An Ode to Valparaiso
(inspired by Pablo Neruda and the city itself)



After a pretty horrific bus journey from Mendoza (10 hours, with an unexpected 4-hour, red-tape entangled border crossing), we arrived in Santiago after midnight. We managed to find a hostel that afforded us a lie-in, then left our bags at the bus station and went to explore the city. We took a turn around a craft market and a park with fountains and a castle-type look-out with great views over the city. Then we tried some coffee from the “legs” cafes, where the waitresses wear short skirts in a hangover from the time of the ultra-conservative dictatorship, when it was considered a small act of rebellion.

That evening we took an overnight bus to La Serena, where we found the best hot chocolate cafe of the whole trip. It was in the plaza, next to a jazz place (which never appeared open) and sold hot chocolate called ‘fondante’ that is basically good quality chocolate melted and mixed with cream. It’s thick, gloopy, develops a skin on the top as it cools and is probably about 40 ‘Weight Watchers’ points. We loved it!

La Serena also has a lovely Japanese garden, complete with bridges, Koi-filled ponds, trickling streams and stone structures meant to aid contemplation and meditation. We spent an entire morning reading our books there, interrupted only by the odd duck-quack. Bliss.


On our last day in La Serena we went to the beach. Unfortunately, it wasn’t hot enough to swim and the only ‘attraction’ it had to offer was this phallic faux-castle, which we couldn’t see the point of (you couldn’t even go inside it)…


From Serena we went into the Elqui Valley to Vicuña and Pisco Elqui, where the skies are supposed to be perfect for star-gazing and there is an observatory at nearby Mammaluca. Sadly, we only got to see the constellations with our naked eyes on the first night, because the sky clouded over after that. We were disappointed, but it was still pretty amazing to see the sky of the Southern hemisphere, which is completely different to home, with hardly any light pollution.

On Tuesday we headed back south to Valparaiso, the cultural capital of Chile, which we both loved. It has quaint buildings and steep, winding streets, a little like San Francisco with its “ascensores” (small funicular railways to help you up and down the steep slopes), cute cafes with tasty food and some beautiful graffiti.


We visited ‘Casa Neruda’, the house that belonged to Pablo Neruda, Chile’s most famous poet, who always wrote in green ink, won a Pulitzer and the Nobel prize for literature and was exiled from Chile in 1949 for being an outspoken member of the newly outlawed Communist party. His house is filled with interesting objects, including a wooden horse from a carousel and a chair that he found so comfortable that he nick-named it the ‘cloud chair’. He wrote many odes, including one to his house, the tomato and the onion.


Finally we paid a visit to Lukas’ House, a famous cartoonist, born in Italy, who lived in Chile from age 1 onwards and loved Valparaiso. His most popular and well-known character is ‘Don Memorario’, a big-nosed, bespectacled gentleman, who lamented the loss of manners and personified the generation gap between elderly and young Chileans.


This one translates as something like:
boy: how pretty the sea is!
don m: look here… the age of a tree is calculated by the number of rings in it’s trunk
Florencio: and for horses, by the size of their teeth
boy: and for men, by the holes in their belt…

Don Memorio

Love Gude x

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13 Comments so far

  1. mum on December 11th, 2009

    Great blog and very appropriate to start it with an ode.
    Valparaiso is one of those names that echo in the mind. Redolent of adventure and the high seas.
    Here’s a verse from a Gaelic poem:

    A ship arrived from Valparaiso
    Dropped its anchor in the bay
    Her name reminded me of kingdoms
    Sunlit countries far away
    Come along with me she whispered
    Far from cloud and mist
    for you’ll find beneath the Andes Mountains
    An awesome city – bright as a jewel.

    Sounds like you’ve fallen in love with the city too.
    Safe journey to NZ.
    Love Mum xxxxxxxxxxxxxx 

  2. Dad C on December 11th, 2009

    Perhaps the Jazz club is like the pubs in Ireland; the musicians will be along later…

    You’ll have to learn a another type of English soon. Bit of a shock after all the Spanish for the last few months?

    All the best.

  3. Karen & Jessica on December 11th, 2009

    Hello from Jessica, mum and Pippa.  Jessica says ‘I miss you so much, where are you in the world?  Are you going away from home or towards it?’
    xxxx 😀 :* =-O

  4. Em, Hari 'n' Hope on December 11th, 2009

    Just had to say THANK YOU so much for Hope’s animals – and father christmas. She loves them! The tiger has already had quite a lot of munching – she’s got one tooth! Soo jealous of you guys – the pics, the tales are just fab. We’re all living through you!


  5. Rhian on December 12th, 2009

    Hi to both.I like the look of the places in your last will find the night skies in New Zealand fantastic and so clear,even the moon is the “wrong shape”.We loved N.Z with so many different thing to experience.Hope you get to South Island which is similar to Scotland.If you get stuck let us know as Paul’s brother lives in Auckland.Have from paulnRhian

  6. Gude on December 12th, 2009

    We miss you too!  We are in New Zealand now and are probably as far from home as we can be.  Every plane journey coming up will bring us closer to the UK…  🙂

    Love the pic – did Grumps recognise you without his glasses?!
    Unkie Ike says all you want for Christmas is your two front teeth (Mummy might remember that one – ask her to sing you the song)!

    Lots of love from us both xx

  7. David on December 13th, 2009

    Hey guys.

    The best hot chocolate of the ENTIRE trip? I think La Serena will be very proud of that accolade knowing how much you love your hot choccy… and how many you have sampled on your travels! The Japanese gardens look so pretty and a perfect spot to take some time out and read your book. I wonder if it was the Milk book you was reading? Valparaiso sounds like a wonderful place to visit. Hmmm… that’ll be another destination on my ever growing list of ‘Helsby Holidays’ 🙂 Well, if you recommend it and it reminded you of the fabulous San Fran then it is simply a must my darling!

    Another magnificant blog Gude. Each so different and unique… I mean, we have never had one featuring an ode before. Very good it was too.

    Glad you have arrived safely in NZ.

    Much love to you both.


  8. Gude on December 15th, 2009

    That’s a nice one.  It is a lovely place  😎

  9. Gude on December 15th, 2009

    YIS! (that’s how they say it here) – all very nasal.  we kept saying “gracias” to everyone the first couple of days and I said “permisso” instead of excuse me too – very embarrassing!  getting the hang of English in public again now  🙂

  10. Gude on December 15th, 2009

    Aaah, so glad she likes them!  🙂   The tiger was my favourite too x

  11. Gude on December 15th, 2009

    NZ is really reminding us of England at the moment (North Island) and we keep expecting to see a Hobbit run across the road…   South Island on Thursday and for Christmas (near a lake in the mountains), so looking forward to that.  Merry Christmas to all you Rutlands

  12. Gude on December 15th, 2009

    Absolutely – they deserve a “best choc” plaque or something! 

    I actually finished the Life and Times of Harvey Milk in Argentina – took me no time at all as it was so fascinating and very moving towards the end.  Reading one about cowboys now that Ise picked up in a hostal book-swap…

    Valparaiso was very beautiful and had a real look of San Fran, but not the same quality of nightlife!  Maybe a good place to retire to, or visit as part of a South America cruise in your twighlight years?!  😉

    Lots of love x

  13. Rhian on December 16th, 2009

    Hello both,What a lovely city Wellington is,we can recommend a visit to Te Papa the great museum.If you are crossing the Cook Straight then look out for the amazing dolphins that swim along with the boat.The train journey from Picton to Christchurch along the coast, though long is beautiful.We saw lots of seals on the rocks,and large salt flats amongst lots of fab scenery.Hope you have a great onward journey.Love paulnRhianx