Valparaíso, Chile – September, 2015
Santiago is the business and political center of Chile, with orderly streets and all of the grey buildings you could ever ask for. Two hours away, Valparaíso offers a colorful, oceanfront reminder of why you travel.
The bus dumped us out in the middle of the city. Hobbes, my girlfriend, and myself. Our first order of business was finding Cerro Alegria so we could drop the bags and get to exploring. We quickly took an elevator up the hill, walked a couple of blocks to a hostel, and settled in. The woman at reception offered us an industry discount when she heard me talking about the abrasive manager of an Argentine hostel who had recently stayed at the hostel where I work. We were off to a good start.
After dropping our bags, we set out with Hobbes to explore Cerro Alegria. There are more than 40 cerros, or hills, in Valparaiso, and Cerro Alegria gave us a great vantage point for viewing the rest of the city. We stopped frequently to look at street art, but eventually made our way to Cementario Disidentes.
Catholicism was initially the state religion in Chile and protestants were not allowed to be buried in government cemeteries until the final years of the 19th century. The Dissidents Cemetery, also called the Immigrants Cemetery, was built specifically for protestants. Without being allowed in Catholic cemeteries, they were previously buried on the side of a hill or dumped unceremoniously in the ocean. The cemetery offers an odd glimpse of history, as well as spectacular views of other hilltop neighborhoods.
Reconstruction stemming from a 2011 earthquake included a new memorial for those who were previously buried in unmarked graves.
We next followed our map to the “must see” sites in the city, including the mandated photo ops at the piano staircase and the happies not hippies steps.
Similar to Santiago*, Valparaíso seems to have an obsession with cat art. Glittered bandit cat is my favorite, but Hobbes’ selfie with the mustachioed tile cat isn’t all bad either.
There were several small squares at traffic circles, featuring themed walls and benches. My personal favorite was Paseo de los Sueños (Walk of Dreams), lined with hallucinatory tiles and surrounded by colorful street lights.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the cerros and taking in the art, architecture, and views of the city.
The next day we went down to sea level and explored. The highlight of the day was a quirky marine museum, complete with three dimensional movies projected on the ceiling and walls of some rooms. Some rooms were built to look and feel like submarines and ships, while others featured animals hanging from the ceiling.
The bay was a major shipping port and, depressingly, didn’t feature a beach.
The streets downtown featured more stray dogs than humans, because Chile.
The walk back to the bus station took us through the traditional Spanish square in every Latin American city, Plaza de Armas. In perfect 21st century fashion, WalMart bought property there and built a grocery store.
Three hours later, we were back in the concrete jungle of Santiago.
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