“The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts” – Marcus Aurelius
Welcome to the vibrant city of Valparaiso. Almost as if a giant paint can had fallen out of the sky and splattered over each building, crack, and alleyway, the city shines with life. I decided to finally dedicate a weekend to this place and see firsthand what all the fuss was about and…it went past my expectations. I kept hearing others mention this city, accounts of its beauty, but more so about the clubs and parties there. Since everyone I knew spoke more about going to the clubs in Valparaiso more than the actual city, I mentally knocked it off as a party city and not necessarily important in experiencing Chile. However, I had assumed wrong about the city. In fact, during my time there, I did not even go to any parties nor drink, I just completely enjoyed the city and all it had to offer.
The major seaport city of Valparaiso is the second largest metropolitan area in the country and also the capital of the third most populated region in all of Chile. It also had geopolitical importance during the second half of the 19th century when it was used as a popular break area for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by crossing the Straits of Magellan. In the past 15 years, after an economic hit in the city when a majority of its wealthy inhabitants moved elsewhere, Valparaiso has been brought back to life in a sort of renaissance due to various artists. The city’s current makeover has made it a huge tourist attraction.
While there, I stayed with my friend Cristobal at Casa Volante Hostal, a small, hidden hotel secretly located in an alleyway filled with rainbow steps. In all honesty, we did not have a plan when we arrived. It was all just “going with the flow.” After leaving our bags in our room, we took a map of city and asked the front desk worker if she could mark all the touristy spots in the city worth seeing then we set off. Although we probably could have seen the whole city in a day, we really took our time to enjoy each location and have fun. Even though we were following a laid-out path from the map we made time for detours such as shops, photogenic areas, and even a museum. A majority of the marked tourist spots were surprisingly plainly colored churches, so they were not that interesting to me. However, the path to each marked map point was filled with aesthetically-pleasing graffiti on almost every single wall and building. Once we reached this small park higher up in the city with tiled columns and nice view of below, Cristobal and I agreed that we should probably return to the hotel to change into our swimming trunks and then head to the beach.
We began heading down, but continuing the path marked on the map in order to still view some tourist attractions while descending. We then arrived at an abandoned prison that was converted to a public park. There was almost nothing left from the prison save for the ruins of a corridor where I assume prisoners were lead through to then reach their cells, and also the prison entrance. Everything else was open, lots of green grass and sprouting trees. There was a bunch of people doing yoga when we arrived so Cristobal and I passed some time trying to mimic their positions.
Later, now having changed into our swimming gear, we arrived at Valparaiso’s wave-heavy, beautiful beach. I had never been to a beach with such strong waves that yank you back and forth like a rag-doll. Frankly, I was terrified to go deep in the water in fear that I’d be pulled way out in the deep and unable to return to shore. Some time passed and I got used to the constant back-and-forth and actually learned to enjoy it by letting my body float and letting the waves take me. That sounds a little scary, but I can assure you that just as powerful as the waves are pulling you in they also push you back to shore with the exact same strength.
We spent a good amount of time there and it was starting to get late. A friend had invited us to grab beers at a bar, but we were completely drained from being outside all day with barely any sleep. We looked for something to fill our stomachs only to find that a majority of shops were already closed or closing. Thus, my friend offered to cook for the both of us and made spaghetti with white sauce filled with onions and mushrooms. IT WAS DELICIOUS!
The next day we awoke slightly early to eat out complementary breakfast at the hotel: bread with choice of butter (mantequilla) or caramel (manjar), coffee or tea, cheese (queso), and cereal with milk (cereal con leche). All was self-serve. We finished eating at around 10am and headed out to a highly recommended lake called “Laguna Verde” (“Green Lake”); specifically, the Las Docas area. We took bus 520 from Valparaiso to head about 40 minutes to an hour south past various small villages. I do not remember exactly the name of the area we stopped at, but if you let the bus driver know where you want to go to, he will make sure to notify you when you arrive.
When we made it to our stop, we discovered that there was still another road we had to travel to make it to the lake and that the bus did not go that way so we could either walk about an hour and a half or pay 1.500 CLP ($2.30 USD) each to have a man drive us there. Cristobal and I decided to pay to have the man drive us and that we would walk on the way back. It felt like a 30 minute drive which made me slightly worried about having to walk back, but that completely left my mind once we arrived at Las Docas.
It was completely stunning, like a paradise you only hear about in storybooks. Crystal blue and green waves clashing against the U-shaped shore with huge, dark grey, rocky cliffs on the side with cave-like openings at the bottom. I would not be surprised if this shore was used for Pirates of Caribbean in one of their movies. We quickly laid out of item on the white sand and gazed ahead. It was really cold that day so no one was in the water, but I could not let this opportunity go to waste. I hurriedly took of my shirt and sandals and charged towards the robust waves. Once the freezing water swished pass my feet and legs, I halted, cringing from the pain of how cold it was. I then scurried out, buried my feet in the sand to warm them up again, then ran back in for round two. This time I completely dove in and let the wave tower over me so that I became engulfed. At first I felt like an iceberg, but with the cold evenly spread throughout my body, it quickly became bearable.
We spent hours just hopping around in the water, running out to heat up, then dive in again. Finally when we grew tired, and after a necessary photo shoot so we could have something to upload to Instagram, we laid on our towels and ate cookies as we watched the waves. This was my favorite moment from the whole trip. It felt like life was paused and time would resume when we wanted it to, sleeping on the sand for what seemed like hours. At around 4pm, we started to long path back to the bus stop. Our bus back to Santiago left Valparaiso at around 7:30pm so we had to make a move. We got back to the hotel at around 6pm, we showered, gathered all of our things, and headed out to find quick food before leaving.
Exhausted from the entire trip, we talked on the bus until my friend collapsed. Still being slightly awake I stared out the window and watched the sunset over the mountains near Valparaiso. It was like leaving a dream, one I hope to remember for a long time.