Before Panama Canal, there was the thriving port of Valparaíso.
The port at Valpo, as affectionately known by locals, provided a vital shipping route for merchant ships going between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans in the late 1800s to the early 1900s. When the Panama Canal sprang into action in 1914, Valpo suffered a significant loss in trade activity and its economy never quite recovered their hey day glory. But they successfully transformed into a city of culture and art so well done that it became recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And what a work of art it is.
The labyrinthine streets are covered wall-to-wall in works of art proudly displayed for all to see in a kaleidoscope of colours. Numerous staircases and 15 funiculars adorn the 12 hills of Valpo to allow residents and visitors better access to the area. The funiculars are part of their public transport system without which the residents will usurp the gold medal for People with Very Muscular Thighs and Calves.
Cars that travel along the narrow streets need good brakes because the inclines are ridiculous, worse than any other I have ever seen. A 45 degree incline set high on a hill ending in a tight switchback requires some driving skill and courage. It’s crazy. People do stand around at the corner of the switchback for some reason, hopefully not as replacements for safety barricades. The ride to town at the bottom of the hill was nothing short of exciting.
While beautiful, the city also has an appreciable number of dilapidated buildings. The Mercado that seemed quite central to life there was wrecked in an earthquake several years back has not been rebuilt. Some parts of the city looked run-down, retaining the scars of its past that never were soothed. Roads are rather dirty, peppered with many cute but stray dogs. Its dishevelled appearance can be easily repaired with a system of proper maintenance. That done, backed by what I thought were the greatest empanadas made in this planet at Delicias Express, Valpo could perhaps regain a little more oomph it needs to be stunning.