Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ascendant

Note: the entrance to Ascensor Concepción. Can you see it?

One of the things that I love, love, about Valparaíso are the elevators, or ascensores, which carry people up and down parts of the hills all over the city. The first one, Ascensor Concepción (and one of the three most convenient to us), was built in 1883. The most recent came on the scene in 1915. I'm not sure that they're all still in use, but certainly most of them are. So far we've used five of the 15.

This is Ascensor Concepción, in creaking, juddering action.

It costs between 20 cents and 60 cents to ride them, either up or down, and I tell you, the thrill is well worth the expenditure. The slightly reckless, thrilled feeling is a lot like the one you get driving on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. None of these structures is completely vertical; they're all built clinging to steep cliffsides. For some reason, this makes them feel much more precarious than a real elevator that's just hanging. They offer tremendous views over the city and harbor, if you duck a little to be able to see out of the low windows. They are not cog railways—they are definitely being pulled on cables. The cars each have a wooden bench (sometimes only big enough for one person to sit on), and they act in pairs, counterbalancing each other up and down the tracks, although there is also a motor. The cars themselves seem to be as old as the system; they're rickety and clacking, and there are small gaps between the floorboards and occasionally missing window panes. There are usually cats napping somewhere in the ascensor channel. I'm not sure what the opening hours are, but they're always going when I want to use them. I've gotten lazy in my stay here—I usually take an ascensor up now and walk down (although I did opt to climb a long staircase today instead. Can't let my ass get lazy.)

If you don't know where to look for them, they are easily missed, because lots of the buildings on the flat part of the city in front of the hills—El Plan, it's called (which, like much of Seattle, is landfill)—were built long after the elevators. Since the elevators are, necessarily, right up against the hills, they're often hidden down long, creepily narrow alleys, or strange dark hallways, built into the growing city.

This is the entrance to Ascensor Concepción, viewed from a different angle.

One of the ones convenient for us is missing part of its sign, so it just says El Peral, not even ascensor. It's one that's down a long, scary hallway in a building next to the courts or the Navy or something, so you're already a little on edge.

The third one that's convenient to us, Reina Victoria, is my favorite, because of a captivating quirk up at the top. It leads up to (and slightly over) a hill that's not quite as high as the destination; there's a short wooden bridge leading to the higher hill. In case you wanted the lower hill, though, there are two sets of stairs angling down about 1 ½ stories from the bridge. And in case you wanted the lower hill in a big hurry, there's a long metal slide with an exhilarating curve at the bottom.

Today I rode the slide twice, even though I didn't ride the ascensor, and even though it took me out of my way. I, in fact, wanted the higher hill that I was already on.


1 comment:

Robert said...

Thank you for the Chilean reports, Calin. It's been wonderful having the Dilettante Traveler back!

-- Robert V.