The mornings arrive late in Valparáiso due to low lying cloud stretching across the ocean, into the bay and sweeping over the streets and hills. I believe this entices the neighbourhood residents to stay curled up in bed a while. Take time to slide into the day. You won’t find any action on the streets until well after 11am.
This big old one hundred year old house we are staying in has many wonderful attributes – the main one (for me anyway) is the huge patio which looks to the far reaches of the deep blue ocean. In front of that, the port. In front of that again quintessential Valparáiso. The streets, the rusted corrugated iron and wood houses, the yapping dogs, the endless stairways, the murals in every which direction – this is our current hood.
Lazing in a sun chair in the late afternoon with nothing to do but soak up this neighbourhood to reserve in the mind for a later date, I see the people of Valparáiso moving through their own rhythm of daily life. On the opposite hill, Maria is taking her washing in, perhaps after a long day working in town. Barbara is out the front scrubbing her patio with water and a broom. She has two German Shepards (part of the yap-yap clan), I wonder if she is hosing away their daily excretement. Down at street level, two usual suspects are leaning on a blue doorway chatting. It’s the entrance to the tiny mini market. These mini markets offer limited items, not certain I would call what they stock essentials. Not sure if you are ever guaranteed of getting what you are looking for either. Cats laze the day away in window sills, doorways, bench tops, rooftops and gardens. Dogs are either caged in tiny dirt yards or roaming the streets looking for fun. There is a large old rusty house on the top of the hill. It is built over three levels. The second level there is a door that is always open for the entirety of the day. How many families live in this large house I ponder? Why is this door permanently open?
Rubbish, when removing it from the house, should be hung on a wire outside your front door. This is to keep the dogs out. The garbage bags are taken down from the wire by garbo’s every few days. On approach they holler they are near so you can be rid of all the garbage you have inside.
People are not overtly wealthy here. Or if they are, it is not paraded in the fanciness of finishings on the exterior. Most houses look in need of a paint job and not to mention all of the woodwork needs sanding too. The same lace curtains I noticed in the south are everywhere to be seen in the old Valpo houses. Glancing inside as I walk down the steep slopes, it’s only the essentials inside. Is there a separation in Valpo from the usual want and greed so easily found in the Western world?
It is hard to imagine this area, which is chock full of free spirited, Ganga smoking souls, to have been under military rule in the time I was growing up. As we walk around the ‘downtown’ of Valparáiso tonight there is a performance, the MC is a ladyboy, poetry is recited, a few songs and rally like pep talking with cheering ensuing demanding whatever motivation is required.
This little part of the world like anywhere has its limitations. This little part of the world also knows what it means to be free.