Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso,
how absurd you are,
what a lunatic, crazy port,
what a head-rolling hills, disheveled,
you never finished combing your hair,
you’ve never had time to get dressed,
life has always surprised you…
– Pablo Neruda, Ode to Valparaiso

Colorful houses cover the many hills of this city, with its cobblestoned steep maze of narrow streets and alleyways, its long, crazy, even-steeper stairs (oh how my knees hurt), the rickety ascensores (funicular) , the multitude of tangled wires on its street posts, and the amazing murals that cover every street wall and every house wall. It’s a delight to the senses, sometimes overwhelming. Vibrant, dilapidated, chaotic and fascinating all at the same time. This is the wonderful mess that is Valparaiso.

From what I’ve read, Valpo was a major stopover for Europeans crossing the Atlantic going into the Pacific. It was also the place where ships get painted. Most houses were (still are) made of corrugated metal and were sort of ugly so residents would use leftover paints from the ships to paint their houses. Since the leftover paints were usually not enough to cover one house, they would end up painting one wall or one floor at a time. This is how this city got all this mix of colors that made it what it is today.

During the country’s dictatorship, people started spray painting and graffiti tagging  the walls of the city as protest.  Then after some time, street artists started painting murals.  Today,  there’s a mix of graffiti tags and murals from artists all over Chile and Latin America. Some murals are small, some covers the wall of an entire 13-story building. Particularly in the hills of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción, theres street art in every street wall, every alleyway, stairs and building walls. We had to devise a strategy on how to explore the streets so we don’t get distracted (trust me, it’s very easy to get distracted😂). We marked each street that we’ve covered and kept going until we’ve gone through every street and every alley in the map. For the first two days, at the end of the day, I was exhausted. It’s like being in a museum all day long. It was almost too much for my eyes to take in. Do I photograph the street, the mural as a whole, or the part(s) of the mural that’s interesting? Once we started, our shutters didn’t stop. We kept going to each street, kept marking our map, and kept going.  The only way to explore this city is by foot.  Check out my flickr album for more photos of Valparaiso  https://www.flickr.com/photos/mariaobias/albums/72157690539578216

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