‘Valparaíso es en montón, un racimo de casas locas’ – Pablo Neruda
From the mining city of Calama I flew to the capital, Santiago, and from there a couple of hours on a bus brought me to Valparaíso. This charming city which nestles on the pacific coast was founded in 1542 as the new colony’s port. Although still very much a working port, and the biggest in Chile, since the construction of the Panama Canal in 1914 Valparaíso was longer a necessary stopover.
I found it a city of contrast, it has the gritty edge that you might expect, down by the docks prostitutes and drunk sailors wonder the streets, a Tom Waits soundtrack would fit well here. And yet it also has a romantic charm with cobbled streets, colourful old buildings (built with corrugated metal), ascensores (essentially cable cars which shuttle residents up the steep hills around town).
I loved the place, for street photography it was great, I happily wondered the streets at dawn, midday and dusk, and each time found something to point my camera at. The town of San Pedro de Atacama was very touristy so it wasn’t until I got to Valparaíso that I felt like I was really in Chile, in a living, breathing city. I could happily have stayed longer than the four nights I stayed, I asked about property prices but they sounded as expensive as London.
The lines that follow are a poem called ‘Ode to Valparaíso’ by the poet and politician Pablo Neruda, who was the most famous resident of Valparaíso…
What a crazy
Broke your fingernails
and you return
to hanging your dwellings
to paint doors
Like a cloth