Braided Streams

Reflections | Travels | Interests

Valparaíso

I’d always wanted to visit Valparaíso because of one of Sting’s songs:

Chase the dog star
Over the sea
Home where my true love is waiting for me
Rope the south wind

Canvas the stars
Harness the moonlight
So she can safely go
Round the Cape Horn to Valparaíso

In the evenings, we drink wine on our balcony overlooking the lit-up cerro, with the stars and the moonset.

The city is all stairs. At the top of the cerros, there are views of the harbor and all the buildings and rooftops below you. Elevators built in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries bring passengers to the tops, but the elevator to the top of our cerro is out of service, so we have to use the stairs: 160 steep steps up to get home.

It seems every square inch of each cerro is packed with ramshackle buildings or cement stairways or walls. It all seems very unkempt. Pablo Neruda writes:

What nonsense
you are
What a crazy
insane port
Your mounded head
disheveled
You never finish combing your hair

The city is old, but imbibed with a spirit of creativity and freedom. We pass succulents, dogs laying in the street, people smoking weed on stairways, sunlight and blue sky, shadows of sea gulls. Colorful boats rock about by the wharf, buses whiz by, street vendors sell cups of fruit and leather bracelets and artwork depicting the city. Our days are filled with small cafés, art museums, and walking by murals outside—every cement wall, staircase, and side of a building is painted with colorful murals or graffiti. At every step there is something to look at, ponder, or appreciate.

We go to Pablo Neruda’s boatlike house. His study, on the fifth floor, looks out at the sea like a crow’s nest. There are maps on the walls, stone mosaics, stained glass, a brass bed. We sit on the terrace in the sun with a cat who needed attention.

At Viña del Mar we walk along the sea—cloudy, cool breeze, salty air. Waves thunder and spray.