After a thankfully uneventful two hour ride from the port of San Antonio I arrived at Valparaiso (well, Vina Del Mar actually). I’ve chosen to use Air B&B when I can rather than hotels, not just to save a bit of money, but to put me into contact with local people. My host for the next few days is the very welcoming Maria who opens up her big house (animal.save.erupted) for visitors. I’ve got the self-contained cabana in the yard, and very fine it is too, most importantly with secure parking for Bumble.
Vina Del Mar is pretty typical beach fare, crowded by European standards, but people seem to like it and are making the most of every square metre of sand. The sea looks a beautiful blue but there’s not too many people chancing the swim, apparently there’s a very cold current that keeps it bracing. I’ll find out tomorrow, I’m never one to pass up the chance of a swim and I can attest that the Baltic Sea is, as it says on the tin, baltic. I’m prepared.
The big selling point of this area is the old part of Valpariso high on the hills overlooking the city which has become something of a haven for hippies and artists. It stands in stark contrast to the grind of the streets below and the port area. It’s rightly famous for some amazing street art, the best I’ve seen anywhere. The atmosphere is smart, arty and calm. Gentrified, but not over-commercialised.
But it’s not for me. I can see why people like it, it just seems far too disconnected (physically and metaphorically) from the rest of the city. It’s very charming without doubt, and doesn’t yet suffer from the plague of Starbucks we see in the UK but I’m afraid it’s just not real enough for me.
Something in the air?
As if to prove a point, when I descended from the dizzy heights of the artistic haven I saw everyday men, women and kids walking up hill towards me covering their mouths and rubbing their eyes. I quickly found out why as my eyes began to stream and a burning, chemical sensation seared my throat. Then the weird head buzz, kind of like poppers without the up side. I quickly asked someone what this was, some kind of pollution from the constant stream of diesel belching buses? No, a new, stronger type of tear gas that lingers in the air long after the daily demonstration has been sprayed with it. I do wonder what the 5 year old kid I saw crying from the pain did to deserve that.
Under the continuing delusion that I am not a 50 year old, unfit Englishman with dodgy knees I decided that somehow it would be a good idea to strap a piece of wood to my feet and skid down a 400 foot high sand dune. With the help of the wonderful host Bella – the Aussie farm girl who has been travelling for year after year in various jobs – we were waxing down our sand boards and attempting to skid across the brown powder. As a half-decent intermediate level snowboarder I thought I’d do OK. I kinda did but unfortunately sand has a much greater drag co-efficient than snow, you don’t go as fast or with as much control. In a way it reminded me of eating a bowl of pistachio nuts, eating the nuts themselves isn’t really the point, it’s the time effort and concentration that goes into getting them out of their shells that is the main reward. So too the cardiac precipitating slog back up the sinking sand. So much effort for such meagre downhill reward, makes you treasure the mastery of the sport all the more I guess. Suffice to say, my number of downhill runs was limited and the cold beers, tasty snacks and interesting conversation provided by Bella were a rewarding accompaniment enough for the lovely sunset.