Valparaiso

In the words of local poet, Pablo Neruda: “Valparaíso, how absurd you are…you haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you.

We’re not sure we agree. It seemed like Valpo had spent a very, very long time getting dressed. The steep streets of this small city are covered, completely covered, in the biggest and brightest street art we’ve ever seen.

Entire walls were transformed into huge canvases for colourful murals, but it didn’t stop at the walls. Lampposts, drain covers, bollards, steps; anything that could be painted on, was.

As well as Valpo, the city also goes by the nickname of The Corrugated City. Most buildings are made with huge sheets of corrugated metal, that sometimes looked like distressed wooden planks, giving a sort of Scandinavian look. Valpo being Valpo, even when the building is not covered in artwork, bunting, flags and bright colours were still the standard.

We arrived by Tur Bus from Santiago into the more mundane looking part of the city down by the coast and the busy cargo port. As this area has a reputation for pickpockets it was an easy to decision to stay up in one of the many small but steep hills, connected by a maze of escaleras (stairways), where if your view isn’t of the larger than life murals, it’s out across the Pacific.

For some reason we stomped all the way from the bus station up to Hostal Acuarela on Cerro Alegre on foot, but we needn’t have. Connecting Valpo’s various steep hilltops are rattling antique ascensors (100+ year old funicular railways) that for about 250 pesos can trundle you straight to the top.

We didn’t do much in our three days. We mainly wandered the streets in what felt like a massive open air art gallery, pausing for miniature hand made chocolates, cake and fresh juice, and to be quizzed about Brexit (replying in our best Spanglish) in a deli picking up supplies for dinner. We did occasionally hop between hills for more; Cerro Carcel’s Plaza Bismark had panoramic bay views, and Cerro Bellavista’s Museo a Cielo Abierto displays murals from local university students in the 1970s. These, though, were a bit underwhelming compared to the murals in Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion.

There were no end of enticing restaurants to choose from, but trying to stick to a budget we usually made the most of the local deli, our hostel’s kitchen and supermarket wine prices (hello £2.50 per bottle – and that’s the good stuff, not the Chilean version of Sainsbury’s Table Wine).

Having now got a taste for the delicious and cheap Chilean wine, we decided to stop in the Casablanca vineyard region on the way back to Santiago. We walked the 3.5km, again grateful for our 40l bags, from the town to one of the many nearby vineyards. We chose Casas del Bosque where we sat in the garden doing a DIY wine tasting session. The vineyard offers all kinds of official tastings; private tastings amongst the barrels, group tastings in the bar, tastings plus cycle tours around the vineyard, tastings plus picnics in the grounds. Which all sounded great but involved high prices and small servings. Going DIY was perhaps less educational but more, hic, economical.

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