Corrugated City

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

More Cerro Castillo

We went back up to Cerro Castillo today for work. I took a few more photos whilst walking around. There are some really great houses up there. It's a shame a lot of them have been torn down to make way for crappy apartment blocks and ugly new houses. Anyway, here are a few more of the survivors.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Cerro Castillo

I've never been much of a fan of Viña del Mar- i've always found it to lack charm and anything to really make it special. But Viña's starting to grow on me these days. Whereas Valpo is crumbling-buildings and pavements alike-Viña is all shiny and new. It's kind of nice to walk around and not have to worry about breaking my ankles from time to time. In Viña, behind the mall the streets are generally pretty quiet and there are some cool old houses and the odd monster palace to admire. The city's got some really good bars and restaurants and, out of the summer months of January and February, it's a pretty chilled out city despite being home to around 250,000 people. In summer, it's hell. The journey from Valpo to Reñaca usually takes 25 minutes. In summer, it can take well over an hour and a half. The place also fills up with screaming children high on sugar and parents unable to control them. Not fun.

Viña's jewel is Cerro Castillo. Cerro Castillo is Viña's equivalent of Cerro Concepcion in that it's where the stinking rich built their homes back in the day. Many wealthy families from both Valpo and Santiago had second homes in Viña, when the city was a highly exclusive beach resort (and not the slightly flaite city it's now become). Cerro Castillo is so known because it has, well, a few castles dotted around the place. The Carabineros de Chile now occupy the most visible one and there are two at the foot of the hill-the Club Arabe-Siria and the Castillo Wulf, now the local council. The area is full of huge old houses with gardens (something lacking in Valpo). It's also home to the summer presidential residence. Between the police HQ and the Presidential Palace, it's one of the safest places to live in Chile.

It's more than worth an afternoon exploring the hill so if you're in town, make sure you stop by.

Club Arabe-Siria

The Presidential Palace

Main entrance to the Presidential Palace

View of the new Sheraton

Castillo Wulff

German House

Police HQ

An apartment block that i quite like


The Cap Ducal restaurant and hotel

Big ol' house

Lord Cochrane Museum

Last week we finally made it to the Lord Cochrane Museum on Cerro Cordillera. First things first-it's not actually a museum dedicated to our old friend Lord Cochrane as i assumed it would be. It's actually where he once lived. It's been renovated and preserved and is now used as an exhibition centre from time to time. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything on show at all when we went which was a bit of a shame.

Anyway, what the museum does give you is beautiful views over the bay and of Plaza Sotomayor. Out front, there's a huge terrace from which local dignitaries and well-connected people watch Valpo's famous New Year firework display. It's also a good vantage point when there's any celebration down in the Plaza.

There's not really much more to say about it really, so here are some photos i took that day.

This is the Naval HQ down in Plaza Sotomayor. It used to be the Intendencia de Valparaiso, but they now prefer the stunning building I mentioned a couple of posts ago. I'm not a huge fan of the colour but the building is pretty cool.

This is the plan for Calle Serrano. Improvements are supposed to be made to the street and the buildings destroyed in the February fire are to be re-built. Work due to start in July. They've got a day left.

The Ascensor Cordillera is closed from 1-4pm so we had to walk up instead. You cans see the lazy and slow girlf and sister lagging behind as usual.

At the top of the ascensor you come to this little square. Turn left at the top and you'll find the 'museum'.

A view from the terrace of the burnt out shell where the fire took place in Calle Serrano

Another Valpo masterpiece of subtle new architecture. But at least they kept the original facade for the first few floors.

A view of the Ascensor Peral that takes you up to Cerro Alegre. You can see the Palacio Barburizzi. It's twice the size i thought it was.

This is the house where Cochrane lived.

View of the Pacific and the Andes

Finally, this piece of land is right next to the museum. If you look closely, you can see that it used to be a house built into the hill. There are still windows visible and you can see how the engineers managed to construct much of Valpo's crazy archictecture.

Friday, 27 July 2007

The weather and a day trip

Something's gone wrong with the weather. England's having the most miserable summer in 200 years and we're having one of the coldest and driest winters in recent years. This is causing problems. Polar air has caused two major cold-snaps in the Southern Cone. It even snowed in Buenos Aires a couple of weeks ago. Chile's problem is that it doesn't have any natural energy resources. It has to import all its oil and gas. Most of the gas for the country's Central Region comes from Argentina. Big problem. When it's cold in Argentina, they understandably use more gas. Due to the present Argentine administration's stifling of investment in the energy sector (freezing tariffs at absurdly low prices means no one wants to invest in resource exploration, cutting the country's proven supplies in half), there's not enough gas for Argentina to meet its contractual obligations to Chile. This causes friction between the 2 countries, friction that could have been avoided.

Both countries are at fault. Argentina for discouraging energy investment with GCSE Economics thinking. And Chile for putting almost its entire energy policy in the hands of a notoriously unreliable neighbour.

Couple all this with the complete lack of rainfall (hydro-electric reservoirs are reaching emergency levels) and you've got a bit of an energy crisis. Industry doesn't stop in Chile due to a lack of gas but it has to run on expensive diesel fuel, increasing costs by up to 50% (and thus reducing profits).

The upside of this slightly crazy weather is that we've had loads more sunny days than usual so far this winter. Yesterday and today have been 2 such days. And it's been almost hot. It was 21C yesterday and 20C today.

So yesterday we decided to take a trip up to Zapallar for lunch and an afternoon stroll. Zapallar is Chile's most exclusive beach town. It's a beautiful place with some amazing (and obscenely expensive) houses, overlooking the horse-shoe bay. Physically, it's my favourite small beach town in the country.

We had lunch at one of the 2 restaurants on the shore. We prefer the slightly fancier one by the caleta as the one on the beach is pretty much the same price but a bit grotty. After lunch, we walked all the way along the beach and around the headland on the perfectly maintained pathway (unusually well-maintained for a public pathway in Chile).

As i said, Zapallar is a rich little town. Rich in Chile usually means white-skin. Due to the unusual mid-winter temperatures there were people sunbathing. it was like a beach in Finland. The dazzle from the pasty white Chileans was almost blinding. The only dark skin we saw was the maids carrying shopping bags and pushing babies around (both activities far too strenuous for the rich). I think Zapallar is probably the only town where the oft-heard claim of Chile being a 'white' country could be true.

If you're in the Central Region, Zapallar is more than worth a day trip. It's about an hour and a half north of Valpo.

Maitencillo, one of my fave beach towns just south of Zapallar


Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Before and After...another attempt

A little while ago, i made an attempt to do a 'before and after' post showing buildings from photos from around 1925 and comparing them to what they look like now. It wasn't all that successful as many buildings have been demolished or collapsed during the 1985 earthquake and street names have been changed over the years.

One building that i was desperate to find was the Brown building. It's pictured above.

Now, as you can see, it's a hideously ugly monstrosity. Can you believe that someone paid an architect to build it? Horrible.

Thankfully, during the 1970s, the local council decided that enough was enough and tore the ugly beast down. Pinochet-era architects then managed to skilfully blend a new building into the late 19th/early 20th century architecture typical of Valpo. The result was a modern marvel. An architectural joy. My favourite building in Valpo. Ladies and Gentlemen, i give you...La Intendencia de Valparaiso! Ta-dah!

Museo Naval y Maritimo

We finally made it to the Museo Naval y Maritimo here in Valpo. This afternoon we're heading to the Lord Cochrane Museum. School holidays plus little sister means excuse to do all the touristy things we want to do but don't normally have time for...

So the Museum is a shrine to Chile's naval history. If you remember my post from a couple of months ago, it was Lord Cochrane who set up the Chilean Navy and helped build it into a South American power. Cochrane gets 2 large room sjust to himself, describing his achievements in Chile, particularly his taking of Valdivia. This is recreated with a crappy, but huge, model with LEDs to light up the different forts he took on his way to setting up the liberation of Chile from the Spanish. There are copies of letters he sent to various other big South American historical figures such as Bernardo O'Higgens and Jose de San Martin. Quite good stuff.

There's a lot of tub-thumping in the museum, slightly OTT and embarrassing and overly nationalistic at times, but if you ignore that side of things, the museum is really quite interesting.

Other exhibits include an entire wing of the building for Chilean Uber-hero, Arturo Prat. I've said it before, but i just can't understand why this guy is such a hero. Not only did he martyr himself and his entire crew, he did it for absolutely no gain whatsoever. In fact, the Chilean Navy lost a high ranking officer and one of its best ships because Prat thought it a great idea to attack a Peruvian ship far more powerful than his. In most countries, this kind of stupidity would result in a posthumous court-martial. In Chile it results in almost saint like status. Prat's wing has huge, beautifully crafted scale models of the two ships involved in the battle, the Huascar and the Esmeralda (Prat's ship)

There's also a room dedicated to fascist general Merino Benitez (he also gets a statue out front). Merino Castro was one of the original coup plotters along with Pinochet and worked in the Economic Ministry during the dictatorship. There's a copy of an unapologetic open letter he wrote saying that the coup wasn't a coup and that the dictatorship wasn't a dictatorship. Try telling that to the 3 thousand murdered, 30,000 tortured and millions of terrified Chileans who lived and died through a 17 year 'non-dictatorship'.

Still, for 500 pesos, the museum's worth a visit. It's at the top of Ascensor Artilleria on Cerro Artilleria.

The big 3: O'Higgins, Prat and Cochrane

Cochrane's tombstone in London

The Shrine to Arturo Prat

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Renovations: Big Rocks

There hasn't really been much interesting to report on the renovations in the last 2-3 weeks. It's all moving along, the house is a mess etc. We did find live termites on the ground floor which was a bit of a surprise and has led to a bigger job on that floor than we were expecting, but apart from that...the structure is being strengthened, new beams, diagonals and struts and the insulation for the ground floor are being put in and the cost of it all is rising. And fast.

One part of the ground floor is actually underground and built out of huge rocks, with bricks on top. It was covered up with dry-wall before but we knew it was there. The question was what we were going to do with it. As it's slightly underground, there's obviously a damp issue but the dry wall was stealing about 25cm from an already small-ish room. So what we've decided to do is to polish the rocks and also the bricks on top and add a small ventilation fan to the room so it doesn't get musty. We've seen it in other houses and hotels here in Valpo and it looks really cool (where we've seen it, they forgot to put ventilation in so it smells of damp. Duh.)

This is what it looks like at the moment. Once it's cleaned up, i'll post more photos.

This photo is of the insulating material we're putting in. During a previous remodelling, the owner took out all the adobe and then simply left the gap between the dry-wall and the corrugated iron exterior empty. This would explain our horrifying heating bill. Also in the 2nd photo you can see the new termite-proof pine timber that's replacing the termite damaged oak. The lighter colour beams are pine and the darker ones are the original oak (that are undamaged).

And that's your lot. Hopefully in the next 10-14 days i'll have something more interesting to report.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Valle Nevado

As i mentioned a while back, we got the little sis a day skiing for her birthday. Part of the reason was because I wanted to go skiiing. It's school holidays here in Chile so we're got the little sis staying with us for a few days. Yesterday was the big day-her first trip to a ski resort and the first time actually touching snow.

Unfortunately, because of my back-knack, i was unable to ski. This was really, really annoying. Hopefully in a couple of weeks i'll be able to go but yesterday wasn't worth the risk...

We were going to go to Portillo but when we phoned to ask for information we were attended by 3 of the most obnoxious and downright rude people ever to work in tourism. We decided, instead, to go to Valle Nevado. The staff there were much nicer on the phone.

Valle Nevado is about an hour from central Santiago or about 3 hours from Reñaca. We set off at 6am, avoided rush hour in Santiago and arrived, after a long and twisty climb to over 3000m, bang on 9am.

If you've skied in Europe then Valle Nevado is probably the equivalent of a small and backwards resort in Bulgaria. But more expensive. And with crap, overpriced food. It costs 39,000 pesos for a day pass, ski hire and a 2 hour group lesson. In Chile, that's really a lot of money. Actually, a 10 days pass at Valle Nevado is exactly the same price as in the 3 Valleys in France. That is simply absurd. The 3 Valleys is one of the best ski areas in the world with over 600km of runs and some incredibly good restaurants and spectacular apres-ski. Valle Nevado has about 2km (ok, i made that up) and an extremely poor cafeteria serving such culinary delights as Spinal Baps, chicken nuggets and soggy chips. Just look at the difference between Valle Nevado

and the 3 Valleys

It might explain why at least half the people there were wealthy Brazilians. Still, the snow was decent and it's about as good as you get in Chile and South America.

The girlf and little sis hadn't skied before and had a beginner's lesson in a large group. The instructor was actually pretty good and taught the basics well. He was Brazilian but spoke Spanish with exactly the same voice and inflection as the father speaks English in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Funny. I hung around and helped the girls with things. We then went for (the overpriced) crap lunch and then the girls went off to the scary world of ski lifts and slopes that were not virtually flat, like where the lesson was. I went back to car, put the seat flat and went to sleep in my -45c sleeping bag, all toasty and warm. Not the day i originally had in mind but it was cool to see the girlf and the little sis have fun.

Here are a few photos:

The sisters waiting for class to begin

Learning to ski...not particularly downhill but you've got to start somewhere

The pistes