Chilean Graffiti

This blog entry about the events of Sunday, December 19, 2010 was originally posted on December 20, 2010.

DAY 3:  “Take a picture of that one,” Emily requested as we strolled along a side street on a bright, sunny day in Santiago. 

“I got it,” I replied, snapping a picture with my Cybershot TX-5, which we agreed was the better of our two point-and-shoots.

She was referring to a rundown corner building with graffiti on it that she found interesting — one of many interesting works of street art we found as we spent the first part of the day seeing things in the Chilean capital that she’d missed since she arrived a day late.  Little did we know at the time that the street art in Santiago was pale in comparison to what we’d see later in Valparaíso. 

“YOU’RE SO EURO,” I teased Emily as we had a casual last morning in town.  She admired the European-like Santiago architecture and was inspired to step into a local café for a quick espresso — a habit she’d formed when living in Rome a few years ago.  In fact, it was her ability to speak Italian that got us in a conversation with a funny little multilingual man named Luis by the fountain at the Central Market

Ti piace Santiago?” he asked in Italian.

Si, e molto bella,” Emily answered.

Santiago e cosi bella com’e Roma, eh?

He eventually persuaded us to eat at the New York Times-mentioned Donde Augusto, the most prominent fish and seafood restaurant of the market, which we did as long as we got a photograph with Augusto himself — a charismatic bearded man whose photo was plastered on the walls posing with many celebrity diners.  It was sort of a tourist trap with mediocre seafood platters of shellfish, ceviche, and abalone topped with mayonnaise (a condiment widely used in Chilean cuisine we were discovering), but we made the best of it.

Mucho gusto,” I bid Augusto as we left, shaking his hand.


For a sweet post-lunch treat, I tried rico mote, a Chilean concoction of tea served with sweet peaches and barley, when we were back up Cerro San Cristobal so Emily could see the view from above the funicular.  It wasn’t total déja vù for me seeing the same places as the day before; with Emily it was more fun the second time around, posing with the Chilean miner guy in the Plaza de Armas (he gave us little stones for good luck), and making fun of the creepy clown who played the saw like a violin

“Look it’s a mini Berlin wall,” Emily said, pointing out a long wall of graffiti on another side street in another part of town.

“It’s like the East Side Gallery,” I said. 

The “mini Berlin wall” was no match for the multitude of walls all over the Cerro Bellavista district in the popular port town Valparaíso, a 90-minute bus ride (and taxi fare) away through Chilean wine country.  Now protected by UNESCO, Valparaíso is Chile’s second-most-important city, not only because it’s the seat of Congress and one of the region’s most vital ports, but because it has become a haven for musicians, poets, and visual artists, including international artist sensation Pablo Neruda who said:

how absurd
you are…
you haven’t
combed your hair,
you’ve never
time to get dressed,
has always
surprised you.

Not surprisingly, with all the hipsters and street artists flocking to town, it’s become the capital of graffiti; at every turn in the hilly maze of pathways, there is something new to see, from blue people to urban seascapesDistant music can be heard when wandering around the narrow alleys, staircases, and streets.  Sometimes the music finds you, like when we ran into three musicians playing for tips (picture above).

De donde eres?” the accordian player asked.

Nueva York.”

“Ah, New York!  One day I will go to New York!” he raved in his accent.

“This will help you get your ticket!” Emily chimed in; we tipped them for letting us record them over and over

Emily and I pretty much did as was recommended for the rest of the lovely afternoon-turned-evening, i.e. get lost in the streets and discover the new sites, like the graffiti, the colorful piles of stuff, the cafés, the people, the happy and surprisingly healthy-looking stray dogs (barking at cats), and this out-of-place-but-inviting very tall playground slide we found.  This is all after we had checked into our room at the family-run Hostel Casa Valparaíso, with its super friendly staff — Jorge and his father Enrique — and its grand staircase and weird-looking bathroom statue.  It was there we “went euro” and befriended the staff and other travelers, including Michael from the Manchester and Markus from Munich.  It was easy to make friends when you’re sharing and tasting each others bottles of good, cheap wine, which you can get from any mini market for a few bucks.  We played Uno that night as Sexo y La Ciudad played in the background, which spawned a conversation about how ugly Cynthia Nixon’s lesbian partner is.  Thankfully there was wi-fi so it was easy to show her picture off.  (Go ahead; Google it.)

We didn’t eat dinner at the hostel though; we went out and “went Chileno” at the Casino Social Museo J. Cruz, a local eatery down a long, graffiti-lined alleyway at the base of the hill, filled with mostly local families — until us two goof-off extranjeros walked in, grabbed a table, and started drinking beers

“This is going to be epic,” I said, referring to the local Chilean dish the kitsch-adorned place is known for, chorrillanas, a pile of french fries topped with chopped steak stewed with onions and egg — even babies were eating it.

“It tastes better with the juice,” Emily said, swapping out the word for oil so she could feel better about herself for gorging on all the fatty calories.  “It doesn’t count because we’re on vacation.”

“It’s okay, we’ve been walking all day.”

Not surprisingly, the interior of the restaurant was also a center of graffiti, with most patrons leaving their tag or mark on the walls and tables.  And so we did so ourselves, under our Halloween identities, in hopes that our tag would add, if only by a little bit, to the urban art and chaotic beauty that is Valparaíso.


Next entry: Speaking Spanish By The Seashore

Previous entry: Chilly, Chili, Chile

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Comments for “Chilean Graffiti”

  • Greetings from Mendoza… More to come…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/20  at  09:41 PM

  • Valparaiso, Valparaiso…that’s my kind of town

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  03:41 AM

  • un ciudad that embraces graffiti…nice!

    tranquilo, tranquilo.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  01:38 PM

  • Wow.  You’re sure right about Cynthia Nixon’s partner.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  02:27 PM

  • How warm is it down thataway?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  06:11 PM

  • calories never count on vacation

    that statue thing in the bathroom is creepy

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/27  at  04:19 PM

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This blog post is one of nineteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Chill Out in Chile," which chronicled a trip through the country of Chile, from the central and coastal cities of Santiago and Valparaiso (plus a quick jaunt to Argentina's nearby wine region of Mendoza), followed by a trek through southern Patagonia, and a journey to Easter Island.

Next entry:
Speaking Spanish By The Seashore

Previous entry:
Chilly, Chili, Chile


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