Monday, July 11, 2011

Hiking over the rainbow

To continue the series of "Rebecca climbing up tall things in Chile to see the lay of the land," I bring you my Saturday day trip to the bohemian seaside town of Valparaíso.

The ride to the city was about 2 hrs, roughly $12 US roundtrip, and made in the plush comfort of one of Chile's billion buses (more on that in tomorrow's post). Valparaíso used to be a big-deal port town before the Panama Canal was built, and it was the home of Chile's first fire department, newspaper and stock exchange. However, it's the city's terrain and architecture that gives it its unique character. Valparaíso is composed of hills on top of hills, all sporting Easter-egg colored shacks carved into the cliffs and practically balancing on top of one another.

Since its glory days in bygone centuries it has retained all of its seaside charm, haphazard hill housing and bohemian spirit, and it's one of only a handful of spots in Chile to have been named a World Heritage site. These days, however, the town is a little impoverished. Almost every urban surface is covered in grafitti that oddly matches the rainbow hues of the houses, malnourished strays roam the streets, and after dark, picture-perfect panoramas give way to a grittier reality that sent us back to the bus.

Getting around Valparaiso is a challenge in and of itself--it's notorious for confusing tourists, and I'm sure even locals must find themselves struggling to navigate the winding roads and stairs between hills. Antique, dilapidated trolleys rattle through the flat, touristy part of town by the port, while small local buses careen madly through the steep hills, barely missing people and dogs, without any discernible stops, routes or schedules. For those not bold enough to try the bus but too lazy to hoof it up hills, there are also a series of ascensores, or funiculars, that are painted like cheap county fair rides but that are a bargain at about a buck per ride.

Everything was colorful and pastel in Valaparaíso. The cars:
The shipping containers at the port:
The pedestrians:
And even the kitties:

To finish off, I'd like to offer a translation of the first verse of a poem by Pablo Neruda(a national hero her--more on him later) who had a house in Valparaíso, and who manages to perfectly capture, in verse, the chaotic beauty of this odd place.

Ode to Valparaiso (first verse)
By: Pablo Neruda
Translated by: Laney Sullivan

What nonsense
You are
What a crazy
Insane Port.
Your mounded head
You never finish combing your hair
Life has always surprised you
Death woke you
In your undershirt and long underwear
Fringed with color
With a name tattooed on the stomach
And with a cap
The earthquake grabbed you
You ran
Broke your fingernails
It moved
The waters and the stones
And seas
The night,
You would sleep
In the ground
From your sailing
And the furious earth
Lifted its waves
More stormy
Than a tempest
The dust
Covered you
The eyes
The flames
Burned your shoes
The solid
Houses of bankers
Like wounded whales
While above
The houses of the poor
Into nothingness
Like captive birds
Testing their wings

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