Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Feliz Año - or Happy New Year - from Valparaiso: part 1

Square in Valparaiso

We decided to spend New Year's Eve in Valparaiso, on the coast of Chile because it is said to have the best firework display in South America and possibly the world. Unfortunately we left the final decision on this bit late, so we had some trouble booking accommodation. We ended up with a double room for 30th and 1st, but only a single for 31st. But we figured we may not end up spending that long in the room on 31st anyway, so we would be OK.

Cerro Conception, Valparaiso

We took a day time bus from Santiago, which only took a few hours, so we arrived at the hostel with time to take a look at the city. We had seen 'marmite reviews' of the place, with some people loving it and others hating it, so we weren't too sure what to expect.

Valparaiso was an important city in its day as a naval and merchant shipping port. The city is built up into th surrounding hills and, like Lisbon in Portugal, it has a series of old elevators to help with the climbs. Though it has an impressive past, Valparaiso lost its importance when the Panama canal was built, and suffered damage and decline after it was hit by a big earthquake in the 1930s. It has never really recovered and although it is supposedly the countries cultural centre, it is a city of faded glories and the highest unemployment rate in Chile.

Cerro Conception, Valparaiso

The flat area of the city, which is where we were staying is not the most pleasant. There were a few nice parks in this part of town, but generally it was not a attractive area. Even the harbour is a industrial looking one rather than being picturesque. Most of the buildings are shabby and a bit grubby, the roads are busy and noisy, and the place just has that kind of perpetually dark look that you get in a town that is run down. In the UK it would be like one of those high streets that has a lot of pound shops and other shops boarded up or temporarily taken over by those people selling knocked off perfumes and 'designer' handbags. In fairness the shops weren't really like that, but that was the impression the place gave me.

Hill in Valparaiso
You also have the main roads full of people selling stuff on the streets. With it being new year, many of them were selling metre long party poppers, silly string, foam, party hats, masks, plastic ties and so forth. There were also stalls selling plastic champagne flutes and others selling cheap sparkling wine. The most interesting ones though were those selling the knickers. Big knickers, little knickers, plain knickers, frilly knickers, lacy knickers, knickers with messages on - all sorts of knickers. But all of them bright yellow. Every single pair, bright yellow. The reason is that Chileans have a tradition of wearing yellow underwear on new years eve to bring them happiness and love in the year. We didn't check whether people really were, but the stalls were mostly sold out by the afternoon of 31st, so I guess a lot must have been.

But back to the city. We made our way up one of the hills to an area called Conception and this was an entirely different story. This area looked like the kind of traditional seaside town that you hope for. Many of the houses have the traditional clapboard facades painted in a variety of cheerful colours, and others are art deco or art nouveau designs. The cobbled streets and interesting little shops and restaurants make it a really pleasant place to wander around. Here you can see why some people love Valparaiso.

Cerro Conception, Valparaiso

We enjoyed strolling around this area, looking in the gallery and generally being touristy. We saw a few nice places to eat and booked one of them for New Year's Eve. We then found a nice little Pisco bar. It was a small place that had a part retro, part modern look to it and most obscurely a little clothes shop to the side. As their name suggests, they only sold drinks made with Pisco, but it wasn't the usual Pisco sours, but rather other cocktails. The bar was empty when we went in and the girl was friendly and helpful in helping us to pick our cocktails - mine a bit like a mojito but with Pisco and celery, and Nic's with honey and ginger - and dealing quickly with the power cut at the same time. The place soon filled up, but we went off to get some food in a bar down the road.

Painted building, Cerro Conception, Valparaiso

The place we ate in was good but at one stage our attention was somewhat distracted by the sight of a man outside who looked just like Father Jack from the Father Ted series. In fairness he was a somewhat cleaner and less gnarled version, but he did have the white straggly hair and the general look about him. The clincher that really made it though was that he was wearing all black, but had just the edge of a white collar peeping out at the neck, which looked just like he had on a priest's dog collar. Nic did try to get a picture but 'Father Jack' went off round the corner for a cigarette and so he missed it.

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