Sunday, Valparaiso city centre, 2 hours north of Santiago.
I have just taken a creaking and groaning rickety wooden funicular up one of Valparaiso’s steep hills – saving myself from climbing literally hundreds of concrete stairs to the top.
My plan is to wander through the neighbourhood at the top, crossing into the next neighbourhood to take another funicular back down to the city centre below. As I make my way up the street a jeep screeches to a halt next to me and the driver – a white-haired portly man in his 70’s asks whether I speak Spanish. “Si, mas o menos” (yes, more or less) I reply.
He then proceeds to advise I am walking through a very dangerous area, and as a tourist, I should leave immediately. I look around at the largely deserted street and decide he is probably right. Chastened, I head straight back down the funicular. Moral of the travel story: always figure out where you shouldn’t walk…
Valparaiso (Valpo), Chile is famous for its colourful wooden houses stacked up the steep hillsides and sinuous streets which form the topography of this city. However they are not the only pop of colour in this now trendy, former gritty, port city – Valparaiso is also world-recognised for its art scene – some of which is easily encountered in the form of artistic murals and graffiti. It is also advised by the locals not to wander some areas alone. Luckily though, there are numerous walking tours available – guaranteed not to get you lost and to avoid the dodgy areas.
Starting in the 1970’s and opposing the regime of Pinochet, street graffiti in Valpo became a means of protest and communication. Through images and words people could broadcast ideas and feelings they were not allowed to express under the regime. From these beginnings, the street graffiti became more artistic, and was also used just to beautify buildings and neighbourhoods.