From Santiago we headed over to Valparaiso, nicknamed “Valpo,” Chile’s notoriously dangerous but beautiful port city that is comprised of 45 hills on the Pacific Ocean. It reminded us a little of Venice in that it smelled of the sea and gave us a glimpse of its past glory through its slowly decaying buildings. Valparaiso was a very important port for decades because it was the first port of call for ships that had passed through the Strait of Magellan on their way to the West Coast of the US. Of course once the Panama Canal was built, much of its commerce was lost and it fell on hard times.
Today, Valparaiso is incredibly vibrant, both in the vibe of the city and its amazing color. Everywhere you look you see bright, happy color because Valpo is all about street art, which is literally everywhere from single doors to 13-story buildings to garbage trucks. We took two walking tours, the first focused on the street art where we learned how street art evolves, how to recognize some of the more famous artists’ work, and how at least one mural has affected positive environmental legislation.
The other tour focused on the history of the city, the port area and a few nearby neighborhoods that tourists never venture into. Our guide greeted almost everyone we passed because he grew up in and currently lived in one of those neighborhoods, so it was a unique look into the real Valpo. For example, he introduced us to two brothers in their 80s who still work every day in their “Emporio,” or small corner market that sells a little bit of everything, which the people in the neighborhood prefer over large chain stores.
We toured one of of the houses that had belonged to Chile’s late Noble Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda and learned a bit about his life. We also rode a few of the famous funiculars of the city, saving our knees from some of the steep hills. The funiculars are old but being refurbished one by one — the oldest was built over 100 years ago. At one point, there were somewhere around 25 but only 8 remain in service today.
We took a day trip out of Valparaiso to one of Chile’s famous wine regions, the Casablanca Valley, where we went on a bike tour through the Kingston Family vineyards and learned about the history of the region and winery, and then got to taste some very good wine, and not only whites! Kingston Family Vineyards is actually known for their Pinot Noir. Speaking of wine, if you are a wine lover and travel to Argentina or Chile, be warned that you will find the wine to be dangerously cheap. We have been drinking far too much of it, but when it’s about $5/bottle for something that would cost between $15 and $25 in the States, what is one to do? Suffice it to say that we are looking forward to leaving these two countries to save us from ourselves. But before we can do that, we have one more stop: Mendoza, which is Argentina’s wine capital…just what we need!
Click for more Valpo color: