Valparaíso

Yesterday I woke up in a fog. Quite literally. The fog was so thick that as I made my daily 10-minute morning walk to Gonzalo’s house, I could barely see my hands in front of me. It seems appropriate, for the theme of juxtapositions in this post, that I would then spend the day at a place known around the world for its brightly colored landscape – Valparaíso.

I quickly fell in love with this city – this port city, with such beautiful ocean landscapes that Neruda himself built a house there, using portholes for windows, and wrote an ode to it. Valparaíso, with its picturesque panoramic views, reminded me of growing up in Puerto Rico, particularly the Old San Juan area. Our colonizing Spanish fathers weren’t very original, and sometimes as I travel through Latin American cities, it seems to me like all the conquistadores were working off of the same construction plans. Like Old San Juan, Valparaíso is a place of extremes: incredible wealth, abject poverty; unbelievable beauty surrounded by decaying infrastructure. And then there are the tourists, of course, and the locals who embrace them, as well as all the signs reminding you that you are not from here.

This doesn’t seem to have stopped the masses of outsiders who have, once again literally, set up shop there. Shops, art galleries, hip restaurants, and boutique hotels litter the area, all looking to capitalize on Valparaíso’s booming hippie-culture reputation. It is not a coincidence that it is known as the San Francisco of Latin America. Like Puerto Rico, Valparaíso seems to have this complicated, ambivalent relationship with foreigners. “Come here! Buy our things, eat our food, talk to us, we love your country,” is coupled with “get out, stop buying our land, and moving us out of our space.” I wonder how much of this is part of a colonial mentality; this legacy of “accepting” the other as a form of self-preservation, while we try to hold on to what is ours.

“Valparaíso, qué disparate eres.” Pero qué hermoso disparate.

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