Valparaiso (Valpo for short) is hilly, colourful, artsy, bohemian and above all interesting. It has a rich history, having been the wealthiest port in South America as a result of being the stop off point for Europeans on their way to seek their fortune in the Californian gold rush. This history is reflected in the architecture, culture and diversity within the city.
Valpo is a port city made up of 45 hills, each packed with colourful buildings of all shapes and sizes, many clad in brightly painted corrugated iron from the shipyards, some precariously positioned overhanging sheer drops on crumbling cliff faces. The hills are navigated by either steep pathways or funiculars - which can only be described as wooden beach huts on train tracks pulled up and down perilously steep hills by wires. As soon as we caught site of the city we were drawn in and immediately wanted to explore it.
We wouldn't ordinarily talk about where we stayed, but La Maison du Filou was really something. Our french host Fabian was eccentric and welcoming, he basically rents the spare rooms in his bijou house out to what he calls "passengers" and makes a fantastic breakfast in the morning. Take that Cameron, a very French solution to the bedroom tax! The location of our hostel was perfect and we were easily able to to explore the main two hills, Cerro Conception and Cerro Alegre, from it.
Despite street art being illegal, it's everywhere. On every building, pavement, step and post you are treated to a colourful and imaginatively curated expression of diversity. Walking around Valpo is like exploring a huge, free, open air art gallery. Some of the most famous pieces were painted over stages, interrupted by brief incarcerations as a result of the artists being caught in the act. This caution to the wind attitude of the Porteńos (native Valpo's) might be as a result of the city being on a major fault line where large earthquakes regularly threaten to decimate the lives they have built. In fact, whilst we were there there a tremor large enough to be felt across central Chile happened. However, being a couple of glasses of wine down, we didn't actually know until we were made aware a couple of days later.
Being a port, fresh fish is a major part of a Porteńos diet, with perhaps the most famous dish being ceviche - cubes of raw fish cured in a lime juice marinade and mixed with spices and fresh herbs. We tried this on our last day and were blown away by the flavour and the freshness - we wish we'd had it everyday! Another must try in Chile is Pisco - a brandy-like spirit most commonly enjoyed in a cocktail called a Pisco Sours. Refreshing and lemony this is a real easy drinker, but tread with caution as Sarah was feeling a bit squiffy after only one.
You might notice we've not mentioned Santiago where we spent our first few days in Chile, we had a couple of bad experiences (largely of our own doing), which we may talk about in later posts and the only thing we really managed to enjoy whilst we were there was climbing up Cerro Santa Lucia to see the panoramic views of the city. Despite this, Chile so far has been a great experience, in the main-part thanks to the amazing time we have had in Valpo.