Fresh oceanic breeze stokes the fire, making it hot enough for the pieces of corn thrown in to cook. Delicious food with well-deserved glass or two of the Chilean Carménère on the terrace of our hostel. The hostel is on one of the 45 hills of Valparaiso and it’s named after the Spanish word for butterfly, Mariposa. Obviously tired and content we are enjoying the pleasant atmosphere after a long day filled with positive emotions.
The citizens are proud to say: Valparaiso plays a central role in South America and its development. It is the place where the first photography shop, the first trade harbor, post office, bank, protestant church were all founded on the continent. The immigrants there are many and varied, coming from all over Europe. That is why everything in the city is so colorful, diverse and engaging. The wealthy immigrants bought their houses on the flat lands on the ocean shore. In contrast, those who came carrying only their hope for better life, climbed the hills and claimed parts of them as their own. They built their houses using whatever materials and tools they could find and the houses took uniquely unusual forms because they were formed according to the shape of the land the immigrants claimed.
It takes about an hour to reach the lowest part of the city to go to work or go shopping and come back up again. If you happen to forget something, that means another half an hour lost climbing the hills on foot on top of a tiring day at the harbor.
That is the reason why the relations with the neighbors are of vital importance even nowadays. If one of the neighbors is going downtown they would always ask if the others need something. If someone needs something urgently they would always ask around if a neighbor can give them a hand before going to the city center.
Funicular lifts were built in an attempt to facilitate the journey. However, the construction company asked for a very high transportation fee and the lifts were left widely unused by the citizens. Later, they were gifted to the municipality, but it was unable to maintain them. To this day the lifts are still there and are available for the insignificant fee of 100 pesos, but nobody knows whenever or whichever of them work. The stairs are still the safest way up the hills.
Despite all, we were incredibly lucky. We obtained a room at the hostel with an amazing bird’s-eye view of the city. Quickly we reached the city center. After a short leisurely stroll we found a place that served the local vegetarian cuisine. Having filled our stomachs, we visited a small fair displaying handmade jewelry, souvenirs and sweets. From there no more that fifteen minutes walking took us to the central square and the harbor. We were in luck and caught the almost-full ship that took us on a small cruise through the city along the river. The trip gave us a different perspective on things.
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On the way back we took part in a free organized tour of the hills on foot.
If you enjoy the tour, you are welcome to give a tip to the guide. But there is no way that you don’t like the tour, the guide tells a lot of interesting and entertaining stories, gives out cookies and chichon (white wine and chicha). They even pay your fee for the lift or the local attraction, the retro-bus. After the tour, we went on foot to a vegetarian restaurant as recommended by the tour guide.
Along the way we rode on the oldest lift in the city. It has been working flawlessly for over 150 years. In the restaurant the owners were preparing to close for the evening, but they told us not to worry, they wouldn’t let us leave hungry. Inside there was no menu and it felt as if we were visiting a friend. The poured us a drink, served us appetizers and prepared for us delicious salads and cake in no time. Obviously content, we climbed to Alemania Street, which connects the tops of all the hills. It was a walk with a view for the eyes and enjoyment for the soul.
We reached the hostel and here we are on its terrace. We are sharing stories with a boy from Germany who studies in Argentina. In the moment he spends his vacation in Chile, how great. We also shared with him our regret that we couldn’t ride the famous bus “O” of the public transport which traverses all the hills. It is said to be one of the most entertaining experiences in Valparaiso and is a sure way to get your blood pumping.
Alas, in the morning we overslept and had to run along the narrow streets with heavy backpacks on our backs, praying to find whichever public transport can get us to the bus station. Our bus to La Serena was about to leave in 20 minutes. We stopped a test car by mistake, thinking it was a taxi, but a minute later the famous bus “O” came around to take us to the station. It was a bumpy and sweaty ride. 🙂
After having successfully gotten on the bus for La Serena, we laughed about the shortage of limbs between the two of us. We had to carry the luggage, pay the ticket and balance on the sharp turns of the bus in the same time. And all this while discussing with the driver and several other passengers where is the best stop for us to get off the bus for the final rush to the station.
In Valparaiso we had many emotions and so little time. We recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who is interested to see something different. The works of art are hard to forget. They vary from the ugliest scribbles to the most intricate masterpieces. UNESCO has chosen well the city to protect.
This article was brought to you in English by Marta Petrova.
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