Friday, January 27, 2017

Introducing Valparaiso.


Despite the fact that I really did not sleep well last night - it was too hot in the room and there was too much street noise, I woke up at bright an early at 5:50a, 10 minutes ahead of when the alarm was to go off. We had a quick breakfast and were out the door at 7a. We caught an Uber to the central bus station. The service just recently started here and like everywhere else, seems to be able to coexist alongside taxis. Our ride came quickly and since it was so early in the morning, it was a short ride to the Terminal Alameda, the city's central bus station.

Despite all the negative reviews (dirty, dangerous) that my brother had read about the station online, I found it to be just fine.  Sometimes it's better to not read the reviews as it sets a bias in your mind.  Better to travel with an open mind!

I had booked our Turbus tickets to Valparaiso on line and all we had to do was get our paper tickets. It was easy finding the Turbus counter as well as the departure area for the buses. I have to say the buses arrived and left on time so I was certain there would not be a delay. Bro tried to get us on an earlier ride but no luck.




I have to admit, I was extremely happy with the bus - new and very comfortable. We settled in for the 90 minute ride from Santiago to Valparaiso. Bro and I chatted for a few minutes but it wasn't long that my eye lids were feeling heavy. I told Bro I wanted to nap. When I woke up the bus was on the outskirts of the city.


I wasn't the only sleepy head :-)

We disembarked at the Terminal Rodaviario and checked the map to head towards town center. Bro recalled reading that it would be around a 20 minute walk. I had also read that we could do a free walking tour, departing from...... I suggested we take a taxi to the tour starting point. We had to be there by 10am and it was already 9:45a. Bro wasn't too keen on my suggestion as he also had a suggestion for another free tour which started at Plaza Sotomayor. In any case, we started to walk. Then a bus rolled by and Bro suggested we take find out if it dropped off at Plaza Sotomayor. Sure enough it did. The fare was 280 pesos each about 40 US cents.

Interestingly, we found out later that bus drivers in Valparaiso are paid according to the number of passengers they pick up in a day i.e., the more passengers, the higher the pay. Given the number of buses (a lot!) that I saw going up and down the road, it would be difficult to make a living as a driver!

Bro letting the driver pick out the coins he needed.



We took two seats. It was a very short ride when a fellow passenger pointed out the Plaza to us. We thanked her as we stepped off the bus.

Plaza Sotomayor is named after Rafael Sotomayor who was  the Minister of War during the War of the Pacific and the battle of Iquique. In the middle of the square stands the Monumento a los Héroes de Iquique, a subterranean mausoleum and monument that honors the Chilean sailors who fell during the Battle of Iquique and the Battle of Punta Gruesa.


I approached a group of people who looked like tourists and asked the woman, standing next to them, if she was the free tour guide. She pointed to a young man and young woman, standing across the street, dressed in red and white striped shirts. They were the free tour guides.

Plaza Sotomayor.  The building in the background is the headquarters of the Armada de Chile aka Chilean Navy.

I waved to the man and he waved back. He introduced himself as Jeffrey from Milwaukee and indeed he was one of the guides that lead tours for a company called Tours4Tips. There was already a large group of people gathered and we had arrived just in time as the tour began less than 5 minutes later. The large group was divided into two based on language. The Spanish tour was led by Jeffrey and the English speaking tour by a young lady named Aida who told us her father is Syrian and her mother is Chilean. Although she had only been in Valparaiso for a short time, she was very enthusiastic about the city.

Jeffrey on the left and Aida on the right.

We started the tour with a brief intro to the city and its history.  As described in Wikipedia,
"Valparaíso played an important geopolitical role in the second half of the 19th century, when the city served as a major stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by crossing the Straits of Magellan. Valparaíso mushroomed during its golden age, as a magnet for European immigrants, when the city was known by international sailors as "Little San Francisco" and "The Jewel of the Pacific".
The second half of the 20th century was also not kind to the city. The opening of the Panama Canal and reduction in ship traffic dealt a serious blow to Valparaíso’s port-based economy and many wealthy families left the city.

Today, Valparaiso is the country's second largest metropolitan area  and the city is experiencing a bit of a renaissance as it serves as a major distribution center for container traffic, copper, and fruit exports.  It also welcomes thousands of tourists each year and hosts numerous cultural events.  Most significantly, Valparaiso has transformed itself into a major educational center with four large traditional universities and several large vocational colleges.


Our free tour would mostly be on foot but there would be occasions where we would also be taking the local bus.  Thankfully, we had small change on us as this is a free tour so nothing is paid for in advance.

On the first part of our walk, we stopped to see one of the ascensors that the city is famous for.


Aida told us that there are usually stairs that run alongside an ascensor so you can also walk up and down if you feel like getting in some exercise!



As we walked along, it was hard not to notice how dilapidated the city is - there were plenty of ramshackle buildings located just stone's throw from Plaza Sotomayor.   People have long taken to street art to express their voices and you can see their works of art all over the city. Some of the works are illegal to begin with but I think the city has now come to embrace them all.


For the next part of our walk, we took a local bus  that wound its way from the flat part of the city up into the hills.


We got off somewhere on Avenida Allemange and took in the view of the city from high up. Sadly, it was hazy and well, not such a nice view. To be honest, Valaparaiso is a working port so most of what you see when you look down towards the water are the shipyards.






Incredibly, we had a young Chinese woman in our walking group.  She was toting along an infant, who was quietly sleeping in a sling carrier that the woman had fashioned out of a long piece of cloth.  Part of me was shocked that she would even think of bringing along a baby on this walk and part of me was impressed at how well she was handling her baby.  At one point, she did have to dart into a convenience store to pick up something so I made sure that Aida knew so the woman would not be left behind as we all marched forward.

From Avenida Allemange, we walked down hill towards what looked like a city park.



The green space turned out to be part of the complex of the old city jail which is now a cultural center.

Exercising in the shadow of the old jail.

Aida.


The former jail.

The jail complex.  To the left is the cultural center.

We walked past a few of the city's cemeteries which are all situated on Panteón (Pantheon) Hill, one one of the 42 hills in the city.  Aida told us that some of the hills are so close to each other that crossing from one to the other can be as simple as crossing the street.  If I remember correctly, there are three cemeteries here.  We passed No. 2 first.




The buildings are very colorfully painted - perks up the hills.



Overall, I would not describe Valparaiso as a quaint or charming city. The beautiful architecture has long been marred by graffiti. On the other hand, there is some pretty awesome street art here. If you love art, you would definitely be drawn to this city.



From Cemetery No. 2, we made our way down to the other two cemeteries - Cemetery No. 1 and  Cemetery of Dissidents.  The latter was created in 1825 to hold the remains of the British and Europeans residents, that by their Protestant faith differed from the official religion of the State which was Catholicism.





We continued down to a neighborhood that was filled with street art. I loved it!  The creativity here is something to be admired.







Some of the works, like this one, are by famous street artists.  This work is by UnKolorDistinto aka graffiti artists and muralists Sammy Espinoza (Jekse) and Cynthia Aguilera (Cinemas).



While other murals make strong political statements.  If I remember correctly, this one is a statement on the struggles of Mapuche women.  The work is titled LUZ VIDAINGRAVITA and it was painted by Teodoro Saavedra in 2013.







Very often, home or commercial building owners will actually an artist to paint their wall to ward off unwanted artists.  I guess there is some sort of a *respect* code in the street art world that says to not paint over the work of another artist.


If I ever get to come back to Valparaiso, I would plan to spend an entire day just walking around and taking photos of the art. 


Our walk eventually took us back to Plaza Sotomayor where we boarded one of the city's electric trolleys for a short ride around the center of the town.


After that Aida led us inside a very old building that once belonged to a man named Gabriel Ramirez. The once exquisite interior was now all run down. Turned out that Tours4Tips has their offices here.



We ended our tour in the office where we enjoyed a sip of jote aka kaimotxo which is a concoction of equal parts red wine and Coke or some cola based drink.  The drink originated in Spain and spread through the colonies.  I don't take alcohol so I only took a sip.  Tasted like very sweet wine and I can see why it would be a popular drink.  You could easily down a big glass of this stuff - it would be easy to get drunk on the stuff.


When the tour was over, we tipped Aida for guiding us around and asked Jeffrey for some advice on which ascensors to take. He suggested Artilleria and El Peral, both of which are in easy walking distance from Plaza Sotomayor. Before heading out to do our own sightseeing, we broke into the empanadas that we had bought yesterday at Zunnino. We also polished off the container of blueberries that Bro bought at La Vega market yesterday.


No one seems to care if you just sit on a stoop and eat so that's exactly what we did.  We had a lovely view of the street. :-) 


After our street lunch, it was off to Artilleria!