To research for an oral project due next week we were instructed to go out into the world and observe Chilean culture. We, of course, took this as an instruction to go to the nearest beach town called Valparaiso. From what we heard from our house families, the city is a very popular vacation spot with night life, sea food, and lounging beaches. We discovered a city rather different then described…
One member of the group booked a Hostel in the hills (everything is in the hills because Valpariso is basically on the cliff’s edge of the ocean) for what she thought was 8 people. When we got there we discovered that she had booked a single bed in an 8 person room. However, though there was a mishap, the man who ran the hostel was all too happy to help us. He called the 5 other hostels on the same block and found us a room in one of the most interesting buildings I have aver been in.
The crazy street our hostel was on – this picture does NOT do it justice
The buildings here look like something out of a Tim Burton movie (if Tim drew in pastel). Most are covered with colorful metal plates that give the whole city an artsy city-by-the-sea feeling. They are generally one story but have ceilings high enough to accommodate two. They are skinny, tall and have tiny doors that lead to gigantic rooms. Large windows and skylights that sometimes cover the entire ceiling give the rooms an indoor outdoor feeling. The wood on the floors is so soft it feels like carpet. There are really old buildings and a few new ones, but every single building is covered in graffiti.
Mural; Building in Valpo
It was interesting because we found both incredibly helpful people and incredibly sketchy people. Everyone we talked to was very friendly and accommodating to our questions. They would stop and tell us the history of a building if we asked or give detailed instructions on how to get places. When we accidentally wandered into a park that looked nice enough, we were stopped by four people (one of whom stopped his car in the middle of traffic) to tell us that the part of town we were in was not safe and that we should leave immediately. However, there were also lecherous men. On our first night out, we were followed on three separate occasions in the street by men of all ages. Once when we stopped to buy ice cream on a busy corner, one (very drunk) guy bought Gaby and Weiru (two of the girls I was traveling with) chocolate and proceeded to get closer and closer to their faces before we ducked into another store with a bouncer. Needless to say, it was an early night back in the hostel.
Everyone could tell that we were tourists because there are a lot more people from different countries in Valparaiso. In our hostel alone there was a couple from Sweeden, two guys from China, and a girl from Wisconsin. On our second night there we met and hung out with Jeff and Cody from Canada who were staying in the hostel above us. I’m used to traveling with family and spending time exclusively with my family on vacations. However, with the people we met on this trip, everyone was very open to traveling together and assuming a friendship on simply the basis that we were all English speakers in a foreign place.
Me and My New Best Friend; Cute Kitty With Tomato (Both were strays – dog followed us for 3+ hours around the city, we got him a croissant for lunch)
The Beaches and the City:
The city is a conundrum of graffiti, trash, beautiful buildings, cliff-side views of the sea, friendly stray dogs and cats and a strangely pleasant fish smell. There are no lounging beaches in Valpo, only a rocky shore’s edge from which you can see sea lions lounging on a concrete structure out in the water. For beaches you take a bus about 20 minutes outside of the city. Reñaca is one of the richest places in Chile, and as a result it looks like something out of Malibu, California. Beautiful beaches, beautiful people, and of course, Starbucks (the first one I’ve seen since being here). We spent the majority of our time in Valparaiso – much more to do with people watching, culture, and sight seeing.
Me & The Valpo Dock; Seals in the Sun; Ladies on a Fancy Beach
The first night we ended up in a tourist trap seafood restaurant that tasted like McDonald’s version of Ceviche. But on the second day we were able to correct our mistake. We found a restaurant on the top floor of an outdoor farmers market. Everyone eating there was local, and I have never had a better piece of fish in my life.
I think the best part about the trip was that we went with no plans. We did not have particular sights we wanted to see, or places we had to go. We didn’t even really know where we were staying until we got there. Everything we did we did on a whim because someone we met there told us to go. I’ve never traveled without a vague sense of a plan, so it was a really interesting experience to let go of my sense of control over the trip and let whatever happened happen.