Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Funiculi, Funicula

It was overcast first thing.  I thought we´d left the sunshine in Buenos Aires.  We walked 10 minutes to Starbucks for coffee, then picked up the car and drove into Valparaiso, where the sun came out and we enjoyed a gorgeous day.

Valparaiso is hilly.  Reall, really, really hilly.  Think San Francisco then double it.  There are basically two towns: The port town, which during the day has government and military personnel and a busy working port including navy frigates which go out into harbour each day for what seems no good reason.  But it´s also dodgy and dangerous at night and you can get a clear sense of that in the light with the graffiti, buildings in disrepair, people living in flats with broken windows.  Then, high above, there is a lovely, peaceful, colourful village-like town, with awesome views and narrow cobbled streets with clumps of palms and bougainvillea. 


The UNESCO Heritage designation ensures nothing gets torn down...

...and well kept government and military buildings sit next to
...the shells of the once great port which, ever since the Panama Canal was built, has suffered

This is, I kid you not, the Arbutus bus from 1973.  Identical.  Down to the vinyl seats.
It´s like a scene from Oliver Twist

The busy downtown streets are abuzz during the day.

But heritage buildings like this, with half the windows broken or missing, laundry pegged on shutters, and doors on hinges, speak to how little UNESCO actually means to the average person.

There is also nowhere to park and the driving is criminal.  I asked at the hotel where they recommended parking in Valparaiso and they didn´t recommend driving, let alone parking.  But we persevered; it´s better to fail than…  We did in fact find underground parking in the centre and walked most of the old town. 

To get from the port to the “top” there are various funiculi, some of which are still in operation, that spirit locals up for about 50 cents.  The first we took, Artilleria, was old, built in 1893 and, from the look and sound of things, not updated since.  The floorboards creaked and had gaps where you could see through.  It jolted and shook.  It rose at a grade of 30 degrees for 175m.  I started the journey standing but, when it seemed like we might not make it, I took a seat, which jiggled when I sat as if to collapse.  But we did make it, up and down, so that was reason of course to try a second funicular!


One was painted with Jesus on top, the other with Mary.  I guess that would offer solace when you pummeled 175 meters down


Original 1893 turnstile

I was 34,290 on the day we took this ride.  But how many times has the meter lapsed over the last century and some.
This funicular, no longer in operation.  Thankfully!

The second ride we took was to a more touristy area of boutiques and cafes.  The Concepcion funicular was shorter, faster, but much steeper; it took about a minute before you could see the track and when we reached the top it was like crashing into the arrival pod.  Just don`t look down, just don`t look down…  We took lunch at a lovely bistro called Pastis where we sat on their patio and ate onion soup followed by salad and quiche.  Or, I should say, that´s what SS ate.  I thought  I was getting the same when instead a chicken pot pie arrived.  Excellent, exceptional actually, but another example of how the language fails us.


Facade only.  Thanks UNESCO?

Afterwards we retrieved the car and drove to Pablo Neruda´s house.  This was no easy feat.  The “two-way” street went at a steep grade akin to the funicular.  The Mazda wouldn´t go up in second, so we floored it in first.  When we made a wrong turn the only option for a u-turn was at the end of a dead end street where a pack of dogs barked at the car and chased us off.  And when we finally found the house it was closed on Mondays!

Concepcion is actually older, 1883, but has been "renewed" over the years.  The gradiant is 44.5 degrees over 60m.  I wouldn´t walk a hill this steep.


Back at the hotel it was sunny and hot and we relaxed on our huge deck and watched pelicans group on the rocks and fan their wings then took a light dinner at the hotel.

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