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The Valparaíso Option

“I think I’m gonna spend a few days Valpo this weekend.”

“Oh, cool. Go for it.”


“What, what’s wrong? Can’t find a place?”

“As a matter of fact, I’ve just spent an hour online looking for accommodation.”

Valparaíso is backpacker central. Chile’s most colourful city is also a magnet for rich tourists, artists and pretty much anyone who lands in Santiago—it’s next door to the capital, only two hours by bus.

To accommodate everyone and hopefully every budget, there are literally hundreds of hostels, beds and breakfasts, hotels and guesthouses uphill, downhill and all the way to Viña del Mar.

Most of them are terrible and overpriced, though. Valparaíso is one place where you really want to read reviews and fine print carefully. “No hot water in the shower” is a bit of a problem because it’s cold at night. “Fine for a night but don’t expect to sleep” is a common complaint if you pick a place on Cumming, one of the main streets. “No elevator around and it’s a steep climb” is also to be taken seriously if you struggle with your backpack on flat ground.

“It’s okay, I think I found a place.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

“It’s just that… well, if I spend a few days in Valparaíso, I’m not going to other places. I’m choosing an option over other possible ones. I don’t know if I’m making the right move. I don’t have that much time left, so I won’t be going to the Amazonas, Peru, Bolivia or fucking Ushuaia. Not that I wanted to, but it was nice to entertain the idea, you know…”

Feng laughs but he is the one who suggested I could always go back to Brazil for a bit if I was sick of Chile. I actually considered it for a day but decided not to. Brazil was our trip together there in January. We had a good time, it would be weird to go back there alone right now. Besides, even though the flight was cheap, I was afraid this side trip would be a money pit—taxi to and from the airport, hotels during Carnival, etc.

“So yes, I guess I’m going to Valpa.”

“Should be fun. Where are you staying?”

“Uphill. Cerro Mariposa”

“Wow. Where is that?”

“No idea. Everything is a tradeoff, I suppose. People climb mountains to find the meaning of life, I’m okay with climbing a hill for hot water and a microwave. Otherwise, it’s shared bathrooms and questionable reviews downhill.”

“Want to send me the link to the hotel?”

“I’d rather not, it’s precisely the kind of place you’d never book—a semi-detached room, the owner, an artist, lives next door.”

“Right. So, what time are you going?”

“Check out is at 10 a.m. in Santiago and check in is at 3 p.m. in Valpo, so I’m taking the 1 p.m. bus. I’ll go waste time at Starbucks for a bit before the bus, I guess. I don’t want to wait at the terminal, too chaotic.”

All that to go climb hills and look at murals. I’m not even bored of Santiago. I rarely get sick of places, actually—it’s precisely because I like them so much that I want to see more, travel more.

“Call me tomorrow, or if you can’t, email me. Remember: take a flashlight. Oh, and wear your jeans. Don’t walk to Viña del Mar. Don’t torture yourself, take the elevators as well.”

And so I packed, ready to take a chance on Valparaíso.

Calle Bandera, Santiago

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