‘Está perdida? (are you lost?)’ a voice asked me.
I was sitting with a map opened in my hands. I looked up to the young man who had talked to me.
‘No, I was just checking if there is anything I haven’t seen yet’.
‘Did you see the lifts?’.
‘You have seen everything then’.
Valparaiso is a coast city unlike any other I have visited: it is entirely constructed over “cerros” (hills). All the streets go up and down, really up and down. The residents of Valparaiso must have very strong legs!
Fortunately walking is not the only way to move up and down: there are “ascensores” (lifts). The ascensores are small old funiculars made of wood, a vestige from the past. There used to be 30 ascensores all over Valparaiso, but with the expansion of the city and the consequent bus network, only 8 are still working nowadays.
The young man was a vendor who sold magnets and other small souvenirs. I was in a popular street among tourists due to the great sightseeing views over the city. He did not try to sell me anything, instead I stood up and we started talking. He told me he was originally from the South of Chile but had lived for a long time in Valparaiso, a city he loved.
‘You’re from the South, really? I’m going to the South next week, to Coyhaique’, I told him.
‘Coyhaique? That is in Patagonia, where the penguins live’, he laughed. ‘I’m from the South but not that South’.
I had just started to realize how long Chile is. At the beginning, I thought about flying to Punta Arenas (the extreme South) and travel north, passing by Coyhaique (where one of my friends lives) on my way back to Santiago. My friends laughed, there are more than 1000km from Punta Arenas to Coyhaique by road, and even more from Coyhaique to Santiago!
During the almost three months I spent in Chile I met other vendors and spoke to random people. Chileans are very friendly and like to talk. There and then I appreciated being able to speak the local language. How many conversations did I miss in Asia because I did not speak their language? In that sense, my experience in Chile was much more rich.
He asked me if I was traveling alone, and told him that I was visiting a friend who lives in Santiago. She is actually from Viña del Mar (the neighbor city) so we had been visiting Viña and Valparaiso together during the last few days.
‘But she had to go back to Santiago this morning’, I explained.
‘And why did she abandon you today?’.
‘Because today is Mother’s Day!’.
I was surprised to see how celebrated Mother’s Day is in Chile. For what I can remember, in Barcelona and Toulouse there is a lot of publicity, decorated shops and offers for presents, but I never saw (or noticed) a lot of people really buying things. In Viña del Mar and Valparaiso there were plenty of people buying or carrying flowers and presents, and streets vendors selling beautiful gift paper were busy.
There were also special programs in the television and radio. We saw a documentary about some mothers, how they combined work and children, or had children at forties. In the radio, the commentator congratulated all the mothers and wished they keep raising children (??).
‘Which city do you like the most, Viña or Valparaiso?’, he asked me later. It was clear which one he preferred!
‘Errrr they’re very different’, I managed to say. The truth was, I liked Valparaiso for visiting and Viña del Mar for living.
He wished me a nice stay, I thanked him and we said good bye. He had to go back to work and I wanted to stroll around a bit more. It was my last day in Valparaiso.
While traveling alone I have realized something: if I like a place, I can walk around the same streets once and once again. I do not get tired. I like to see the streets in different times of the day, in different light, with different amount of people, discovering new details.
Valparaiso is one of those places where I can walk and explore for hours and it never feels repetitive. In 2003 the historic quarter of Valparaiso was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its culture and architecture, including its ascensores.
With its colorful houses, cobbled streets, diverse street art and great views from the cerros, how could I get bored in Valparaiso?
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