Sunday, March 18, 2012

Notes from Valparaíso

When I’m in Valparaíso, I often stay at The Yellow House (pictured below), a cozy B&B run by the Australian Martin Turner, his Chilean wife Lissette, and their two bulldogs. On Cerro Artillería, at the west end of downtown, it was a pioneer accommodation in a hills neighborhood whose development and renovation have lagged behind that of more fashionable areas like Cerro Concepción and Cerro Alegre, whose boutique hotels and fashionable restaurants have set the pace in this scenic city.
One factor in Artillería’s recent development may be the fact that it has a working funicular in a city whose reputation relies, in part, on this unusual but entertaining means of public transportation. When I last updated Moon Handbooks Chile, though, “Valpo” had nine functioning funiculars of the 14 that remain (there were originally 33, but the rest have been dismantled). Today, though, Ascensor Artillería (pictured at top and below) is one of only four that remain in service. The El Peral, Turri, and Reina Victoria funiculars all serve the conspicuously tourist-oriented areas of Concepción and Alegre.
Maintaining and operating an antiquated technology, of course, present challenges, and a couple others could return to service shortly. On the other hand, UNESCO has reportedly threatened to revoke the city’s World Heritage Site designation if authorities don’t make a greater effort to restore the remainder to a usable state. In fact, the ascensores make it easier for everybody – not just tourists - to get around this hilly city.
Meanwhile, thanks in part to its funicular, Cerro Artillería has gained attention as an accessible area of new businesses – such as the up-and-coming restaurant Casa Cuatro Vientos (pictured above), in a landmark house with spectacular views of the harbor (their annual New Year’s Eve dinner offers the best views of the city’s legendary fireworks show). Other cafes have arrived, and Martin and Lisette have set up a separate cooking class business, Chilean Cuisine, in a luminous loft apartment just across the alleyway from their B&B. I attended one of those classes (pictured below) on Friday and, when I have time, I’ll give a more detailed account of it.
Climate Change: From Santiago to Valpo
No, this will not be a polemic on global warming, though I share concerns over the environmental crisis of our time, and Chile’s one of the frontline countries threatened by climate change. Rather, this article will describe the dilemma of those who travel from hot, sunny Santiago, to cool, foggy Valparaíso (pictured above).
Recently I gave slide talks on Patagonia and Buenos Aires in the Santiago B&B/hostel La Casa Roja (pictured above and below), which gave me the opportunity to answer a wide variety of questions on those destinations. It wasn’t limited to that, though, and several people asked me about the best excursions in and around Santiago, and one of my top choices was Valparaíso, the country’s most colorful and unique city. Though I’d always recommend staying overnight or longer, bus service to Valpo is frequent (about every 15 minutes) and fast (two hours) and, making it an ideal and inexpensive day trip.
There is one surprise, though, that unsuspecting visitors need to know. Though it’s been hot in Santiago the entire month, it normally cools off at night, given its 550 meters above sea level; that hasn’t been the case for most of March, and that means many young visitors are only lightly dressed. If they’re going to Valparaíso for the day, that can be a problem – it can get cool or even chilly here.

That’s because, like San Francisco, the twin cities of Valpo and Viña del Mar (the famous beach resort), sprawl along a Pacific shoreline that’s only a short distance from the cold Humboldt Current. That helps create the convective fog known as the camanchaca, similar to the afternoon fogs that spread inland over San Francisco – and legendarily leave Midwestern tourists shivering in their shorts and tee shirts. On the coast here, the daytime temperature here is typically 10° C (18° F) cooler than the Chilean capital, especially when the camanchaca comes ashore. Even if it’s clear and sunny, as it is today, it’s advisable to carry a sweater or jacket in this naturally air-conditioned city.

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