Friday, January 28, 2011

Valparaiso, Chile... BOHEMIA is alive!

Just two hours by bus along a nice freeway from Santiago, Valparaiso is a whole different world from Chile's capital. You'll be kicking yourself for not coming here sooner from dull Santiago.

Bohemia lives on in Valpo!

Like a watercolor painting, this wacky, rough and tumble Chilean coastal hill town is living art. The 'cerros' or hills are alive with the vibrant colors of modest homes and the soft sounds of people along labyrinthine cobblestone paths.

A place to be unhurried and soak in the vibe of another era where artists paint in nooks overlooking the harbor, funiculars or ascensors ride up the cerros with their small cargo of excited tourists and bemused locals, women talk to each other out of upstairs windows of pastel cottages and cats guard homes and alleyways, Valparaíso was declared a World Heritage Site in 2003.

I arrived at the bus terminal, and while my guidebook did not tell me how to get from here to the atmospheric cerros of Alegre and Concepcion, it did tell me to watch out as the lower areas of Valpo are dodgy.. and to protect my belongings from petty street crime and muggings!

So I hugged my concealed camera equipment ever so closer, and headed outside the terminal. At a store next door, I approached a pretty girl - ahem! - and asked her how I could get to the cerros.

A sweetie, she took me by the arm and waited at a curb with me till a 'collectivo' taxi came by with Alegre on its rooftop. She gave the driver specific instructions, and to take care of me.

As I thanked her and kissed her on the cheek .. it's what you do in Latin America.. she said, "Tenga cuidado. Esta zona puede ser peligroso". Be careful. This area can be dangerous.

Ah, I needn't have worried! The collectivo driver, a gentlemanly sort, drove madly up the winding hills and brought me to the bohemia I was in search of. The fare for the 20 minute ride to paradise... 50 cents! I gave him a handsome tip, and thanked him profusely.

My first sight of the cerros of Valparaiso! I was smitten. This was the beautiful, nutty, colorful, old timey harbor hill town I had read about.

Yes, yes I had arrived in Valpo ... albeit under the watchful gaze of cats protecting these old but proud homes, as if they knew theirs was no ordinary town.

The cobblestone paths led up and around in myriad ways and elevations, all seeming to lead to paintbook cottages.

I took in the quaint splendor.

I wasn't alone in my ebullient discovery. A goodly number of tourists were gasping at the sights as well.

What a pleasure to look around and into little lanes and alleys for the first time.

As I stood with my backpacks, I took in the sight of the harbor, dotted with florid boats.

Thanks to my Lonely Planet guidebook, I browsed around a few hostels, and ultimately settled on a charismatic and warmly cavernous 100 year old two storey home in Cerro Allegre, Residencia en el Cerro Pierre Loti 51 Hospedaje, beautifully kept by its owner who dotes on her guests.

I was set!  Now to go out and explore and click away...this was a travel photographer's fantasy come true.

The wall paintings and graffiti art lend a carefree artistic charm to this town that I was quickly developing an infatuation with.

With my new backpacker buddy, kiwi Adrian who had been traveling the world for seven months, we took in the sights of Valpo from the water as well.

And rode the old-worldly 'funiculars' or 'ascensors'.

The sights around town were delightful.

And of course, what would Bohemia be without ... Bohemians !


It's strange, it's beautiful, it's gritty, it has a vibe. Stay in a romantic turn-of-the-century home. Relax for a while.

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