Wednesday, January 2, 2013

En Vina y Valpo – Dia Dos

I did some research on Vina del Mar and Valparaiso on Trip Advisor and found rave reviews for “the German Pirate”, a guide named Michael, so set up a tour of Valparaiso with him for day two.  It was a great decision and a good get acquainted strategy.


I first learned from him how to determine which busses go where and how much they cost. (more about CLP/Chilean pesos, later)  Vina and Valpo are physically next to each other and polar opposites in almost every other way.

From the time the Spanish got to South America, Valparaiso was one of the major Pacific ports.  The Conquistadores came overland into Chile, found no great quantities of gold or silver, and promptly went back north without developing much infrastructure in this country.  However, for those sailing around Cape Horn, Valparaiso was the first port (or last) in a temperate climate that offered well protected anchorages.  It became one of the premier ports on the Pacific coast and as such was truly an international community.  The British, Americans and Germans were prime investors and developers around the port and their names and influence are everywhere. The customs house was designed and built by an American, the fire department is still divided into the English and German stations! 

Things thrived in Valpo till the opening of the Panama Canal.  Suddenly, there was not much reason to go there.  The first big mineral boom for Chile was in nitrates used to make fertilizer and explosives and sadly, nearly at the same time, artificial nitrates were invented and that trade collapsed.  Valpo became a ghost town as it was abandoned by a huge segment of the population. 

Much of the architecture of Valparaiso is late 19th century and there are flashes of Victorian gingerbread trim, and an air of San Francisco in many places.  There are still the grand mansions of the rich in the hills above,  many being rehabbed by people from Santiago and from Europe into boutique hotels and hostals. 

One of the most unique things about the architecture is that the outsides of the buildings are covered with painted tin, which protects the original wood frames and the adobe bricks that were used in many houses. Even better, they are painted in bright Caribbean colors


The most fun was riding the funiculars!  We went up and down several times.  For New Year’s the prices were raised to about $1, normally they are $0.25.  It was still a deal, kind of like a mini Disney ride.

Happy that it's New Years and that they aren't climbing the hills (inside the funicular)

Valpo is still very much a city in transition.  According to Michael, as late as 10 years ago,  a fixer-upper on the hills could be bought for as little as $5,000.  Fixer upper being a relative term (see the fixer upper picture for a REAL rescue project).

Valparaiso is a UNESCO world heritage center, and much is being done to rebuild it around the tourist trade. El Armada de Chile (the Navy) still has its headquarters here in some beautiful buildings.  It’s also the graffiti capital of Chile, and a good deal of it is just downright beautiful.  I'll post my favorites so far.

Same artist, famous for his birds

un gato

My favorite

All in all, it was an amazing tour.  Michael had friends everywhere in the city so we met quite a few of the locals, who were quite kind about my fractured “Castellano”, which is what the locals proudly call their version of Spanish, since it is said to be quite close in accent to real Castilian Spanish.

Going home, we rode the subway back from Valpo to Vina, a fun experience that took about 10 minutes, in a clean and quiet environment. Next stop:  Nuevo Ano!

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