Valparaiso – a different kind of comfort

One of the many zonas tipicasValparaiso is a coastal city about 10kms south of Vina del Mar and while Vina is described as a garden city, Valpo’ is more bohemian, and I kind of like that. What you imagine and what you experience can be quite contrasting though; preconceptions don’t often help, and after spending half a day wandering through the streets, we sat down over a coffee to chat about how edgy we were feeling and why.

The short bus ride along the coast to Valparaiso was quite enjoyable, even though there are no dedicated bus stops and we had no clue where to get off. The buses hammer along, their only schedule making as many trips (everywhere it seems) a day as possible. We sat in the front squeezed together on a bench seat at the front, peering out between the many perspex destination signs, changed often and swinging from stick on hooks, as we careered around bends, slowing just enough for a passenger to climb aboard or sail onto the sidewalk: you only stop for traffic lights, women and thankfully, tourists!

cat grooming at the newsagentLooking around at the crumbling infrastructure, you could tell this industrial, seaport once had its day and reading about the city’s golden age (1848-1914), the recent preservation movement and becoming a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003, it would be great to see some of this greatness relived.

Gui, Bikram Yoga Vina manager advised us to visit Valpo “only in the morning” and once off the bus, we wandered warily though the back streets. We’d also been told the city was beautiful and were curious to check the vibe for ourselves so we explored with no real agenda or direction. Veronika felt uneasy, a local spied my camera and advised me to be careful of pickpockets, the backup of garbage, smell of urine (from the many street dogs) down backstreets and a rotting cat carcass at the entrance to an old church didn’t help much.

funicular in Valpo'But the beauty was there: old sailors walking the cobble streets, the smiling, friendly coffee shop waitress, gorgeous sunlight dancing in the harbour and steep hills teeming with colourful hillside neighborhoods.

So did Valparaiso have a bad feeling about it or was it us, having our own sense of what good and bad should be, creating the uneasiness we felt? We decided to come back, ride the Funiculars, walk the Zonas Típicas, open up a little.. and experience a different kind of comfort.

Check out my Flickr slideshow of Valparaiso.

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