The San Francisco of Chile, aka Valparaiso

I couldn’t stop thinking how similar Valparaiso was to San Francisco. It is a colorful city built on hills next to a bay, and walking around staring at the scenery is the highlight of any visit.

My first day in Valpo was cold and rainy, but I braved the walking tour anyway. Tours for Tips does a tour here as well, and although it was not as good as the one in Santiago it was still a fine introduction to the city: we learned about its history as a port town and how the Panama Canal had a negative effect on its economy, and the reason for all the colorful houses and street art. With all the hills, Valpo has functioning ascensors, basically funiculars they call elevators, that you can take up some of the more daunting hills. On our tour we got to ride one of these that has been around for 100 years. We also got to try a local treat, a cookie of two wafers joined by dulche de leche and all covered in chocolate, and a beverage. By the end though I was soaked and freezing, so I went back to my hostel to thaw with some tea before heading to Pablo Neruda’s house.

I have always found visiting homes interesting – blame it on my parents’ love of HGTV’s House Hunters – so this was a perfect activity for a rainy afternoon. It got even better when the ticket lady mistook me for a student and only charged me 1,500 COP instead of 5,000. I admittedly don’t know much about Pablo Neruda but after visiting his house I do know he had very unique taste. The audio tour was just okay, I got more information from the posters in the lobby, but it was nice to wander at my leisure through his quirky residence and admire his views over the whole city.

Day 2 was a big improvement in the weather; nice and sunny. I planned to wander around in search of street art, and when I opened up the door to leave my hostel, Julia (my new Aussie friend from Santiago) was standing there. Talk about perfect timing. So I spent the day with Julia and Paul, another Aussie from our hostel, wandering around the streets, the cemetery, and the water, admiring the beauty of Valpo drenched in sun.

We had heard that the view from a boat was incredible, so after a very filling lunch of empanadas (Chilean empanadas are huge, heavy on the onion, and include an olive and half a hardboiled egg) we went to the harbor to see if we could get out on the bay. After looking like lost tourists for a while we ended up haggling down a nice private ride for 4,000 COP each. There wasn’t much to the ride itself – we saw some sea lions and some navy ships – but it was just so nice to be out on the water in the sun, lounging on the front of the boat. It’s also a fantastic way to really see the hilly landscape of Valparaiso.

My last night out in Valparaiso started out innocent enough. We had a big dinner at a local recommendation and a few pisco drinks while listening to live music. Then we stopped by a party that some of the hostel employees had told us about, and things escalated. Didn’t I learn my lesson in San Pedro de Atacama? Pisco and house parties with hostel employees are a dangerous combination. What made this one especially bad was the need to catch a bus to Argentina the next morning at 8:00. The night was fun, but the morning was very rough. Let’s just say that somehow, after less than an hour of sleep, I was able to make it to the bus station and get a ticket to Argentina, onto which I clumsily spilled half my coffee, and the minute I was in my seat I fell instantly asleep before I could eat the empanada I had purchased as my breakfast. When I woke up, I was at the border crossing into Argentina.

Oh Chile, I love you and I hate you. You have some amazing places and I could see myself returning and staying for a while, but your pisco led to some nights and mornings that were unlike any others on my whole trip. So goodbye for now, time to explore the land of wine and fernet… Oh boy.


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