Bleary eyed we awoke to a dark early morning in Valparaiso and caught a taxi up the hills of the town to our B&B. The taxi driver assured us that we were in the right place, although nothing about the steep blocked off alleyway looked very right at all. We paid our fare and tentatively toed our way through the dark down the stairs to find Casa Kultour.
We were met by locked gates and dark windows, but after ringing the bell a few times to no avail I was still relatively unconcerned, the seagulls were squawking and soon it would be light and they’d let us in. We huddled on the front step and tried to keep warm until someone in the B&B awoke or arrived, and within half an hour someone turned up the street. The closer he got, the clearer it became that this dude was not the hotelier, he was about 17. The grubby flip flopped feet should have given it away, and then he stopped in front of us and spoke Spanish. Ian being more trusting than I leant forward to try and correspond with him, but soon enough it became clear he was not after a conversation, but rather something out of our pockets. At this point I cursed having given up smoking as one, or twenty may have appeased him, but we had neither these, nor small change, but did have EVERYTHING we owned in the bags at our feet… and then it dawned on us that we were about to get mugged. As he became more persistent, edging closer and eyeing up our bags, Ian stalled him and I went mental ringing the doorbell and trying to wake up the street. Making enough of a racket eventually scared him off, and a hostel nearby was kind enough to let us kip in their communal room until it got light.
Once Casa Kultour opened it more than redeemed our unfortunate start to the day. With a quaint cottagey feel it was decorated in bright crocheted flowers hand made by the house keeper, and vintage chocolate and milk Nestlé posters adorning the walls. We set out immediately to enjoy the sunshine and meandered around the famous ‘cerros’ hills. Every winding turn revealed a colourful street, scattered with graffiti, boutiques and bistros. And yes, more artisanal shops, where we both picked out some handmade copper jewelry. Busking musicians created the perfect soundtrack to frame the steep but stunning views to the ocean below.
Traveling down to the sea level part of the town involves either going down hundreds of steep stairs, or boarding an ‘ascensor’. In most places, this would be a lift/elevator, but this was a fusion of a streetcar trolley with the aforementioned, and had me scared sh*tless! Two wooden boxes traveling in opposite directions on pulleys on metal rails, these things are manually operated and practically hand pulled. Funnily enough the ascensor parts were made in Southwark, London - perhaps I should have felt in safer hands, and maybe I did until I saw they were made in 1887…
The lower town of Valparaiso was a different experience altogether, and perhaps the reason behind some of the more unsavory reviews we’d read. We went hunting for the old fish market, but the only fishy thing we found was a derelict building and homeless drunks sprawled out amongst rubbish on street corners. Feeling a little vulnerable and very touristy all of a sudden, we quickly turned on our heel and returned to the main square overlooking the port, flanked in pretty buildings and statues. We watched giant pelican diving to catch fish amongst the tug and tourist boats, dwarfed by the giant naval vessels which tourists are banned from photographing for security reasons.
Up the ascensor (scary as it was, there was NO way I was climbing those stairs instead) we retreated to the cosy colourful streets of our cerros for a drink and a relaxing game of cards at The Brighton hotel as the sun set.
Supper became quite an unexpected event, and a pleasant one at that! Many of the restaurants that were highly rated on Tripadvisor were closed that evening, and as we walked around to choose somewhere to eat we were lassoed by Claudio and ushered into restaurant Paparazzo. With a name like that, it’s somewhere we’d normally not consider, but Claudio was quick to convince and we were given a fantastic seat by the window. Over an ice cold bottle of Sauvignon Blanc we salivated over the menu and devoured a sea bass cevice amuse bouche, then settled on sea bream with gnocchi and fresh octopus for main course. We tipsily headed back to our hotel, key in hand, we weren’t sleeping rough tonight!
- By Cass