The next day dawned with a cool, watery sky. I asked the hotel reception for a map, and made my way down to the centre of town, the thin coastal strip close by the dockyards. The streets are narrow, and hard to follow on a map, such is their convolutions.
Buildings are piled up hard by the roadway. No yards and little parking. They’re brightly painted, and appear single storey from the street, but if one can look from the rear, often have many levels, their feet planted well below.
Perhaps it’s just early, but there are few people about. Plenty of stray dogs, though, ubiquitous throughout the country.
At the town centre, little is happening. There’s a dirty market with nothing of value, closed shops. Workmen pretending to dig, lift, or carry. This isn’t the attraction of the city. It’s the ascensores.
Of course, there are plenty of cities the world over with cable cars, or funiculars. Some go to places of interest, or lookouts: think Wellington, New Zealand or even Santiago. Some are used as a form of public transport: La Paz, Bolivia, for example. But there’s something different about this city. They are a way of life, and there’s a lot of them.
There are 15, in fact, and none of them particularly new. They were built between 1883 and 1916, and it shows, though to be fair, there’s a certain amount of maintenance going on. A number of them were under renovation during my visit. They rumble from the coastal plain, spraying steeply up into the cerros (hills), not with any particular destination in mind, it seems. I wonder what peak hour is like. An ascensore museum shows photos of the early, steam power days, and sells souvenirs.
If you’re knees are in good condition, the streets are just as interesting. Street art and murals abound, faded mansions, glorious lookouts and stepped streets. Strangely, the waterfront is the least interesting aspect of the town. Pablo Naruda lived here, high on Cerro Bellavista, and you can walk through his studio.
There are tours available, but at least in my opinion Valparaiso is best taken randomly: a discovery around every corner. Unfortunately for me, I had only one day to explore, and I would have liked more time.
The hills are well known for quality restaurants, serving fine Chilean food (and wine), and I was well fed that night, though concerned about getting back to my hotel in the dark. As a tourist, it would be easy to get lost here, and to fall into a ditch the size of the Andes. There are steep drop-offs close-by many roads, and drunken meandering is not recommended. I took a taxi.
I left early the next morning, back on the bus. This time I made sure I sat in my alloted seat.