Today is a bit of a rest day, due to the long day yesterday. Steven has gone back to his house for a little while and I have decided to do a bit of walking around on my own for the first time since arriving. I didn’t stray too far from the apartment as I have the only key but I reloaded my payment card for the Metro, did some walking around the local area and I am now in Parque Forrestal eating some lovely ice cream from Emporio La Rosa and thinking about the really fun day yesterday in Valparaíso. My plan after here is to walk back to the apartment, look at the craft market near Cerro Santa Lucía to see if I can pick up some souvenirs, and buy some more fruit from one of the street sellers.
The coach journey yesterday was fairly painless, much to my surprise. I am tall person and in the majority of public transport in The UK I never have enough leg room, regularly having to sit sideways in seats or endure the backs of seats smashing into my knees, but this was not a problem in Chile. The coach that we took was very comfortable, had plenty of leg room, and made the journey to Valparaíso enjoyable. Even though we only travelled 90 minutes outside of Santiago it was nice to see more of Chile and the scenery, although not as breath-taking as what I saw from the plane, was really nice.
Valparaíso was a nice town to visit. The main bus station is a little way outside of the main area of the city so you either have to catch a trolley bus or walk, but either are good options. We decided to have some breakfast in a food court above a market very close to the bus station before walking into the historical areas.
The walk into the main part of the city takes you past a lot of industrial units, so I really wouldn’t recommend it at night time, but it gives an insight into the origins of the city. Dating back to colonial times Valparaíso has always been an important port and industrial centre, although this has somewhat declined in recent decades which is why the Chilean Parliament was moved here some time ago in an effort to promote regeneration. Although even in the industrial areas something that is very apparent is that the city is full of street art. I will call it street art as opposed to graffiti because this genuinely is art as opposed to the random mess that can be found sprayed around European cities.
One thing that proved very helpful in Valparaíso is that there is a company called “Tours for Tips”, and they run two different tours of the city in both English and Spanish. As the name suggests you can give them what you want, based on how you found the experience, but most people gave in the region of 10000 pesos (approximately 10 pounds) each. I believe that they also operate in Santiago but I won’t need to use them there.
We decided to go on the afternoon tour, but there was still some time before it started and so we decided to go on a boat tour of the harbour. There are a few companies that provide this service and they all depart from Muelle Prat, very close to Plaza Soto Mayor. Live commentary is provided only in Spanish but from the boats you are able to see the city from a very different perspective as you are told about the history of the city, have landmarks pointed out, are told about the Chilean Parliament and shown the Navy ships in the harbour. It was definitely worth doing, but the only problem was the leg room in each row was probably 15cm less than what I needed to be able to sit comfortably and as a result I was in some serious pain by the time we returned to dry land due to my knees being badly crushed by the seat in front. The average person would most likely find the leg room adequate.
There was time for some souvenir shopping and a cold drink in Starbucks before it was time to head for our walking tour. No booking is required for the tour, just wait next to the Monumento a Los Heroes de Iquique at the prescribed time and keep an eye out for people dressed up in red and white striped tops which make them look like Wally (Waldo for any Americans reading this). They will divide the groups up accordingly depending on how many people require each language and you will then head off in different directions. Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable young lady who had recently returned to Chile after some years living in Spain, as was obvious from her accent even before she told us.
The walking tour lasted a few hours and took us up into the UNESCO World Heritage area which is extensively covered in street art. After riding the funicular up the hill you are told a lot about the history of the area and how the people pushed for UNESCO recognition in order to preserve the character of the area but how this has backfired. I won’t go into too much detail as you should go on the tour yourself, but to cut a long story short the UNESCO recognition requires that any building work be done in the original style using original materials. This has helped to maintain the unique character of the area but has resulted in building work being prohibitively expensive for many people. We also saw an example of the damage it can do to the area – there is an area which burnt down some years ago but where the owners have been unable to rebuild due to the cost of original materials and as a result the area has been left as a wasteland.
Overall the walking tour was very enjoyable. We saw lots of nice sights, saw some great art, were introduced to local delicacies during a rest stop half way through, and heard a lot about the history of the area. The only part that I thought was unnecessary was the final stop of the tour, at Tours for Tips HQ, where they do a presentation to try to sell you other tours and try to bribe you to sign up with homemade spirits. There is no obligation to sign up, and for us it would have been pointless as we were only in the city for the day, so we just tipped our guide and left.
There were still a couple of hours remaining before our coach back to Santiago but by this time our feet were hurting, so we decided to catch the trolley bus back towards the main bus station and to try to find something to eat. Even though it was not very late we had trouble finding anywhere that was still open so, after taking some photos of the Chilean Parliament, we made our way to a shopping centre in order to grab some food for the apartment and have some snacks in the food court.
The remainder of the day was fairly uneventful, except for seeing a street musician dressed up with a scary mask. Apparently he is well known in Chile, or at the very least infamous, so he was interesting to see. The coach ride back to Santiago was smooth and after eating the empanadas we bought in Valparaíso we had an early night in order to not be exhausted today.
I am not sure what we will be doing later today when I meet back up with Steven but it is likely that we will just take it easy. We have done a lot of walking over the last few days so it will be nice to take a break from it and have an early night in order to conserve our energy. Tomorrow we travel to Viña del Mar and as we will be out of the city for the whole day it is likely that we will end up exhausted again.