Chile: Vina del Mar, Valparaiso

Today we left Santiago and headed north.  The way north lay through the wine
country.  The most exciting site here was that of a man with two horses
pulling a plow – a cinematic moment.

We arrived to the resort town
of Vina del Mar.  This city, like Santiago, had its share of cinderblock houses, but the generous fenestration gave them a more cheerful
appearance.  The dull structures were punctuated with quite a few pretty
Italianesque buildings.  We went to a botanical garden with
magnificent old trees brought in from all over the world surrounding a
Venetian-style palazzo.  In a different day and age I would dismissed
it as fake, but after the drabness of Santiago it was a fair site for
my sore eye.  All in all, this city made a nice impression.  Next, we
rode along the coast to Valparaiso.  My head was filled with romantic images of this
port city stemming from literature, and the city delivered.  The lower part
of Valparaiso is flat and built up with grand dames of dilapidated,
filthy, graffiti-covered old-world buildings.  Even though they badly
need a wash, a facelift, or, at the very least, some makeup – they
stand dignified, with their beauty shining through.  Better yet is the
upper part of the city which hangs off the mountains.  The upper town is a
barefoot village girl to the lady of the lower town.  The buildings
here are basically one-story shacks made of sheet metal that had been
stripped off the old ships that used to dock in Valparaiso.  They have
been painted in all shades of happy colors and line up cobblestone
streets going up the mountains.  We took a rickety cable cat that felt
like it was built in 1895.  The mountain setting, the view of the ocean, the candy
colored buildings, the winding cobblestone streets, the staircases, and sheet metal sidings
give it an easy charm.  I am quite enamored.  Kenny is a more ambivalent
– he does not feel safe here.  We are staying in a hotel with a 360
degrees view of the city and its harbor.  Tomorrow we are boarding our luxury
raft and will begin our float down the globe.

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