Tourist explorations in Valpo

a park in the center of Valparaiso.

Valparaiso. what a place. I meant to take a guided tour of the city yesterday beginning at 10am but my alarm failed to go off, leaving me to wake at 9:57, shakin my head at my sleepy self. no matter, I decided, I’m sure I can find some treasures without a tour guide. so I hopped on the metro and rode the few stops over to Valpo.

(side note: near the Puerto metro station, I stopped by a cool little coffee shop–Cafe Melbourne–and once again gave into an American-style coffee. they didn’t sell drip, but I had an americano, in a paper cup with a cardboard sleeve and a plastic lid, just like home. I haven’t seen those anywhere else here, and I’m sure carrying my coffee to go was another super-gringa move…but it was o so comforting and life-giving.)
Valparaiso is a seaport city and one of Chile’s oldest, most historic areas. like the rest of the surrounding area, it stands on a sharp incline; several of the hills feature creaky, colorful, ancient funiculars which ascend and descend on rails. (I haven’t yet ridden in one of them, but can’t wait to try!) as in ViƱa, the main downtown area sits on the plain, with more residential neighborhoods climbing the hills. I wandered around the streets and parks at the base, then decided to hike up a little further, which: wow. just wow.

the slopes of Valparaiso are composed of a labyrinth of alleyways, staircases and roads; walls and homes; hostels, shops and restaurants, every surface enshrouded in elaborate paintings. it dazzled me. I spent two hours turning into hidden paths, marveling, climbing and descending. I could’ve stayed all day.
please note the family of cats in the upstairs window. there are cats EVERYWHERE in Valpo–both living and graffiti’ed.
my pictures don’t capture it at all–how it felt to wander ensconced in a maze of color & whimsy.
I felt like Alice in Wonderland, or Dorothy in Oz, or…well, a tourist. I turned from snapping a photo of a particularly splendid wall to see graffiti’ed nearby, “SR TURISTA, NO SE VUELVE LOCA TOMANDO FOTOS”–“mister tourist, don’t go crazy taking photos.” on a different door was written,”Valparaiso no es escenografia. Respeta a los vecinos”–“Valparaiso isn’t scenery [i.e. a set design]. Respect the neighbors.” this has caused me to think a lot about the ethics of tourism. I’m curious about how people in the neighborhood feel about the tourists, but also the art. it’s aesthetically stunning, but I wonder how its recent boom has affected the local community economically and socially. do they feel their neighborhood still theirs? does tourism always do some kind of violence to its subjects? how can I enjoy someone else’s neighborhood while respecting that it’s theirs?
(I am thinking about Jamaica Kincaid’s story “The Ugly Tourist,” which everyone should read and think about, especially travelers & people in cities. I can’t find a copy online but it is quite brilliant & challenging & incisive.)
so anyway…I tried to keep my picture-taking to a minimum. which means you all have to visit and see what I mean. people keep telling me I should marry a Chilean guy and stay here; no man necessary, I could totally stay just for the art in Valparaiso. that makes sense, right?



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