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March 3, 2012
Day 15: Valparaiso, Chile

Overlooking the bay of Valparaiso

We have spent the past several days at sea, but they have not been uneventful. Gail’s cold keeps getting better, but she has now passed it on to Russell. Russell would have been successful with his preventative measures, except…

When we entered the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday evening, February 29, the seas became enormously rough. The following morning, Russell made the mistake of drinking a full cup of water (with medicine) on an empty stomach. Liquids are the worst thing for seasickness, and Russell spent the rest of the day recovering from it. His revised diet consisted of Dramamine, green apples and ginger.

Fortunately he is now better, because on Saturday, March 3, we landed in Valparaiso, Chile.

Princess Patter: Valparaiso is Chile’s second-largest city and the most important port on the west coast of South America. The city, about 70 miles from Santiago, lines a picturesque bay surround by 45 hills, every one of which is named and densely populated. While Valparaiso has a certain Latin charm, it is basically a no-nonsense, relatively poor working man’s city.

Our first view of Valparaiso was before sunset. We could already tell we would enjoy this city.

This is a momentous day. This is the halfway point in the cruise, and many on the ship are leaving here. We have lost 14 of our 18 cabin neighbors. Their places are being filled by an equal number of newcomers who have are just embarking today.

The weather has also turned tens of degrees warmer. Most of those on excursions today are going to the capital city of Santiago north of here, mainly to go wine tasting.

As usual, Gail and Russell have decided to do something different. Gail researched and reserved an all-day walking tour with a local outfit, Ruta Valparaiso. The plan was for the guide to be standing outside the port terminal building beginning at 8:00 am.

This meant an early alarm at 6:00 am, followed by a quick breakfast. Fortunately, our guide was exactly where he promised to be, much to our relief.

The happy, smiling face of our tour guide. He looks like a character in an American television series.

Christián Buanco Cangas is a 38-year-old native from Valparaiso, but he lived in the U.S. from the ages of seven to 14. As a result, he speaks both English and Chilean fluently and without accent.

Valparaiso reminds us of many familiar cities. Like San Francisco, it is comprised of several neighborhood hills (the peaks are 300 meters above sea level) covered with houses. Like Burano, the houses are brightly colored – in fact, Valparaiso will subsidize you to paint your house, provided that you and five neighbors each use a different color. Like Venice, the city is full of winding streets that no map can adequately cover, causing even natives to get lost if they go down the wrong street. Like Paris, it is very bohemian. Valparaiso loves its art, and there are outdoor murals everywhere you look.

Residential buildings are marked by a strange tower on the top. These are incinerators, where residents burn their trash.

We started by walking down Avenida Argentina, where there is a huge street market. We were stunned by the amount of local fruits and produce, as well as how inexpensive it was. Gail bought raspberries and peaches. (We can’t bring them back to the ship, but we snacked on them.) She also bought some local spices to bring back home.

The street market. The sculpture represents Valparaiso’s four intertwined branches of government: executive, legislative, judicial… and the people.

This took us to Cerro Polanco (Polanco Hill), a neighborhood far away from the tourists where we could see where people actually live. Several things struck us. First, there are no building codes. People can build whatever and wherever they like, provided they don’t endanger anyone else. As a result, structures are built onto other structures, on top of other structures, and supported by stilts.

Second, there are steep stairways everywhere you go. Unlike the Bay Area back home, the homes on top of the hills are much less valuable than the ones at the bottom. The steepness is the reason for Valparaiso’s famous ascensors (funiculars).

Third, the neighborhoods are filled with tiny artisan shops, tucked away in out-of-the-way corners. They sell anything from pick-me-up groceries to artists’ paintings and jewelry. Valparaiso is proud of its local flavor, and has fought hard to keep out any mass market stores or restaurants.

Fourth, the neighborhoods are also filled with dog and cats all over the place. Valparaisans love their pets, but don’t have large dwellings. As a result, the animals are usually found outdoors. They are all tame and keep to themselves.

We never knew what we would find when turning a corner. A very poor house could be right next-door to a posh mansion.

Valparaiso is characterized by colorful buildings, lots of stairways, and animals all over.

From Cerro Polanco, we hopped on a local bus which took us halfway up the hills to La Sebastiana, the home of Pablo Neruda. Pablo Neruda is one of Valparaiso’s most famous locals, one of two Chileans to win the Nobel Prize for poetry. While we didn’t pay to go into Neruda’s house and museum, we enjoyed the view and a peach break.

La Sebastiana, one of Poet Pablo Neruda’s three houses in Valparaiso. It is constructed like a ship.

The view from La Sebastiana, where we had a peach break.

We took an ascensor and walked to see Valparaiso’s Outdoor Museum, where local artists have painted huge outdoor murals on the sides of buildings. A highlight was actually meeting Mario Celedón, one of Valparaiso’s most celebrated artists whose detailed and colorful work can be found all over the city. (Mario actually offered to draw a portrait of Gail, but sadly we did not have enough time to sit for him. That would have been a memorable souvenir!)

The Outdoor Museum

The colorful and detailed paintings of local artist Mario Celedón can be seen all over the city.

Mario Celedón with Happy the Hedgehog

Gail’s fear of edges was not adequately challenged by the ascensors, so Christián put us on a local bus that careened all the way to the 300-meter city peaks and back down again. Valparaiso’s streets are barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass, but the bus drivers know their vehicles well enough to use their accelerators more than their breaks. (Christián mentioned that Valparaiso sponsors a bicycle race where racers descend from the 300-meter peaks to sea level in about three minutes.)

Valparaiso’s ascensors transport residents to and from the higher levels of the city.
The view from inside of an ascensor.

A city bus

In Cerro Alegre, one of the more famous tourist areas, Gail requested a late lunch of non-tourist native Chilean cuisine. After three tries, Christián settled on Jaibay Cordero. Russell had Pastel de Choclo, a shepherd’s pie with cornmeal. Gail had Centolla Filo, king crab in a filo dough. We also shared a side dish of papas merken, potatoes flavored with the spice that Gail had bought in the market.

Jaibay Cordero, where we had lunch. The restaurant bills itself as a “resto bar fusion.”

It was very late in the day, so we barely had time for a quick walk through the old town section of Concepción before it was time to go back to the ship. Princess wanted everyone back by 5:30 pm, and we made it by 5:00.

It was a terrific tour (more than eight hours) and Christián was a terrific guide. We saw the city from all angles, from sea level to mountain top, including areas that most tourists never see. But it was so well paced that we were still full of energy at the end of the day. We would highly recommend Christián and his company to anybody.

Back aboard ship, everyone was out on deck (it had reached 90º today) as the sailaway band played and we sailed out of Valparaiso. As we watched the city slowly fade into the distance, we felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. Our cruise is now officially half over. But even more, we will miss Valparaiso and its charms. This is the first city on our tour that we connected with at a deep level, and we hope we have a chance to return here someday.

We bid farewell to Valparaiso


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