I am loving Valparaíso, or Valpo as it's often called. I have never been anywhere like it, and it's kind of kicking my ass. Literally. The city of a quarter million is built on 40-some hills—steep hills—and I have been spending several hours each day, while Ian's slaving away in a basement classroom, meandering around, looking at the sights and marching myself into and out of steep ravines and up and down precipitous hills. My feet are tired and a bit blistered, but they mostly recover overnight. My hip flexors and my glutes, though, are killing me. It's awesome.
Each of the hilltops and ravines seems to be an individual small town, with a couple restaurants or cafés, a mini-mart, some business or other, and lots of homes. It's kind of like Seattle in that way, except the contrast (in this case in elevation instead of color) is turned way up. Some of the neighborhoods are pretty dodgy; others are quite posh. So far, I haven't been hassled by a single person. Or a group of people for that matter.
Ian and I are having a devil of a time getting our cardinal bearings, however. Valpo is a city on the west coast of a continent on the Pacific—not much different than Seattle. But it's south of the equator and it's late spring now; the sun rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest. Not only that, the bay is actually protected on the south by a giant spit of land (good for making a safe harbor), and the city is built facing pretty much north. I happen to have brought a compass with me and we were able to point North yesterday evening on one of the many promenades; we're both convinced the compass doesn't work in our hotel room, though. We're both generally good with direction, so this has been very strange. Wait a minute here—I think I'm figuring something out. The sun, right now, is NOT rising and setting in the north—it is, in fact, rising and setting in the SOUTH (well, southeast and southwest), because it is almost summer here. Okay, that's been our problem. Ooh—I can't wait to see Ian this evening and tell him! Yes, in Seattle we like to face south because then we get good light in the winter; here they like to face north for the same reason—good light in the winter, but it's summer now and so they're getting light from all around the sky. Okay, moving on.
There are some unattractive things about Valpo; namely, dogs are quite numerous here, and really seem to be enjoying a whole alternate culture to ours. In Seattle, dogs are very much an aspect of people culture; not so here. They roam the city at all hours of the day and night, occasionally battling, obviously reproducing, scavenging in garbage (none of them looks thin, although they are dirty and many have dodgy legs), and treating us to echoing choruses of barks at all hours of the day and night. Also, they shit everywhere. Garbage pick-up and street cleaning seems to be pretty good here—otherwise the city would be buried under a pile of dog do. But aside from the inopportune barking times (I've been reminded of the fighting roosters living near our friends R&K when they were in Thailand for a couple years) and the shit, the dogs are, for the most part, an entertaining part of the city to observe. We watched one the other evening ride an elevator, by itself, up from the metro track. An employee met the elevator at the top to grab the dog but the dog evaded him, raced for the stairs to the train in the opposite direction, ran down, and jumped on the train just as the doors were closing. Clearly, he knew what he was doing.
Okay, I'm going to head off on an adventure now—taking the new metro all the way to the end, to a rural town called Limache. It's not in our guide book, but is supposed to have wine and other pastoral joys.
NOTE: Ian thought the dog had come down from street level in the elevator, not ridden it up, although either one of us could've been right, because all we saw was the dog exiting (although I have a memory of an employee of the metro running upstairs, thus leading me to think he was following the dog). We are both equally mystified as to how the dog got into the elevator and got it to move without human assistance, however. And he was clearly in the elevator alone.