“I’m not a dictator. It’s just that I have a grumpy face.”

by Sally Steele

Artillería Funicular, Valparaíso Chile, photograph by Kim Steele

“A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who doesn’t play has lost forever the child

who lived in him and who he will miss terribly.”

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda

Traveling from “grumpy” (top ten list of understatements of the 20th century) Augosto Pinochet, and landing on playful Pablo Neruda, yes, you’re in Chile. And if you have not been to Chile, you are missing an experience of a lifetime.

Valparaíso was our last stop, of a three-week trip to Chile. Early on, we discovered that previously planned place of respite contained missing floorboards and no hot water. Sometimes left turns turn into the right move. Valparaíso was the sprinkles on the top of a gorgeous, rich, festive, historical, and resonant trip.

Historic Valparaíso, wikimedia.org

Having been there, it further delights us that Valparaíso (Historic Quarter of the Seaport City of Valparaíso) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site:

“The colonial city of Valparaíso presents an excellent example of late 19th-century urban and architectural development in Latin America. In its natural amphitheatre-like setting, the city is characterized by a vernacular urban fabric clinging to the hillsides that are dotted with a great variety of church spires. It contrasts with the geometrical layout utilized in the plain. The city has well-preserved its interesting early industrial infrastructures, such as the numerous ‘elevators’ on the steep hillsides.

Valparaíso Hillside, photograph by Kim Steele

Valparaíso is an exceptional testimony to the early phase of globalisation in the late 19th century, when it became the leading merchant port on the sea routes of the Pacific coast of South America.

The city of Valparaíso, the second largest in Chile, is exceptional testimony to the early phase of globalization in the late 19th century. It is located on the Pacific coast some 100 km north of Santiago, in the centre of the country. The geography of Valparaíso consists of a bay, a narrow coastal plain and a series of hills. The World Heritage site is located between the sea and the first terrace, in the area where the city first developed.”

The city was discovered in 1536 by the Spaniard captain Don Juan de Saavedra, who arrived by land trying to locate one of the ships that was sent by Diego de Almagro in his conquest expedition. Don Juan coined the name place Valparaíso in honor of Valparaíso (Paradise Valley) in Cuenca, Spain. Crossing the Straits of Magellan, Darwin slept here! Valparaíso grew and thrived as one of the most heavily trafficked ports of the Pacific coast, en route from the crossing Cape Horn crossing…to the ports of the North American coasts, before the Panama Canal was built.

The Callao stationed at Valparaíso,1891, flickrier.com

In local lingo, Valpo, is the headquarters of the Chilean Navy. Naval presence, in its spotless, pressed white with gold braid…is everywhere. Chilean pride in their naval history is abundant and resplendent. Museo Marítimo Nacional is perched atop the city, housed in a former school, accessible via the Artillería funicular. You could spend an entire day here, wandering, studying, mapping, being taken back in time.

Naval personel outside Headquarters, photograph by Kim Steele

From Wikipedia: “Examples of Valparaíso’s former glory include Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, the continent’s first volunteer fire department, Chile’s first public library, and the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication in the world.”

“Valparaíso’s bay was probably first populated by Picunches Indians, who were dedicated to agriculture. Other accounts say that it was the Changos who were nomads dedicated to fishing, and traveling between Caldera and Concepcion. Spanish explorers arrived in 1536, aboard the Santiaguillo, a supply ship sent by Diego de Almagro, who is considered the first European explorer, or discoverer, of Chile.” The city was the locale for many naval battles, detailed in the Museum.

“During Spanish colonial times, Valparaíso remained a small village, with only a few houses and a church. After Chile’s independence from Spain (1818), Valparaíso became the main harbour for the nascent Chilean navy, and opened to international trade, formerly limited to commerce with Spain and its other colonies.”

Naval Monument in Bahia de Valparaíso, photograph by Kim Steele

“Valparaíso soon became a desired stopover for ships rounding South America via the Strait of Magellan and Cape Horn. It gained particular importance supporting and supplying the California Gold Rush (1848–1858). In its role as a major seaport, Valparaíso received immigrants from many European countries, mainly from Britain, Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. German, French, Italian and English were commonly spoken among its citizens, who founded and published newspapers in these languages.”

“The opening of the Panama Canal and reduction in ship traffic dealt a staggering blow to Valparaíso, though the city has staged an impressive renaissance in recent years.”

Busy dock in Valparaíso, photograph by Kim Steele

Along our journey into the city we found cobblestone streets jutting out from every thoroughfare, their passage transports you back through the ages. Amidst the history are fruit vendors, feral dogs & cats, dilapidated buildings on seemingly valuable land, Colonial architecture, vines heavy with blossoms, craftsmen, funky bars & restaurants…and brilliant splashes of color. Views abound from sidewalks, alleys, and of course from the funiculars. Ascensor Concepción, the first funicular was built in 1883 for residents of the neighborhood Cerro Concepción to navigate the hills, it runs daily.

A common expression abounds, all sizes & shapes of murals. There are murals of all sizes and shapes, some with no particular message so more of some artistic statement, to political, to angry, to historic.

Valparaíso has been an artist’s residence and palate for hundreds of years. Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) lived here. Neruda trumpeted his unique style of poetry tinged with upper crust sensibilities from Valparaíso.  Valparaíso’s renowned son won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971.

Fun historic drinking hole, photograph by Kim Steele


We walked, and walked, and when we could walk no further, we found ourselves at sunset, at the top of  Concepción Hill, having wandered up & around the funicular tracks. On our way we found a knitting shop, La Giraffa, and the gifts we had hoped to find all through Chile. We happily stumbled into the restaurant we had intended to dine at on our last night in Chile, La Concepción. Surrounded by the port activities below, chatting with some friendly Canadian tourists, spectacular vistas, food that was fragrant and excellent, with the chill of the evening…we ended out visit to Chile as we had started it — full of sight, sound, aroma and a sense that even jaded world travelers as we are, can find vibrant new places to explore.


Augosto Pinochet


Chile is full of characters…suspicious characters, local folks warning us about suspicious characters, grumpy German tourists, warm and engaging Chileans, and our new friends: Gianina Lillo at visitchile.com our terrific travel agent; the 2 Gonzalos at the Hotel Orly in Santiago; Maria Jose Sagredo at Galeria Animal in Santiago…and her fabulous friend Josefina who directed us to all the cool must-see spots in Santiago; Nacho Concha, bartender at Le Jardin; Carla the world-class manager at Hotel Cabo des Hornos in Punta Arenas; Gabriel Montiel, the best waiter in Chile at Puerto Viejo restaurant in Punta Arenas; Carlos Guerra our guide in Puerto Montt; the mother & son on the bus from Vina del Mar who taught us the difference between Chilean taxis and local black cars…our new friend Yves in Toulouse, France; and to Shelley the Canadian Chevy dealer & his photographer wife who were great company on our last night in Chile. We will not soon forget you…here’s to our next bowl of chupe and a pisco sour!

See more images at https://www.steeleindustry.com

Character near harbor, photograph by Kim Steele


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