Jan, 2016: Valparaiso is a beautiful if not slightly bonkers UNESCO rated city halfway up the Chilean coast known among things as one of the early examples of 19th century globalisation.
In the second half of the 19th century, Valparaiso entered it’s ‘golden age’ as the first and most important merchant port on the Pacific Coast of South America. From far and wide it drew seafarers, traders and various other opportunists. Valparaiso’s ever expanding population of international expats, challenging geography and topography combined to create a unique urban landscape unlike anything seen in Latin America. Football, non-secular schools and the continents first volunteer fire department were all introduced by immigrants to the ever expanding port city. Before the advent of street names and funiculars were introduced, houses up on the steep hillsides were painted varying colours to enable people to find them. The money derived from the flourishing port also led to the formation of Latin America’s oldest stock exchange not to mention a good few massive mansions and impressive buildings.
Alas, this golden age came to end with the completion of the Panama Canal. The completion of this engineering marvel meant ships no longer needed to travel down and around Cape Horn to reach the east coast of the US and Europe. The Valparaiso left behind became a ramshackle but intriguingly beautiful city which UNESCO has since recognised. In doing so, it has thankfully preserved it for posterity!
Now-a-days, Valparaiso is a centre of Chilean culture with loads of good eating and drinking, drama schools and amazing amounts of epically good street art. We spent 5 days there and loved it! One definite highlight was doing a Chilean cooking course with the creatively named Chilean Cuisine Cooking Class. Our course started with a tour to the central market to buy fruit and veg and then the rest of the afternoon was spent in the big, light filled kitchen / dining room cooking up a storm and drinking tasty beverages and vino. Across the course of a few hours, we made a range of delicious dishes from Ceviche and Empanadas to Pebre and the slightly random Pastel de Choclo. Pebre (tomato, onion and coriander salsa) would become a bit of a staple for us over the next few weeks and months while the the jury is still out on the Pastel de Choclo (poached chicken, minced beef, olives and raisins topped with pureed corn, basil and milk all baked in a stone dish in the oven). The ginger flavoured Pisco Sours were also pretty amazing.
For the most part though, our time in Valparaiso was spent walking up and down the hillside streets taking in the awesome views of the Pacific ocean and probably the best street art we’ve seen on the trip. It was so easy just to head out the door and then get lost in the colourful streets and hidden alleys which make up the fascinating city. There were run down mansions hiding little art galleries and boutiques, arcades filled with cafes and an abundance of cracking graffiti. For us I think that a lot of the spirit of the city can be experienced through a visit to La Sebastiana. This ramshackle mansion spread over five levels is the former residence of Pablo Neruda (famous Chilean poet). Other than amazing views of the coast, the beautiful old house is jam packed with all sorts of random treasures, paintings and sculptures all narrated by a surprisingly good history of the place. The irreverence and colour of the place seems in perfect harmony with the city that Neruda loved so much.
Probably most importantly, especially for the next part of our adventure, we rekindled our couples crush with Tom and Jen from the UK. These crazy cats were equally keen to hire a car and drive north along the coast and up to San Pedro de Atacama. That little adventure has to wait for the next instalment though.
Travel and feasting tips:
- We did our great cooking class with Chilean Cuisine Cooking Classes (25 Galvez, Valparaiso) www.cookingclasseschile.cl.
- Casa Cervecera Altamira (126 Elias, Valparaiso, http://cerveceraaltamira.cl) was an awesome little microbrewery in a subterranean-like setting
- Allegretto Bed & Breakfast (540 Lautaro Rosas, Valparaiso, http://www.allegretto.cl/hotel/en/) is a cosy little hostel with friendly staff, good hanging out areas and a decent kitchen for guest use.
- La Sebastiana (Héctor Calvo 692, Valparaíso, http://www.fundacionneruda.org/en) is a great museum set in one of Pablo Neruda’s old houses which provides a great snapshot of the spirit of the Valparaiso.