Will the real Grafficity please stand up?

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“If you are staying for the night, you probably don’t want to go down that area, that area and that area after dark”, Francisco said, pointing in three directions around us ,”If you wander away from the city centre, you DEFINITELY don’t want to go up any staircases and alleys alone, even during the day.”

“But don’t let that put you off”, he quickly added, “This is a really beautiful city.”

And that was our introduction to Valparaiso (pronounced “Bel-pa-rai-so” because of the wrong way the Spaniards pronounce “V”… Question: do you think the Spanish-speaking world watch “B” for “Bendetta”??? I digress…).

We had taken a day trip from Santiago to the port town and our first impression of Valparaiso was what you would’ve imagined from Francisco’s description. The city was dirty and grimy with numerous dark alleys and shady staircases that would not have looked out of place on the set of Sin City. Electrical wires crisscrossed haphazardly over rundown graffiti-covered colonial buildings. The streets were littered with garbage and many broken bottles of beer. And then there was that perpetual stink of urine in the air.

It was not a good first impression.

Honestly speaking, if we were left to our own devices that day, we probably would not have enjoyed Valparaiso all that much. Good thing we went on a free walking tour (yes, another one) from Tours4Tips Valparaiso with Francisco and Chris.

Jo and Francisco... According to the Tours4Tips website, we were supposed to look for "Wally".  I think Jo was trying to match the guides' outfit, but she somehow got the color scheme wrong...

Jo and Francisco… According to the Tours4Tips website, we were supposed to look for “Wally”. I think Jo was trying to match the guides’ outfit, but she somehow got the color scheme wrong…

Francisco is a native of Valparaiso and Chris is an American who loved Valpo so much that he decided to stay for a (very long) while. Together, they showed us the lifestyle of the Porteños (people who live in port cities) as we walked through the city.

It’s hard to believe from the state that Valparaiso is in now, but it used to be one of the major ports in South America. It was a key stop for ships crossing the Atlantic and the Pacific ocean. This brought about a deluge of immigrants that helped create the Golden Age of Valparaiso, bringing with them “Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, the continent’s first volunteer fire department, Chile’s first public library, and the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication in the world” (Source: Wikipedia). The opening of the Panama Canal swiftly brought an end to this Golden Age.

True story... the people of Valparaiso aggressively petitioned for Valparaiso to be listed as a UNESCO world heritage site so that modern buildings like these can no longer be erected in the city

True story… the people of Valparaiso aggressively petitioned for their city to be listed as a UNESCO world heritage site so that modern buildings like that shiny blue one can no longer be erected

They much prefer the crumbly colonial buildings (some of which comes attached with their own 90-year old inhabitant) that reminded them of the glory days when Valparaiso was a thriving port city

They much prefer the crumbly colonial buildings (some of which come inclusive of their own 90-year old inhabitant) that reminded them of the glory days when Valparaiso was a thriving port city

Over the four or so hours, we went up and down (and up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down) the cramped alleyways of the cliffside city built beside the sea.

The first of many (VERY colorful) steps

The first of many (VERY colorful) steps

Francisco and Chris would point out the quirks that makes Valparaiso such an endearing place for all those who can see past the gritty streets (and smell through the pungent stink).

Even though Valparaiso is “just” 120km away from Santiago, the citizens of Valpo are a lot poorer and “street-ish” than those in the capital city. Along with a huge university population, they felt that the Porteños are more politically aware, and the integrity among the people in the port cities is much stronger than those in the capital. (Apparently the districts of Valparaiso are divided by the numerous hills within the city. The denizens of each hill are supposed to have their own “characteristics” and it is not uncommon for people to have extended shouting matches across the different hills)

The “street art” within the city reflects all these characteristics. While there is a lot of amazing graffiti in certain districts in Santiago, the ones in Valparaiso are somehow infused with a hell of a lot more humour of the gallows-y nature. There are also a lot of “installation art” made from the most random of material that are found on the streets.

A lot of the adobe houses in the cities are covered up with steel sheets cannibalized from the numerous container ships that call in the port. The graffiti artists waste no time in claiming these surfaces for their own

A lot of the adobe houses in the cities are covered up with steel sheets cannibalized from the container ships that call in the port. They are used to protect the houses from the corrosive sea breeze, but graffiti artists wasted no time in claiming these surfaces for their own

Actually... no surfaces are spared...

Actually… no surfaces are spared…

Do you have problems? Installation art made from one of the many electrical cables that run feral throughout Valparaiso

“Do you have problems?” Installation art made from one of the many electrical cables that run feral throughout Valparaiso

Of course, there are the more "common" graffiti as well..

Of course, there are also the more “common” graffiti…

valpo picasso

And some of the graffiti are not exactly SFW... but my point is... if a 4 year old can enjoy the art, no one else should be too prudish about it

And some of the graffiti are not exactly SFW… but my point is… if a 4 year old can enjoy the art, no one else should be too prudish about it

No... I didn't really know what I was doing...

No… I didn’t really know what I was doing…

Even historical monuments are not spared the Portenos' cheeky humour. This French sculpture of the Lady Justice was donated by a citizen who had been wrongfully imprisoned. The statue is not wearing traditional blindfold that symbolizes her impartiality to class/color/race. Her scales of equality had also been tucked away. More importantly, this Lady Justice is a lot more sluttily posed than any others that we've seen before signifying her willingness to put out... va va voom

Even historical monuments are not spared from the Portenos’ cheeky humour. This French sculpture of the Lady Justice was donated by a citizen who had been wrongfully imprisoned. The statue is not wearing the traditional blindfold that symbolizes her impartiality to class/color/race. Her scales of equality had also been tucked away. More importantly, this Lady Justice is a lot more sluttily posed than any others that we’ve seen before, signifying her willingness to put out… va va voom. Oh yeah… this statue is audaciously placed right outside the city’s court house

The city's famous ascensores, where for a princely 100 pesos(25 cents), you can spare your legs the pain of walking up the infernal stairs

Francisco and Chris also brought us for a (free) ride up one of the city’s famous ascensores, where for a princely 100 pesos(25 cents), you can spare your legs the pain of walking up the infernal stairs

Francisco and Chris were amazing guides and we fell in love with an unlikely city. Best of all, we ended the day at an artist colony, sitting on a rooftop and having a sip of Chile’s famous pisco sour with the two lovely fellows…

where we were joined by an unexpected friend

where we were joined by an unexpected friend. I think he has secret dreams of being Godzilla

Sunset over a great day

Sunset over an amazing day

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Tours4Tips runs free walking tours through Valparaiso twice a day at 10am and 3pm. The meeting point is at Plaza Sotomayo, a 15 minute walk from the bus station.

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