It’s 6.45pm in Valparaiso. The days are long in Chile in late Spring, and the sun still shines brightly. The stiff breeze that sprung up about 4pm has abated and the evening has settled into a warm, sunny somnolence.
There’s music all around. Up on top of the hill – I think it’s a school – the sound of drumming has been going on for a while. It’s frenetic and wild but perfectly coordinated. I can’t see them, but can easily imagine a large group of drummers bashing away in wonderfully synergetic rhythm.
From a house down the street, a woman sings accompanied by guitar, accordion and hand claps. Her voice is sweet, laden with passion. The words I can’t understand but the intent is clear. She sings of longing, of yearning. Perhaps it’s for love. Well, at least I think that’s what it sounds like.
As each song finishes, her audience applauds enthusiastically. So do I. She’s brilliant.
You don’t get this in Brisbane.
The music stops from both directions by about 7.30. Then it’s the dogs’ turn. From house to house and hill to hill (did I mention how hilly it is Valparaiso?) the local mutts unleash a throaty choral concerto every evening. There’s sopranos, tenors, altos and basso profundos – the whole bloody range.
Maybe they’re telling each other what kind of day they had; maybe they’re exchanging insults and braggadocio. Who knows? What is clear is their absolute dedication to the task at hand: getting their message out there. Without rest.
Dogs. Gotta love ‘em, even when they won’t shut up.
I had a mouse try to share my bed last night. Little fucker was trying to wriggle under my pillow, which woke me up. I picked up the pillow and we stared at each other for a couple of seconds: me half-asleep, wondering what the hell was going on, and Mouse probably wondering whether it should make a break for it. It did, but in a rather relaxed fashion.
It came back a bit later, and woke me up again. We had another stare-off then it buggered off in rapid style as I went to grab my shoe.
There was no third visit, but it took me some time to get back to sleep. Probably explains why I woke up at nearly 9am.
I’m kinda surprised to find mice around here. There are heaps of cats in the neighbourhood, so I reckon the local mice would lead a fairly perilous existence.
Most of the cats are pretty stand-offish, in the way that cats usually are, but one big black gato took a shine to me this morning. While I was sitting on the front step of the house, enjoying coffee and a cigarette, he/she sidled up and gave me a good, long look over. Must have thought I was harmless because gato then plonked itself right next to me on the step. We enjoyed the morning sun together for a while.
I’m definitely a dog person, but I don’t mind cats. They’re independent and know what they want, and that’s not a bad thing.
Valparaiso is a city built on hills. I read somewhere there are 41 of them. And all pretty steep. The streets are narrow and wind their way up, down and over in no obviously coherent fashion, like the city just grew organically outwards from the port. Which is kinda true, because Valpo is a port city and has been since the 16th century.
The only really flat part of town is the port area and the CBD. From there the hills rise east, north and south so the city looks like a big amphitheatre with the bay as the stage. Everywhere on the hills are houses, shops, schools and churches perched higgledy-piggledy. Some of the houses, in particular, look decidedly precarious.
Getting around requires strong legs or a means of mechanical transportation. Ascensors are dotted around the city. Otherwise known as funiculars, these comprise two cars on rails that go up and down from one point to another. Back in the day, 15 or 16 of them helped the good folk of Valpo deal with the hills. Now there are only a handful of them left operational.
I took the Ascensor El Peral upwards to take a wander around Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion. It costs 100 pesos (about 16c) each way. There was quite a queue for the ascension – mostly tourists – but no one waiting for the downhill run.
Like Santiago, street art is everywhere in Valpo. Some of the murals are amazing. They even have a sort of outdoor gallery of murals called the Museo a Cielo Abierto based around a few streets. It’s a bit like a treasure hunt, firstly trying to find the place and then wandering around seeking out the different murals (and working out which ones are official, and which were added by others).
I didn’t mind Valpo. It has an interesting, if edgy, feel. Kinda rough, kinda hard-scrabble. I was there mainly to collect my bike from the ship, and spent a few days bumming around to fill in time until it was accessible. Once I had the WR back, I was packed and on the road like a shot. After all, that is the real reason I’m here.