Published: April 12th 2007April 12th 2007
Hola guapos y guapas,
I am on my second night in Valparaiso, about 2.5 hours north of Santiago, it is a port townwith about 45 cerro, cerro meaning basically large hill on which tiny micro villages that are in their own world live at the top accessed by ancient wooden funinculars, taking you through endless unplanned old cobbled streets lined with corrugated tin houses in pastel and neon colours, with kids running round singing and playing futbol, a multitude of stray dogs and cats all wanting to be patted and lying about in the best patches of sun sleeping all day. and shedloads of excellent graffiti on every surface that thankfully no one has tried to cover up. I am staying tonight in a hospedaje in cerro concepcion, with a grand horizon view of the sea with army ships, cargo ships and cranes moving sea containers, and in the background beyond the smog, the frontera of the Andes.
This cerro is very cute, very safe, an artists and musiciansÂ´enclave with singing and music everywhere you turn, nand tons of character that is thankfully untouched by american things.
I am not on my own right now, I made a friend on the bus up from Santiago who I have been travelling around here with, a Chilean girl called Solange who actually is from Switzerland but whose parents moved from here in PinochetÂ´s time. She is on a disvoery tour of her homeland to find out about the Mapuche, an ancient clan from the south in Patagonia who were wiped out by the Conquistadors invading and bringing sheep over to espablish a wool trade, killing off mapuche to make room. Her maternal grandmother was mapuche. So I am pracising my spanish now and again but it comes so slowly and her english is good. At the minute we are taking a siesta after walking round all day and moving hospedajes in the morning as the place we stayed in last night tried to charge us extra for a hot shower just as we wanted to use it! we had already paid for the room and they didnt mention the extra cost - apparently chileans do this a lot says solange, so we decided that we wanted to stay on a cerro anyway and came to this one. It is much nicer and a 4,000 a night with breakfast , within budget.
Today we caught a wuite scarily fast micro bus up the hill from Cerro Concepcion to Cerro Bellavista, so we could see La Sebastiana, one of Pablo NerudaÂ´s houses high on the hill at Cerro Bellavista, with sweeping views of both the bay and the thousands of houses on the hills behind. I never heard of pablo neruda before i came to chile so it was all new to me but he was a very important poet and political figure in chile in the 1950Â´s, and has a few houses around here that have been opened to the public by his foundation. The house looked quite a bit how I would want my house to look - kind of smallish set over four floors with creaky wooden floors and shady, airy rooms filled with odd antique market pickups and house salvage stories, ancient paintings and illustrations, maps, ships in bottles, books, unique pieces of furniture that were gifts from various chilean luminaries, and then the views which were beautiful and today was a lovely hot blue sky day also. I managed to blag a half price entry ticket by flashing my VIP card and explaining in spanish that it was an english student ID. Must find out more about this Neruda dude.
Afterwards we walked around Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Allegre, which are joined, got lost in the tiny cobbled alleys, took photos of graffiti and cats, and later tonight we will visit a couple of famous basÃ§rs, one called Cinzano, and then find somewhere to dance the tango. Me gusta Valparaiso (pero la cerro, me no gustar el centro, hay muchos tourista y gringos.)
Tomorrow I will find a bus to Horcon, a tiny artists hideaway a bit north of here, on my way to La Serena.
Being away from the place I now realise that Santiago is not a good town for me. Somehow it zapped my confidence and my interest, it wasnt the prettiest of places or the most interesting, and as soon as I got here I felt this sort of laziness and reticence lift and I am back to my old traveller self. However, I did have a great time learning spanish there and I ended up making such good friends with my teacher Jesus, hanging round with him most days (so I didnt have to bother much with the stupid backpackers there, that place had such a shit atmosphere and was full of weirdos) and seeing how a true wind-up merchant works!...
The notable things about my time in Santiago aside from learning spanish and meeting jesus were buying a really good quality sleeping bag for 25 quid, by speaking all in spanish and on my own, and my time at the museo de las artes precolumbino, which had a fantastic if small collection of aztec, mapuche, inca etc artefacts, including some tiny mummified babies who had been mummified in a special way by removing all the soft parts of the body and replacing with twigs, mud and vegetation. They looked at first like old dolls made of twill; on further inspection you could see tiny, tiny ribcages poking through the ancient detritus. There were lots of fantastic, intricately carved pottery pieces that were very inspirational. Other than that, I was happy to go after a week and a half there.