Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Relief Funds Needed for Fire Recovery in the Hills of Valparaiso

Back on April 14, over a month before I went to Valparaiso, there was a devastating fire up in the hills of the city, leaving 12,000 people homeless. It started as a forest fire behind the city, but the dry land and high winds quickly brought the fire to the cities borders at the top of the hills. Many of the people who live at the top of the hill are stricken with poverty, and their homes consist of wooden shacks or tents, both immensely flammable. It is being considered the worst fire in the history of Valparaiso. 

Chile has an uncanny ability to jump back on its feet, and during my visit to Valparaiso, many of the tourists I encountered were not aware of the recent fire. The people of Valparaiso have all chipped in to help the victims. Some of the hostels I stayed at were providing temporary homes for families who had lost everything. The government is helping, but only provides aid to legal residents of the land and property burned. The trouble is that the fire burned the poorest part of the city. That high up in the hills people were simply claiming sections of land. There is no infrastructure or running water that far up, which was one of the reasons the fire was so deadly.

Valparaiso is trying to rebuild the burnt areas, and provide housing for more people, but it is a lot of work. I arrived after the initial wave of relief funds. Building was in process, and the volunteers had a sense of direction. However, there is still quite a lot of work to do. Building homes for 12,000 people does not happen quickly. While volunteers and locals are working towards the big picture of the rebuilding, it is easy to overlook the everyday needs of the people. As their homes are being rebuilt, the people on the hills live in tents without bathrooms and limited water supplies. Food is not an easy subject either. 

While I was in Valparaiso, I helped out by feeding the local families and volunteers. A single lunch on only one of the hills burnt easily fed 200 people. Everyone was incredibly grateful for the food. Even though I helped feed 200 hundred people that day, we didn't even put a dent in feeding the 12,000 people affected by the fire. 

Katie Rasch, a girl from Michigan who has been living in Valparaiso for some time now, was the one who took me up on the hill to help out. She has walked through the hills talking with the affected families, asking them what they need. She believes the best way to help is to put the power in the hands of the affected people. Katie and her sisters have started a relief fund, and are well on their way to making a difference in the volunteer effort. For anyone who has been taken by the beauty of Valparaiso, I strongly urge you to help out and give, even if it is just five dollars. You can help out HERE.  

Please help out those in need by donating to Katie's Relief Fund.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cafes and Restaurants of Valparaiso, Chile

My absolute favorite spot was a little French cafe across from El Desayunador. The little lady who worked there always looked overly excited to see me return for the second, third, or maybe fourth time each day for another cup of her amazing loose leaf teas. Her coffee and cakes were equally as amazing. Next there was a small shop that made all of its own hard candy, La Dulceria. This place was a child's heaven, and filled with colors. 

El Desayunador, was one of the best reliably good breakfast spots in Valparaiso. The menu is simple, and a little pricy, but the atmosphere was fantastic. Plus the place has great wifi, so it is usually filled with local students and their laptops. I went here three times, and would go again, if I was still around. 

El Pimenton, was a great spot to grab dinner after dark. A great night life spot. Plus they had the best Chorilinnas in town. This dish is traditionally a giant stack of french fries, topped with caramelized onions, steak, and a fried egg. However, El Pimenton does this amazing thing where they add cranberry sauce underneath the fries. Oh My Goodness, this dish is addictive. Carino Malo, is hard to find, a hole in the wall marked only with a chalk board. The place has reliably good food, and great budget options. What I mean by that is you can order a great homemade pasta dish for around six US dollars. Eating out in Chile is ridiculously expensive compared to Argentina. Their personal pesto sauce is like a cream soup with some hot pasta that I just want to cuddle with. 

Then there was Antonia Wines, which is a small wine shop that sells wine by the glass accompanied by a cheese plate. The owner, Mario, was very sweet, after we conversed about our adventures in the wine industry, he gifted me a bottle of one of his own wines; it was fantastic. Like the little French cafe, I stopped here many times, and ended up trying all the wines he had to offer. Don't leave without trying Chilean's Carmenere, and the region around Santiago makes some great Chardonnay. I spent several hours there one night with a guy living in my hostel, Konut. He is a a 70 year old guy who spent his life working on ships sailing around the world, and has decided to settle down in Valparaiso. He was a treasure chest of stories. It was amazing hearing about Chilean's political history from someone who had actually been in Valparaiso fifty years ago. 

The last place I stopped was the Color Cafe with my little sister. They have refreshing fruit juices, which are really just simplified smoothies. Plus their soup of the day is always amazing. The walls are covered by drawings on napkins and weird nicknacks. This place was approved by the always hungry Tess, but upon learning of their lack of empanadas, I received an overly disappointed look. Like the city, the Color Cafe, is full of hidden gems.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Leaving the Magic of Valparaiso

The streets here are made of grit and promise. This city loves everyone, but will never bother to learn your name. Your eyes are wide with the never ending colors, but your nose and shoes will never let you forget the dog poo filled streets. One house will be covered in a professional mural full of bright yellows and blues, while the house to the right may have burnt down, and no one ever bothered to rebuild it. There is not a single breath of concrete untouched by graffiti. The tag could be from the local juvenile writing cornbread everywhere, or a famous graffiti artist contributing their signature.

I ended up staying in Valparaiso by accident, looking for a place to stay while waiting for my sister to arrive in Santiago. In Santiago, I found three people who were interested in seeing Valparaiso. We arrived late on Monday night, and quickly found out our hostel was overbooked. However, we were informed, since there was four of us, we could rent the apartment upstairs. The apartment was lime green, came with a fully equipped kitchen, cable tv, and blacony overlooking the water. Life was too easy, and we stayed there for half the week. We didn't do much more than walk around the city, watch sports, cook, eat, and indulge in the local brew.

I had two English flatmates, and one American. Mike Howarth was a very straight forward English fellow who always had things under control, but never got overly excited. He was also stuck in the Santiago area, waiting for a package containing parts for his bicycle, so he could continue biking from Ushuaia, Argentina to Colombia. His adventures put mine to shame, but you should see for yourself at Then there was Kalpesh, who ended his job to travel and go to the world cup. Kalpesh had an intriguingly smart mind, that was always asking questions. He had the amazing ability to make you feel like you were the most interesting person he ever met. Plus both guys had great accents. Finally there was Jake, a last minute, morning of, addition. Jake is a 19 year old vegetarian who has come from the states to study in Buenos Aires. He had an endless database of facts, but lacked a little street sense. We always seemed to be either lending him money, feeding him, or helping him fix something.

Eventually my crew left, and I was forced to vacate the apartment. My next place was a small hostel with a loft dorm room, Lunar Sunrisa. The people at this hostel shined brighter than its purple and blue walls. For the majority of my stay, I spent my days shifting between cafes, drinking tea, while reading, the local poet, Pablo Neruda's poems. I fell hard for this city. I was living in San Francisco, Sausalito, and Cusco all at the same time. I stopped noticing the smell of the streets, and only saw the endless colors. The city sucked me in, and I was quickly sinking into the cracks with no intentions of leaving.

I found myself volunteering in the hills that had been burned in the devastating fire from over a month ago. I naively agreed to go to an advanced yoga class focused on flexibility. The teacher was Chilean, but studied in India, and seemed a little high during our lesson. I quickly realized how out of my element I was, when the instructor began standing on top of people. Outside of the enthusiastic yoga instructor, my favorite eccentric local Chileans included two musicians I shared a bottle of wine with in down town Valparaiso. Pascuala Ilabaca, was beautiful, covered from head to toe in bright red. She talked of her travels, her time in India, her adventures in yoga, her love of music, and her home, Valparaiso. Then there was Rafael. I have never seen so much passion. Ever syllable was as if it was his last breath. He was there with his producer, and they were about to leave to create a documentary of Rafael's musical adventures, as he travels with a grand piano through the Amazon. They truly embodied their city.

My incredible life in Valparaiso came to a trembling halt when my little sister, Tess, showed up. Tess was not all that enthused about how I had sunken into the city. For some reason, she didn't want to just drink tea and read poetry all day long.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Street Art of Valparaiso, Chile

The streets and artists of Valparaiso can speak for themselves.  I do not ever want to leave this place. I guess we'll wait and see what happens.

These photos were taken during a Valpo Street Art Tour. We had the pleasure of entering a local artist's studio.