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Published: November 18th 2010
Valparaíso is full of surprises. Everything is a cerro (hill) and so there are houses stacked on top of each other, and between are narrow streets full of blind curves. Stairs and claustrophobia-inducing alleys run between the houses, and suddenly open out onto incredible vistas of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, in the distance. This city has a surprise around every corner, whether it is a cafe, park, incredible view of the Pacific, or a mural of graffiti. Walking on the sidewalk is dangerous because there are sudden drops, uneven stairs, holes and dog poop. Walking on the street is dangerous because collectivos and micros whip around blind curves in the Cerros; they are reluctant to stop going uphill because of the angle and it is difficult for them to stop suddenly going downhill. The quiltros in Valpo like to form packs and attach themselves to a person, who they will follow for miles and defend from other pedestrians and cars. Valparaíso also has a trolley system and a subway system, both of which I have been told I must try. This city is definitely a home to artists, as Cerro Alegre, Cerro Concepción, and Cerro Bellavista are well stocked with
cafés, tiendas artesanales, backpackers hostels, art galleries, and so on. This is also, infamously, the City of Pablo Neruda, not by birth- that would be Temuco- but by choice. I would have to agree with his choice, Valparaíso seems like it would always be interesting, no matter how long you spent here. The entire city is a canvas for artists that is never completed.
My departmento (apartment) that I share with three other students- Rachel, Sheila and Ian- is in Cerro Barón. It is a lovely building, and I have an incredible view of the city from my balcony. The apartment came fully furnished, a real relief because we have a lot of other things to work on besides collecting furniture. After a bit of hassle figuring out who had the keys, we were able to move in on our first night here. The only problem with living halfway up a cerro is that you have to get there. We predict buns of steel for all of us because we generally hike up and down at least once or twice every day. The fastest route to the nearest main street is a set of extremely steep stairs. Climbing those
is enough to make anyone short of breath. Apparently Cerro Barón is not exactly the coolest cerro around, but it generally seems pretty quiet and we all feel very safe walking around here. Cooler cerros include Cerro Bellavista, Cerro Alegre, and Cerro Concepción. But here we are, and we are only a few minutes by micro from the centro of Valparaíso. This area includes the oldest newspaper in Chile, El Mercurio. If you go up the cerros a ways in this area you run into the heart of Valparaíso's tourist district, with lots of hostels and hospedajes, cafés and restobars, as they are called. It is a nice area to go visit, and it is not entirely gringified, but the presence of tourists has certainly made its mark on this area. Of course, this also means that there are more entertaining chocos culturales.
Today I took a break from my research project to do a bit of sight-seeing. I haven't been working non-stop, but I have spent the majority of my time focused on getting my project off the ground. Today I went to La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda's house in Valparaíso. It is one of his three famous houses,
another is in Santiago and the third one is Isla Negra. It is in Cerro Bellavista. There is a nice garden that you can easily pretend is in the middle of a forest and not in a city. The house itself is very unique, both in design and decoration because Neruda was fascinated with boats and the ocean. There are 5 stories, and I think my favorites were the second story, with the sitting room and bar. The sitting room had a horse from a carousel in the middle of it and a very unique fireplace. The bar is a decorated in a random style, epitomizing Neruda's love of 'cosas' or things, but I think it means something more like knick-knacks in this context. He even has poems about looking for 'cosas' in the mercado. My other favorite floor was the top floor, or Neruda's study. This was the 5th floor of the house and has the best view of the puerta and Valparaíso. I hope I can make it to Isla Negra one of these days!
I also wandered around in El Museo a Cielo Abierto, which is an open air 'museum' of murals in Cerro Bellavista. Of
course, there is no real fixed route even though the 20 murals are labeled in what seems to be an order. The first 3, some of the last I saw, had been defaced with graffiti and were not entirely visible. This seems to be almost a natural occurrence, because graffiti pops up on every available surface in Valparaíso. While wandering down a random narrow street along the route of the museo, I stumbled on a brightly painted building, which turned into a stairwell, which turned into an alley and half of a building covered in detailed depictions of the city of Valparaíso in brilliant colors. The paint spattered man who was in the middle of adding details to the stairs was named Mario Celadon. He showed us what he had painted, and what his friend had painted, and then sent us off to see his friends gallery. He was very friendly and gave me a free sketch when I bought a watercolor of Valparaíso. I made me really happy to see somebody who was beautifying the area around him in a unique way. Of course all of the paintings were leading up to Hostal Bellavista, which is absolutely where I
would stay if I had to hang out in a hostal in Valparaíso after I met Mario. Even though we got lost a few times, and ended up in some strange alley ways, I loved the Museo and I would say it is an experience that you cannot miss if you are in Valparaíso. The art is interesting and beautiful, and it is a unique way to interact with art. It is not cordoned off in a museum, but part of the daily landscape around you. And, if you are so inclined, you can add another layer of paint to the design.
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