was surprised to see people happily living in them. Yet, here this is normal. As one local said to me, “it works, why change it.” I’m not putting down the area, for it just is. As travelers, it is our honor to appreciate every culture for what it is. You must take your time here to absorb the kaleidoscope of culture or you’ll miss gems of wildness. ENJOY A STROLL ON THE STREETS OF VALPARAISO.
In addition to the rain keeping tourist away, it turned the vertical streets into a greasy, slippery mess; so much so that each step had to be carefully navigated. I found a top-of-the-world café for lunch. Some of you know that Chile’s cuisine hasn’t exactly “wow’d” me; overall, it’s bland, meat can be tough or pressure cooked until all flavor and color are evacuated, and there’s a love affair with grande portions of russet potatoes; enough to make your Cholesterol the next rising star. However, this hilltop café offered some redemption and spectacular views.
The setting-panoramic. The wine-deliciously chilled. They even provided a blanket to warm my legs. The food-better than I’ve experienced thus far; not spectacular, but better. And after my Mount Everest street hike, I was a ravenous beast. I dove into the Carne in “Old Mustard” which arrived with 2 fried eggs on top of caramelized onions and those mega potatoes. And, what's up with the tiny tissue thin napkins?!?
Did you know that silky egg yolks are delicious mixed with potatoes, but damnit, where’s the flavor? While lunch was hot and filling I found myself reaching for the salt, Balsamic vinegar, the chainsaw...? TRAVEL TIP: when ordering beef in Chile, go for the fillet verses the loin. A fillet is thicker and stands a better chance of being tender. Just thinkin' of you and your overworked jaws...
Think of any cheesy 1980’s ballad from the likes of George Michael, Lionel Richie, or Phil Collins and you’ll understand this cafes playlist. As my aching quads climbed the 2 flights of interior stairs from the entrance to the rooftop café, Michael Bolton’s “When A Man Loves A Woman” was ringing through the mist and the host exclaimed, “Oh, I just llluuuv deez song!” He was a young Brazilian, sporting the ever popular man bun, and in need of a shower. The views were magical, overlooking much of the city. After lunch, it was time for the customary hug and "Ciao Ciao." However...this guy hugged like an ocean wave, then proceeded to invite me to stay the night with him. Say what?! I have learned that South American men say what’s on their mind...and south of their border. I was taken back and...at my age, well, a little flattered.
After testing my lung capacity on slimy, wet streets that locals advised me to forego and working off those fried-eggs and Sauvignon Blanc, it was time to ride the funicular. As the drizzle turned to rain, I boarded the Victoria Funicular (elevator as they say here) for a minuscule $100 pesos (.15 cents), and once again challenged my fear of heights and small spaces. The young operator, wearing the ever-present-cleavage-spilling blouse, upon seeing the nervous look on my face, said “Don’t worry, we haven’t lost anyone yet.” Her encouragement didn't budge my Acrophobia/Claustrophobia heart rate.
Over the years, I have scaled bridges, peered over cliff edges, and reminded myself to breathe when entering a normal elevator. Today represented one more “face-your-fear-Chica" moment. These funiculars are largely from the 1940's, no computers, just good 'ol German engineering and deferred maintenance. There were large mechanical gears that squeaked, groaned and would make Willy Wonka proud. These are the taxi's of Valparaiso. After a white-knuckle ride straight down, I settled my heart rate with a tepid (don't get me started on that) Café Latte at a nearby brewery that played gentle classical music (ahhh), offered a clean Bano, and had the usual tribe of street dogs nestled together in the cold. Can I take them home?
INSTANT VIDEO ACCESS TO THIS DAY!
By now, the rain had caused the slick streets to become downright dangerous. I could actually just slide my treaded motorcycle boots along as if I was cross country skiing. Out of pure safety, it was time to call it a day. Wandering through the street market one last time, I tried (again) to find something to purchase, but was discouraged at the void of tourist options. There was an abundance of hula hoops, blister packs of unmarked, colorful pills, and stiff negotiations over Avocados. Carefully walking back to the Metro, I witnessed a bus, going no more than 10 mph, slide and fishtail to a stop. I observed locals slipping on the wet streets, and me with that wide-eyed "tourista" smile on my face loving this culture, it's people, and this adventure I call life. After an afternoon of sensory overload, it was zen-like boarding the clean, warm Metro train to absorb some peace and quiet.
Arriving back in Viña del Mar found me wandering along a solitary beach, decompressing; seeking out yet another Chilean dessert to moon over, and relishing my perfect soggy day. Sometimes the best days are filled with no firm plans, and lots of surprises. And hey, according to one young Brazilian man, I'm still hot. But we new that already!