Sometimes when I describe a place on this blog I can sound quite pompous. It’s true, I’m reminiscent of a young Charles Dickens… See, I’ve done it again. I shouldn’t use words like reminiscent, and I certainly shouldn’t compare myself to Charles Dickens. Anyway, from what we’d heard about Valparaiso, this blog seemed likely to come across rather grandiose.
We’d heard that Valparaiso is unique, beautiful and that it offers opportunities to write stuff like ‘the waves rush rapidly over golden sands quite unexpected from small time seaside towns such as this Chilean gem’. God I couldn’t wait to get there and start writing.
Our guesthouse owner gave us a map tour of the town with her finger, “you’ll want to visit the cliff railway” she told us, “Prat Street is nice, and a boat ride along the bay will let you really soak up the town”. She looked up from the map into all four of our combined eyes, dropped her finger heavily onto the map, seemingly without looking where, and said too seriously for my liking “you don’t want to go here, here is not for you”.
Well, we now knew exactly where we wanted to go. But first we’d check out all the other places she’d mentioned. Starting with Prat Street, the epicentre of Valparaiso, where we might find quaint shops, unique delicacies and authentic rural Chilean life.
And we weren’t let down, to the left of us we saw a quaint Peso store, similar to a 99p shop, to the right there was a Irish looking corner pub selling unique delicacies such as beer, and as for authentic Chilean life, well there was a HSBC in which real life genuine Chilean people do their banking. I’ll be honest, it reminded me of Bristol back home. Still, Bristol’s nice. And I’d happily go for boat ride along Bristol’s docks, so why not in Valparaiso eh?
“Is this the boat that takes tourists up the docks?”
“Si, get in boat.”
“Um, did you understand the question? Speak English?”
“Get in boat, get in boat.”
We got in the boat. And we stayed in the boat for 45 minutes, luckily the boat did just go up and down the docks and not set out to sea for some fishing. And I would recommend the boat trip for anyone who speaks Spanish. For anyone who doesn’t it’s slightly uncomfortable nodding when you think the guide expects it, and laughing when everyone else does. The ride allowed us to see both pelicans and sea lions up close, but the scenery reminded me of a built up Whitby, like a London Whitby if you will…
There were only two more places to see according to our guesthouse owner – the cliff railway and the “place we don’t want to go”. But we thought we’d explore a bit further afield, so the next day we took a metro down to Vina del Mar, a small town not too far away, to visit their beach. Awesome, I thought, here would be a place worth scribbling my pompous ramblings about, before declaring it poetry!
It was a bit like Scarborough. Well now, that wasn’t too pompous at all!
We enjoyed an ice-cream, an iced coffee and a bit of wedding planning on the beach and headed for the cliff train.
“We’ve got one of these down in Devon” I told Gemma as we were halfway up our 2 minute cliff train ride “I used to love it when I was a kid”.
It turns out I still like cliff trains, and the view from the top was pretty, but we decided not to take the train back down like most people, we decided to walk.
All of a sudden all the colourful buildings and quaint Chilean wall paintings stopped and we were faced with a hidden slum sprawled up the side of a cliff. It was a stark contrast from the rest of the town, dark and dingy with tiny grey doors to each room, and it was huge but would be hard to find if it wasn’t for the aimless walking.
That’s when we realised, we’d found the part of the town that we’d been warned not to go to. It “wasn’t for us”. It didn’t feel dangerous at all, just hidden, and it reminded me of all those slums in Phnom Penh we’d seen moved away from the city and out of sight.
As we made our way back down to the entrance to the Devonshire cliff railway, past the Bristolian area of Pratt Street and through the London meets Whitby styled docks we realised that maybe this place isn’t the most unique place in the world. But it is quaint, and it is beautiful, and we’d had a great couple of days exploring a Chilean version of English life. Valparaiso brings some of the best parts of England to one small town in Latin America, and maybe, just maybe, that’s what makes it unique.
Whoops, there I go with the pompous writing again.