Overland miles: 10695 Bus hours: 323.5 Empanadar 71
Our whistle stop tour of the northern half of Chile continued with a trip to Valparaiso. Famous for the rather unlikely combination of poet Pablo Neruda, Pinochet (his government was based here rather than nearby Santiago), the funicular railways that carry people up and down its hills and the street art found in its more bohemian neighbourhoods, Valpo is also a UNESCO world heritage site and an important navy port.
It’s also rather a chaotic place. Rickety buses and ancient street cars clog the streets, a fancy looking metro train speeds along the coastal suburbs to the beach resort of Viña del Mar and boats fill the port area. On the streets, Saga generation tourists fresh off a day trip from Santiago (the cities are only two hours apart) rub shoulders with younger travellers. Students from the local university fill the bars at night and local bohemians can generally be found practising circus skills in the park or listening to loud jazz blaring out from their brightly painted townhouses.
We were there mostly to check out Neruda’s house at the nearby seaside village of Isla Negra (a trip Jovian had been keen to make: I’m such a pleb the first time I’d ever heard of him was when his name came up in an episode of semi-funny US comedy, How I Met Your Mother). Part boat (complete with a room dominated by ships’ figureheads), part train, and part curiosity shop filled to bursting with shells, shoes and ships in bottles, this was Neruda’s favourite of his four gaffs, and perhaps the birthplace of his most acclaimed poetry. There he received presidents, wrote furiously, partied hard and finally took to his sick bed on the eve of the fateful Pinochet coup in 1973. He died four days later, but due to the vilification of left-wing artists and poets throughout the dictatorship, his wish to be buried facing the pounding waves at Isla Negra could only be granted 19 years later. If you get to stay over in Valparaiso, a day-trip to this beautiful – and just slightly insane – house is a must.
Our next day was all about mooching round the streets, checking out the funiculars and looking at the famous street art. Unfortunately, we completely failed on the first point as all of the city’s 15 funiculars are closed at weekends. Apparently, they’re mainly used by people getting to and from work, the city councillors see no point in running services on Saturdays and Sundays, so they weren’t putting the ‘fun’ in funicular for Prawns For Breakfast.
We had more luck with the street art, checking out the Museo a Cielo Abierto, aka, The Open Air Museum, a series of streets lined with murals painted by students from the university in the late 60s and early 70s. Roaming around other the city’s steep hills to find whole walls devoted to abstract – and in some cases psychadellic – subjects definitely made for an interesting day out, but we were disappointed by the fact that so many pieces of ‘art’ had random graffiti daubed all over them. Also, by wandering too far off the typical tourist route, we discovered what the city wouldn’t want UNESCO to see, streets lined with litter and broken glass, and smelling like they’d been used as public urinals.
As the Hint-of-net hasn’t been invented yet, you lucky things won’t get a true to life representation of our Valpo experience here – just smell free, artistic highlights.