Leaving the small island world of Easter Island, we re-enter the large urban environment of Santiago, where a large percentage of the Chilean population now resides. It is a rude shock once again to be faced with the bombardment of graffiti and the slow decay of once elegant buildings. Whereas Santiago is the major economic and population center, the coastal city of Valparaiso was the colonial hub and major port and now, together with its neighbors Vina Del Mar and Rinaca, is a much smaller but important commercial and government center.
Jack and I take an all day small-group bus tour to these cities but, although a bilingual English-Spanish tour is promised, our driver/guide speaks only Spanish and there is only one of the other 9 people on our van who speaks any English and who fortunately helps us out with the basics. Valpo, as Valparaiso is locally known, is a city by the sea on a hillside, with its main historical and commercial buildings down by the port and the majority of its inhabitants on the steep hillside. The downtown areas include Sotomayor Square (not related to our Supreme Court Justice) and the remnants of British, French, Spanish occupation.
The streets up above are an incredible warren of old, often disintegrating homes, some with tin corrugated siding and roofs, and the “bohemian” neighborhood which turned the ego-centric graffiti of sprayed names into an art-form, with artists creating beautiful murals although even those are subject to desecration by others.
We saw a large wall being covered over and sprayed into so-called art (by a French woman which make me wonder whether artists come from afar to specifically create wall art here) while at the same time we saw two people painting power poles to cover over the graffiti on them.
Pablo Neruda, probably the most well-known of South American poets, left his home as a museum and we visited the very eccentrically build structure perched precariously on the hillside to walk though a very personal statement of his life, filled with antiques and mementoes. English audio headsets helped us understand more of his world and that of the city he inhabited.
A very stark contract to the old homes in Valpo, is the next-door seaside resort of Vina Del Mar and the even newer one of Rinaca a little further North, both of which are a collection of large white apartment complexes, clean and well spaced. There is no graffiti here. The town leads down to the playa or beach area where, on this Saturday, the yellow sand is filled with colorful beach umbrellas and families enjoying the sun and sea, although very few were swimming due, we were told, to very dangerous currents in the area.
Back to Santiago to our very good hotel at 6 pm, a very long day as we left at 6:30 am but well worth it. We finish with a rooftop dinner and then, of course, some gelato. Hot water and a good long sleep as we prepare to fly to Buenos Aires to meet the rest of our group tomorrow.