We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape up.
Valparaiso, Chile: A City of Color With A History of Protest and Street Art
Valparaiso is a city of hills rising up from the coast. Up the cobblestones streets we went until the car stopped in front of a three story house set on the corner of a winding street.
We arrived to Valparaiso mid-day from Santiago and our lovely and gracious host picked us up at the bus station, loaded our bags into the car and drove us to the B&B where we would be staying.
We were pleasantly surprised by the charm of this home, as you never really know what to really expect from photos when researching a place to stay.
Upon arrival, we enjoyed a cup of tea in the front sitting room of the main floor that was filled with antique furniture and knick knacks of all kinds, lots of lace and tapestry. The room seemed to seep with history and I could only imagine the stories that this house had to tell.
Pam, my traveling companion, and I headed up the old wooden stairs and down the creaking plank floors to our adjacent rooms. I opened the door to my room first and we were stuck by how bright the room was with lots of light streaming in through the white, lace window dressings. There was a crisp, white, lace, eyelet coverlet on the bed, and then there were ... the dolls.
The dolls, in white lace dresses and bonnets, were placed everywhere...and I mean everywhere. They were on the dresser, on the chair and a good number on the bed, with realistic eyes that stared. They just stared blankly at you. After a bit of shock and accepting that I would be sharing my room with these dolls, I looked at Pam and softly said, “I wonder if you get dolls too.”
So, with great anticipation, we walked to her room and slowly opened her door to find...no dolls, not one eerily glass-eyed staring doll. Instead, in her room she got hats, white lacey hats, big hats, small hats, hats on the wall, hanging from the ceiling and one large lacey hat with flowers around the brim sitting dead center on the bed. Hats were everywhere, everywhere white, lacey hats. There were so many hats and so many dolls in the rooms that there was no room to set anything, let alone a stand to place the suitcase.
After returning to the ‘room of dolls’ I silently hoped to myself that the dolls weren’t going to come to life as I slept. I moved all of them into an out of sight corner of the room and we headed out to explore the city. We strolled downhill along the labyrinth of cobblestone streets and colorful houses. The view of the ocean was beautiful and the city below invited us to come.
They had turned a number of rooms on the second floor into guest quarters and there was an outdoor patio overlooking the city and Pacific Ocean, providing an expansive view. A flower gardener’s delight, this patio is where breakfast would be served each morning on white linen table cloths under patio umbrellas.
Valparaiso is the second largest metropolitan area in Chile and was once a thriving seaport. After the Panama Canal was built, traffic to the port in Valparaiso was reduced dramatically. It is just in the past two decades that the city has been revived with the arrival of artists and other cultural entrepreneurs who have made Valparaiso’s historic district their home, creating an artsy, bohemian feel. The port continues to this day and it has become a popular port of call for cruise ships. The city is also a major educational center with four major universities.
Over the next two days, we enjoyed a good number of attractions within the city and spent a lot of time just wandering the neighborhoods.
There are many hills making up Valparaiso that slope to the ocean. On one of the hills, adjacent to Cerro Concepcion, are three cemeteries worth seeing.
Two are for the faithful of the Catholic Church and the third called the Dissidents Cemetery, located between the other two, is where Lutherans, English, Germans and other non-Catholics were buried.
The cemetery grounds are well kept, filled with history and stories of lives untold. There were stone mausoleums, headstones, and grave sites, some immaculately groomed while others had metal gates that had become rusty and in disrepair over time, but overall the cemeteries were respectfully and beautifully groomed. The view of the city from this location was stunningly panoramic.
After spending some time wandering throughout the cemeteries, we head down the hill stopping to admire murals painted here and there, from the side of houses to a corrugated metal fence. They are colorful and curious.
We arrived to the Assensor Funicular, a hillside railway car that would take us up to Cerro Concepcion. The funiculars were built in the late 1800s to the early 1900s and only a few are still in service today.
After climbing into the funicular car we were lifted up, slowly, and through the windows of the wooden box on rails we were provided a stunning panoramic view of the city below.
We took note of a large mural on the side of a building that stood out from the other surrounding buildings, a preview of the art we would see in Concepcion.
We arrived to the top and as we exited the funicular to the right we see a bright, deep, rich, orange colored house, not far from a green church. The colors seemed to have ramped up in this area.
The green church, about a block away, stood out from the rest of the architecture. This was the Iglesia Luterana de La Santa Cruz de Valparaiso, a World Heritage Site, and the first protestant church with a bell tower in Latin America. It was built by German settlers to the area in 1897 and was restored in 2011. The architectural elements are German, painted green with a tile roof.
We followed the steps and a walkway, as we exited the funicular, and were pleasantly surprised to see two muralists at work, creating a wild scene on the side of a building.
Stopping to watch, we notice that the artists were creating the image using only spray paint cans, their faces covered with respirators. We watched for some time and wondered if they drew the design first or if the creation was kind of a ‘create as you go’ piece. Regardless, it was wonderful with magical characters from another realm.
Walking through the streets of the Cerro Concepcion neighborhood we were surrounded by color, pattern, design, and odd and interesting characters of all kinds. What wasn’t covered in a mural was painted in bold, bright and beautiful colors. At every turn there was mural upon mural upon mural. It was as if I was walking through imagination and warmly blanketed by creativity.
It was as if I was walking through imagination and warmly blanketed by creativity.
With the onset of a socialist presidency in 1968 and the economic uncertainty and social issues of that time, a large student protest ensued. To demonstrate their stance they painted the buildings with street art. Fists raised, faces of workers in bold color, outlined in black, the murals represent the unrest of that time.
Since then artists from all over the world have come to Valparaiso to create street art. There are examples of stencil, character pieces, graffiti and wild-style. Other street artists have paid tribute to the Masters as can be seen in the mural of Starry Night, an homage to the original Van Gogh painting.
We intended to go up a different funicular to Pablo Naruda’s house, but it was non-functioning, so we walked a bit until we encountered a taxi that was willing to take us up the hill.
Pablo Neruda, Chile’s most famous resident poet, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, had three homes in Chile. One in Santiago, La Charscona, was bought in 1951 for his secret lover and love of his life, Matilda Urrutin. About an hour south of Santiago was another one of the residences, Isla Negra, located on the rocky coastline.
The house located in Valparaiso, La Sebastian, was where he lived with his wife. Located in Cerro Bellavista, La Sebastian is a hilltop house, now a museum filled with his personal effects providing expansive panoramic views of the city and ocean. I really enjoyed the decorating style and architecture that was a clear reflection of his creative spirit.
After a wonderful day of exploration and delightful surprises, we found a wonderful outdoor café at the base of Concepcion and enjoyed fresh juice and a variety of aperitifs, as we observed life in the city and watched a local woman feed the resident birds.
After a few days of exploring the colorful and creative city of Valparaiso, I bid a due to the glassy-eyed staring dolls in my room and we headed to the bus station for an overnight ride to the southern Chile port city of Puerto Montt.
Read more about Southern Chili: Puerto Montt, Chiloe Island, the Penguin Colony, and Osorno Volcano
Shameless Self Promotion
Besides my love for travel and learning about other countries and cultures, I love to create. I love color and pattern. Currently, I am into photography, digital art, and cartooning. Please take a moment to enjoy some of my creations.
This particular image, Garden Hideaway, was created from a lovely garden and picket fence image taken in Cerro Concepcion in Valparaiso, Chile. Available on apparel, stationary, journals, scarves and much more!
Convergence to Purple
Convergence to Purple was created from an image of two brightly painted homes in Cerro Concepcion, Valparaiso, Chile. Available on apparel, stationary, journals, scarves and much more!