Valparaíso. A beautiful word in Spanish and a beautiful city – based on the pictures I’d seen so far. A coastal town in Chile, Valparaísois built on a steep mountain side and is filled with brightly painted houses and shops. It looks spectacular in the pictures.
I’d been admiring pictures of Valpo (that’s what the locals call it) for the past year or so. It inspired me, gave me great expectations for my travels in South America, and filled me with anticipation to visit the city.
I have to admit, this is the one city I told myself I had to visit while in South America.
With an uneventful bus ride from Santiago to Valparaíso— uneventful in that nothing strange or funny happened, but it was a beautiful bus ride — we arrived at the Valparaiso bus terminal, which can only be described as a ghetto, dive or sh** hole.
Definitely in shock.
It’s loud, dirty and smelly, and I don´t mean in the exotic this-place-is-so-different-from-my-hometown kind of way. I mean you feel unsafe and get flashbacks of the ugly scenes from one of the Taken movies with Liam Neeson.
So with disbelief and trepidation (and feeling like we want a refund right about now), we get off the bus with our ¨trusty¨ map and head to a street corner in an attempt to get our perspective.
In order to find out where we are on the map, we try speaking to a local who is with the home-made band playing on the street corner.
We don´t speak enough Spanish, she doesn’t speak a word of English, and judging by how many times she rotates the map without pointing to any place, we suspect she also can’t read a map.
This could be a long day.
At that moment a friendly middle-aged man approaches.
¨Do you need help or are you OK here?¨
He speaks English.
¨Yes, please,¨we eagerly reply.
We explain that we need to get to our hostel but, as we don´t know where in the city we are, we don’t know if we can walk to our hostel or if we need to take a taxi. We have no perspective and no idea where a taxi might take us.
Side note: I’m a little compulsive (read paranoid) when it comes to this and I like to follow the taxi’s path on a map so I know if they’re going the right way, the wrong way or the long way.
The friendly man tells us that we need to get a taxi as it’s too far to walk and (unsurprisingly) it´s all uphill. The bus station is not even on the map.¨The taxi drivers can rip you off because you’re foreign,¨ he says.
¨Wait here and I’ll get one for you.¨
We comment on what a nice guy he is and then, our expressions suddenly change and we look at each other. At the exact same moment, the exact same thoughts cross our minds.
Too much Liam Neeson?
What if he’s not actually being nice?
What if he’s colluding with the driver to rip us off?
Worse, what if he’s colluding to kidnap us?
Ok, relax guys, you’re being very paranoid and clearly you should stop watching films with Liam Neeson.
At that moment, the man returns and tells us that the cost would be $5,000 Chilean Pesos, which is about the same as what we paid in Santiago from the hostel to the bus terminal, and is about $10 in Aussie dollars, so we get into the taxi.
Within 15 minutes, after winding up the steep hill, we arrive safely at our hostel.
Luckily, the further we got from the bus station the prettier, more interesting and safer the city became.
Hippies, graffiti art and the convergence of beauty and ugliness
Valparaíso is actually this incredibly cool, hippy-like city, filled with contradictions. Kind of like the Byron Bay of Australia, but less commercialised.
One friend actually described it as a beautiful-ugly city and he was right. (Shout-out to Gui from Santiago.) Here you will find place where beauty and ugliness converge.
This once rich, prosperous and extravagant port city is now quite poor and dilapidated. The beautiful old architecture sits alongside the amazing, colourful graffiti art that covers the walls of the city.
The graffiti is actually illegal but it’s everywhere and the beautiful old buildings are, in many cases, almost hamstrung by the UNESCO World Heritage listing rules, not to mention constantly challenged by the many earthquakes Chile encounters.
My high expectations probably meant this city would never exceed them but I would say this is a very cool, interesting city to explore, learn some history of Chile and take some fabulous photos.
It’s a must see city that I recommend to anyone travelling in Chile…just don’t judge it by the bus terminal, or the pictures you find on Google.
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Other blog pieces by Jessie OS.