Two weeks ago I took a weekend trip to the coastal city of Valparaíso and I seriously considered just staying there. I can’t really name one specific reason why I loved it so much, it is just an amazing city. It is dirty and sketchy in parts, but it has the most amazing vibe. That’s the only way I can describe it. Also, after living in Halifax for four years, I didn’t realize how much I miss living by the ocean. I am enjoying Rancagua more and more now that I’m getting to know my coworkers, students and neighbourhood but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a city I like as much as Valparaíso. One of the most well-known things about Valparaíso is the street art. A tour guide we met told us that there is sort of an unwritten agreement that if a wall has street art on it, vandals won’t touch it with other graffiti. So to prevent vandalism, homeowners and businesses hire artists to paint all over the walls and streets. This has made Valparaíso so grungy and beautiful at once, and has a really unique feel to it.
After spending just two days in Valpo, I decided that if I was going to look for a job after my volunteer position here, I would rather live in Valparaíso than Santiago. The city is also full of students, giving it a similar feel to Halifax, which is maybe why I love it so much. It also didn’t hurt that it was 20-25 degrees there the whole time and in Rancagua I am happy if it is 15 degrees. We did a free walking tour one day which was a great way to see some of the most impressive street art in the city and some great views from three of the beautiful cerros (hills) that make the city so famous. We also did a boat tour of the harbour, which was a cool way to see the city from a different perspective.
My favourite part by far were the ascensores (literally ascenders), which were really old, sketchy looking outdoor elevators that bring you up some of the steeper hills in the city. We took one every chance we got, since they were such cheap fun
On our last night in Valparaíso we took the bus to Viña del Mar, the more ‘upscale’ city right next to Valpo. It was nice, and had a beautiful beach right in the city. A few of my classmates from my Rotary exchange live in Viña so we went to see them. The funniest thing is that most Chileans you talk to prefer Viña to Valparaíso, but most tourists feel the opposite. Viña is just too much like your typical North American city: much cleaner than Valparaíso, lots of malls, chain stores and restaurants etc (though I can’t complain about it having a Starbucks..) We met up with a classmate of mine and walked the waterfront. We managed to see the sunset right on the water, which was definitely a highlight of the trip.
We spent the night catching up with some of my classmates in Viña: Joaquín, Yilian and Tamara, which was once again amazing. Every time I reunite with more people from my exchange, it amazes me how we all just pick up where we left off five years ago. Though we have all changed and (somewhat) grown up, we can hang out and talk as if no time has passed.
After Valparaíso and Viña we headed to Santiago for a day on the way home. We stayed with Rosa, and I went to meet her mom for the first time. Even though it was only for one night, seeing Rosa and my Chilean family again was awesome. It always feels like being home, and leaves me feeling recharged and happy. I also got to reunite with two more of my classmates, Camila and Victoria.
It was an amazing, and much needed weekend. I am really getting into teaching and loving my school and students, but I needed to get away from Rancagua for a break. I missed the ocean and it was so great to see more classmates and my Chilean family. I loved it so much that I went back the next weekend for a night for Tamara’s birthday. That was a great, though short trip: more classmate reunions and catching up with friends from Ovalle.
Like I said, I am really starting to settle into my role in the school. As I get to know my students more I really am starting to enjoy my position more and more. It is still tempting to talk to my students in Spanish, since they are so fun and it would be nice to have a real conversation with them, but their level of English is already improving and I can tell they understand me more and more.