Valparaiso, Chile

An easy place to fall in love with, Valparaiso became a little home away from home for us, and for longer than expected.

An inspiration to poet Pablo Neruda, the bohemian Unesco site of Valpo is a ramshackle collection of beautiful colourful buildings, toppled on impossibly steep cobbly hills connected by oldschool funiculars (like, early 1900s oldschool) that you pay a few bob for, to ride up and down the ‘cerros’ (= very steep hills). It’s pretty, battered, rough around the edges, and with lots of character and charm. Oh, and the whole town is covered in the most beautiful, bright and original graffiti I’ve ever seen (sorry, East London) – making it virtually impossible to put your camera down on even the shortest walks around town!

Beautiful streets and colourful graffiti… the lifeblood of Valparaiso

We got lucky with our hostel, in that it was basically a self contained apartment. So besides a few travellers coming and going to fill the other rooms, it kind of felt like we had our own place! Cue lots of ‘homely’ activity such as coupley lunches at home of hotdogs with fresh guac and salsa with music blasting; long breakfasts of granola and endless tea; rum and coke nights; catching up on the blog at (basically) our own private hostel computer (this is how we finally got the blog published!) and nights in in front of HBO watching all-new ‘Girls’ and ‘Looking’ (ok, that last part was mostly me).

Playing house! Homemade lunches and rum nights…

We also did a pretty ace walking tour where we found out about the city’s eccentric history, from when it used to be Chile’s centre of industry (due to its port) up until it fell from grace and became a haven for artists (due to low rent) and prostitutes. One of the famous alleys in the city is called ‘Happy Alley’ because there’s a huge ex-brothel there. Nice! There’s tons of interesting architecture, including an old prison that’s now an art gallery; a pretty old cemetery (the South American city staple!); and lots of old semi-derelict buildings (post-earthquakes) that they can’t rebuild because of Unesco rules, so instead they’ve graffitied over, resulting in a kind of grandiose bombsite look!

Awesome ex-prison building that’s been converted into an art gallery

A UNESCO-protected, yet earthquake-destroyed hotel, frozen in time, not to be rebuilt

This graffiti has a dirty story behind it… something about chickens and prostitutes.

The city’s bohemian past lives on in its current dwellers, with a very arty, alternative populus teeming the city. Opposite our hostel there was a mosaic-ed square where tons of hippies flocked day and night for endless drumming, dancing, jamming and capoeira sessions (- you get the picture). Me and my earplugs became very good friends over our 5 nights there!

Nightly live music – gypsy folk

It proved pretty difficult to get our bus ticket out of the city – an arduous 24 hour bus through the mountains up to the North Chilean desert (not a super common route from Valpo) – so we ended up with a few extra days in the city, so on a sunny Sunday we decided to hot foot it out of the smoke, to a nearby beach called Vina Del Mar. Very much a city beach, but a nice one at that, we took a lovely coastal train to Vina and spent a fun day with an ice-cold 6 pack people watching on the beach. We saw some pretty hilaire couples posing on the beach – girls too girly to even step into the sea; beach bods galore; and some cute families. We guffawed the day away drinking our bruskies, savouring only our second time on a beach during our travels!

When we got back, there was a huge BMX event going on outside our appartment (further proving the alt scene of Valpo!) which we watched from our bedroom window.

There was also a pretty goscene in Valpo, so we spent evenings sampling the pretty little restaurants on top of Cerro San Augustin. We found a brilliant sushi restaurant where I filled my boots with salmon, avocado and crab rolls (with chicken for Sam!) and we also tried ‘churrilana’ (=mound of chips, meat, gravy, cheese, egg) from two very different places. One swank restaurant where it came with basically beef bourguinion (sp?!), fried eggs and sugar-rimmed pisco sours; the other (probs the best) from a little local cafe, that came with huge chunks of melty cheese, a delicious beefy gravy and homemade spicy sauce. Mmm-mmm. On an unrelated note, we also tried a LOT of ice lollies whilst in Valpo, including one where you actually PEEL a layer off (gelly/ice) to reveal a creamy ice lolly underneath. Like a banana. They’re pretty advanced with their lollies out here.

CHURRILLANA and strange lollies (note Sam’s terrible bowl-cut. This is my fault…)

ANYWAY. So, 5 days of chilling in Valpo behind us, we took a long hardy 24 hour bus up to Northern Chile to the Atacama Desert….