After lunch we wandered around the Valparaiso port known as Muelle Prat. Spanish explorers arrived here in 1536, on the Santiaguillo, a ship sent by Spain’s Diego de Almagro who is considered to be the first European explorer of Chile. The first pier was built in 1810 (a building stands there now), the harbour became a base for the navy and soon opened to international trade including supplying ships during the California Gold Rush. The city became a major stopover for ships crossing the Atlantic & Pacific oceans by the Straits of Magellan and Cape Horn and many immigrants entered Chile through this port.
Valparaiso is arguably the most important Chilean seaport though San Antonio, to the south, is the largest in terms of freight handled. The combined area of Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, Quilpue and Villa Alemana, referred to as Gran Valparaiso, is the 3rd populous in Chile – after Gran Concepcion and Gran Santiago.
Valparaiso (called Valpo by Chileans) is the birthplace of both Augusto Pinochet and Salvador Allende.
There was a lot of activity and colour around the port….
We browsed the various market stalls and bought myself a hat because my sunscreen was wearing off – I hate wearing hats but I could feel my face starting to burn and we were about to go to the beach …
We caught the train to Viña del Mar which sits on the Pacific and is known as La Ciudad Jardín” (“The Garden City”). Some say that Viña del Mar was the focal point for plotters of the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat. We were amazed at how shiny & sparkling the station was and how incredibly clean the train! It was a pleasant ride along the coast and it was only a 10 – 15 minute trip.
There are actually only 2 subway systems in Chile – the much bigger Santiago system and Metro Valparaiso (called the Merval). The Merval is a one-line system; 43 km (27 m) long with 20 stations serving Gran Valparaiso. It was inaugurated in November 2005 – there had been a less reliable system in place before that.
Valparaiso is a city of wonderful murals…but what is one man’s street art is anther’s graffiti. Personally I really enjoyed the wonderfully eclectic scenes decorating just about every building.
As regular readers know I was in Chile in November and I’ve been terribly slack in finishing up my posts about the trip. We ended our trip with a few days in Valparaiso and that is where I’m up to in my posting. Over the weekend I was saddened to read of the fires that ripped through areas of Valparaiso and which are still burning. I saw one report which said Chile’s forestry agency has predicted it will take 3 weeks to put the fires out completely. The city of Valparaiso is spread over 42 hills and the fire began in a forest on Saturday and quickly spread into one of the hills and then into 6 others where people live without city water connections. No water connections means no fire hydrants and the streets are not wide enough for emergency vehicles. Helicopters were used to dump water on hotspots. Valparaiso has a population of more than 250,000 scattered about those 42 hills in wonderfully coloured, haphazard housing reached by narrow, winding roadways. On Sunday the mayor, Jorge Castro, said “We are too vulnerable as a city. We have been builders and architects of our own danger”.
Back in November we had wandered those steep narrow streets up to Pablo Neruda’s house and then started our walk downhill towards the port – it was quite a way down but we’re nearly there……….
As we descended I made note of this – just in-case…
The first stock market in Latin America was established in Valparaiso in 1898, it was home to Chile’s first public library (1873) and birthplace of the world’s oldest Spanish-language newspaper, El Mercurio.
After the 1906 earthquake this area was rebuilt on landfill – much of the original port is under the square (Plaza Sotomayor) – a sort of in situ mausoleum. The Armada de Chile dominates Plaza Sotomayor – it was built in 1906 and is the edificio de la Primera Zona Naval (naval headquarters). The Monumento a los Heroes de Iquique (Monument to the Heroes of Iquique) sits opposite and on top is Arturo Plat.
We had lunch at the Capullito on the Sotomayor Plaza. I don’t remember what I had to eat with my wine but the manservant’s bowl was a type of surf & turf. The entertainment arrived with the food…
Being on a plaza it was the ideal location for some people watching…..
After dinner we went for a stroll around the surprisingly empty streets. The murals, which were bright and cheery by daylight, lent an eerie feel; we almost believed we’d wandered into a horror movie….
Until we came across the cutest, snazziest dog house in the middle of the footpath; no need to mention Cujo….
The next day we were going visit Pablo Neruda’s house, La Sebastiano.