Monday, August 31, 2015

8/14/15: Valparaiso day 1

Dad and I arrived pretty early to Valparaiso this morning - which wasn't helped by the fact that it was still dark out. Luckily he had a working phone (a luxury these days) and we were able to take the bus towards our AirBnb. After the difficult conditions of the Couchsurf house in La Serena (where we had to share a twin size bed, and the room had another two people sharing another twin size bed), I think my dad was a lot more relieved to find that our room in Valparaiso was a lot more spacious and had a really comfortable, queen bed.

Our hosts were really nice! They were two French guys who were relatively new to Chile but could speak pretty good English. They sat down with us to explain a lot of the tourist-y things that we could do in the city. It was a whole lot of information that I couldn't really completely understand, but it was really nice of them to offer.

After doing a little research on the city and resting a little, Dad and I headed out into the city. It was a little confusing to figure out at first, but we eventually got the hang of it. Basically, Valparaiso is a really unique city with a vibe that is unparalleled. It feels a little like a college/young adult town at all times, and is without a doubt the most hipster place I've been to in South American thus far.

We were right next to the Naval Museum, which we decided to visit. They had a good number of artifacts there, and we spent at least a couple hours in there, which was cool. There was limited English, but at least they had some! A lot of the information centered on the War of the Pacific at the turn of the 20th century, which I have thought is interesting as it is mentioned ubiquitously in Chile but not in Peru or Bolivia. Yes, Chile won, but it's a part of history! It tells us why Bolivia used to be so large and now is so small, and why there are such hostile sentiments between it and Chile.

Right outside the Naval Museum is a small walkway known as Paseo 21 de Mayo (the Chilean Independence Day) that has all sorts of artisan products. It also has an ascensor, which is equivalent to a sort of slanted elevator - apparently aka funicular - that is very common in Valparaiso. The reason is that Valparaiso is a geographically unique city: it is divided into two main parts - the "plan" and the "cerros". The "Plan" is the flat part of the city - where the center is, where everything happens, the downtown. It also connects to the port and beach. Towards the center of the country and continent are the cerros - the hills. There are some tourist attractions here, including lots of street art and murals, and is where all the people actually live. Since they are sizable hills, they have steep stairs you can take, or ascensors that cost $100 CLP to go up or down. Many of them have been around a really long time and are constantly in repair (you never know if the one you want to take will be temporary shut down or not) but they are a really unique part of the city that are a major reason for the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation it has. We took a couple in our days in Valparaiso - worth it!

We walked to one of the main plazas in Valparaiso (it's confusing because the city doesn't have a Plaza de Armas, and therefore the couple of larger plazas are easily confused for the "main square") where we stopped by a tourist information center. Chile is really great because almost every single city has one, and they have all sorts of great information and really nice people. They told us about a Tours4Tips walking tour that would be happening later in the afternoon, so we took the time to go up the nearest hill (one of the most popular Cerro Concepcion) to a Fine Arts Museum - Palacio Baburizza. It was a touch expensive for Chilean museum standards, but interesting nonetheless. What I didn't appreciate was that they had some great art but absolutely no explanations, and charged extra for audio guides (on top of the entrance fee). Ugh. At least I got a student discount.

We went to the Tours4Tips afterwards, and it was a very, very well-done tour! Our tour guide was this guy from Colorado who was half-Chilean (maybe Chris was his name?), and very knowledgeable. Apparently after the California Gold Rush first started, Valparaiso was transformed into one of the richest port cities in South America because it was a great stop along the coast. That's the reason you can see so much extravagance - or at least what's left of it. After the construction of the Panama Canal, the wealth of the city moved with it. Before it did, however, Valparaiso was home to many things, from the first fire department to the first Protestant church. It has English, German, and other European parts of the city as well as streets of all kinds, named after Europeans.

Valparaiso also is really gorgeous because it has all sorts of street art. Anywhere you turn, you'll see murals and paintings over all the walls in the city that really brighten up the walk. The historical part of the city is also UNESCO-designated, including its system of trolleys (apparently some of the original ones from way back when are still in use). This designation comes with requirements, however - people owning property in this area are not allowed to change the facades or structures around it. That is, they are tasked with having to repair outsides of buildings that are falling apart on their own dime. We were taken to a house that had burned down about 10 years ago and was still in ruins because UNESCO guidelines state that property cannot be changed if the structure was still standing - and unfortunately for this property owner, the frames of the old house were still intact. For that reason, the designation is controversial among citizens, but the city refuses to give it up because it's a huge draw for tourists. That's the paradox of preservation, I guess.

The tour stopped by a little place that sold artisanal pastries - and gave us all an alfajor to try. They are incredible! Alfajores are basically two cookies/wafers joined by dulce de leche and sometimes dipped in chocolate (these were). Ugh SO GOOD. I also bought a salmon and cheese empanada that I think might have been the best empanada I've had. Absolutely worth the money.

The tour guide also recommended that we try a couple restaurants, so afterwards Dad and I tried a dish called chorrillana - a lot like pique macho in Bolivia, with fries on the bottom and topped with all sorts of meat/protein. Heart attack on a plate, but delicious as heck!

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