It’s been almost a month now since I arrived in Valparaiso on that slate grey friday morning. Not the best of welcomes to this carnival city of colour. On that day – after having quickly extricated myself from the bus station, I walked to the entrance of the ‘Esprit Ascensor’ (escalator up Cerro Bellavista – no mean feat considering it is quite a distance). The hostel Caracol had recommended that I take a bus to ‘Plaza Victoria’ and then the hill escalator up to Cerro Bellavista. But upon beginning my walk down the main road ‘Avenue Pedro Montt’ – I found myself enjoying the view, and the street life and the din of the pavement sellers as they importuned passers by, the unhealthy beggars, the old women hawkers hiding behind giant ears of corn, such that I continued on foot. Eventually I ended up walking the whole distance to the entrance of the Ascensor only to find the gate locked with a rusty old padlock. How do I get up to Cerro Bellavista?
So I walked.
I found the steps that lead up, and a quarter of the way up – I was thoroughly regretting it and cursing myself for not having taken a taxi. The steps are steep and there are many of them. 255 to be precise. That initial climb up was hard, but now, a month on, I have become something of an expert and can do it without a sweat – with grocery bags to boot!
I like Valparaiso. I like the cosyness of the city. The lack of pretension. The way it lets you become familiar with it. Like a disreputable wench! I adore the narrow streets. The alleys. The countless mysteries. The possible futures. The countless opportunties for naughty deeds. The fact that none of it is straight: it’s either up hill, or down hill, or round corners – twisty, bendy, wonky, a freak of a city. An ever mutating cancerous sore on the landscape – but a pretty looking sore! Not a scourge of skyscrapers and concrete towers. Not like any city in the world. Yes, you could say I am in love. I love the cats and dogs that litter the place. They’re everywhere as well as their poo! Like little mounds of love that greet you on your walks. I love the little coffee shop below my window where I can grab a drink if I feel lazy or fresh home baked cakes whenever I am attacked by the sweet tooth demon. I love taking strolls in the evening – up hills, down paths, pass wonderful street art and graffiti laden walls, pass little stalls that sell Coca Cola in glass bottles. I feel like an explorer miles from home – miles from any care. Somebody who has escaped the shackles. In a land as mysterious as the language and people. I love watching the kids play on the streets and the grandmother who takes her grandchild for a walk every evening and the man who takes his fluffy little dog for a walk at set times 6 times a day. Like clockwork. I love spending the blue, balmy summer evenings on my roof terrace watching the firmament dim, to be replaced by the glittering neon of the city. On a windy or cloudy night the neon positively shimmers. Beautiful! I love the mornings when the crisp bright sun beams through my curtains and bids me good morning.
Such is my life. But don’t think it is a life of leisure – for amidst the above, many thoughts come my way – such that every day is like a mini Renaissance! I feel like I am getting wiser as the days pass! How to live? what is a happy life? what am I doing here? what matters? how important is love? what is the human condition? why does the Dalai Lama always have a serene smile on his face? what’s the best Chilean red?!
I really love Valparaiso. It’s a pity I’ll have to leave but I still have a long journey ahead of me: There is San Pedro de Atacama and the Atacama desert and its brilliant clear starry sky and then the salt flats – the Salar de Unuyi – in Bolivia, perhaps the highlight of the whole adventure. There are copper and silver mines to explore and deserted mining towns to wander through and engage with the spirits of long gone miners. There are more volcanoes to climb – the highest lake in the world and the highest train journey too. And then there is the famed city of Machu Picchu. The last Inca bastion against the onslaught of the indomitable Conquistadores!
Life’s a journey, and I feel privileged to be making this small one. You are welcome to continue your journey with me.
Just bring your own toilet roll.