What Christmas Looks Like in Paradise Valley
It’s about 1pm when we arrive in Valparaiso, a 1.5 hour bus trip from Santiago.
The city is in full Christmas swing.
The market, or should I say sidewalks, are teeming with anything that can be wrapped, wrapping paper and those who wrap.
An overheating Santa asks me for the time. I guess an approximate number, using some Spanish and a few hand gestures to communicate the number. I’ve been warned repeatedly about theives and know of one too many robbers dressed as santas to take out my iPhone (even if it is only a 4s).
A funky and recognizable version of Feliz Navidad belts out from an amp in the stall of someone seeking attention. It drowns out the angry Jehovah’s Witness who is screaming at us for being sinners, and how it’s not yet too late.
There’s an incredibly variety of fresh and not so fresh food lying in partially shaded piles; cherries of every shade of red, strawberries that are explosively tasty, avocados in a variety of sizes and stages of ripeness, bananas from across the continent, mangoes, peaches, nectarines, peppers, tomatoes and on and on…
The fishmongers are slashing and filleting what might be Chilean Sea bass. It was caught perhaps only a matter of miles away. The fish, some lying cooly on ice, others not so lucky, all of which I’d recommend only for the strongest of stomachs, fill the air with a familiar and overwhelming stench.
We clear the area and the light, clean, fresh air of the Pacific hits us.
It might not seem like much, but after a month of heavy Santiago air, and the smells (and shall I add sights?) that come with a city of 6.3 million people with a pee-anywhere-you-want mentality, the ocean breeze makes all the difference in the world.
We circle our airBnB a couple times, before finding it.
It’s an apartment like any other. Bare walls, a fresh stain on the carpet, a double bed, and a hide-a-away mattress if I should deserve it.
Our AirBnB host, Daniela, looks up from her laptop long enough to tell us to which Cerros (hills – think San Francisco) to visit, where to get our first meal (the hardest meal for any traveler to get right), where to have drinks, and an all too common refrain – “Watch your things, be careful, it can be dangerous”.
UNESCO Heritage City For Good Reason
We head up Ecuador Street to a little hole in the wall called El Pimenton, unsure of what to expect. It has a good Chorrillana. Think hand cut fries, with sliced beef and fried onions in a very light red wine sauce. It doesn’t hold a candle to my beloved poutine. The butter, cheese curds, and gravy bath…
Stomachs heavy and full, we are prepared for the hours of walking we know we’ll do.
The city is spectacular.
A World Heritage site for good reason. It has it all, architecture, colours, history, and a unique layout that make it a one of kind city.
One turn takes us down streets lined with bohemian restaurants and cafes, another to the contemporary galleries and French restaurants. The next corner opens on to a belvedere with sweeping views from the port to well beyond the beaches of Vina del Mar.
One more turn and instead of heading to one of Pablo Neruda’s houses, we are in what feels like a slum, with dogs shouting at us to turn around.
The entire way, there are brilliant colours, and walls covered with the most eye-opening of street art, while tags and anti-capitalism/government slogans cover wherever there isn’t the art.
Eat. Drink. Be Merry.
A delicious dinner at Almacén Nacional of a well executed steak on a pea puree for her and a perfectly cooked whitefish (can’t remember which one) for me, and we started regaining some faith in the Chilean culinary system.
We push our way into an overcrowded bar called El Trole (“The Trolley”). We head to the back and find ourselves standing in what used to be, or perhaps still is (after a few more pints of Cristal), a functioning trolley. A few of those hesitant moments, do we stay? Wait for a table? Drink at the bar? Luckily, we are invited over to join an “Anarchism” architect (not to be confused with anarchist) from Amsterdam and his very kind group of friends.
They are all in some way construction engineers or artists, or both (it was a long night), including Lydia, from New Zealand, who’s here because she randomly emailed one of them to come help, and Sergio, a park ranger down in Torres del Paine. After a lengthy Anarchism conversation we decide we need to find a noisier place to continue the conversation about the future and role of government.
(Apparently, as I found out from Daniela when she looked up from her computer in the morning, it was the norm in Valparaiso. You go out, meet people in a bar, have a few drinks and head to a house party somewhere.)
A fifteen minute walk takes us through the backstreets of Valpo, up some disintegrating stairs/street up Cerro Italia. The two story building, with most of the 2nd floor removed, was a sustainable collective. No waste and anyone who came to stay there had to contribute to its maintenance. They were mostly construction engineers.
Due to conflicting reports and an alcohol induced sense of security we made the 5 am walk back to our place without incident.
I still haven’t figured out whether I have anything to be scared of. And I truly hope I don’t. I’ve just been warned so often at this point. It’s a conspiracy I tell you.
We spent the next 2 days walking around. And could still spend many more.