Monday 8th Feb – Valparaiso, Chile

We expected disembarkation to be chaos. We’re just trying to see the town, but they were offloading 1000 passengers and loading 1000 fresh ones (who will undoubtedly bring fresh germs with them –oh goody). Having negotiated the forms, x-rays and sniffer dogs checking us for food, we made it out into the enormous terminal. As expected, the taxi drivers were very stroppy and kept insisting we had to take a tour for an hour. We eventually found someone willing to take our money to deliver us to the Ascuncion Funicular. It was down a tiny alleyway. If we hadn’t had his guidance, we would never have spotted it!

Once again, we lacked local currency (you can’t buy it out of the country or take it out of the country or spend it anywhere else, so why would you want any?!), but a very nice man in the queue, who basically wanted to practice his English on us, changed some money for us, so we could go up – and come back down later. The woman on the turnstile was unspeakably unhelpful – she could not have cared less how many tourists she turned away. I wonder if her employers feel the same about all the money she refuses?!

It was a short trip – probably less than a minute – but a ride in a tiny 1883 original funicular is a rare treat for me, so I was like a puppy with two tails.

At the top, it was still warm and cloudy – I expected higher breezes, but there were none. We strolled for a bit through the UNESCO World Heritage Site buildings, in their pretty colours and varied architecture. They are required to protect the facades, but they are happy to gut them and rebuild the insides from scratch, so there were some very derelict-looking works in progress. There was some interested public art/mural work, but a surprising amount of dog poo. Not an issue we normally face in touristy places! We found an art gallery with a café attached, and had a drink on their balcony, overlooking the whole bay. Spectacular.

We had to change our planned route because the funicular we had intended to head towards, in order to come back down, was not working. So we wandered a bit further, and I found the particular piece of public art I wanted mum to see – a staircase (yes, there are hundreds in this place – it’s built across (allegedly) 42 hills) painted like a piano keyboard, located on? Beethoven Passsage, of course. I saw it on the port talk, which, as usual, I duly watched with the sound off. The bits I did hear involved her describing the whole town as one big, very steep, staircase. I have no doubt she put some people off from bothering to go ashore. In fact, it was quite similar to Salvador in its layout – some bits are up and some are down. There’s plenty of “flat” available. Even the funiculars have level access. But I bet she didn’t tell anyone that.

From there, we found ourselves walking downhill and so, instead of taking a second funicular, we walked back down. The murals and art became ever more spectacular as we descended, climaxing at a Café Sunflowers with Van Gogh’s Starry Night painted on the side! Sadly, with the really amazing art increase came a commensurately massive surge in tagging. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most graffiti-filled place we have ever seen. There is not a single surface that has not been tagged. Even the canvas fences around cafés have been tagged. Hotels? Hospitals? Government buildings? Glass? Brick? Antique plaster? Nothing is immune, as far as I can see, except churches. It’s hideous. This could be quite a nice place, but the tagging makes everything look so ugly and neglected, it’s hard to see past it.

At the bottom, we found a taxi to take us to the market, but when he explained that the food court was upstairs, and there was no lift or escalator, he instead took us two blocks away, to a lovely little local café, where we had a very nice lunch. It had little individual booths/houses (with proper tiled roofs) if you wanted more privacy during your meal. Mum and dad had toasted cheese sandwiches and I had steak and chips – there aren’t many options for lunch in Chile if you can’t eat cheese, ham, prawns or bread!

The sun came out after lunch, so we then went to the Tourist Information to ask their advice, but it was shut, so we got a taxi to the Ibis (the only hotel we could find that we had heard of!) and used their wifi to Skype home. The signal at the London end gradually deteriorated as more and more people logged on after work (we are three hours behind – so it was teatime for us, but home time for London), so we gave up after a while, and went back to the ship. Mum wanted to shower while we were still in port;  I wrote and posted some postcards before dinner.

The best bit of advice I can give you for here is, get a decent map. The one handed out at the terminal was RUBBISH, and did not show either all the roads – which you would have was a given for a tourist roadmap of your town, wouldn’t you? -, or differentiate between up and down, or even explain where the funiculars really went. The map handed out at the Ibis was much better and more helpful, but, sadly, we were almost done by then. Go there first. They have a whole drawer full of maps you can pinch.

We found out at dinner that there was a Sheraton somewhere, but as none of the maps here show any hotels (another first for us!), we made do with the Ibis, which was fine.

Our new tablemates are:

Laurie and Michael – American, live in LA but from New York and Alabama via Brazil. Laurie broke her leg in two places three weeks ago, and had an operation last week, so Michael is going to have to push her around in a wheelchair for their entire holiday. They are leaving in Auckland, because the whole point of the trip is that Laurie wanted to see New Zealand. They were not over-enthusiastic about the food, and Laurie point blank refused to drink the coffee when she realised that decaff means instant! Michael works in International Sales for FedEx and Laurie is his third wife – he has children by both the previous ones. Sounds like a good reason to leave the country as often as possible! His employers pay for his internet when he is away, so they can keep in touch with him. This makes me VERY jealous indeed!

Paula and Dale – American, also Californians, I think, and also from the LA area. They live in Australia, on a 39-foot yacht. They had to buy some dress shirts for Dale to come on this cruise, because they don’t have enough storage for things they don’t need regularly. Mum and Dad talked to them, mostly. I’ll try and learn more tomorrow.

Michael. Travelling alone. From the UK. I don’t think I’ve established where he is from or what he does yet, but he is certainly very nice.

My sunburn is very sore.

UPDATE: Our luck may have broken. We have pootled around South America under what seemed like our own, personal high – low pressure, sunshine, calm seas. Wherever we went, people said it was the first decent weather they had had in days/weeks/months. We got sunburn in the Falkland Islands, a place renowned for being none too hospitable, weather-wise. We went round Cape Horn three times, because it was so calm, we could. Well, we got blasé and a jolly good slap in the face is now being duly administered. The Pacific was not called the Pacific because of her peaceable nature (despite what the psycho port talk lady might say). Quite the opposite. In fact, she was given the name, in the somewhat superstitious and clearly very over-optimistic hope that it would encourage her to calm the hell down, in order to live up to the name. She hasn’t. We left Valparaiso during first sitting dinner, so we got our dinner in the calm of the bay. I don’t know how well second sitting ate.  Since we left Valparaiso and headed west, it has been getting steadily bumpier. Suffice to say, I am writing this at 4am local time.  It’s bumpy now. very bumpy.


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