We were met at the airport (yay!! – no abandonment!) by Christian, the ‘Van Man,’ who provided us with a pleasant transfer to Valparaiso. His excellent English was a refreshing change, and his conversation made the hour journey pass very quickly. He asked about our plans in Valparaiso, and suggested a tour with Michael, the German Pirate (we had read about him on TA). We liked the sound of that and so he immediately got Michael on the phone. He had a German couple booked in for a pre-cruise-ship tour for tomorrow, but said that we could join them. Cool. Sorted.
‘Via Via Café B&B’ is lovely. (Via Via Cafe & Hotel) Our room is large, has a balcony and windows on 2 sides (no dark, depressing boxes, used only for sleeping!). It’s a gorgeous old Art Deco building, and we have a view of the port. Once settled in, we were given a welcome drink of fantastic Chilean Merlot and went to bed. At peace.
Breakfast the next morning was bliss – we were given avocado! Nic was so happy! Michael, the German Pirate, picked us up mid-morning, we met our new German friends, Helmut and Francisca, and off we went. We saw many interesting things in the city, while both walking and driving, beginning with the houses and history around the old town centre. The history in the 1960s and 70s was quite fascinating – basically some areas of the town had been completely deserted for years, and the hippies and students moved in and painted the places in vibrant colours and began making repairs. After a few years, they officially owned the buildings. Things don’t quite work this way now, however, so forget about moving to Valpo and squatting!
Our guide, Michael, charms his way in everywhere. He showed us the house of a politician who only comes to Valparaiso once or twice a year (his friend is the caretaker), which was a wonderful old home with truly magnificent views of the city and the port. Such a waste for it to be only used a couple of times a year. He also has a mate who owns ‘Hotel Manoir Atkinson,’ so we all climbed to its roof for another great view (we can see this hotel from our digs). Other stops for our tour were the German Club (with its own Kaiser Salla), ‘La Playa’ (a pub with a rustic mahogany bar, wood panelled walls, and lots of pics of Jack Nicholson and James Dean), and the English fire station (where we spent time looking at the pics of Charles and Camilla’s visit in 2009, shown to us by a very proud fire chief). They have quite a few different fire stations in Valparaiso, due to the eclectic nature of the settlement of the city – they have German, English, American, Spanish and Jewish fire stations!
We went to a bit of a Valpo institution for lunch, ‘El Cinzano,’ for a very traditional set menu with a Pisco sour thrown in as well. We were surrounded by many sweet old waiters, lots of locals, and only one or two tourists. An entire wall of the place was devoted to the world cup draw and scores – they are passionate about their football!
Michael drove us up along the top of Valparaiso, up in the hills, which is the poor area of the city. It seems that the poor always get the best views in these Latin American cities! We finished the afternoon with a visit to the Naval Museum, which, (as to be expected!), has some wonderful views from its peninsular. It was quite an extensive museum – the Chileans are very proud of their naval history, but the artworks depicting these scenes were not always of the best quality.
On being returned to our lovely ‘Via Via,’ Michael suggested that we join them again tomorrow for another tour down south to Isla Negra – another of Pablo Neruda’s houses (the one where he spent the most time). So we said, “sure.” We were more than a tad tired at the end of this day, so we settled into the courtyard of the café part of our B&B and ordered a bottle of chardonnay. Most satisfying, but combined with the fatigue, it may have influenced the error in judgement of ordering too much delicious food (there is a bit of a pattern developing here!). But, it was terribly yummy – tempura vegetables, hand made pasta filled with smoked eggplant in a cream sauce, and TWO desserts! Belgian triple (which was actually 4 desserts – waffles with strawberries, shot glass of some fabulous chocolate and cream creation, a fruit sorbet, maybe lychee?, and a cheese and almond cake). Had a full serve of the cheese and almond cake as well, as the ‘second’ dessert. Bad decision all round. Felt so bloody full and ick afterwards. Should’ve stopped at the end of the pasta.
The next morning, our German buddies turned up with all their luggage – they had decided to move from their accommodation in Viña del Mar to Valparaiso, and had liked the look of ‘our place.’ They had a few days to kill before going on their cruise, and wanted to experience more of this very charming city.
We began the day with a visit to a winery in Casablanca Valley, Casas del Bosque. It could’ve been any winery in California or Australia – immaculate grounds, lush green lawns, plants trimmed with nail scissors – all designed to make tourists who drive in, tumbling off their tour buses, exclaim, “I MUST buy wine here!”
We drove south to the house of Neruda. He named his house Isla Negra, and at some point in time, the mayor (have no idea who or when) changed the name of the town to honour him (or cash in on his name, whichever). Neruda was an interesting contradiction – he was a communist, but he hoarded (or collected) so much stuff. He was quite obsessive, actually. However, he definitely had good taste in choosing locations to build his houses! You couldn’t imagine a more perfect outlook. Bliss.
Hunger was clawing at us by the time we got lunch (because we have been starving ourselves the last few weeks!). We drove to a village called Quintay, north of Isla Negra, past a world-record breaking 1km long pool at a gigantic resort. We split some excellent fish dishes between the 5 of us, and were very glad we did – the meals were on huge platters masquerading as dinner plates – AND we began by splitting an appetizer of a crab casserole (basically crab in a creamy, buttery, garlicky sauce). The salad that came with one of the fish dishes was pretty much only eaten by the Bontaks pair – the others preferred the mounds of potatoes.
We drove further north to visit one of Michael’s friends, a man called Julio Manizuga. He is 84 years old, and is an artist/collector/mechanic/fix-it-man – basically a genius. He looks about 65, and is still an outrageous flirt with a wicked sense of humour – all delivered cheekily in Spanish, and translated by Michael. His current pet project is assembling a train set and building from scratch its village and landscape. He began collecting the pieces of this extensive collection in the 60s! No rush. In his living room he has a beautiful stone statue that he carved of his ex-wife – she doesn’t give him any grief in that form!
Our third and final full day in Valparaiso began with a walk up the hill to catch the bus to ‘La Sabastiana,’ one of Pablo Neruda’s houses. ‘Twas our favourite of the whole three in terms of design, although they have all had lovely settings, and the two by the sea had absolutely magnificent views. This was the only house of the three where we were able to take an audio-guided tour at our own pace, rather than with a tour guide that moved you along a bit. This house had some of his poetry in his study translated to English, and it was interesting to see a similarity between Neruda’s poetic style and phrasing, and John’s. After our visit, we walked down the big hill through the Museo a Cielo Abierto (Open Air Museum). There were a few interesting pieces, but nothing that really inspired us.
We walked through the main area of town down at sea level, and then caught the funicular back up to our little haunt of Concepcion. We ate at the highly recommended tiny French restaurant at the end of our street called ‘Le Filou de Montpellier.’ Once again, the fish was wonderful, and the warm gooey Camembert salad a real treat. Declined dessert, cause things really are just getting out of hand!