Dead Poets and Dog Shit in Valparaiso Chile

colourful buildings in valparaiso chile

kent, owner of hostal mariposas, valparaiso, chileKent, the owner of Hostal Mariposas, where we spent restful nights, sharing insider tips of the hostel business

A vague smell of the sea (ok, rotting fish) and the less ambiguous stench of dog excrement greeted us as we stepped out from the bus station, wobbling under the weight of our bags, which were hanging off us like awkward stumps off a tree. The temperature was cooler than Santiago from whence we came and I saw a couple of seagulls in the sky overhead.
We had arrived in Valparaíso, Chile.
Touted as a photographer’s wet dream, Valparaíso is a cross between Rio de Janeiro and a run down version of San Francisco. Valparaíso is a curious potpourri of elegant, if run down, mansions and corrugated zinc structures dotting the many hills that make up the city. Ascensores, or antique looking metal funiculars crawling their way up the various hills at impossible angles. In the late 19th century, as development occupied most of the cities limited level ground, residential neighbourhoods started climbing up the cerros, or hills surrounding the city. The ascensores were then built to facilitate access to the various neighbourhoods. Once numbering 33 in Valparaiso, many have fallen into disrepair and currently only a handful remain in operation.
Fabled poet, diplomat and politician, Pablo Neruda, deemed it fit to have one of his (three) houses here, named La Sebastiana and perched high up on Cerro Bellavista. Equal parts eccentric and eclectic, the colourful house with a maritime motif offered a fascinating insight into the method behind the madness of the man. Chock full of whimsical knickknacks from around the world, the Neruda was a relentless collector and hoarder, from Ethiopian wall hangings to Chinese paintings and of course, his favourite armchair, dubbed ‘La Nube’, or ‘The Cloud’, from whose perch by the window, offered a panoramic view of the port city of Valparaiso below.
A designated UNESCO world heritage site, Valparaiso’s quirky streets lined with murals and colourful, sometimes pretty beat up, shacks, reminded me somewhat of Kurland Village, a township in South Africa I visited a number of months back, with many corrugated zinc roofs being weighed down by various random objects, from car tyres to bricks. Stray dogs wander rampant throughout the city, dropping their little nuggets on every available space. Walking the city became akin to playing hopscotch on the pavement trying to avoid a nasty surprise.
Next stop, from the sea to the sand, up the Chilean coast to the Atacama desert.

cerro mariposas, valparaiso, chile

steep slope, stairs, valparaiso, chile

guy walking down hill valparaiso chileLong flights of stairs up and down steep cerros are part and parcel of life in Valparaíso …

ascensor valparaiso chile… unless you are lucky enough to have the use of an ascensor to aid your upward mobility

man walking on street valparaiso chile

stray dog valparaiso chileDogs practically own the place in Valparaíso

boy with bike valparaiso chile

chilean chef advertises restaurant, valparaiso chileA Chilean chef taking a break outside his restaurant on Cerro Concepción

modrain inspired shopfront valparaiso chileA Mondrian inspired frontage, part of the colourful façade of Valparaíso

shadow of cables on blue walls, valparaiso, chile

flags hung up valparaiso chileThe city is a riot of textures and colours

panorama valparaiso chileThe sea is an integral part of the context and identity of Valparaíso, UNESCO World Heritage site and certainly one of the more fascinating cities in Chile


I left my job as an advertising Creative Director in August 2012 to travel Africa and South America for a year with my wife, documenting these beautiful places with my Fuji X-Pro1. View the rest of my RTW adventures on Handcarry Only and follow me on my journey by subscribing/following/bookmarking.