When our bus took a right and we headed down a hill towards the city, I saw exactly what I expected: colorful little houses, one on top of the other, covering the hills surrounding the city. I saw these types of houses in the hills of Guayaquil, Ecuador, but there were 5 times as many of them in Valparaiso. The hills came up, emerging from the Pacific Ocean and were dotted with thousands of houses. Closer to the ocean there were a few taller buildings, and a plaza with restaurants and shops surrounding a water fountain in the center.
After we filed off the bus we followed Valentina towards the ocean. When we got to the harbor, where boats ranging from small motorboats to giant tankers from Liberia were docked, Valentina told us to stay put while she negotiated a price for us to take a boat ride around the harbor. “These people are dangerous” she told us. We assumed she was referring to the fishermen eating their lunches and not the children who were playing with toy butterflies next to them… Valentina thinks everything is dangerous in her city while to us it seems pretty peaceful. She justifies her claims of insecurity by saying that, “there are drunk people everywhere” and once told us that we shouldn’t hike the San Cristobal hill because there are people with guns who live on the hill and that drunk people frequently fall down the hill and die. It’s pretty humorous. I think some of it should be blamed on her english, which is confusing at times. I don’t think she really knows how to describe the dangers of Santiago so she scares us with stories of drunkards that have become hard to believe.
Anyways, she negotiated a price and we were given a tour of the bay. One of the “dangerous” men drove us around in a small motorboat and Anny told us different details about the city as we cruised along the coast. We passed two sea lions and a penguin, both of which I got video. I took pictures of the city but similar to the mountains, pictures do not do it justice.
After the boat ride we took the public transportation (a cart that rides up the hills on train tracks) up in the direction of the restaurant where we ate lunch. We had to walk up quite a few stairs to get to the restaurant but I didn’t mind at all because on either side of us, the walls were covered with inimitable art and graffiti. There were illustrations of everything from Haile Selassie to views of the ocean to Spongebob. It was really cool and it seemed really unique to Valparaiso.
The restaurant we went to was really nice. It specialized in seafood of course so I got swordfish with spinach. I tried a Chilean dish that was kind of like a bisque with some sort of snail in it… It was really good and I ended up eating the second half of Abby’s because she was too full.
When we came into the city Valentina noted that it is a UNESCO world heritage site, and because of that everything must be preserved. This means that instead of tearing down buildings to make more modern, efficient buildings and offices, they must build on top of these old rustic buildings. Many of the buildings in the city are abandoned but they must be left as they are to preserve the beauty of the city. It is a really troublesome concept. Valparaiso will continue to be the key to the international trade that fuels Chile’s economic development, but the city itself will be forcibly stuck in its history, prohibited from developing. The people in the hills will someday trade their colorful shacks for more functional houses but for now, they are stuck living crammed together, on a hill, in one of the most earthquake-prone areas of the world. Valparaiso is on UNESCO’s list for a reason however. There is no arguing that it is a stunning city full of history and culture. If ever you travel to Chile, Valparaiso should be on the top of your list of places to visit.