Friday afternoon we left school, jumped on the bus and made the 1.5 hour journey to the very popular tourist destination of Valparaiso. No backpacker makes a visit to Chile without heading to this character drenched and very unique South American city.
Valpo is a major port city, the national congress of Chile is based there (although Santiago is the official capital) and has been named a Unesco World Heritage site. The layout is similar to Wellington’s – it sits alongside a curved port and waterfront and mushrooms into the incredibly steep surrounding hills. But any similarities with Wellington or some even say San Fran, stop there.
Valpo is a myriad of cobbled one way streets and alleys leading to the crumbling hillside homes. The hazardously hanging bundles of electrical wires and grand displays of graffiti art along with the faded colonial buildings and the obvious poverty of the area makes for a unique place to visit.
After settling into our little yellow B&B on the hillside we walked into town to check out the local craft markets and grab some dinner. We had been advised to try ‘chorillana’, a local special of fries topped with a combination of eggs, onion, sasuage, chicken and cheese. Something you could imagine cooking in your flat as a student - but always eager to try new dishes we ordered and enjoyed!
However, the highlight of the evening was that we managed to order our entire meal in Spanish! It went surprisingly smoothly and as soon as we explained to our waiter that we spoke little Spanish he was very patient and encouraging. We left the restaurant feeling rather proud of our small achievement - with super full bellies we trekked up the hill home for an early night. This city is a bit dodgy at night and we were warned not to hang around when it wasn’t necessary.
Saturday we woke to a pleasant sunny day with a fresh seaside breeze. Our room had an amazing view over the city – showing the complete kaleidoscope of the brightly painted homes.
We headed into town to check out the open air museum - a group of buildings painted with decorative murals and charming extracts of poetry. We stumbled across a man who was painting a stunning mural of Valpo that flowed alongside a building and down a steep staircase. Very cool - we can only imagine the years of work that had gone into this particular piece. We spent hours wondering the streets not only admiring the art but also marvelling at the ramshackle homes (many made of corrugated iron) precariously perched on the hill side.
After a lunch of empanadas we strolled along the port and stumbled across a free photo exhibition located in the train station (this is the third exhibition in a train station that we have come across on our trip).The exhibition portrayed life in South and Central American countries and particularly the violence and poverty that many people face in their daily lives. It was very moving and certainly got us thinking about how different an experience of a country is from the ‘tourist’ eye.
The preceding week at school was another mixed bag of highs and lows. We felt as though we made some significant progress one day to then struggle through the next. But our vocabulary and confidence is certainly building. Hopefully during our final week of school we will cement what we have learnt and boost our knowledge even further for the purposes of travel. We have both an oral and written exam next week so are forced to do some study over the weekend. Not such a chore when it is likely to be poolside.