12-14/12/14 - Valparaiso

View over Valparaiso port and town from the terrace of the Artilleria funicular

The buses for the port of Valparaiso and its resort neighbour, Vina del Mar, leave Santiago every five to ten minutes.  They are large, comfortable coaches with reclining seats and a hold for the luggage and the whole system works like clockwork.  Once again, our expectations of the possible difficulties of travelling in South America were confounded.  The trip took us through the circle of Mountains round Santiago (via a tunnel), across a fertile plain full of vineyards and over a smaller range of hills near the coast - just one and a half hours.  A taxi was readily available at the bus station and we were in our hotel twenty minutes later.

Valparaiso is much more interesting than Santiago!  (Thanks, Geoff and Anne-Marie for telling us this.)  We had two days there and managed to ride on the funicular railways, which carry you up the steep hills away from the waterfront, the public bus, the trolley-bus and the train, and take a boat trip round the bay.  Short of hiring bicycles, I don't think there are any other forms of transport to try.  The town is there because of the natural harbour, so it's a busy port and a base for the Chilean navy.  Like Ushuaia, only more so, the streets rise sharply from the water into a series of hills, all of which are covered with colourful houses, some of which are very smart and others the merest shacks, clinging to the hillsides like limpets.  I don't like to think what happens during an earthquake.  The colourful impression is enhanced by the liberal graffiti which covers nearly every surface.  Some of this is just tagging and scribble, some is probably rude and angry, but some is art in its own right.  And even better, just when you think you are in the messiest, most crumbly slum, there is a magnificent cascade of bougainvillea, nasturtiums or geraniums tumbling down the cliff. 

The point of all the transport we tried was to look at the town from every possible viewpoint - from above, from the middle and the water.  The bus, which took a route across several of the hilltops, was especially entertaining.  It was a public bus, so there were plenty of Valparaiseans going about their business, but when he knew that he only had a couple of tourists on board, the driver slowed down so that we could enjoy the view.  When the general public got on again, he sped up  - quite alarmingly, considering the route!  Just when we thought we had neared the end of our journey and said to each other "We should probably get off at the next stop", there were no more stops and we found ourselves being whisked off onto a major highway on the coast to who knew where!  Not far, as it turned out - Vina del Mar is just a couple of kilometres round the bay.  We got out as soon as we could and caught the next bus back.  Fares were only about 70p or less, and no-one seemed concerned that we had overstayed our welcome.  We returned to Vina del Mar on the train that evening, to find a restaurant, which was easy enough, but Vina is just a resort - it was a bit like going to Paignton for the evening.

The next morning, Sunday, we took the bay boat trip.  It was quite cloudy, so the view wasn't quite at its best, but the trip was made lively by the boatman who gave the commentary.  He only spoke in Spanish and we had no idea what he was saying most of the time, but he was doing it very well!  He made us laugh even when we couldn't understand him.  He reminded us of the boatmen on the Isles of Scilly, with their laconic sense of humour which never gets in the way of their knowledge and skill around their boats.  After that, we still had an hour and a half before we had to leave for the bus station, so we strolled to a public square we had noticed from the trolley-bus.  And there we found out what Valparaiso families do on Sunday mornings.  The square was full of families and as we arrived, they were enjoying the end of a giant puppet show, involving huge characters, manipulated from the inside by performers, narration, songs, dancing and a band.  It looked like some kind of traditional tale - I got the impression that everyone knew who the characters were.  There were also a number of peep-show puppet theatres, where you put your head under a blanket and listened to a sound-track, while the performer manipulated the scene.  And lots of trikes and children's pedal cars for hire.  Everyone was having such a good time and it passed a very diverting half hour!

Back on the bus, back to Santiago and into the soulless but very convenient, (next door to the bus station), Ibis hotel, ready for a very early start next morning.  The plane for Easter Island leaves at 8:30.

Funiculars were all the rage in the late 19th century for getting up and down the steep hills before the internal combustion engine was invented. There were more, but still about 15 working. This one was opened in 1883.

The spectacular views are shared by the "haves" ....

...... and "have nots" clinging to the hillside

One of the many Valparaiso hillsides from the bay

Simple pleasures! Miniature puppet show for kids

Sunday entertainment in Valparaiso