The Hills of Valparaíso

Ahh, what a difference a split second can make to one’s life/plans/emotions…

…but more on that later.

On Wednesday, I went to my new favourite city in Chile – Valparaíso. Known popularly as ‘Valpo’ in Chile, its a coastal city known for its steep hills, funiculars and brightly coloured houses. My homestay mother Yali summed it best when after listening to me go on about how much I had enjoyed it, saying “It’s everyone’s city”. UNESCO protected since 2003, it is a little window in time of 19th century architecture and from what I’ve seen/heard, everyone falls in love with it.

We started off the day early, with the bus ride from Santiago taking about an hour and a half. Katie and I were both determined to see Pablo Neruda’s house, so we headed off in a local bus which made hairpin turns up the steep hilly streets. Pablo Neruda is a folk hero in Chile and one of the most respected figures in Chilean history – a poet, writer and symbol of political opposition to the militarized dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s. I went to Pablo Neruda’s Santiago house in the Bellavista district, “Las Chascona”, on my first day in Chile. Neruda’s house in Valpo, “La Sebastiana” is much larger, and just as charming with five floors worth of paintings, artifacts and color everywhere you look.

I’m stoked that I’ve managed to see two out of three of Neruda’s houses and have been told by everyone that his Isla Negra house, the only one that wasn’t ransacked and damaged by the military during the beginning of the coup, is the superior of them all. Fingers crossed I make my way there at some point!

Valpo is very European in its layout – heaps of alleyways, mysterious stairs leading somewhere unknown and a million different routes to get to one place. After leaving La Sebastiana, we wandered our way down the hill, enjoying the atmosphere and (in my case) getting very snap happy.

After an energy boosting lunch, we continued our wanderings and followed our noses to the other thing I had really wanted to do in Valpo; the funicular! As Valpo is so hilly and steep, there are heaps of funiculars all over town, taking you up into the hilltops where there are cobblestone paths and street art galore. We chose the Concepion funicular, and didn’t even have a chance to sit down before we’d already shot up in the air, arriving at the top.

There really is no better word to describe Valpo than delightful. It is absolutely picturesque, charming and altogether delightful. I would quite happily go back for days/weeks, as it’s the kind of place you could explore forever and still find something new depending on which route you took. Plus, I’m a sucker for brightly coloured houses all lined up next to each other and amazing street art wherever you turn.

Sadly, my tale of my delightful day in Valpo ends on a slightly depressing mark. At the very end of the day, just before we were about to find a staircase to walk down and head back to the bus terminal, I misjudged the distance between the curb and the path and rolled my ankle quite dramatically. Having suffered dozens of sprained ankles from childhood onwards and having developed a keen sense of appreciation for the varying levels of sprain intensity, I knew right away it was a bad one. Nevertheless, we were on top of a hill, and I wasn’t going to let my ankles, which have wrecked so many occasions in my life, ruin my day in Valpo. Big mistake –  after taking a break and than continuing to hobble on over the cobblestones for a couple of minutes, my ankle gave way again and this time I felt something snap. Intense levels of pain and public displays of it are always so much fun, especially when you’re a gringa tourist in Chile.

Short story – we taxi’d it back to the bus station, Katie (my Superwoman hero) managed to find me some ice and the entire bus ride back to Santiago I elevated my ankle in a merry state of denial, assuming it was a simple sprain that would take a couple of days to fix and that wouldn’t prevent me going on my merry way to Bolivia next Monday.

The cheerful doctor at the clinic we went to upon our return to Santiago made enthusiastic sheep jokes when he found out where I was from and crushed my state of denial and  insistence to everyone that I would be fine. According to Katie’s able translations (and without Katie, I would have been up shit creek, because my knowledge of Spanish medical terminology is sorely lacking) I have torn several ligaments in my ankle and have sustained a third level sprain – there are only 3 levels – and need to wear a walking boot for six weeks in order for it to recover properly. When I told the doctor that no, this wasn’t possible, I was going to Bolivia on Monday and this just wouldn’t do, he shook his head and shrugged.

When it finally sunk in that the trip I’ve been planning for a year, that I saved up so hard for and was so so so excited about was going to be ruined by the split second it took for my foot to leave the Valpo hillside curb, poor Katie not only had to deal with translating Spanish scientific talk, making sure I got all the forms necessary for insurance purposes and ensuring my passport was given back to me but also me sitting in a wheelchair with my leg all booted up, not even able to talk without welling up. For the rest of my life, I will be eternally grateful to Katie that she sorted everything out, organised a taxi home and got me back to the house in one piece.

The next 12 hours were spent in a miserable fog of depression/upset/anger, but I’m happy to say I’m in a much better head space and have accepted that what has happened has happened. It sucks, it’s not fun and I would give anything for it not to have happened but as my very wise father said, I simply have to move on and go to Plan B. I will be stuck in Santiago for the next few weeks, as it will be impossible for me to do any of the toursity/adventurey things I had planned to do in Bolivia with a great big hulking boot on my lower leg, but I’m looking at this as a great opportunity to meet even more Chileans, improve my Spanish even more and continue to enjoy Chile.

Bolivia is no longer a realistic prospect and my long awaited dream of visiting the Bolivian Salt Flats will have to wait for enough time to be ticked off the Bucket List but now I’ll just speak better Spanish when I get to them. I still have months of travel and new places to look forward to, and this temporary hitch is not going to stop me enjoying South America or ruin my trip.