In Santiago, I fall asleep to the sound of buses driving up and down the Alameda and the occasional first responders speeding by, then I wake up with construction noise—either bulldozers tearing down a block of old one-storey buildings to make room for yet another residential tower, either workers cleaning up debris. Oh, and let’s not forget about garbage trucks… how many times a day is garbage picked up in Santiago? It feels like it’s every hour or so!
In Valparaíso, tonight, I can hear containers being unloaded in the port. The containers themselves are remarkably quiet—I’m guessing none of them contains live animals but rather made-in-China trinkets or parts—but there is a soft “boom” every time one of the giant cranes picks them up, and various vehicles beeps at regular intervals.
Different city, different atmospheres.
I did come back to Valparaíso. I found a place on Airbnb (my first time booking through it) and it was just too tempting.
Valpo and I had unfinished business.
In most cities, sights are easy-to-find landmarks. A map, some time and maybe a public transit card are all you need to see them all.
There’s no attraction per se in Valparaíso—the city is an attraction and it takes practice to enjoy it. Topography is the main issue, getting around takes time, patience and strong legs. Most of the sights are also rather hard to find. They are like Easter eggs scattered all over the city and hidden between buildings, in small alleys.
I could do Valparaíso even better than last time, I thought. I would find a good map, brainstorm an efficient and scenic way to get from point A to point B and see everything I wanted to see.
At the bus station, I went straight to the tourist info to ask for a map. “Out of print, sorry.”
Never mind, I’ll get one from another tourist info office, like the one on Muelle Prat. Turned out that every tourist info office was out of maps. Eventually, I went to the city hall and they offered me the display map!
Since I considered myself a Valpo veteran, I decided to take the trolebus—oldest trolleybuses in continuous service in the world!—from the bus station to Cerro Artillería, across the city. For 300 pesos, I was experiencing my first Valparaíso attraction and getting to my place—that’s what I’m talking about!
Okay, the trip took forever and I was the only passenger left getting off at Aduana, but still, fun experience.
Now, I just had to take Ascensor Artillería to Paseo 21 de Mayo and meet my contact there to get the key to the studio. Perfect! I’d get to experience another Valpo “attraction” on the way!
The thing is, funiculars are old. They do break down.
Acensor Artillería broke down in front of me. “Está malo,” the operator said, turning everyone away.
Fuck. How do I get uphill?
I asked a carabinero. “You… ahem, gotta take the stairs. Straight up, then turn right and straight up again,” he said cringing when I saw my backpack. “Good luck!”
It’s leg day! It’s fuck my life day! It’s why on earth didn’t I stay in flat Santiago day!
I made it uphill. Wouldn’t do it again with one large backpack, one small backpack and without water.
Cerro Artillería had a very different vibe from Cerro Mariposa. It’s right in front of the port, so the few blocks downhill, up to Plaza Sotomayor, are pretty dodgy—but again, the entire flat part feels dodgy, it’s just part of the atmosphere. The view from the top of the cerro is amazing, though, and every night, people come get drunk on Paseo 21 de Mayo. Forgot your beer? Don’t worry, there are always a few guys selling them out of their backpacks. Chileans are practical people.
High on my to-do list this time was Ascensor Polanco, the only actual vertical elevator in Valparaíso—all the others are technically funicular. It’s pretty unique because you walk through a long tunnel to find just a regular lift that takes forever to get to the top.
I also explored Cerro Cárcel where the former jail was turned into a cultural centre, Muelle Barón with goofy sea lions attempting to hop onto a pier—they reminded me of when I try to get out of a swimming pool somewhat gracefully and fail…—hippy-chic Cerro Alegre and Concepción, and El Plan, the flat part of the city.
And then, I went to the International Women’s Day gathering, which was another interesting experience.
The sharp contrast between sunny, multicultural and urban Santiago and windy, cloudy and grungy Valpo was exactly what I needed.