Full of Color – Valparaiso

The day after Farima arrived we headed to Valparaiso, a port town just outside of Santiago. We arrived around 2 pm just in time for the free walking tour that began at 3 (you know how much I love my free walking tours)! During the walking tour, they explained how Valparaiso became a major port city during the California Gold Rush when ships crossing between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans would use the city as a resting stop. Although Valparaiso continues to operate as a major port city today, it lost much of its economic growth when the Panama Canal was built. The city is essentially split in half between the hills (cerros) and the area near the port referred to as the flat. There are about 28 funiculars that were built around this town to better connect the residents of the hills to the stores in the flat, however only 18 remain today with not many of them still functioning as a result of private investors in these funiculars that failed to see any major revenue generating from the use of such technology.

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We also learned that Valparaiso is a city of many firsts in Latin America. Among them being that Valparaiso was the first city in Latin America to have a fire department, a bank, a foreign exchange center, a Presbyterian church and many other things that continue to play a significant role in its history as well as the pride of its residents. An interesting fact we learned about the firefighters in Valparaiso is that they are all normal citizens that volunteers in their spare time and outside of their normal day to day jobs. These volunteers all have other careers in various industries ranging from doctors, to teachers, to cashiers and do not get any additional income for their role as firefighters and occasional lifesavers, which is pretty astonishing to say the least.

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Having spent a few days exploring the city, one of the main draws of Valparaiso is the immense amount of color that adorns the city. Between its brightly colored homes to its mural stained walls, the city is alive with energy and character. The art that splatters the walls originally began because of an art professor’s vision. He wanted to create a place where you didn’t need to go to a museum to see beautiful and unique works of art and he hoped to create an outdoor art exhibit for the people of the city. With this vision in mind, he instructed his students to demonstrate their artistic abilities by painting of buildings within the city rather than a canvas.

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Today, the tradition of open art is still very popular in Valparaiso and remains a significant part of its culture. Although graffiti is considered illegal in Chile – similar to many parts of the world – it is rather difficult to contain by the city officials and to many people’s dismay, most walls and/or many beautifully painted murals, have been tagged and/or painted over. So much so that one of the reasons behind the painting of some murals around the city is to avoid having the walls/buildings be covered instead in graffiti and/or tagging. What is interesting about this city is that in hopes of keeping one’s home just as beautiful on the outside, homeowner’s legally hire artists to paint murals on their buildings. It is undoubtedly better to have a beautiful mural you designed rather than the random artwork of strangers, which is why you can find graffiti alongside murals all throughout the city of Valparaiso.

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During the end of our tour, our tour guides pointed out an ice cream shop (Emporio La Rosa) that was voted one of the world’s top 25 ice cream parlors. After the 3 hour walking tour, Farima and I headed to Emporio La Rosa for a well-deserved ice cream and to judge for ourselves the popularity of the ice cream shop.

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The following morning, Farima and I took a boat tour of the city coast which turned out to be a merely 45 minute boat ride around the bay. We rode by a buoy where some really hefty sea lions were laying as well as part of the port where the cargo is stored. The best part about the boat tour was the views of Valparaiso from the ocean, which really gave you a sense of the perspective people encountered en route to California. After the boat ride, we headed to the Open Air Museum (Museo a Cielo Abierto) on Cerro Bellavista. The Open Air Museum consists of twenty murals painted by artists in the nineties on random buildings and walls. Essentially, you are walking through the streets following one mural to the next. One would assume finding these murals would be fairly easy, but because most of the murals have either faded and/or been painted over by vandalism, we found it quite puzzling and difficult. The majority of the artwork and murals have been tagged so horribly that it is no longer possible to read information related to the artwork and the artist (see pictures below). I am sure that at a point in time and pre-graffiti and tagging of the murals, such works of art were spectacular and unique. Unfortunately, this does not hold true today and the museum which once contributed to the city’s unique character, is quite an unpleasant and unfortunate sight to visit. Although it was a good experience to learn what has become the open art museum today, it was definitely disheartening to see the works of various artists be forgotten and disrespected in a city where art is so prominent and influential. After we finished walking by all twenty murals, secretly hoping we would find one still intact (however, to no avail), we headed back to the hostel to catch up with the rest of our hostel crew.

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The following day was a day full of “miradors” or translated to English as viewpoints. For the first viewpoint of the day, we headed to the only vertical lift/elevator in the city known as the Ascensor Polanco. The view from the top of this building gave you a view of the hills of Valparaiso and how far the hills extended. On our way to the second viewpoint of the day (Paseo 21 de Mayo), we walked along a big open air market. One of my favorite things about South America is you can always find a market no matter the city. The funicular for our second viewpoint was under construction, so we walked up one of the many staircases that are commonly found in Valparaiso in order to reach the top. From this view point, you get a great view of the bay and the coast to the west of the city. I considered both viewpoints to be beautiful in their own way.

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After seeing all that Valparaiso had to offer, Farima and I stopped at a bar known for their artisanal beer and ordered a sample of 4 different types. The first three tasted good to me, although I have tasted better, but the last one we both thought unbearable that it was more difficult to enjoy. The hostess told us the last one had flavors such as honey, coffee, and chocolate, all of which I love individually but did not enjoy a mixture served as a beer. After our beer tasting experience, we headed back to the hostel. I was headed to Pucon that night and once back at the hostel, grabbed my bags and got ready for one of the many over-night buses that await me within the upcoming months.

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Edited by: Farima M.

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