Museo de Cielo Abierto, Valparaiso, Chile

April 7-12, 2007


Valparaiso after the 1906 earthquake.


Valparaiso is a city with "crazy" geography, where buses veer around sharp curves, race down hills, and bump over potholes. The city flanks a vibrant port that has a rich and long connection with San Francisco; dating back to California's gold rush days, Valpo has supplied San Francisco with fruit, veggies and wine. Oddly, both cities suffered great quakes in 1906. But best of all, the city is a fantastic open air museum, showcasing vibrant street murals painted over the last thirty years.




We spent four days wandering Valparaiso's steep ramshackle streets with wild artists on the loose. The walls of the city are a giant canvas for their work. Talking to some of these creative folks, the world got a notch smaller -- they are from Santiago, but it turned out they had spent time studying in the Estados Unidos and knew our home turf well.




Oda a la Alegria

Como la tierra eres necesaria...

Como el fuego sustentas los hogares...

Como el pan eres pura...

Como el agua de un rio eres sonora...

Pablo Neruda




Views from Neruda's Valparaiso hilltop home.






We arrived in Valparaiso on Easter Sunday. That afternoon we knew something odd was brewing when we saw a group of gleeful children pushing a wheelbarrow containing a life-sized dummy through the streets, collecting coins from neighbors as they went. Later that evening, we were walking past the local church on Cerro Alegre and noticed folks standing around and sitting on the steps with an air of quiet expectancy, the dummy sitting on the curb nearby. As darkness fell, this effigy of Judas was hung on a cable over the cobblestone street, doused profusely with gasoline, and lit on fire! The cable was pulled so that this burning figure started swinging wildly back and forth, spewing flaming bits and coins onto the pavement. Kids circled the fire, poking it with sticks, and started pulling coins from the ashes. Strange custom! (But who wouldn't want to participate in a ritual that involves playing with fire and picking up some spare change.)


Near Neruda's Isla Negra house on the Pacific shoreline, a bus stop shelter has glass bottles embedded in its walls, paying homage to his enormous collection of bottles. Both of his houses are filled with beautiful carved wooden bowsprits, nautical instruments, maps, ships in bottles, shells, masks, musical instruments and much, much more. Though he collected all things nautical and even designed his house like a boat, he feared the sea and never sailed.




Punta Arenas (plane) ► Santiago (bus) ► Valparaiso (bus) ► Isla Negra (bus) ► Valparaiso