“Valparaiso, how absurd you are…you haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you”. – Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)
One of the most famous Chilean poets of all time, Pablo Neruda spent a big part of his life living in the winding hills of Valparaiso at his house called La Sebastiana. Perched up high above city, La Sebastiana afforded Neruda sweeping views of the sea and bustling world below which inspired Neruda with much of his great work. Located in the neighborhood of Cerro Bellavista, an area favored by artists and writers, La Sebastiana (which is now a museum) is just one reason why Cerro Bellavista is worth a visit.
Cerro Bellavista is also home to a large, fascinating collection of street art including the Museo a Cielo Abierto, a labyrinth collection of outdoor murals painted in the 1990s by various Latin American artists with the goal of reinventing the neighborhood. You could easily spend a morning or afternoon just checking out Cerro Bellavista as there is much to see and it is quite different from Cerro Alegre and Concepción.
We headed over to Cerro Bellavista on the afternoon of our last day in Valparaiso. The staff at our hotel told us we could take the city bus (local bus O or 612) from Cerro Alegre or we could simply walk. Given my love of exploring a city on foot, we decided to walk and once again I’m glad we did as we were able to get an in-depth and more personal view of daily life in Valparaiso.
As we left our hotel in Cerro Alegre we headed slightly north uphill to the start of Avenida Alemania and followed its winding path along the hills. It was the first time that we were clearly in a residential neighborhood and it felt good. There were no tourists walking around this part of town, toting cameras and taking selfies. Just people going about their day-to-day business.
Along the way, I noticed that even the houses, concrete walls and garages were painted and decorated in brilliant art. Once again, Valparaiso did not cease to amaze me. Art every single step of the way bringing life to a rather messy, run-down city.
Some of the street art painted on residential garages and walls…
Although these works of art are not as well-known as some of the more popular masterpieces located down below in the trendy Cerro Alegre and Concepción, they resonated with me. I wondered the true meaning and symbolism behind each piece.
Some of my favorites along the way…
As we continued along Avendia Alemania, I craned my neck to look up even further into Valparaiso’s steep hills. It was hard not to miss where the illegal homes were built upon the very tops of the hills without basic services such as running water, electricity and paved streets. It was the first sign of poverty I’d seen in Chile which is one of South America’s most prosperous countries yet still has its issues like the rest.
Along the way, I also looked down to capture these shots of Valparaiso on a foggy early summer day. It was here, seeing the city from high above that Pablo Neruda’s famous words rang true, ““Valparaiso, how absurd you are…you haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you”.
Like most of the street art in Valparaiso, the Museo a Cielo Abierto began as a social and cultural project to try to revitalize a deteriorating neighborhood and bring it back to life with beauty, art, and tourism. Sadly, many of the pieces (there are twenty in all) are in poor shape and I found a lot of Cerro Bellavista to be need of fixing up. Instead of the “Happy Hippy” population that gravitates in Cerro Alegre at Templeman street, a lot of the stairways and walls were filled with ugly graffiti and unsavory characters hanging out drinking during the day. It is not a place I’d want to explore at night. Unfortunately more work and investment needs to be down to fully reinvent the neighborhood. Parts of it made me feel a little sad.
There were some beautiful treasures of inspiration around Cerro Bellavista. Here are some of my favorites.
By the end of the day I was ready to leave Valparaiso. My mind was overstimulated with all the art and it was time to go. All in all, we spent about two full days in Valparaiso and it felt like the perfect amount. We had done everything we had set out to do and were ready to move on. Perhaps the perpetual fog, grayness of the sky and rundown state of the city was also getting to me as well. I often wonder what the city would be like without the street art for the art is what truly makes it special. Hopefully the increase in tourism will help stimulate the local economy and bring in even more improvements to Valparaiso. Much work needs to be done to preserve the crumbling streets and walls of this UNESCO World Heritage City. Every dollar counts.
Author’s note: I hope you’ve enjoyed my series on Chile. This is my last post on our trip. If you would like to read my other posts click here.Stay tuned as I’m on the move again soon! Can’t wait to share my new travel stories and adventures.