ODE TO VALPARAISO by Pablo Neruda

Valparaiso,
What nonsense
You are
What a crazy
Insane Port.
Your mounded head
Disheveled
You never finish combing your hair
Life has always surprised you
Death woke you
In your undershirt and long underwear
Fringed with color
Naked
With a name tattooed on the stomach
And with a cap
The earthquake grabbed you
You ran
Mad
Broke your fingernails
It moved
The waters and the stones
Sidewalks
And seas
The night,
You would sleep
In the ground
Tired
From your sailing
And the furious earth
Lifted its waves
More stormy
Than a tempest
The dust
Covered you
The eyes
The flames
Burned your shoes
The solid
Houses of bankers
Trembled
Like wounded whales
While above
The houses of the poor
Leapt
Into nothingness
Like captive birds
Testing their wings
Collapse

Quickly
Valparaiso,
Sailor,
You forget
the tears
and you return
to hanging your dwellings
to paint doors
green
Windows
Yellow,
Everything
You transform into a boat
Your are
The patched bow
Of a small
Courageous
Ship
The crowns nest
With foam
Your rope lines that sing
And the light of the ocean
That shakes the masts
And flags
In your indestructible swaying

Dark star
You are
From far away
In the height of the coast
Shining
And soon
You surrender
Your hidden fire
The rocking
Of your deaf alleys
The naturalness
Of your movement
The clarity
Of your seamanship
Here ends this ode

Valparaiso
So small
Like a cloth
Helpless
Hanging
Ragged in a Window
Swaying
In the Wind
of the ocean
Impregnated
With all the pain
Of your ground
Receiving
The dew
Of the sea, the kiss
Of the wild angry sea
That with all of its power
Beat the rocks
It could not
Knock you down
Because on your southern chest
Is tattooed
The struggle
The hope
The solidarity
And the joy
As anchors
Resisting
The waves of the earth.

VALPARAISO

We arrived in the coastal town of Valparaiso after a short train and bus ride from Santiago.  It could have been slightly shorter had we not hopped off at the wrong train station in a panic (nearly leaving camera bag on the train as the doors were shutting!)  We had been advised to get off the train at Universidad de Santiago but then five minutes into the trip we heard what sounded like our stop and in a panic rushed off the train only to realise we were at Universidad de Chile (rather than Santiago) station and we had to wait and pay again for the next train to get back on!

When we did arrive in Valparaiso we were dropped at the hectic downtown marketplace where we took a quick trolley bus ride further into Valparaiso to take an ‘ascensor’ (inclinator/funicular) up one of the numerous hills where our hostel was located.   We walked to the nearby ascensor only to find out that it was closed (as were many others) and we would instead have to take the stairs – probably wouldn’t have been too bad without our backpacks but that was a serious climb!

We were staying at Hostal Caracol, located in the Bella Vista neighbourhood, a pretty area of Valparaiso with a panoramic view over the town.  Once we had recovered from the walk up to our hostel we decided to walk back down and explore some of the other neighbourhoods.  Walking through Valparaiso at the city level is quite the contrast to the vibrant neighbourhoods located on the hills.  The streets were dirty and mostly associated with petty theft yet as soon as you climb the hills you are surrounded by brightly painted buildings and cobble stone paths leading to restaurants, museums and galleries.  We walked through the Concepcion neighbourhood, an older area of  Valparaiso where we took Valparaiso’s oldest ascensor (built in 1883) back to ground level.

On our second day we first walked to the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s house – a 4 story masterpiece located high on the hills of Valparaiso with what he believed to be the best vista, looking over the city he loved.  His house was incredible, one of his passions was collecting various eclectic pieces for his house.  From every floor and room there was a view to rival the last.

We were fortunate enough to have arrived on the weekend of the urban downhill mountain bike race ‘Cerro Abajo’ which was fantastic to watch.  Mountain bike riders from around the world compete in time trials from the top of a hill in Valparaiso and through the streets, riding down stairs, between buildings and on purpose built jumps throughout.  The riders do not know the exact track until the day so have only a few trial runs before the main event.  As they ride, they dodge energetic locals and a few stray dogs doing as much as they can to avoid incident.

After a long day in the sun we climbed the stairs once more to get our backpack before a taxi ride to the bus station for our night bus to Valdivia.  Arriving at the station, a quick check of our belongings would find that the laptop was not with us!  I didn’t have it in the back with me and Will couldn’t remember if we had it in the cab or at the hostel so he jumped back in a cab and sped off to the hostel leaving me with the rest of the bags at the bus station.  Waiting for Will, it became apparent that perhaps it wasn’t at the hostel either as a good 20 minutes had passed without his return.  5 minutes before our departure time and he comes running into the bus station, laptop in hand – he had gone back to the hostel and on not locating the laptop realised it must have been left in the cab!  In what can only be described as very good luck, the cab driver that drove him back to the hostel was the brother of the cab driver who had driven us to the bus station and within minutes they were searching the streets for each other, driving through the curvy roads on the hills and meeting just in time for Will to make the bus back.  Relieved but exhausted from the stress, we boarded our bus… perhaps it takes a while to get back into that ‘must check all belongings always’ frame of mind.

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