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Published: January 31st 2010
There is a complex variety of personalities among travelers. In Santiago I met a German man who claimed to not own any sort of electrical apparatus in order to have as few tie-downs as possible. He is a polyglot, speaking Spanish, German, English, French, and who-knows-what-else. When he is not working on a cruiseship he makes jewelry for a living. Another man I met is an American who drove all the way south to Argentina, where he drove his 2003 Tundra off a 15 ft. cliff. He believes that life is better in South America than in the States (quite a contrast to all the locals who try desperately to get a Visa for the U.S. or Canada). These two are just a sample of all the different people I have been meeting and their viewpoints on life.
But two main groups are discernible among travelers: cruise-ship tourists and the more bohemian backpackers. Let´s just say that Valparaiso (¨Valpo¨) is not the greatest place for the first. Although Valpo is touted as the ¨cultural capital¨of Chile, the rusting and decaying buildings do not offer testament to this claim. But this lively port town does carry a whole ton
of personality and charm for those of us who are not into traveling just to see Disneyland on a different continent. The hills are coloured with crowds of houses built with no obvious colour scheme and with tin roofs corroded by years of seaspray. The streets are packed with sidewalk vendors trying to pawn off everything from used cell phones to pirated CDs to antiques and others selling fish, deep fried treats, and even skinned rabbits. Everywhere you go you are likely to spot an elevator - Valpo´s version of a tram - which will take you to the top of the hill for 250 pesos chilenos. Valpo is a jewel to the camera-crazy.
The speech of the locals sounds like a sort of Spanish intertwined with Morse code. Maybe when they say one thing, really they are saying another in Morse code (like "&!%# you, gringo!"). The other sort of speech that this town is known for is poetry. Valparaiso has been immortalized by the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda who lived in and loved the area. I would say that at least half of the tourism in Valparaiso is due to Neruda fans who want to see
where it was that he lived. The one house he owned in Valparaiso does not stand on very much land, but is 4 or 5 stories tall. La Sebastiana (as this house is called) is highly decorated and filled with an eclectic assortment of objects - ships in bottles on the sill, middle eastern glassware along the wall, a preserved flamingo hanging from the ceiling in a plastic case, ancient world maps framed on the wall, old paintings lining the staircase, a poster of Walt Whitman in a nook, a poster of a piece by Henri Rosseau in front of the washing bowl, etc.
The local catch phrase: Valparaiso, a place of dreams.
Valparaiso's neighbour is a newer development that hasn't yet suffered the full effects of years of seaspray and neglect. Mainly a beach town, Viña del Mar comes alive in the summer with loads of beach fun and nightly carretes (parties). A walk from one end of the beach chain to the other consumes between 1.5 to 2 hours. Along the way I saw children's entertainment (a large pool of water upon which were kids inside large, clear plastic balls trying to stay upright),
a skimboarding competition, paintballers, bohemians selling their goods, and looooads of people. I managed to squeeze in among all the sightseeing some water time and a little bit of tanning. A couple of friendly lifeguards offered to take my stuff while I bathed. The beaches are generally quite sloped and the waves are fierce. However, the largest waves are not too far off from the shore, so I was able to get past their breaking points and enjoy the salt water from there.
Next stop: Valdivia. A few more days in Valpo and Viña would be nice, but I have to move on.
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