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Day 99 – Let Me Ride (Valparaiso In One Day)

January 17, 2011

Location: Valparaiso, Chile

Date: Monday, January 17, 2011

Valparaiso is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen, though not in a conventional way. It doesn’t have the sophisticated I’m-szo-Freeench affectations, the cobbled streets, and the shimmering lights of Paris. It doesn’t have the sleepy, foggy-eyed mystery of London. It doesn’t have the flash and the energy and the human/cash constructed cosmetics of Nueva York.

Nope. It’s got grit. Some gnash. Some bohemian flare. And it’s got some curves—hills to be exact.

The fact that it’s built on slopesides reminds me of San Francisco if San Francisco spoke more Spanish, permitted smoking indoors, and wasn’t packed with new money young professionals. Valparaiso feels old, tired, but on the verge of being reborn.

Then again, I’m a sucker for cities with hills. It’s like a running piano line in pop music. Throw it in the mix and I’m probably going to like it. Slap any city on some rolling landscape and I’ll probably find it charming. It’s like meeting a woman who has a smile like warm sunshine, skin like silk, and who gets why all men find a piece of themselves in Casablanca and High Fidelity. She is, no doubt, like all others before her or since, flawed, but, for the moment, all unseen sins are forgiven.

No matter that hills mean lots of climbing and sweating and make going anywhere–at least half the time–totally inconvenient. Forget that Chileans seem to think Valparaiso isn’t “safe” or that the artsy folks that live here probably make terrible neighbors.

The city is on a hill, dammit! It has awesome graffiti! She’s totally into Beethoven and Nine Inch Nails! I can make it work!

If I had some money, I’d buy up a spot here and sit on it. Someday this place will be Chile’s Haight-Ashbury. Amongst the bohemians will live yuppies dying for the cachet of the artist, the beatnik, and the poet, but with the privileges of an upper-middle class life. Things like regular bathing, shoes that make clicking sounds on the sidewalk, and bleached orthodontic smiles. If Chile keeps growing, Valparaiso will be huge amongst a certain moneyed set.

Of course, this could all just be the version of an idealized, travel one-night stand. Perhaps I saw Valparaiso at her bohemian best. The sun was out. She was warm. The colors of her graffiti, the taste of her ice cream, and my walk along the oceanfront probably made her seem more radiant after the month I spent in the harsh, frigid beauty of Patagonia. Hell, Valparaiso, even let me ride her funiculars. Or ascensors. Or whatever the kids are calling them now.

I will say this. If I had to revisit one place in South America to stay for a week, you’d find me here. Alas, I’ve only got the one day. A torrid one-off will have to do.

Valparaiso, I heart you. When I return, I only hope you haven’t lost your charm. That the yuppies haven’t taken all your soul and locked it in glass encased condominium towers. That there aren’t too many Starbucks on your street corners. That prosperity doesn’t whitewash the graffiti off your walls or the wipe the smile off the tienda owner’s face because she’s sick of giving these damn tourists directions.

I hope all these things, but if not, at least let me have another ride on your funiculars.

GALLERY: Hordes of bonus pictures today. Lots of graffiti, city shots, funicular/ascensor photos, and a another picture of marchas con parmesan.

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