Valparaiso, Chile is a bustling city situated approximately 110km northwest of the country’s capital, Santiago.
I visited this colourful city earlier this year with my buddy Carol on the way to Antarctica.
I drove from Santiago airport to Valparaiso. It was an easy drive until we got right into the heart of the city 🙂
‘Chaos’ was the first word that came to mind…There were lots of one way streets and we found it really difficult to find our accomodation (no, we didn’t hire a Sat Nav with the car.)
My first thought was that the city was a lot bigger than I had imagined. We stayed in a ‘newer’ part of the city in a renovated hotel that was absolutely beautiful and looked out over the blue Pacific.
The city was very polluted and the brown sludge seen on the horizon was a constant reminder of this.
Built on 42 cerros (hills) that rise up out of the sea, this city has an extreme personality. Flamboyant mansions intermingled with some of the worst slums I’ve ever seen. Wonderful food and vibrant, colourful graffiti.
Brightly coloured homes piled on top of each other. More dogs than I’ve ever seen lazily lying in the sun. Barbed wire wrapped around high stone walls. Tattered shanties in all shades and textures of brown and alleyways that seemed lonely and eerie.
Almost one third of Chile’s slum dwellers live in Valparaiso. Many of them live in squatter settlements that don’t have formal access to the cities water, sewerage or land tenure.
We drove through the slum areas on our second day. As photographers, we both wanted to capture the essence of this part of the city and set out with our cameras on the floor of the back of the car and all doors locked.
We saw burnt out cars left on the side of the road, more dogs and rubbish everywhere. It was unbelievable to think of a city with such wealth and extreme poverty. The streets were often empty and at times it felt like a ghost town. When something caught our eye that we wanted to photograph, we would carefully check that there was no-one around, get out of the car with our cameras, take some shots and quickly jump back into the car and lock the doors. We thought we were being careful.
Not careful enough.
To cut a long story short, Carol was mugged and her camera was stolen by a guy posing as a tourist. It all happened so quickly. Even though she had the camera strap wrapped around her wrist, he pulled at her arm persistently and wasn’t leaving until he had the camera.
Within two minutes he was gone and so was Carol’s camera.
Hindsight is such a wonderful thing. We shouldn’t have been there. We looked like tourists. We are photographers with BIG cameras. What were we thinking?
I can hear you all…lesson learned and thankfully Carol was okay and had insurance 🙂
We were both quite shaken and after a ride in a police van to report the incident, and a visit to the local hospital we arrived back at our hotel.
That night we had a beautiful seafood dinner overlooking the city and took a cab to a spot high above the urban chaos and enjoyed the dazzling night lights below.
We spent the next day quietly wandering around the ‘newer’ part of Valparaiso 🙂
I’m not sure if I’ll ever visit Valparaiso again, but if I do, theres one thing for sure, I’ll take a smaller camera 🙂
Have you been to Valparaiso? What were your thoughts of this city? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
Enjoy the pics. Click on the first pic to view all the photos as a slideshow:)