Traveling for an extended period of time and attempting to travel light generates the need to go shopping, not for nice holiday souvenirs, but for the basics in life, like toothpaste, razor blades etc. Whilst not glamorous it does mean you get to see a country from a different perspective from that purely of a tourist and also leads to the chance for confusion. An example would be queuing for 10 minutes in a pharmacy to get the front of the queue only not to get served because you didn’t collect a number from a ticket machine (like you sometimes get at deli counters in the UK).
Whilst in the normal shopping area Nik manages to find some clothes shops to pick up some key items that she feels are missing from the repertoire she is carrying round. The clothes are incredibly cheap, so much that I think we must have found the Chilean Matalan – we will see how far round the globe they last…
Chores done we set off to explore more of the city and up some of the phenomenally steep hills. Many of them are 1 in 4, and some even 1 in 3, and they wind and switchback through the houses, in a manner the like we have never seen anywhere else. I think learning to drive in Valparaiso must be a challenge and the sound of tyres squealing as cars do some of the toughest hill starts you will ever see is common. I suspect the average lifespan of a Valpariso clutch is measured in weeks.
We head up on foot (hard work!) to the house that Pablo Neruda lived in, which has a magnificent view over the city. A very friendly group of americans take our photograph and we move on for a spot of lunch.
A ‘free’ walking tour is advertised that starts at 3pm and we decide that this would be a great way to find out a little more about this curious city. At the start you are told that it is a “free tour” but that they survive on tips, and then a suggested tip of 5,000 Chilean Pesos is mentioned. A good business model I suppose – advertise as free and then guilt people into making a donation.
To be fair to Alvares (our tour guide) we get a tour of 3 hours, in which the he ‘shouts’ everyone the funicular rides, and that is very informative and we learn some great facts. Some of our favourites snippets include:
How the painting of the houses in bright colours started (a ship builder called Atkinson would use the spare paint to paint his house and changed the colour as often as he built ships – and it was a trend that just caught on)
That there are in fact 14 funiculars (with the steepest being 56 degrees) and 1 lift dating back to 1883
We have a break at an Empanada shop that sells 60 different varieties and learn that the Chilean version is significantly bigger than the Argentinian one – probably 4 or 5 times bigger
That the Chilean coat of arms on the war memorial was a gift from France who didn’t know what the national animal looked like and just put a horse on it!
The tour finishes near the memorial adjacent to the sea front where amusingly the sailors that stand guard happily pose for photos whilst wearing their Ray-Bans. This is the same spot that the previous day we failed to get a boat from, but today we have more success. This is another interesting business model – the deal is that if there are enough people they will take a boat out for 3000 Pesos per person, but you can also charter a boat for 30,000. But ‘enough’ people for a non private boat is 25! And as with yesterday there is nowhere near that amount of interest.
We manage to garner interest from our other waking tour members (Phillip form Germany, and Louise and Carol from Canada) and we are informed that the private charter is a much longer trip. We agree to ‘charter’ a boat between us and split the cost. At this point our day became a little more surreal as our transport arrived, that was in all seriousness a small ferry! A ridiculously large boat that would comfortably take 40-50 people pulled gently to the harbour wall and we boarded the boat appropriately named “The Daddy”.
The comedy continues as the high tech manoeuvrable seating system is deployed on deck…..a succession of white plastic garden chairs. This has the advantage of meaning that you can just adjust your seating position with ease to see the most of the amazing views that the trip affords (including a group of sea lions at close quarters) but the disadvantage that they can blow over the side if you stand up due to the wind (thankfully Nik’s landed on the bottom deck and not the sea).
Lois is our guide on the boat who is great entertainment – even joining me in a flash jump (something I have been doing at various points on the trip so far and will get round to posting at some point)- and explains to Nik in Spanish the current Chilean Presidential campaign is being fought between two female party leaders (who are both daughters of a Chilean military general) and the compulsory voting takes place on the 15th December.
At the end of the tour our group stick together a little longer as we go for a drink in a bar off the square and chat more about the tours and our respective travels in general. A real joy of travelling is meeting new and varied people and we have a lovely early evening before heading back home. We buy some raffle tickets from a fireman who comes into the bar – the Chilean fire service is 100% voluntary and the money is to help maintain the service – though if we receive an email telling us we have won a washing machine I am not sure what we will do.
We head out for pizza close to our hotel, on the way passing a church from which we could hear the sound of Widar’s Toccata (our wedding exit music) being played which makes us both smile and stop for little to listen despite the cold wind.