|Valparaiso "The Jewel of the Pacific"|
|Victim of history -this luxury hotel intended to be the grandest in South America was almost completed when the Panama Canal opened in 1914. It fell into decay as the city's fortunes faded|
It also had the first fire brigade - still a voluntary organisation. However, each country protected its own. Thus there is a German Fire Brigade, an American one and even one funded by the King of Belgium. The volunteer status created considerable controversy recently when a huge fire broke out in April 2014, ravaging three of the hills and leaving around 11,000 people homeless and fifteen dead.
Valparaiso is built over forty -seven hills (more or less depending on whom you consult) and each neighbourhood has its own character. Indeed, residents identify themselves by the hill or "cerro" on which they live and regard outsiders with suspicion. The whole town is made up of narrow alleys and stairways which definitely favour (fit) pedestrians. However it also has a unique system of "Ascensors" steep funiculars to help those less able or inclined to get back up. The first of these dates from 1883. Originally there were around 35 of these, but only 19 are still in use. The World Heritage Commission now recognises them as World Monuments. Indeed, since 2003, the whole town has been declared a World Heritage Site because of its wonderful improvised and original buildings.
|Ascensor- El Perla from memory. As one car comes down, another comes up.|
|It's a long way to the top but better than walking, and cheap too|
|Up the stairs and alleys|
|... house size graffiti|
|Supersized - both the above are by Stgo who also has large examples in Santiago|
|Buskers were everywhere too|
And why is Valparaiso so colourful? When I asked Melissa she said that because most of the original buildings were made of adobe, scrap tin used as ballast in ships was used to protect them from the salty sea air. However, the tin rusted quickly for the same reason, so odds and ends of paint left over from the shipyards were used to protect the tin.
|Melissa, one of the guides|
The adobe houses still survive earthquakes better than those of other materials, important in a place that experiences catastrophic earthquakes from time to time. The last big one, 8.8 on the Richter scale, was in February 2010. There was even one on the first night that I was there -a mere 6.5. The hostel was in an old building in an old part of town - Cerro Allegre (meaning "lively") where the sailors used to go. Some time after I had gone to bed the walls rattled and the building shook. No one moved. Nor were there any orders to evacuate so I just rolled over and went back to sleep. I didn't even notice the 5.5 aftershocks.
|Allende, the world's first socialist president is remembered too|
Valparaiso also remembers his friend -poet and diplomat, Pablo Neruda, who won the Nobel Prize in 1971. I visited "La Sebastiana " one of his three houses (the others are in Santiago and Isla Negra) which is now a museum. It was certainly original and full of eccentricities, especially the bathroom in the bar. I didn't think you were allowed to take pictures so click on the site for more. What I can tell you is that while almost every house in Valparaiso has sea views, Naruda's house has them from all of its five floors.
I also took a tour around the harbour on one of the old boats. There were some lovely views of the town from here too and also of a sea lion.
|Down at the harbour - former fishing boats are available for harbour cruises|
|Nosy Sea Lion|
|Sotomayer Plaza- the glass box building on the left was the catalyst for World Heritage listing|
|One of several impressive Navy buildings on the same square|
Melissa and Priscilla and the dogs (they know them all by name and I thought they were theirs until they treated the other dogs on our route with the same familiarity and affection) also showed us where to get the best food and drinks, especially cakes, icecream and freshly made juices.
Apart from a few ethnic restaurants and the many Chifas (Chinese restaurants) most of the fare was rather similar throughout Chile - the usual gringo food - hamburgers, pizza and pasta, or Chicken, Trout, or Loma Saltada (Beef stew) and the thick casoulet (a sort of meat and vegetable stew which I enjoyed often), Ceviche which contains raw fish, which I didn't want to risk in most cases (at least I didn't once have an upset stomach either) and of course Empanadas, among the local foods, and I began to realise how much more interesting and varied our diet is by comparison. I blame our own immigrants for this and our proximity to Asia. (Please don't say the word 'fusion' - it makes me puke). They do do a nice grilled steak in some places in Chile and it is possible to order salad or veg as extras, but these make an expensive meal beyond the reach of most backpackers.
I had planned to report on the night life and especially the music - both said to be good, but unfortunately my 'date' stood me up - hope you are reading this, and it didn't happen.