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Everyone who travels to Chile, knowing something about Chilean history, already has created a picture of Valparaiso in his head: a bustling harbour town, colourful wood houses and Pablo Neruda’s spirit still present in the narrow lanes, just to name a few common clichés. Off course you will find all these things promised by touristy high gloss magazines and Tour operators. In fact maybe just a little less picturesque than expected, but it still will resemble the pipe dream you may have build up in your mind before going there.
Now you could be disappointed seeing wall paint flaking off famous La Sebastiana and head on to the next step on your Chilean travel adventure. Or you can cross an unseen frontier that divides real life from touristy scenery. Just take a step aside of well trodden paths and you will find a bustling, lively, fascinating city, which also has its smelly, dirty, disgusting faces, like crowded street markets and fishy gutters.
But isn’t it so much more worth seeing a real place populated by real people than just another boring, nice, clean and artificial tourist hotspot? Stroll around the harbour front. Give yourself to the City’s vibrant atmosphere. Buy a Churro from a street stall and watch daily life go by and take one of Valparaiso’s famous funicular railways up to explore calmer areas on top of the hills forming part of the cities old town. There’s history in every corner: explore the Cementerio de Disidents, where you will find melancholic angel statues overgrown by ivy twines, the names of the deceased nearly fading and long forgotten. Or discover neoclassical palaces situated at the waterfront. Once they were impressive monuments telling from the city’s wealth, but now ruined, wrecked and decaying, like sleeping giants exposed to time and tempest. While we are travelling we realize that there exist places where history seems tangible. Valparaiso with its conglomerated architecture is one of these places.
Travelling through Chile and coming to Valparaiso is much more than just taking snapshots of places we have already seen a million times before on picture postcards. If you are willing to look under the surface, if you are able to listen to the City’s very own rhythm, you will find thousands of stories worth telling: stories of solitude, stories of lost welfare and broken stones, stories of coming home and yearning to explore the vast ocean beyond the cities harbour. Or to express it with Pablo Nerudas words: “Valparaiso… Queen of all shore lines in the world.”