Listen, I know everyone loves Valparaiso. It’s trendy, romantic, filled with street art and hilltop views and fully endorsed by Pablo Neruda himself. When we told people we were going to Santiago, the response again and again from fellow travelers was, “oh, make sure you get to Valparaiso.” But here’s the thing. I just didn’t like Valparaiso.
There were some specific activities in Valparaiso that I absolutely loved. Among them were visiting La Sebastiana (Pablo Neruda’s house), tasting several Carmeneres at Antonia’s Wine Boutique, and enjoying churros and chocolate at one of the many adorable sweet shops. Unfortunately, these things could not overtake the things I hated: the dirtiness of the streets, the graffiti on every building (not the street art, that’s different), and a bad run in with another guest at the hostel.
We arrived on Saturday around noon to find the city rainy and 10 degrees colder than Santiago. Determined to love Valparaiso, I remained upbeat as we checked into our hostel and set out to find some lunch.
En route, we gingerly danced between the puddles and ridiculous amount of dog poop that filled the sidewalks. The rain made the slimy streets worse, and it was hard to enjoy the stroll. We finally found a place called Mastadon that specializes in Chorillana, a dish invented in Valparaiso. A little heavy, but fully embraceable by a couple of Americans.
As night fell, the rain stopped, and we found a route with less dog poop – up a cobblestone street to this adorable corner:
We located Antonia’s Wine Boutique, recommended to us by an Australian couple we met in San Pedro. We opened the place up at 9pm, tasting an incredible Carmenere. The owner/host chatted with us about what type of wines we like and brought us a complimentary meat and cheese platter. We had a great view of street art and the rolling blocks of colorful houses. Things were looking up.
Back at the hostel, Will and I passed out on our hostel bunk beds at midnight.
Around 5am, I awoke to someone shaking me. I opened my eyes to the lights on and a 20-somthing girl yelling at me in Spanish. The bunk bed was very low, so I couldn’t sit up, just lay there being yelled at. When she took a breath, I said “I don’t speak Spanish,” to which she responded “English then, speak! Speak!” Will and I finally gathered that she thought the bed I was sleeping in was her bed. After she continued to yell at a staff member for another 10 minutes, and took several photos of me in the bed, she was finally ushered out of the room.
Here’s what happened: When you stay in a hostel dorm, most hostels record which bed you claim. For example: Bed 3 – Elizabeth, Bed 4 -Will. This hostel does not record which beds are claimed, so they can’t tell you which ones are available when you check in. It’s just guessing.
This girl thought she claimed the same bed I had claimed. I checked in first (and went to bed 5 hours earlier) so I don’t feel bad about keeping the bed. Additionally, there were two more free beds in the room, available for claiming when she arrived back from the bar. This is how a hostel works. You take a free bed. You certainly don’t shake a stranger awake. If you have a problem you go talk to the staff person at the desk.
The girl was with an older gentleman who generally looked mortified. Later, the hostel staff tried to act like the girl was sorry, but didn’t know how to say it in English. It was evident from her demeanor that she was not sorry in the least. Was I hurt? No. Was I pissed? Yes. Will wanted to confront her in Spanish, but I suggested we just get an early start and vamos.
So we headed to Plaseo 21 de Mayo – another enthusiastic recommendation from our Australian friends in San Pedro. We took a tram to the top of the hill and looked out. The harbor full of shipping containers just wasn’t enough to lift my morning funk.
Although this view was nicer.
The sky looked like it would hold out against the rain, so we decided to walk across downtown to La Sebastiana. On the way, we took note of the street art (while trying not to step in dog poop- seriously, it’s everywhere).
Finally we reached Pablo Neruda’s house. Here you can see Neruda’s morning view as he awoke.
We ended our afternoon with churros and chocolate on our favorite cobblestoned corner before catching the bus back to Santiago.
I know, I know. The incident at the hostel and the weather were not Valparaiso’s fault. Perhaps I went in with expectations that were too high. Perhaps the dirty streets (I saw a roadkill rat blocking a street drain) prevented me from feeling the romance of the city. Perhaps I simply prefer the urban style of Santiago. In any case – there are wonderful things to do in Valparaiso… it just wasn’t the city for me.