A good friend of mine from the University of Richmond is also studying abroad in Chile. His program is in Valparaíso, a coastal city about an hour and a half away from Santiago by bus. I mentioned in an earlier post that Neal came to visit me in Santiago so it was only natural that I traveled to Santiago to return the favor!
I set out for Valpo (an affectionate nickname for Valparaíso) this past Saturday. My plans to arrive early went awry so I did not reach the city until it was midday. I know I talk a lot about traveling in Chile in my posts but believe it or not this was the first time I traveled by myself. If you have noticed, all of the destinations I have mentioned in blog posts have been excursions with the study abroad group. The program was a bit rigorous in that we could not miss any classes. Travel time was strictly allotted to weekends but when you are living in the longest country in the world, you don’t get very far in a weekend. I am now in my month of research without any class obligations so I am much more flexible to travel. In fact, this weekend I am going back to Valle Elikura to visit my homestay family in the south and conduct some interviews that are relevant for my research. I also have not done traveling on my own thus far because I wanted to avoid becoming a tourist. All my travels so far have been, and will continue to be, for a specific purpose. I think this is a way I have personally tried to step away from typical ecotourism or ethnic tourism.
Anyway, Valparaíso is close enough for a day trip. I was really happy that I was visiting Neal in Valpo and not simply going to sightsee. Neal is also someone very aware of social and political dynamics in Chile and I knew I would “experience Valpo” through a particular lens. The first thing we did was hike up to a neighborhood in Valpo that is known for murals. Valparaíso in itself is known to have a lot of murals. Some carry particular social commentary and others are simply beautiful works of art. World-renowned artists have also crafted beautiful murals in the city. You can imagine the street art makes Valparaíso an incredibly colorful city. The neighborhood we visited is known as the most famous area for public art. The murals are simply drawn outside of private homes with the permission of the homeowner. Many times the mural engulfs the entire outer wall of the house.
Valparaíso is a port city that is spread out almost entirely on hills. Any activity from going to the cemetery to the small neighborhood coffee shop five minutes away is a full-blown hike. One would go mad if they tried to orient him/herself around the city using street names. Those are arbitrary. I learned if you want to get somewhere, you pick out a reference point close to your destination and you head towards that direction. As you are walking, you have to constantly check your position in relation to the reference point and adjust your path accordingly.
Overall, I enjoyed Valparaíso. I think I would have been extremely happy to live there as well. The city isn’t too big to be overwhelming and cold, but it is big enough represent a lot of socioeconomic diversity. It isn’t too small where it may be “boring” or monotonous, but small enough to exude a strong and particular character.
I will definitely return for another visit.