Corrugated City

Monday 24 March 2008


I mentioned earlier today that Viña del Mar is East of Valparaiso. This may not make much sense to you if you look on a big map. After all, Viña is to the right of Valparaiso when looking out to sea. It used to confuse me as well (I'm assuming I'm not the only directionally challenged person out there). So here's a highly detailed map from 1925 that shows how and why Valpo is west of Viña and also why you can see Aconcagua from Valpo when you might think you were looking due north. It also shows why Valparaiso makes such a good port.

Chile: A Farcical Country

People often ask me, "What's Chile like?" My response is always the same: it's a hilarious country. After all, the national motto is:
By Reason Or By Farce*
And what's funnier than a good farce?

*Spanish translation: "Por la razon o por la fuerza." 

Arco Britanico

The Arco Britanico was a gift to the city of Valparaiso from the colectividad britanica. It was built in 1910-11 to celebrate 100 years of Chilean independence. The structure is covered in white marble and there are four friezes, one on each column of British 'heroes': O'Higgins, Cochrane, Simpson and O'Brian. We already know about Cochrane and O'Higgins (Chile's liberator). Simpson was another British Naval Officer/mercenary who was around at the same time as Cochrane (surprise, surprise-they didn't get along). Here he is:

I can't find anything out at all about O'Brian. I assume he was another naval guy who fought alongside the other three.

Anyway, here's the arch from sometime around 1925 and then from sometime last year. The photos are taken from different sides, by the way-the recent one looking east towards Viña and the older one towards the city centre.

Saturday 22 March 2008

Las Torpederas Re-Visited

A while ago, I blogged about Playa Ancha and mentioned Las Torpederas beach. I wrote that it used to have a big wrought iron pier jutting out into the sea. So here it is, in all its glory from sometime before 1925.

Dying in Valparaiso: Cementerio Numero 1 II

So we return to our cemetery tour and to Cementerio Numero 1 in particular. Here are some more photos.

The views from the Cemetery are pretty spectacular...

The tall, slinky and in no way intrusive beauty in the foreground is the greatest building in Valparaiso...

...the Brown family would have been more than thrilled to see their legacy to Valparaiso torn down to be replaced by this marvel of the modern era.

Agustin Ross Edwards and his wife Susana de Ferari-part of the mega-wealthy and powerful Ross-Edwards dynasty.

The Guarello Family-still going strong well in the 90s. Still can't find any info about them though.

If you couldn't afford a plot then there was always space in the vaults.

I really like the simplicity of this tomb.

Cementerio Numero 2 on its way.

Friday 21 March 2008

Graffiti in Valparaiso: A Porteño Reaches His Ton.

Over in Buenos Aires, stencil graffiti is a dying art. Here in Valparaiso, it's still going strong and there's quite a lot of new stuff appearing all the time. There's a load of work that I need to go out and photo.

2008 marks a century since the birth, in Valparaiso, of left wing legend Salvador Allende and this stencil is popping up all over the city.

Tuesday 18 March 2008

Zapallar-Home of Stuffed Animals

I've blogged about Zapallar a couple of times before. It's Chile's prettiest beach town, the country's Hamptons with multi-million dollar mansions dotting the hills and overlooking a beautiful little bay.

The town also has my favourite restaurant in Chile-El Chiringuito, one of the best sea-food places you'll find anywhere in Chile and, despite it's location, really decent value (it's no more expensive than a couple of grotty places I've been to in Algorrobo, for example). The reineta al ajillo con ensalada chilena y papas fritas will leave you drooling for more.

So, as it was Lore's birthday yesterday, we headed up for a bite to eat. Halfway through lunch, we were accosted by a Chilean lady who had picked up a couple of Aussie hitchhikers and invited them for a bite to eat. She didn't speak any English and they didn't speak Spanish-it didn't stop her talking though...she resembled Mr Happy. On Prozac. As soon as she found out it was Lore's birthday she informed the staff.

And then this happened:

Yes, that' s a stuffed otter and penguin. Still, we got a free pudding :)

And we also got to see a friendly little dolphin who decided to come and play in the harbour.

I've said this before-if you're in the area, then a day trip up to Zapallar with lunch at El Chiringuito is something you really must do.

Monday 17 March 2008

Gaviota! Gaviota!

I knew they'd be comeback from having a view like this:

Damn sea-gulls squawking like there's no tomorrow. I'm getting used to it, but I've been woken up every day for the last week or so at an ungodly hour and my siesta (yes, I'm getting old) was just interrupted by a fight between about 50 thousand of them on my roof. In the flat where we lived for almost a year on the ground floor of the house, the noise was barely noticeable.

Still, it's a nice problem to have. It means the house is finished.

A Warm House

On Saturday we had a mini house warming and birthday party for Lorena. I say mini as quite a few people weren't able to make it but we still had 25-odd people over, mostly family and school friends from yeeeeeeaaaaars back...! It was pretty good fun. At least, what I remember was pretty good fun. After things started to chill out around 2am, we headed down to Bar La Playa, a huge old pub with an awesome, antique interior. La Playa can be hit and miss. It was most definitely miss on Saturday. We appeared to have travelled back in time to a 1980s heavy metal convention.

Anyway, here are some photos.

Lore, Dorotty & the mother.


Me. Annoying the little sister.

Karin &...let's call her 'friend'.

Family again.

Mike do I spell this?...Chatriani.

Christina & Jose Antonio.

When I was backpacking around the world, I stayed with various family friends and other people I'd never met before. Now it's me with a house in a backpacker destination and it's payback time. Jack on the left is the godson of a friend of my mums, travelling with John, a school friend. 18 years old. Man, that brings back memories...

Jose Antonio & Jorge

Olivier (told you I was going to post this photo...)

Rodrigo & Jose from the Zero Hotel -they left early to meet some girls. It wasn't a successful encounter.

Friday 14 March 2008

Other People in Valparaiso

When I bother to check how people find this blog, I sometimes come across some other interesting sites. Yesterday, someone googled something like 'Cerro Concepcion, Bellavista, Alegre' and up came my blog. On the same search result page, there was also a blog from someone who spent just a few days in Valparaiso back in May of last year, but who wrote one of the best tourist entries about the city that I've read. Take a look here. It's great to read that someone really 'got' the city in such a short time.

And here's a random photo from my collection to help you through the weekend.

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Grafitti in Valparaiso

On the way down to the bank a few minutes ago, I came across this bit of stencil art. I don't think it's new but for some reason I've stepped over it dozens of times in the last year or so (it's on the floor in Pasaje Galvez/Fischer).

It reads: 'Don't let them murder us this May 21st'

What it refers to is that every 21st May, the Navy has a big parade and all the dogs get cleared off the street. Many people reckon they get put down and protest (the people, of course-the dogs don't seem to know what's going on)...but I know the truth...An English friend who is, unfortunately, no longer living out here in Valparaiso was going out with a girl whose father would go around and collect all the dogs, lock them in his back yard (with the other 4 million stinking mutts he has collected over the years-the neighbours don't like him all that much) and then, once the parade is over, release them back onto the streets. My friend couldn't help but follow his puppy-loving girlfriend and was cajoled into joining in the 'fun'.

It'd be better to liquidate them if you ask me. And I love dogs.

Of course, now the council can lock all the dogs in the new pound they built. But hey...hang on...they built the pound before counting how many dogs there were and there's not enough room. Now that's good planning.

Monday 10 March 2008

Trams of Valparaiso

Valparaiso was the third city in South America to have a functioning tramway (or urban railway as it was originally called in Spanish), after Rio de Janeiro and Santiago.

The first line opened in March of 1863 with carriages imported from the USA. The first section of track ran between Baron Dock and Customs House in a loop that included Avenida Argentina, Calles Victoria, Montt, Donoso, O'Higgens, Esmeralda and Cochrane and returning via Serrano, Prat, Condell and Independencia. The carriages that ran along this route are likely to have been the first double deckers in the world.

By 1880, the Ferrocarril Urbano Valparaiso (FUV) had extended its network to include most of the downtown area and had 63 carriages in operation.

By the end of the century, another 2 companies had joined in the fun, extending the network all the way from Playa Ancha to Viña de Mar. The total distance from one end of the network to the other was around 20km and 75 trams ran along the tracks.

All the trams in Valparaiso were horse drawn until 1903...

...when a German consortium bought out the three companies and formed the La Empresa de Tranvias Electricos de Valparaiso, ordering 60 double decker carriages from the Van der Zypen & Charlier factory in Cologne.

The service opened on December 25th 1904 and used electricity from the new electric plant in Laguna Verde, 20km along the coast from Valparaiso.

The 1906 earthquake fortunately didn't damage very much of the network and shortly afterwards it was extended up to Playa Ancha and back around to Cerro Artilleria. By the end of 1907, the entire network had been electrified and the last horse drawn carriages were retired from service. It was then further extended up to Cerro Baron and Cerro Panteon, Santa Elena, Barrio O'Higgens, Las Zorras, Calles Tomas Ramos y Yerbas Buenas. The trams connected various upper-stations of the city's funicular lifts, creating an integrated public transport system that Valparaiso could really do with today.

The stop outside the cemeteries.

Plaza Victoria

In 1910, however, and for reasons unknown, the company decided not to invest in any more carriages or to extend the network further. The company let the carriages and tracks fall into ruin, systematically reducing its size and increasing ticket prices (rather like what has happened to the British rail network after privatisation). After a series of accidents, the council started limiting the number of passengers allowed on the trams and waiting at the rapidly deteriorating platforms, sparking public fury.

In 1920, after massive public, government and press pressure, the company finally renovated some of the carriages and platforms...but it was too little, too late. In March, a passenger was asked to leave a carriage by a ticket inspector. The passenger freaked out, threw a rock through the windscreen of the carriage and set in motion a massive riot that left 56 carriages burned, 21 of them beyond repair.

After these riots, the German company sold out to a Spanish consortium that was actually under the control of a Belgian company, SOFINA. Within a couple of years, the new controllers had repaired the damaged carriages, bought new ones and further extended the network. In 1923, the company was sold again, this time to British investors. New carriages had already been ordered from Belgian and were immediately put into service.

The Belgian carriages

Then in 1929, the company was sold on to a US company.

In 1930, the tram network reached its heyday, with 144 carriages and 60 km of tracks from Valparaiso to Vina and up into the hills.

The US company was expropriated by the state in 1945 and then systematically run into the ground by the incompetent new 'owners'. By 1950, the network consisted of two short routes that mirrored the first ever lines opened almost 90 years earlier. On the 30 December 1952, the last ever tram journey was made and the day afterwards, 32 Pullman Troles entered into service. They're still running today. Just.

Now the Troles, are great...but I'd much rather have a dedicated tram service around Valparaiso. They're just so much more...romantic and olde worlde. I like that. The Troles would be better if they were the only public transport allowed through the city centre. Banning the 4543454663240 buses that careen down the narrow city streets would be a blessing to anyone who has to spend more than 17 seconds downtown. There was an attempt to do this last year but the council cowardly backed out after complaints from shop owners, saying that business would drop if the buses weren't allowed through. I, personally, doubt this but the shopkeepers won and the Troles were almost lost forever before the government stepped in with a rescue plan (the plan was devised, in part, to make the Troles venture economically viable by allowing them a monopoly on public transport along a couple of main streets).

For a more detailed history of the trams in Chile and for more photos, visit Tranvias de Chile (in Spanish).

And for an immense amount of information regarding trams and trains from pretty much all over South America and to buy books regarding this subject, go visit this page here. If you're a tram lover, you won't be disappointed.