15.01.2014 - 16.01.2014 12 °C
Off the bus, we head down to the apartment we will be staying at. Streets are busy, people going home from a hard day's work. Sun is low but bright, as it is on long summer afternoons, or rather in winter, in these parts of the world.
We are in Valparaiso, a "Paradise Valley" acclaimed city of colors, history, engineering, culture, harbor and of course, parties...
It is a city, detached from the sea by a tramline and former harbor structures in decay. The sea used to be city's heart, it's giver of life, it seems, but now it is just a thing in the background, that appears on panoramas.
Between the sea and the famous hills is the flat bit, busy with stores, office buildings, restaurants, cafes and supermarkets.
Looking for the house number 519 on Avenida General Cruz, walking up and down, but no luck. Finally a lady comes around the corner, and says "hola!", it is obvious that we are some tourists with heavy backpacks, who seem to be lost while looking for something. She is our host, Loreta, with her daughter, Siena. Loreta says, Siena is an Italian name, it sure is, and Siena is as beautiful as an Italian.
Loreta opens the building door in front of us, we had found the place, we just did not know, as number 519 is written with a chalk on the side of the door.
Thru the front door we go in to the vestibule and start walking up the long curving stairs that resemble an entrance to a former mansion. Squeaky wood stairs lead to a hallway upstairs, 10 double doors lead to various rooms from the hallway with old school fish scale wood floor pattern.
Valparaiso is located on a geography made of hills and valleys... The hills that overlook the sea, the port and the flat bit are accessible by historic ascensores that rattle up and down non stop all day, hauling people from the lower part of the city to the hills. And once on the hills, it is a different world. Sky is nearer, sun does not seem so low anymore, and the view, must have been a delight, back in the last century.
Our bedroom, third one in the 20 meter long hallway, has only got a double bed and a bench in it, and ceilings of roughly 4 and a half meters. Sun light pierces thru the shutters; as you open the shutters, the room is filled with sunlight.
Cracked windows taped to hold together, provide views to the run down but busy park across the street. Cracked stucco on the walls reveal bricks.
Same kind of decay has hit the city when the Panama Chanel was built in 1914. Since then, Valparaiso has lost its role in the world commerce and gradually started loose its commercial importance but never its' bohemian popularity...
Corner room is the painting studio, where Francisco is busy putting the finishing touches to his renditions of Valparaiso. Demolished buildings and other local landmarks are painted in Daliesque ways with the intention of rendering them immortal, these paintings will be featured in a movie we are told.
Francisco and his paintings represent a century of Valparaiso when it shone like a diamond ... Now its' residents are stuck in nostalgia of the heydays.
The rest of the rooms are living quarters of our host couple, office, bedrooms, shared shower and kitchen.
As the central hills are mostly gentrified by students and bohemians, parties are part of the daily life, and they go on until the wee hours, pretty much every night.
Downstairs from our room is The Extreme Nightclub, that will provide the hard rock and 80's anthem lullabies for us tourists to fall asleep at night.
Boutique hotels and design stores are abundant on the colorful gentrified hills and on roads that lead to the hills. On one of these roads, Cerveceria Altamira is housed in the former oldest brewery building in the country. They probably serve one of the most sophisticated beers you can find on this continent.
Valparaiso, or Valpo, as locals call it, is nostalgia itself, written all over it. Apart from its cute hilly neighborhoods, all that is left of its heyday is decay, pollution and poverty. Its tired soul is still there, but it might never be resurrected...