Look to the distance in almost any direction in world heritage listed Valparaiso and you will see a magnificent vista of many coloured houses cascading down the dozens of hills that surround this city. Look to your feet and you will see numerous deposits from the hundreds of dogs that inhabit its streets.
We had noticed a number of apparently stray dogs in Santiago, sometimes wandering the streets but usually sleeping in the sun wherever they could. But they are even more common in Valpo and they make it a serious challenge to keep your shoes clean. But it´s a price worth paying, as Valparaiso is much nicer and more relaxed than the capital as well as being exceptionally beautiful. Composed of 40-odd hills surrounding a broad bay with a large working port and naval base, simply wandering the streets with a camera in hand is the best way to explore. Some highlights so far:
– Watching Chile play Venezuela in a World Cup soccer qualifier on Saturday night. Football is a national obsession here and this was an important game, so I wanted to watch the locals enjoy it in their element. Firstly from a low-rent beer barn which attracted lots of working class 20-somethings, then later from a cool bar-restaurant which attracted a more mature crowd. Both groups were prone to chanting¨”Chi-Chi-Chi, Lay-Lay-Lay”, which judging some of the cringes I saw is the local equivalent of “aussie-aussie-aussie, oi oi oi!!”
– Being forced to have several beers at historic bar-restaurant Cinzano at the base of Cerro Allegre, because there was noone at our hostel to check us in when we arrived. With a solo singer on guitar playing a fine mix of local folk music and Beatles covers, it wasn´t such a bad delay at all… going out at midnight later that night to watch younger singer-guitarists croon more modern songs in a packed hall until the wee hours.
– Checking into our main accomodation in Valpo, Hostal Coracol. Unlike the previous night´s temporary stay in another place due to a booking mixup, Coracol was always going to be a highlight and it far exceeds expectations. Located on the quiet Cerro Bellavista, it has a huge wood-panelled lounge area with fireplace, bright and airy kitchen and best of all a leafy outdoor courtyard in which you can really relax. We even cooked a meal in the kitchen last night rather than go out, and as we almost had the place to ourself we took the time to get up to date with various internet tasks.
– After an early morning ramble through Cerro Artilleria at the western edge of the city today, walking into a small cafe for drinks and possibly some food. The place was empty, and some time after haltingly ordering a couple of soft drinks and moving to the upstairs room a youngish woman came upstairs and spoke to us in english. The owner downstairs had woken her up and called her into work – just to talk to us and take our orders! She explained she was very tired as she´d worked the night before until 5am, which begged the question why would they bother opening again the next morning? But the service was good and we had some freshly cooked burgers which were perfect for that moment. And of course tipped generously for the unintended loss of our waiter´s slumber…