Just as I had creeping doubts about the extent of the street at in Valparaiso, had I seen it all? I took a wally tour. All the tour guides are dressed like where’s wally and you pay by tipping at the end.
I took the tour to learn more about the cultural context of Valparaiso. It is easy to read articles about Valpo and make your own assumptions, but being here and hearing the stories that local folk have handed down over generations is different. The stories become real, as you hear he sounds, smells and tastes of Valparaiso today, it is easy to imagine it back then.
Valparaiso rose to be the riches port in Latin America during its golden age. This era was prompted by the Californian gold rush. Valparaiso was nicely situated to offer a service stop, building it’s riches on the supplies it offered. This era ended abruptly with the opening of the Panama Canal.
However, it is this short period in time that produced the array of outstanding architecture that is protected under the UNESCO world heritage status granted in 2003. Houses and hotels were constructed by wealthy Europeans of Spanish, Italian and English origins.
One of the buildings that has fallen in to deep disrepair is an Italian built hotel, it unfortunately never opened as the golden years ended before it’s completion. The daughter of the owner still lives in the property and refuses to be addressed in any other language than Italian. She now rents the bottom floor for storage for the street sellers, living on the 1st floor. The 2nd and 3rd floors are inhabitable.
The UNESCO regulations for building and restoration within world hematite sites are both a blessing and a curse. It means the magic and architecture of Valparaiso will not be lost, but it also means that the buildings may be lost as they fall so far in to disrepair they fall down. It is too expensive for many locals to invest in refurbishment.
Next stop on the tour was the doll house. This is a red and white building that has been beautifully maintained and is now a 5star hotel inside. It’s beginnings were not so grand. Standing upon cerro Alegre (Mary hill) this building was one of the first stops for disembarking sailors, keen to pick a doll from the window to take inside and spend some time with the corresponding lady. The tour guides note that this house has remained untouched throughout the many earthquakes, floods and fires that plague Valparaiso, fairing much better than the Catholic grave yard for some reason…
From here we descended in to the Urriola neighbourhood, this is where I am staying so it was nice to get a narrative to some of the street art pieces I have already seen and photographed. Such as this one:
This is a memorial piece for a ‘doctor’ of herbal medicine. She was much loved and when she died his piece was done of a 1950’s lady holding a mushroom in her honour.
By this point we had gone back to the flat part of Valparaiso. We took a funicular, a kind of diagonal lift, these are very old and are chiles only fully public transport. Once back on the flat we took a trolley, this again is like and old 1950’s style bus that is attached to the overhead electrics like a tram. These complete a circular of Valparaiso and cost a set 250pesos regardless of length of time on them.
We ended at the open air museum, I didn’t have time to look today as it covers a vast area. But this will be my starting point for tomorrow. What I do know for sure is there is way more to Valparaiso than meets the eye.