Pablo Neruda’s ode to Valparaíso speaks about the city with its uncombed hair and not having time to dress. We walked down our sleepy paseo where we lived five years ago and found that it has been to the hairdressers and put on a new outfit, in short, a makeover.
The house we lived in has been renovated into a hotel including a basement restaurant and an extra storey. One of the wait staff took us into the lobby so we could see some of the changes they’d made. As for our paseo that we walked up every day taking the girls to school, it has gone from having one little hotel and restaurant to now almost ten restaurants or hotels. We wonder how many little communities will give way to make room for more accommodation style premises. We think that the cruise ships returning to the harbour has increased the number of tourists and therefore the number of business opportunities. As former, semi-quasi locals we helped some British tourists with directions and tips for a day trip. They told us that there are now direct flights from the UK to Santiago. This too may increase the amount of tourists coming here.
Sylvia, who used to live across the paseo from us, is no longer there and her house is a restaurant. Hugo, our ascensore driver, stopped working three years ago. Some of our favourite art has graffiti on it, our beloved sandwich bar is no longer open AND prices have gone up. The trolley bus has gone from 200CLP to 290CLP, about 60 cents.
However, the bikes of Plaza Victoria are still there in all their artisan, homemade, is that a crack in the welding, glory. The choice of bikes is endless including family ones, some with working brakes and some with a second seat hanging off the back. Depp was a bit tentative about taking his own bike out so the kids went for the deluxe model, which actually reminds me of the bamboo taxi Gilligan used on his island. One little girl was calling out permiso (excuse me) instead of going around people. She stopped just near us and I gave her a push to get her started again. She then called out permiso and two men moved aside for her and she ran into one of them. They gave her a push to help her on her way but she ran straight into the garden edge. Later she ploughed into another boy on a bike. Luckily for her there wasn’t a practical exam before hiring the bikes.
During 2011, we were rescued many times by Karen the real estate agent. For no real reason we never learnt her last name nor made an effort to keep in touch. We walked into the office today where she worked on the off chance she was still there. We stood at the door and the second she saw us she remembered us. As always, Karen spoke slowly for us and pronounced the often silent “s”. We spent some time catching up and this time exchanged email addresses.
Today’s game was, Is that new? We headed up to the girls’ school, which was closed for the summer holidays, so they could only look at it from the street. Along the way we tried to recall which murals were on which wall and what was new. We stopped at the library for a little reminiscing and a welcome baño break then set off exploring once more. Ten minutes later Depp needed to go to the toilet again. Public toilet hunting in Valparaíso is a difficult job and keeping children hydrated is very important. I ushered Depp into a café where they told me that the cheapest thing I could buy was a drink for 1500CLP. I looked at this man with wonder. My good sir, I thought, drinking is the reason my son needs to use your toilet. This was adding fuel to the fire, or should I say fluids to the child. With a little bit of sympathy and negotiating I talked him down to 500CLP. As we left I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I went too.