Friday, October 24, 2008

Valparaiso means paradise - Thur23Oct - Day 29

(Where I am now: the most wonderful hostel on the planet – Casa Aventura in Valpraiso. What time is it: 21:09,
What am I listening to: Radio Equis – Simply Red “Your babies” / And thinking of my koumbara Nana)

I got here yesterday morning and still can’t get over this amazing city and the vibe it gives me. But before that, allow me start the story from the beginning.

Kostas: Never lonely, never alone this world will never cease to amaze me I woke up quite early on Wednesday morning (08:30) with a pretty serious mission to go to Valparaiso. It was one of these programmed visits to ensure I get a piece of Chile while I am waiting for the “Great crossing” into the next continent, into Australia. Outside my hostel room there was this girl I had seen the night before, speaking French. “Bonjour” I said and she answered back. “Are you travelling today at all?” she asked. What an odd question, I thought. “Yes, I am going to Valparaiso for the day” – ah great she said, so am I. “Would you like to go together?” I asked
“Sure why not” she said and then I asked in French.
“Where are you from?”
“ Actually I am French but I live in Switzerland.”
“Really, where?” “In Geneva”
“What a coincidence, so do I, what area?” I said full of surprise
“I live on Rue de Lausanne”. I was left there with a big smile on my face, completely astounded.

Can you even imagine the probability of meeting in Santiago de Chile, on the other side of the planet a person that lives on the same street as you do and that is travelling by coincidence at the same city?

That’s why I keep saying that this trip and this world will never cease to amaze me. We took the bus together and after a 1hour bus ride we arrived in Valparaiso. For those not familiar, Valparaiso used to be one of the most important ports in the Pacific but its fortunes have taken a serious downturn after the Panama Canal was opened and the ships did not have to sail around South America. It still maintains though part of its old-time glory and above all it gives you a magical vibe from the moment you arrive…

I was happy to be next to water again. This was the Pacific Ocean! The port was busy and smelly like any big port should be, containers being loaded on cargo ships, little boats taking tourists around the port, and beautiful sunshine making all the houses look so wonderful on the hills around. Valparaiso is build on 45 “cerros” (or hills) in a pretty chaotic way, telephone & power cables hanging all around, connecting everything like a spider’s web. Houses are as diverse as it can get, some look like the Brazilian favelas, made out of metal panels, all painted in beautiful colors though, some are wonderful mansions, reminding you of the wealth and prosperity that existed in this city a long time ago.

I walked and walked the hills till my feet hurt but wanted more. Every corner was a photograph worth taking, every house was worth looking at and in the few moments you took a wrong or lucky turn you ended up into an amazing view of the port. Wonderful, lindo Valparaiso. I took the long way uphill to the next hill were Pablo Neruda’s house was- and is now a wonderful converted museum. It took about 40 minutes to look around this wonderful place, little luxury, few furniture but built on purpose to inspire strong feelings and wonderful poetry. I was travelling in space and time…

Travelers: so many all alone, never lonely.
I ended up with Nesrin, my Geneva neighbor, in Casa Aventura, a truly wonderful hostel with extremely friendly staff, well decorated and clean rooms but above all single beds (not Bunk-beds) – I felt like home. That’s when I met Caroline, a 27-year old French teacher and Natalia a 28-year old Colombian living in California, on a scholarship from Berkley, studying architecture. We ended up around 21:00 going to a traditional, no-frills place to have dinner and I realized that I am sitting with 3 different women, all with different backgrounds, travelling all alone. They all said it was great, they all said they loved it. So if you think it is impossible to do, too difficult to work out, it actually isn’t and I have multiple examples to prove it. All with interesting stories to tell but above all with a strong urge to discover, to travel to meet people and different cultures. As the night went on and after a bottle of red and some lovely fried cod, I just started staring at the framed photos on the walls of this old restaurant. Black&white and color, faded and new, all about Valparaiso, the port, the hills, the ships, the people… “I am in Valparaiso, I am in Valparaiso” I repeated to myself, chills running down my spine, smile on my face, unable still to accept that the only thing separating me and the next continent is the vast Pacific Ocean…

A day at the beach, becoming a student again, Mascara in my ears. We woke up to the nicest breakfast I’ve ever had, including hotel buffets and personal efforts. It wasn’t the quantity or the variety, it was just the personal care put into preparing all this. Fresh bread, home-made jam, omelet and freshly cut fruit. I felt like home, in this small hostel. We decided with Nesrin and Caroline to go to Viña del Mar, a small coastal town 15 minutes away from Valparaiso that is a seaside/tourist resort. But before that, you cannot leave Valparaiso before taking a boat ride in the port.

Students, tourists, we’re all the same as long as you play the game. I love negotiating a good bargain. It’s not the saving that interests me so much, it’s more the idea that you manage to get something at a lower price than asked for. It’s a bit like a contest. There’s no real winner or loser for me, it’s more the sport I am interested in. As you can expect, getting on a tour boat to see the port of Valparaiso at a “tourist rate” was something I wouldn’t let go easily. The system works as follows: there’s a huge number of little boats (lanchas) that take people around the port. You can rent them for 10,000 pesos (about 16 USD) and can put about 8-15 people in depending on the size. However, if you are travelling alone, you can’t “join” others, you need to pay the full amount and take one on your own. Having to pay 16 USD (divided amongst the 3 of us) when we could actually pay about 1.5 USD each, when joining group, was something worth negotiating. Don’t get me wrong. For me it is not the amount, it’s the principle. Why try to make more when you can actually fit the passengers on the same boat?
I found a group of university students and became one of them. When we explained to them also what they “lancha guys” were asking from us they immediately played along! We ended up boarding the little boat and sitting amongst Claudia, Carlos and Veronica and another 10 University students with my 2 new French friends and having the whole group talking to the people that were against us boarding, shouting: “These are our friends, we came together!”
What a great trip. Beautiful weather but above all so much fun with the students: photos, questions, where are you from, how long are you staying in Chile and so on…We toured with the boat, got back to the port and bid all our “new friends” goodbye…

Jump into the Pacific, if you can.
Beautiful sea. I love you no matter who you are, no matter where I am. Walking around Viña del Mar reminds you one of these tourist areas in southern Spain, like Torremolinos, outside Malaga. Huge hotel and rent-a-room buildings on the beach front, imposing with their presence but unimpressive in hteir design, almost ugly in their architecture that fill the coastal picture. But focus on the important stuff: the wide and long sandy beach, the crystal blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and the huge roar of the waves. We got there all happy and excited, to catch some sun. It was a great day for tanning but quite dangerous since it was very sunny but rather cool – you could easily get tricked and sunburned. Finally I am using the sunscreen I’ve carried half the way around the world! Getting into the sea though is a different story as this beach and water redefined what I now call the coldest water I’ve ever felt. Think Aigio, Santorini, Mykonos, even lake Geneva in April, before the summer and you might get close. Just walking on the beach next to the surf actually made your feet hurt whenever the water touched them, the roar of the waves reminding you this is also the biggest water mass on the planet. Dishearted I returned to my sun-tanning.

I sent you a message, to see how you are, the time difference I still simply fascinating for me, with me enjoying the early afternoon sun and you probably getting ready for a night out. I just wanted to tell you that I am next to the sea that it is a wonderful day and I dare not enter the cold water. Indeed you were out already, “try the water!” you dared me. I got up, slightly dizzy from the sun & siesta and ran into the deep blue sea under the roaring waves.

Chile & Valparaiso, where our music lives forever. Every night.
In the beginning I just thought of it as a lucky break. It was the first morning when I woke up and was walking in the immense corridors of Casa Roja hostel when I heard it. The cleaning lady had put a small radio on and while she swept the floors, you could hear Human League’s “Don’t you want me”, and then “Rock the Casbah” and then “La Isla Bonita” and then “Hold the line”. Too many good songs in a row to be a coincidence. One of the first days in Santiago, after an interesting and long overdue phone call, I walked the streets in a wonderful mood, using my little radio. The first observation is that there are fewer Spanish speaking stations. The second and most exciting is that the ones that play music in English PLAY 80’s and DISCO. Is this airwaves paradise? I thought to myself as I scanned for the next channel, everytime getting more and more surprised. Is Ody DJ-ing in every single post on the FM band?

I made a similar observation in Valparaiso and also asked one of the girls that work in the hostel. Yes, apparently a big part of this glorious nation is still stuck a couple of decades behind – at least musically - just like me and some people I know.
“Are there any places we can hear this type of music in Valparaiso?”
“Of course! Try Mascara…”
We got there a bit “early” around 00:00, the place is unimpressive from the outside but a wonderful little surprise as you go up the stairs. First a seedy looking area with some tables, rather loud music and a small bar tending people probably in their late twenties, early thirties. There’s a video projector! We get to SEE the video clips of the songs – no more DJ, welcome Video Jay. Am I in paradise? Not yet. We moved into the larger area, softly lit, big, people were dancing to the tunes of Blur, Dépêche Mode, REM, A-Ha (when was the last time you saw “Take on me” on video? ) With Smirnoff vodka at 3USD a glass (and I mean a glass, not a “Geneva” shot) we were setup for success. We left the place at 04:00 as they closed up, passed by the local sandwich shop and got a “completo” (Hot dog with EVERYTHING in it, don’t ask what) and slowly moved up the cobble street making it up to the top of Cierro Conception and into Casa Aventura. Now if this posting has some mistakes, well I am sorry but it is now 06:00 and the sun is slowly coming up, over beautiful Val-Paradise…

A few more snapshots of Valpo...

This looks like Jardin Anglais but it is Vina del Mar (me and Nes, the swiss people)

When Maradona retired, he moved to Chile and is now doing boat tours...

Kostas is now part of colorfoul Valparaiso....

An important message from the peple of Valparaiso: "Turn off the TV, Live your life"
Blue, white, red, unimportant, it's all beautiful
Details from the funiculaire ("odontotos")
Details from the funiculaire ("odontotos")

Self-portrait in hilly Valparaiso
Women's street basketball

Even the garbage bins have colors in Valpo...
The Pacific...
Hotel Brighton...
Global brand - local advertisment...Vina del Mar beach...
Pablo Neruda's home. Note the 4th floor which is his study (with an amazing view of Valpo of course)This is for ODY: Saturday 6th of May


George " Teriax" T. said...

Damn this is a big one !

Where should i start from... DAMN A SHIP ! A contianer ship to be precise ! That was the first ting that came into my mind when i started browsing the photos... :)

Then, a interesting thing...the little boats you mentioned they were called "lanchas"...guess what ? In Greek (port-slang-Greek that is) the little boats that take you to the vessels which are anchored offshore are called.....latzes !!!!! I find it very interesting !

Second comment... how do you end up only with women who travel by themselves ? Can you please explain this to me ?????


Going back to reading the rest of the story..

George "Teriax" T. said...

Further comments:

French-Swiss girl in Park = cool !
Colourful city = equally cool especially if combined with item 1
Swimm in Pacific Ocean = Uber coolness !!! Did you took a small bottle of water from there ??? It would be nice to have it in your flat..."this is Pacific Ocean you know!!" :P

Further news:

ITS COLD ! But not enough...daytime about 19-20. I moved ot my flat AND Kathimerini SUnday edition, the magazine in it has a special report (which is almost the whole magazine) of... The GREEKS OF GENEVA !!!!


odevoted said...

Man, this post made me smile!
I think you're now fully blended-in your adventure, and i'm happy for you.

Before commenting the music part, let me say that the pictures you're posting are getting better by the post, so keep up the good work.

Back to music.....well i think it's pretty clear that the 80s pop culture moved to Valpo and stayed there! What more could you ask from a night club while being in the middle of a trip around the world other than THAT!!!

I can't help it but to close this comment with this :

I'm taking a ride
With my best friend
I hope he never let's me down again
He knows where he's taking me
Taking me where I want to be
I'm taking a ride
With my best friend

We're flying high
We're watching the world pass us by
Never want to come down
Never want to put my feet back down
On the ground

Enjoy the OZs katw