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Published: November 6th 2013
Hostal Destino Bellavista
My home away from home in Valpo. Don't you love the mural? This city is full of great artwork like this.
After more than a week in the capital, I headed to the coast and the colourful harbour city of Valparaiso, enclave of artists, poets , students and migrants from everywhere imaginable.
Originally inhabited by local Chango people who were mainly fishermen, Spanish exploration in the mid-16th Century led to it developing into the main harbour for the Chilean Navy and also opened it to international trade beyond Spain and its other colonies. As time progressed, it became a required stopover between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean crossings and played an important role supporting and supplying of the California Gold Rush during the mid 19th century.
These days it is considered as possibly the largest seaport in Chile and the surrounding district is one of the most populous areas in Chile. In 2003, UNESCO declared Valparaiso a World Heritage Site due to its historical importance, natural beauty (large number of hills surrounding a picturesque harbor), and unique architecture (particularly, a mix of 19th century styles of housing). Valparaiso is the birthplace of many historically significant figures, including Augusto Pinochet and Salvador Allende. It has also been the residence of many artists such as Pablo Neruda.
Valparaiso is only 120km
A popular artform of the 1970's, I believe. It's everywhere in my neighbourhood.
northwest of Santiago, about a 1.5 to 2 hr bus journey, so a very easy first step on my way north. I arrived on a cold and overcast day and was greeted warmly by Sarah, my host at Hostal Destino Bellavista (located on Cerro Bellavista), who immediately made me feel at home, gave me a map and set me on my way.
My first "destination" was to La Sebastiana, former home of Pablo Neruda, Nobel prize winner, poet, Statesman and general thrower-of-good parties- or so the stories go!!!. Unfortunately, the house was closed, marking 40years since his death- but there was a free concert that night in his honour!!! So, I wandered down into town, to fill a few hours and returned later to enjoy a great classical concert featuring a string orchestra, famous local vocalist and a Neruda poetry reading!! A bit of culture on my first day- lucky me. Also ran into Luciana & Marta from Rio de Janiero who had been staying in my hostel in Santiago and a young couple I'd met that afternoon. Even better there was free supper and red wine after the concert. Needless to say we were the last to leave!!
Just up the street is this large, expensive looking "boutique" hotel, showcasing a modern version of the unusual "calamina" (corrugated iron) clad style architecture.
All in all a great night!
The next day was much better weather, although very cold, so I decided to walk the cerros (hills) after visiting La Sebastiana. Valparaiso is a walkers city- as long as you have the legs for it, that is. I believe there are 42-45 cerros surrounding the small plain where the CBD and harbour are located. I feel for the local people trudging up and down those enormous hills and endless stairs and narrow alleyways to do their daily tasks. However, there are a number of "ascensores", funicular rail cars surviving from as early as the late 1800s, to make this a little easier at times. I tried several of them and they afford spectacular views of the city and harbour on a clear day.
Close to Valpo is the popular coastal resort town of Vina del Mar. I'd heard good things about it, so I decided to walk along the coast and see for myself. It was about a 1.5 to 2 hr walk and unfortunately, a dreadful dull, windy day, so I can't say she showed me her best. I spent a lot of the time checking out the sea birds,
Connection to the sea
Unusual architectural "flourishes" are found everywhere. Possibly drawing inspiration from Neruda and his penchant for boats and the sea.
especially pelicans (I love pelicans- they're such an improbable bird) and the sea lions on an abandoned pier pylon. Once in the city itself, I searched out some important buildings & museums to get out of the cold. Unfortunately, they were all closed- still awaiting renovations from the damage from the 2010 earthquake. Bummer!
The other side trip I did was to the area known as Isla Negra, about 45km south of Valpo. In fact it is not an island at all, it's a small community perched on the edge of the Pacific Coast, home to many artists and poets and of course the location of another of Pablo Neruda's quirky houses, the reason for my visit. I thoroughly enjoyed the house and the audio tour was very interesting and informative, as it had been at La Sebastiana. I felt I knew this man- I wished I'd met him- he seems to have been such a fascinating person.
My final treat to complete my stay, was a night "tour" of Valpo with my hosts Patricia & Sarah. Such a pretty city- night or day!
Time to head north to La Serena and Valle
View up my cerro!
Santa Spiritu church
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