As part of our recent four-day trip to Chile, and after two days skiing at El Colorado, we took a day trip to Valparaiso, the beautiful city by the sea. Moments after getting off our bus from Santiago, it hit me: this place reminds me of St George’s – the capital town of Grenada, my home in the Caribbean.
An unexpected dose of nostalgia
The colourful nostalgia of Georgian-style buildings terraced dramatically upwards and outwards away from the sea, like an amphitheatre with the harbour as centre stage… The run-down, peeling galvanised sheets, their colours bleached from the relentless sun… The steep and narrowly winding one-way streets… The chaotic and eclectic mix of old and new… It all felt very familiar, and yet we were on the Pacific Coast of South America!
I later learned that Valpariso developed as a unique cultural melting pot. It was the most important merchant port on the Pacific sea route up until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, which led to a sharp decline in trade. Like all port cities it was influenced by the peoples that came and went. There were many sailors from Britain and other parts of Europe, which explains the architectural similarities with colonial St George’s.
Getting up the hill without breaking a sweat
We started our day trip to Valparaiso by heading straight to the Queen Victoria funicular – one of the main attractions in the UNESCO protected old town of Valparaiso. The city has 16 of them still intact – rickety cable-drawn carriages that slowly lug pedestrians up and down the nearly vertical inclines, offering spectacular views of the city as you ascend. My engineer fiancé (always fascinated by such things) explained that the gravitational weight of the cart on the way down helps to pull the one going up, keeping them ever in balance and using very little energy. They really are fun, and I highly recommend that St. George’s install one on Market Hill. Thank me later, Grenadians…
Once at the top, we spent the afternoon exploring the lofty and picturesque neighbourhoods of Alegre and Concepción, which were planned and built by British and German immigrants, including the first protestant church in South America. Their impact on the area was so much so that the cemetery is divided into two sections, one called the ‘cemetary of the dissidents’ to accommodate protestants who were not allowed to be buried in the Catholic cemetery.
A chequered patchwork blanket of colour
We wondered through the chequered patchwork blanket of brightly-painted houses, cafés, art galleries and boutiques, all competing for prominance on the colourful skyline. It was like peeling back layers through time. There’s modern street art covering most buildings, along with artists and musicians in alcoves and street corners, geared towards tourists but with an authentic, bohemian vibe. Behind that layer, the street names and architectural features serve as reminders of the past – vaulted Victorian roof lines, tiny narrow ‘roads’ more suited to horses and carts than modern vehicles and the crumbling ruins of a fort – an even earlier layer from the city’s first settlers.
Later we descended back to sea level and took a boat tour of the harbour, a good way to get an alternative perspective of the city. The slow overladen tour though the bay was not the most exciting, but I loved getting up close to the lazy sealions basking in the sun on top of a giant buoy, and Mr Maritime-Engineeer-Miller took about 200 photos of the large industrail port and ‘cool’ floating dry-dock.
The perfect conclusion for a day trip to Valparaiso
We ended our day trip to Valparaiso sipping Pisco Sours on a restaurant terrance overlooking the bay. Of course we had to sample the competition in the friendly ‘Pisco Wars’ between Peru and Chile. I think I’ll say no more, and blog separately about the comparison and my verdict! We followed that with a delicious seafood dinner – I tried razor clams for the first time, fresh and salty from the Pacific beneath us, covered in parmesan cheese. Yum.
So, another beautiful place ticked off the list in our journey around incredible South America. In each place we learn something new, often unexpected like Valparaiso’s British heritage, and memories and experiences gained to last forever.
Love from Lima xxx