We started off our journey from Santiago to Valparaiso by being robbed by the taxi driver who took us from our apartment to the bus station. It was an opportunistic crime. I had Axel and Lisa followed in a second taxi with a Elka. When we got to the station we unloaded our gear and the taxi drivers helped us out with our bags. It was only when we were in the station that we realized we were a bag short. Luckily and unluckily for the kids it was the toy case. It had been sitting on the front passenger seat of the taxi Lisa and Elka had traveled in. Lisa thought that the guy had driven off without seeing it, I said he was fat, not blind. It was a hard shell camouflage case that you couldn’t miss.
I waited outside in vain for a few minutes under Lisa’s illusion that he would come driving round the corner to return it to us, no way. I couldn’t get that angry, it was stupid of us to leave it behind. The only satisfaction I got out of it was thinking about his fat sweaty face after he had finally managed to break open the lock’s and popped open the case, there, staring up at him, a filthy dirty Dora and an equally filthy Barbie with no knickers on, lying on top of a pile of mismatched lego and other sundry valueless toy’s, tough shit amigo!
With that quickly in the back of our minds we boarded our bus to Valparaiso. It was a two hour drive through some terrain that to me and Lisa looked like the drive from Malaga to San Pedro in southern Spain.
Once in Valparaiso we again got two taxis to our destination which was 155 Artillerie on the hill at the southern end of the bay. Both taxi drivers warned us about the area at the bottom of the hill opposite the port and our host, Catalina also warned us not to venture out unprepared at night. No camera’s, no jewellery, etc, etc. I didn’t think too much about it, I know Lisa did.
The area on top of the hill we were staying in was lovely with an old funicular train to help you up the steep hill rather than walking. At the top there were panoramic views of the bay and the port, and a couple of restaurants and much to Axel’s delight the naval museum.
On our first day in town we went for a walk down the hill to the port area. Valparaiso is talked up by the guide books and the tourism offices as a must see place to visit in Chile, I am not sure why. I thought I had been in some dangerous, seedy, low down cities before but nothing like this. We made our way down off the hill towards the flat area on front of the port, the pavement getting more and more broken and fractured, dog shit and rubbish everywhere. The palpable air of meanace permeated the whole area. We were on our way to find a restaurant. A couple of them had been recommended. None of them were open so we settled on the nearest place we could find. The service was good the food so so. Axel got the biggest plate of chips I have ever seen so he was happy. We were told by the waiter when we were leaving to get a taxi as the area was notoriously dangerous after dark. Well it wasn’t dark so we walked. Anyone stopped us could have what little I had left after our poor dinner.
We went for a walk the next day and started off on the same route as we had the previous day. I could take a little more in once I started to get used to the place. The buildings in the port area looked like they had been fought over in a street battle. Dingy looking brothel’s, broken down tenement’s, facades with nothing behind them, wino’s sleeping on the square, the smell of piss everywhere, a great place to bring the kid’s. It was like Fatima Mansions twenty years ago multiplied by a hundred. We walked through the port area and made our way to the only slightly better uptown are. We had lunch in a steakhouse which was far better and far cheaper than the previous nights culinary experience. We walked off our lunch and double backed on ourselves to a gelateria we had spotted earlier. The kids had ice creams and we had coffees after which we started the rather dispiriting walk back through the town towards the port area.
We stopped off in a small supermarket on the Plaza de Wino’s to pick up a few bits and pieces. One of the security guys followed Lisa and Axel around while they did the shopping, they weren’t taking any chance’s with us. The supermarket security guys were all wearing stab proof vests, I thought to myself, christ what a job, getting stabbed for guarding the milk and egg’s.
On the way from the supermarket to our little house on the hill we bought some fish from a street stall from a guy with a voice like a rusty chainsaw. Lisa has a little Spanish but there was no way she could understand Senor Husqvarna. We continued our walk past a bum with five dogs, one of which made a lunge for me and bit my trousers. I was holding Elka at the time, she loved it, laughing her head off crying ‘doggy bit daddy’s pants, doggy bit daddy’s pants.
Valparaiso is pants, get me out of here.