A quaint coastal town, once a bustling port that served many of the pacific shipping routes, Valparaíso is a beautiful hidden jewel on the Chilean west coast. The streets and houses are painted with many works of art and everywhere you look there is something new to discover. The houses and shops scattered throughout the hilly landscape make this place seem like it was put together overnight with little planning, yet amongst the chaos you’ll find yourself at peace, aimlessly wandering what seems like never ending streets. As Pablo Neruda put it, “Valparaíso, what an absurdity you are…”
Valparaíso shares its coastline with the nearby cities of Viña del Mar and Concón. And what better way to utilize all this coastal landscape than to host one of the grandest New Year’s Eve fireworks displays…? This is precisely what we came for.
Just shy of two hours without traffic, this coastal paradise is a fairly easy bus ride from Santiago’s International Airport through the incredibly scenic Chilean mountainous landscape, blanketed in vineyards. After an exhausting 16 hours of travel, M, K and I were glad to discover our buses had almost completely reclinable seats. Some comfort at last!
My first recollection of Valparaíso was being awakened by the bus driver’s announcement of arrival. Not only were we dazed, exhausted and confused, but we also found ourselves getting off at the main bus terminal during the peak of the morning rush. Luckily, the street vendors were there to satisfy all our breakfast cravings with fresh empanadas and sandwiches. The invigorating smell of the ocean breeze coupled with the chilly morning air was just the jolt of caffeine we needed to wake up.
After a short stroll through the streets we made it to our accommodations and were graciously welcomed by our hosts, C and S. They had been kind enough to let us rent a spare room in their already cozy apartment. C and S made us feel welcome and in no time, we were sharing stories over a cup of coffee. I sat there looking out the window at the hills and feeling the warmth of the sun as it quickly turned the crisp morning air into what felt like tropical paradise. I could finally appreciate Neruda’s perspective; “What a head of disheveled hills, that you never finish combing. Never did you have time to dress yourself, and always you were surprised by life.”
The streets of Valparaíso truly are some of the most unique I’ve ever seen. Street art litters every corner, lines the sidewalks and paints the steps. Poems are inscribed on many of the buildings and steps making Valparaíso one the coolest art museums I’ve ever been to. A full day of exploring by foot is definitely a must, and why not grab a box of wine to take along for the adventure? This is precisely what K, M and I did.
Our days were spent exploring, and our evenings were spent with our hosts having drinks and sharing stories. The best thing about staying with locals is getting the insider info on the best activities around town. We had been fortunate enough to not only cover Valparaíso, but also the sand dunes of Concón, a small coastal city to the north. We followed our hosts’ advice in skipping the touristy Viña del Mar, and instead continuing north until we saw massive sand dunes growing on the horizon. To the east lies the city in the shadows of the Andes Mountains looming in the distance. To the west is the roaring, fierce Pacific Ocean, so powerful you could almost hear it a mile away.
On the night of New Year’s Eve, C and S graciously invited us to celebrate in the festivities with their family. I’ll never forget feeling nervous as we introduced ourselves to everyone. Strangers, welcoming us into their home, their life… essentially their heart. Our language barrier served as a big challenge, yet we still found some way to communicate. We had a blast eating homemade recipes, drinking Chilean wine and counting down the time until the clock struck midnight.
T- minus 20 minutes… 2019 was around the corner when suddenly I spotted a small ball flying by out of the corner of my eye. S caught it and immediately the room went silent. As per tradition, it was his turn to speak; his turn to share his dreams and wishes for the new year to come. He spoke of his love for his family, his hope for good health and most importantly his gratitude for his life. The ball was then passed person to person, and everyone had a chance to speak. Everyone had the opportunity to express their gratitude, their fears and their hopes for the future. Amidst the chaos of our lives, we were all together… sharing, loving and dreaming out loud.
– O –