Vern: A 12-hour overnight bus drove us comfortably to the colourful port town of Valparaiso, 120km west of Santiago. The buildings, stacked on a hilly crescent and painted in every colour Dulux could imagine, are almost mirrored by the mountain of different colour shipping containers piled up along the harbour. And the vivid graffiti everywhere is so good that it's hard to differentiate between commisioned street art and vandalism.
A long walk away from the bus station, we located and checked into our 'cheapie' hostel, and after a hearty breakfast of yoghurt, bananas and crumbled-up cookies, and two cups of coffee we set out exploring. Walking the urban uphills was a sinch compared to our recent trekking, so we were feeling quite big-headed when we found the area dubbed 'Museo a Cielo Abierto' (open air museum) and the top of a long steep street. I think 'museum' is a bit generous for the abstract murals and colourful shipping themed painted stairs, though one of the artists was there touching up his works, so we told him his art was very nice and scuttled off in case he was hoping for a tip.
Our big heads deflated a while later, when the 'Ascensor Cordillera' (one of fifteen olden-time funicular elevators which chug passengers up the city's hills) was closed and we had to walk up the steep staircase next to it. The roman numeral for each of the hundred-and-sixty-two stairs is spray-painted on each narrow step, and the Escalaliers Cien Fuegos or 'Stairs of a hundred fires' lived up to their name as our thighs burned after the climb.
The following day, we headed up into the hills again to visit the residence of Pablo Neruda (who is a Nobel Prize winning poet and not a druglord. Obviously).
I built the house.
First, I made it of air.
Then, I raised the flag in the air and left it hanging from the sky, from the light and the darkness.
(It doesn't rhyme, I know! But apparently he is a poet).
His house is called 'La Sebastiana' and is a quirky building dressed with the eclectic possessions of an eccentric collector. The audio guide narrator informed us that Neruda had "a gift for naming things" an example being his fireplace which he named... drum-roll please... "The Big Smoke Pot". I'm not sure he's that gifted, Narrator! I tested in the 99th percentile for stating the obvious too, and no one's calling me 'gifted'!
For lunch we enjoyed ripe tomatoes and Chilean avocados on toast and later wandered through the spaghetti streets of Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Alegre snapping colourful buildings and graffiti.
To dodge the evening rain, we dived into a bar, 'Pajarito', decorated with a flock of multi-coloured origami birds swooping passed a mirror ball. Andrea enjoyed a Pisco Sour, a popular Chilean grape-brandy cocktail, and I had a beer. Scarily booze prices (at bars rather than in super markets) are similar to London prices - with a round costing $10 - but the waitress certainly didn't skirt around the bill the way her over-polite English equivalent might've: "This is the total with the 'propina' (tip)", she said as she delivered the little piece of paper littered with zeroes. And a minute later when she collected our payment she asked, "Did you leave a 'propina'?". "Si, si", we answered, feeling a little extorted and wandering what would have happened if we hadn't.
A mutant courgette featured heavily in our newest variant of pasta and sauce that night, and the carbs helped us sleep like babies in a 12 bed dorm.
The next day we took a 'micro' (mini-bus) over to the swanky neighbouring beach town, Vina del Mar where we enjoyed a beach day and snacked on 'completos' - hotdogs topped with tomato, guacamole and cheese sauce. The concept: ingenious, the execution: average unfortunately. A redeeming fruit salad (including a sweet cucumber ('pepino dulce') followed a beach-sunset for dinner that night.