riot on an empty street

The mural clinched it. A row of giant colourful sushi, painted on the wall of the restaurant. The sushi turned out unmemorable but I remember the mural. 

Valparaiso comes up quickly when you start searching for ideas on where to go in Chile. About 90 minutes by bus from Santiago, it’s an easy enough day trip from the capital, except that it shouldn’t just be a day trip. I read about the great street art, the city’s Unesco World Heritage Site status, its rich bohemian artistic heritage.

Valparaiso is all these things but it has lost none of its soul, despite a camera-wielding tourist appearing at every street corner. Locals still stop at streets and outside shops to chat with each other, or shout a cheery greeting to their neighbourhood grocery store owner as they walk by. There’s a working-class grit to most of the neighbourhoods and only the touristy quarters have some of the hipster gentrification seen in big cities worldwide. 

The city sprawls across rolling hills set around a deep horseshoe-shaped bay facing the glittering blue of the Pacific Ocean. “Everyone has a view of the sea in Valparaiso,” said the local guide for our walking tour, and I believe it because our Airbnb room in an old yellow house in the hills boasted such a view, framed by lemon trees, no less. 

Colourful houses cover the hills — it looks like someone took a bunch of matchboxes and set them them down untidily into the hills. A few high-rise condos stick out like sore thumbs, but the local government has put a halt to them, perhaps aware of the impact it has on the city’s unique landscape, and sparing residents from being stuck living in the shadow of such buildings. 

And the street art – it’s everywhere, in all manner of styles. Walking on Valpo’s streets is to lose yourself in a whirl of colour, where styles clash and artists pay tribute to whatever they wish to celebrate, whether it’s Chiloe’s seafaring heritage or a nice mural of fish for a kindergarten. Or sushi. 

We also visited Pablo Neruda’s house, La Sebastiana, which deserves a post on its own. But, until I feel like writing again, some photos of Valpo…



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