Saturday, 29 March 2014


18th - 20th Mar 2014
 Plaza Sotomayon, Valparaiso. Naval HQ.
On north-west to Olmue, a small town two hours bus journey away over the western range of mountains towards Valparaíso. I can't stress enough how efficient and cheap the metro (one train per minute and no mucking around with pointless announcements) and bus services are. The bus terminals are like mini-airports in style with cafes and other facilities but with without any hassle The buses all seem to run smack on time and never any 'we regret to announce....'.

I was staying with the brother of a friend of mine, and his wife, who have been living in Chile for many years. He speaka da lingo fluently. He designed his house (left) in an 'eco-friendly' way. It has a hectare of land including an orchard, lovely garden and a large 'naturally' filtered swimming pool which features a realistic rubber decoy duck. I was trying to feed it  initially. It is a very comfortable abode.

The area around here is popular in the summer with Chilean holiday makers. Plenty of great scenery, hiking etc. and in striking distance of the seaside resort of Viña del Mar. as well as some vast tomato farms; the main industry in these parts by the look of it. We went on a few walks past several houses most of which contained packs of dogs of varying size and variety but all went ballistic (we had two dogs with us) as we passed. The noise was deafening. Luckily they were, mostly, fenced in.
Also several gaucho types riding around. I was fascinated by the fact they all wore spurs with enormous spiked rowels which would have inflicted serious injury to the horse if they were ever really used. I suspect the size of rowel must be a 'status' thing and makes a nice clinking noise when you walk in them.

Left: This is the type; these seen in a museum, but they are still in regular use.

I took the modern electric commuter train, one of the few train services running, for the one hour journey from the local station to Valparaíso. This is just the end bit of the old defunct line that once ran all the way to Buenos Aires. Valparaiso is an extraordinary place. It is the home of the Chilean navy and still a major international sea-port built, vertiginously, from the sea up several steep hills inland. Lots of cobbly streets with colourfully painted houses.
The neighbouring holiday resort of Viña del Mar is, I am told, rather tacky.

Left: Several houses are perched on rocky outcrops and have great sea views.

This is also a major earthquake zone. The one in 1906 virtually wiped the place out. Not sure I would be happy sitting in this eyrie when the ground begins to shake.

Right: ....and many have interesting murals painted on them.

There are about 18 small single car funiculars which take you from various sea level points to the higher streets. 30p a ride.
Left: I used this one from the station called Ascensor Conceptión.

There is no shortage of good bars and restaurants. Right: This one 'The Bar Ingles' is a little gloomy..........

.....but has photos of The Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles on the wall. The Victoria Hotel is close by. I am not sure what the British connection is other than when Francis Drake ran a few successful pirating expeditions around here in Elizabethan times. The place was frequently sacked by British and Dutch pirates in those days.

Right: The Hamburg bar where I had a good lunch (schnitzel mit pommes und sauerkraut). The place is stacked with curios and bric-a-brac. Recommended, even if it is a little bit Teutonic.

The city's most famous resident was the poet and artist (piss- artist by all accounts) Pablo Neruda. No, I had never heard of him before either.

Left: This was his house, La Sebastiana, a five story building perched on a hill high above the harbour. He had other houses dotted around the country. He was a wealthy poet.

The place is now a shrine to him and open, at a price, to the public. He penned the lines 'Valparaíso, how absurd you haven't combed your hair, you've never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you'. He was clearly bonkers, or not entirely sober when writing that.

Amongst all the other rooms on display, including bedroom, bathrooms etc. was his sitting room (right) with dining area behind. He designed the fireplace of which he was very proud.

Left: The dining area. Pablo loved to entertain his friends and never dined alone or with just his wife if he could help it. He was an enthusiastic toper of vino tinto and Scotch whisky and I expect he banged on incessantly to the great amusement of all. We were informed that he enjoyed hearing good jokes, but was useless at telling them. We have something in common there.
Strangely, for all his love of drinking and dining, there was no kitchen in the house. Perhaps he just ordered take-aways.

Right: Pablo's private bar. Only he was allowed behind it where he enjoyed dressing up as a moustachioed barman to serve his guests. For them he mixed foul and potent cocktails (Spiny Normans perhaps?). He stuck to whisky himself.

Left: His 'crow's nest' study at the top of the house where he presumably spent hours thinking up the next bit of breathless know, such as; 'There was a young girl from Devizes, blah blah.......And the other was big and won prizes' etc. He collected antiques and weird and wonderful objets d'art which cluttered the place. I must admit, the view from all the windows was spectacular.

Right: The view over the harbour from his study.

To get around the further reaches of the city there  are small buses, the 'O' buses, which run a regular circular service around a twisty, roller-coaster route. I used one to get to Pablo's place. It was a thoroughly alarming experience and I just had to guess as to where to get off. I think the drivers must either be very bored, failed Formula 1 jockeys or get paid by the distance they cover in a day. I'm sure we were on two wheels around some of the corners. I only used it once.

Left: Traditional transport still abounds. This horse was loosely tied to a lamp-post on the main drag. It's owner, with big hat and spurs no doubt, was probably jingling his way into the nearest saloon.

The ancient part of the city, around Plaza Matriz with it's old cathedral, has become a bit dilapidated and a dodgy area at night with ladies who, for a small financial incentive, become very friendly with visiting sailors.

Right: I think this statue was in that part of town. I have yet to see any statue in this country without a pigeon on it's head.

Left: The Naval Headquarters in the main plaza. There were indeed many uniformed sailors wandering about; possibly waiting for dark to meet the lady of their dreams. Looking at some of the 'good-time girls' (at least I presume they were) I think the darker the better.

Only a day spent in Valparaíso before returning to Olmue. Many thanks to my generous hosts (right) for a most amusing and comfortable stay. They own two dogs and two cats (and one rubber duck) but only one of the dogs deigned to be photographed.

Next back to Santiago for an appointment to visit somewhere quite interesting.

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