Days 49-53 – Valparaíso, Chile

‘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 nonsense
You are

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile

What a crazy
Insane Port.

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
Your mounded head
Disheveled

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
You never finish combing your hair
Life has always surprised you

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
Death woke you
In your undershirt and long underwear

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
Fringed with color

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
Naked
With a name tattooed on the stomach

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
And with a cap

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
The earthquake grabbed you

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
You ran

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
Mad

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile

Broke your fingernails

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
It moved
The waters and the stones
Sidewalks

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
And seas

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
The night,

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
You would sleep

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
In the ground

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
Tired
From your sailing

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
And the furious earth

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
Lifted its waves

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
More stormy
Than a tempest
The dust
Covered you

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
The eyes
The flames
Burned your shoes

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
The solid
Houses of bankers
Trembled

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
Like wounded whales

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
While above
The houses of the poor

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
Leapt
Into nothingness
Like captive birds

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
Testing their wings
Collapse

 Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile

Quickly
Valparaiso,
Sailor,
You forget
the tears
and you return
to hanging your dwellings
to paint doors
green

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
Windows
Yellow,
Everything

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
You transform into a boat
Your are
The patched bow
Of a small
Courageous
Ship

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
The crowns nest
With foam
Your rope lines that sing

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
And the light of the ocean
That shakes the masts

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
And flags
In your indestructible swaying

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile

Dark star
You are

Valparaíso, Central Coast, Chile
From far away
In the height of the coast

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Shining
And soon
You surrender

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Your hidden fire
The rocking
Of your deaf alleys

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The naturalness
Of your movement

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The clarity
Of your seamanship
Here ends this ode

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Valparaiso
So small
Like a cloth

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Helpless

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Hanging
Ragged in a Window

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Swaying
In the Wind
of the ocean

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Impregnated
With all the pain
Of your ground

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Receiving
The dew
Of the sea, the kiss

_DSC8784
Of the wild angry sea
That with all of its power

_DSC8786
Beat the rocks

_DSC8787
It could not

_DSC8790
Knock you down

_DSC8791
Because on your southern chest
Is tattooed

_DSC8796
The struggle
The hope

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The solidarity
And the joy
As anchors
Resisting

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The waves of the earth.’

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2 thoughts on “Days 49-53 – Valparaíso, Chile

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