Valparaíso and Learning to Dine Alone

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Art + Believe, Valparaíso

This past weekend, I hopped on a bus early Saturday morning and headed to the coast to visit Valparaíso, Chile. Valparaíso – or Valpo – is a port city located about an hour and half from Santiago. It neighbors Viña del Mar, which then runs into Reñaca and Concón. I had taken day trips to both Viña and Concón, but wanted more time to explore the colorful UNESCO Heritage Site of Valparaiso. On a whim, the Thursday before, I booked a Saturday night in Cerro Alegre at the Luna Sonrisa hostel and packed my bags. Arriving early Saturday afternoon, I was grateful to have more than a day to explore the hills (45 in total) that make up the eclectic city.

After getting dropped off at the main bus terminal, I wove my way through street vendors to catch a bus up to the hostel. Street vendors, I must say, I use in a loose sense. They’re people selling old phones, ripped jeans, stained shirts, and scuffed baby toys. I held on tight to my bags: I’m fairly certain that a lot of things being sold were stolen at some point… No need to invite theft or call more attention to myself than my eyes, hair, and accent already do. I was asked out, whistled at, beeped at, kissed at, and thrown compliments throughout my entire walk. Have I mentioned I stand out? Not my favorite part of being here by any means, but I’ve learned to deal with it. After finding my way to a bus stop and clarifying with the woman in front of me as to which bus to take, I paid my 350 pesos and was off. If you ever find yourself in Valparaiso, take the 612 bus. It’s loco|crazy but worth it! The bus zig-zags up and down through the hills and offers spectacular views of the city. It’s nicknamed the montaña rusa|roller coaster and certainly lives up to it.

City of the Hills
City of the Hills

I checked in at the hostel and was given a quick talk on the best places to go and must-sees before leaving. The morning was misty and cool when I arrived, so I wandered around to find a late breakfast/early lunch before heading out for some exploring, hoping the sun would come out. I found a cafe that served breakfast all day, sat down, and the waitress brought over two menus and asked what my friend and I would like to drink. Round one of explaining I was traveling solo. Breakfast was delicious, and was rounded out with a cup of tea before heading back to the hostel. By the time the late afternoon rolled around, the sky was bright blue and the temperature had crept up into the high seventies with a breeze off the ocean. I couldn’t have asked for a better day! After a quick break and getting settled in at Luna Sonrisa, I walked down to the main port to join a tour with Tours 4 Tips. I cannot stress enough that if you visit Valparaíso, take this tour!

Though I usually choose to take tours and read guides in Spanish, I wanted to fully understand the history of this city so I opted for the English tour. Our guides were two Porteños|people of Valparaíso, and were students about my age. Both had grown up in the port city, and knew the every inch (centimeter?) of the hills. For three hours we explored, our guides taking us down to port, telling us about Valpo before the time of the Panama Canal, giving us restaurant recommendations, explaining the mural art culture, and showing us where to get homemade alfajores from a older man named Don Sergio who sold them from his front door. I haven’t attempted to make alfajores on my own yet, but they’re on my list! Alfajores are essentially shortbread cookies that sandwich a generous helping of manjar|dulce de leche, and, in Chile, are usually coated in a thin layer of dark chocolate. RO has a special place in her heart for these, like JR and his empanadas. I’m missing you both! Can you tell?

Here are some of my favorites from the day:

Steps up Templeman on Cerro Alegre
Steps up Templeman on Cerro Alegre
Tangled Wires
Wired
Don Sergio's Alfajores
Don Sergio’s Alfajores
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Cerro Alegre | Happy Hill
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Headed into town
Overlooking the port city
Overlooking the port city
Pablo Neruda
Pablo Neruda
Piano Stairs
Piano Stairs
Afternoon Nap
Afternoon Nap

After the tour, we were treated to a drink and sat down for a recap of the afternoon so that we could revisit the places we most enjoyed, and check out some of museums and restaurants that were recommended. I headed back down to the port to hop on a lancha|little boat to take a tour around the harbor. Once again, I stood out like a sore thumb, and the boat guide gathered all of the English words he knew to ask – with a genuine smile on his face, “How you like it here, gringa? I like United States!” I laughed and told him I spoke Spanish, and he said oh good because he knew nothing else, but welcome to Chile. We rode past the cargo ships, passed by some sea lions (someone correct me please if I misidentified them), and saw the Chilean battleships. Valparaíso used to be the main port city in South America prior to the opening of the Panama Canal. It struggled when the canal opened: the wealth stopped arriving. While Valpo remains the most important port city in Chile, it still is incredibly far from its glory days.

Welcome to Valpo
Welcome to Valpo
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Cargo
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Prepped but at rest
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A new view of Valpo
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Three generations
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Viva Chile!
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From all over

Tired from a day in the sun, I bought myself ice cream (round two of explaining, no, the guy standing Chilean-close behind me in line is not my boyfriend, I will be paying just for myself) and went back to the hostel to shower and get ready for dinner. The tour guides from the afternoon recommended a place for fantastic seafood, and I was eager to try it out! Chile, as I’ve mentioned before, is not well-known for its food. Fast food is pervasive in Santiago, and flavors are often lacking beyond those of mayonnaise and salt. I decided to treat myself while I was away, and spent the evening at Il Paparazzo, just a few blocks from Luna Sonrisa. This is my second recommendation for Valpo: eat here. It’s a little on the pricey side, but the food and atmosphere are well worth it. I had grilled salmon with pastel de choclo and warm shrimp ceviche, accompanied by a glass of Emiliana wine. Round three of explaining I was alone. By this time, I’ve gotten much better at it, and it usually sparks a good conversation about where I’m from and why I’m living in Chile at the moment. Everything was delicious and fresh! The atmosphere was more upscale, but still cozy. I ate my meal and sipped my wine and had a great time.

Dinner at Il Paparazzo
Dinner at Il Paparazzo

Dining alone, however, was a difficult transition for me. And without service on my phone here to be a distraction, a lot of my time spent eating is also spent thinking. I love food, and believe that it’s best when shared. I love family dinners and weekend barbecues and Sunday morning pancakes (TH makes them best, hands down). Being here, and learning to eat by myself, has been strange. Not being able to express myself as eloquently as I would like to also makes things difficult. But, as with everything over these past five months, I’m learning as time passes. I used to get upset when I would eat alone: I would get flustered and eat as fast as possible so that I could leave. Although it is by no means my favorite thing to do, I have learned to savor my time alone. I can eat, and think, and enjoy my meal and then move on with my day. Walking home from Il Paparazzo that night, I didn’t feel sorry for myself like I had at times in previous months. I felt liberated and lucky to have the time and opportunity to travel and live in another country, and make decisions for myself as I go. I could explore and see that there are infinite ways to live life: it all depends on the choices you make.

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Blank space to work of art
Mural spanning the block
Mural spanning the block

My next day in the city was spent exploring with some friends I made over breakfast at the hostel. The five of them were from the West coast of the U.S. and were traveling around Chile for a month. Next on their list was Pucón. I was jealous! Pucón remains my favorite place traveled thus far, with Valparaíso coming in second. The city is alive and is filled with passion: for life, for color, for brightness, for food, for the ocean. The street art is incredible, and is ever-growing. Muralists have become well-known, and there is and understand that blank wall space is a free canvas, but once it’s tagged by a gang or a muralist, it’s their’s to keep: each respects the other. The people of Valpo|los Porteños, are welcoming and energetic, and I would visit the city again in a heartbeat. Late afternoon on Sunday, I boarded a bus and came back to Santiago. My legs were tired, my cheeks were pink, and I was happy. Am happy.

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The end of a long day

This weekend, I am very excited to announce that my aunt is coming to visit! It was a surprise, and only came about a few weeks ago, but I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’m taking the week off from work, and she and I will be headed to San Pedro de Atacama for several days to check out the landscape and the city. I’ll likely be out of close touch for the week, but will be back next weekend with stories and pictures.

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