Weather Whining and Other Truffles, Part Two: The Cold

I frequently find evidence that I create my own reality without realizing it, and then become very confused when my expectations of this false reality don’t match the actual scientific facts of common reality.

The most recent example of this is when I heard the term “South America” a couple of years ago. An equation became apparent to me.

f(x) = South of the Equator + south * More South Than Ohio (near Brazil) / America of the South = WARM.

RIGHT?!

Wrong. I got to Puerto Varas in late October of 2012, (“Oh, THIS MUST BE LIKE THEIR SPRING”) and found myself shivering in my winter jacket throughout all of their spring and eventual (and very shortlived) summer.

Damnit.

And then came the move to Valparaiso, in March of 2013. “HEY,” I said to anyone who cared, “I’M GONNA BE SO MUCH HAPPIER UP THERE BECAUSE I WON’T HAVE TO WEAR A WINTER JACKET IN HIGH SUMMER AND CAN PROBABLY WEAR SHORTS AND HAVE AN OHIO SUMMER SORT OF.”

Wrong.

Valparaiso is ‘perpetually cool’. There are no extremes — though I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that the carnivorous fog is extreme, and the cold humid rains are extreme because like, shouldn’t there be snow, and there’s not.

At the risk of sounding like a whiny weather baby (which I am), I have to confess, I am extremely ready for some freaking warmth. I’m talking, palm trees, white sands, shorts weather, warm breezes, people frolicking in the sun and rolling around in the grass.

You know, all the things I thought I’d find when I moved down here.

This oversight (or undersight?) is completely my fault. Prior to moving to Puerto Varas, which is technically, like, you know, PATAGONIA, I compared its latitude to Ohio’s on a map, did a quick and incorrect weather analysis, and actually concluded, ‘Hey, this will be really similar to Ohio summers.’

Ohio is in the northern equivalent of Chile’s latitude box thing…
So…based on prime meridians and cartography, we can conclude
Chile and Ohio have the same climate.

Where the HELL did I get that idea? It’s Patagonia, it’s not the Great Lakes. There is a different set of climactic elements operating here, which create entirely different earth phenomenons. Like the Andes mountain range, restless tectonic plates, and the Pacific Ocean, to name a few.

Again, totally a victim of my own belief-creation.

And prior to the move to Valparaiso, I assumed, ‘Hey, it’s more north than Puerto Varas, which we know is cold now, so Valparaiso will be a lot like Ohio summers finally.’

Totally and unforgivably wrong.

Like a trip to the therapist, it’s becoming very clear to me as I write this post what the main theme is. I’m pretty sure I just want to live in perpetual Ohio Summer. As does everyone else from Ohio, except those weirdos who like 10 months of cold and end up moving to Wisconsin, or Patagonia.

Chile is not the place for my warmth mission. While I have come to deeply appreciate the climates, topographies, and natural wonders of this country, I am extremely ready for a bit of weather that more closely approximates that which I was seeking in the first place.

On the plus side, come June time I’ll be back in Ohio, where I fully expect to find a little bit of Ohio Summer.

This blog may or may not completely turn into my quest to approximate Ohio summers in any place that is not Ohio. Stay tuned.

More Backstory….

This article gets at one of the main reasons why I fled the USA in order to live abroad: I Am Not My Job.

While I wasn’t coming from an area as ridiculously expensive as NYC, I find the USA to be expensive in general, and my life there included some necessary evils in order to maintain a functional, productive life. (cars, mainly).

I was in the camp that pursued the day job and relegated my passions to spare time. Which, as anyone with a semi-professional 9-5 can attest, means that you’re working far more than 40 hours per week, most likely commuting, and very little of that leftover energy typically goes toward passion-promoting activities. You just wanna sit the hell down when you have the chance.

Which is why my novels went untouched for years and my writing craft totally withered into a crusty shell of its former glory. My dreams were still there, but the time to accomplish them continued to evaporate as the years marched on. The majority of my available energy went into common domestic tasks, socializing with friends, and getting my yoga done (and not even religiously).

The move abroad was necessary for me to feel like I was finally getting a chance to focus. Ditch some of the responsibilities that felt, to me, like they were clogging my plumbing (insurance bills, car maintenance expenses, buying gas) instead of allowing safe passage of goals and inspiration. Some people can feel this way perfectly fine in their hometown or adult landscape. I, however, did not. I felt constantly “busy” and never “productive”, as the author mentions in her article. And I needed, desperately, to make a change to more productive and far less busy.

My move to Chile has afforded me this. In a huge way. Although it’s a relatively expensive Latin American country, my lifestyle costs are minimal, and I am for the first time living in a way that feels authentic to me. Now when someone asks me what I do, my answer is “I am a writer.” I still have a day job (though sometimes writing IS the day job), but the difference is that I feel confident and secure in responding this way because my passion has finally taken precedence in my daily life.

The author of the article says she doesn’t advocate that everyone move to the mountains like she did, but hopes that other young creatives can begin to consider different home bases as they seek to pursue their craft. And while I don’t think moving to the mountains (or the seaside…or South America…or Chile, for example) is hard and fast necessary, I DO recommend such a move. Move to the Catskills, or the Andes, or Costa Rica, or into a strange commune on the other side of the US, or into a distant uncle’s cabin in Oregon, or to the freakin’ Phillipines. Try it. See what happens. Because if such a move or adventure is possible, your creativity can only improve because of it. I did have to move my home base to be able to milk the sweet teat of creativity. And look at what has come sputtering forth: heinous analogies.

Now that I’ve got some of my creative goals underway and I know more of what it feels like to be living a creative life as opposed to waiting for the weekends to maybe re-visit that old story I stopped working on five years ago, I feel confident that I can someday come back to my home country and effectively be a creative writer.

Maybe not quite yet, though.

But someday.

A Valparaisan Debut

Friends, family, lovers and others!

I present you with my very first ever creative reading in any hemisphere on the planet!

That’s right. That’s my name on there.
Also it’s spelled correctly, which doesn’t tend to happen in Chile.

In Cerro Concepcion there is a tiny little cafe (Cafe con Gracia) that has become something of my favorite haunt. Not only do they consistently have creative and entertaining guests, they also serve hummus. And a variety of other scrumptious snacks. And wine. Can an ex-pat ask for more??
I was honored to be asked to read for this event tonight. Matias (or “Matto” as it reads on the flier) is a poet who I met several weeks ago after his poetry reading. We’ve been in communication ever since, and when he asked me if I’d like to share my creative output, I seized up, paced my patio for a half hour, ate all the existing nails on my fingers, mentally re-read everything I’ve ever written since I was 15, and then finally agreed.
I’ll only be sharing one piece tonight, something I wrote for an NPR contest recently. However, I’m beyond thrilled to be sharing energy, space and words with lovely people in something akin to my South American debut. I suppose this is just one more step on my path to Taking Myself Seriously As A Writer.
To celebrate this, I’m going to save room in my belly for some Short-Story-Sharing Reward Hummus. And maybe a glass of Public-Speaking-Contentment/Post-Hummus-Consumption Wine. 

Why Growing Up Near an Amusement Park Might Permanently Taint My Career

We all know that the best writers take moments, experiences and relationships from real life and inject them into their writing with a finely-disguised syringe, sending a therapeutic jolt of relate-able life zipping through the blood stream of their prose.

I try to do this as well. Really, it’s the natural byproduct of what happens from living life — writers observe people, the ebb and flow of relationships, striking life moments, dull life moments, and these all collect into a Pool of Usable Material at the fingertips of a writer. Or in the tip of their Bic pen, or under the keys of their typewriters.

Jill and I have been talking a lot lately about our craft, why our stable middle-class childhoods both helped and hurt our art form, and why it might not be a bad idea to take a quick dip into the pools of Suffering and Addiction — just momentarily, for the sake of the craft. But scheduling heroin cycles and past domestic abuse isn’t something you can just decide to weave into the tapestry of your existence. Actually, hold on — I suppose I could start with the heroin or instigate some highly unhealthy domestic habits and make my life go south, but I’m not going to do that.

That being said, I’m stuck with my middle-class stability…my relatively non-traumatic childhood, my degree, my job(s), my good health, and my loving, supportive family. SHEESH, GUYS!

Although this is just a sampling of Those That 
Constitute My Genes, I am so blessed to have the 
family that I do. 

I guess the only thing I can do is use my formative years to my advantage. Much to my chagrin/delight, the most resonate aspect of my childhood is Cedar Point. That’s right — America’s Rockin’ Roller Coast. Located in Sandusky, Ohio, this gem of a thrill-seeker’s oasis constituted the bulk of my introduction into Real Life. Summers were focused on obtaining season passes to Cedar Point, from my youngest memories until present day, and then abusing those passes to the fullest extent. Winters were spent pining for a variety of wood and steel-based experiences. Falls were spent being haunted by local ghosts and riding the last wave of available thrills, and springs were spent waiting desperately for the Opening Day.

It comes as no surprise, then, that my adult years are spent relating a majority of my life experiences to the cycles of Cedar Point. I didn’t realize this right off the bat — in fact, it took a good number of years before I realized how ingrained Cedar Point and its environs were in the fabric of my being….all the way to my artistic metaphors.

This came to my attention for the Nth time when Jill and I were caught in a rainstorm on our way to the Chilean version of Wal-Mart way across town. We had been dodging various gushes of water from the streets, multiple dripping gutters and a whole slew of rain-borne lakes when I mentioned (i.e. screamed over the downpour), somewhat offhandedly given the storm, “This is worse than Thunder Canyon!”

Any Cedar Point Aficionado will know exactly what I’m talking about — the desperate unknowing of when the next gush of frigid water will unexpectedly saturate, douse and completely chill you to the bone. Will the raft rotate enough for you to miss the waterfall, or will it place you directly in its torrential, unforgiving path? The feeling of helplessness is overwhelming…and apparently a life experience that resonated most strongly with me via Thunder Canyon.

This is not the first time Cedar Point and its rollercoasters have been the subject of my (select one: poorly-timed/lame/ambiguously creative/regionally-based/mildly interesting) metaphorsimiles. Once in Europe, Jill and I encountered a museum with a line so long it prompted me to shriek, “This is worse than when Raptor opened!”

See, Ohio-folks? You know exactly how long that line was. INSANEly long.

This emergence of a Cedar Point-focused understanding of the world around me has led me not only to seek an appropriate diagnosis in the new DSM-IV, the giant book of  disorders that was recently re-issued, but also to delve a bit deeper and find out what else, exactly, I understand in terms of roller coasters and amusements parks.

Childhood Amusement Park Coming of Age: A bit different than the classical coming of age later in puberty, this experience coincides with finally reaching the height requirement for the Big Kid rides. Any Sandusky native knows about waiting with desperate, nearly fatal excitement for the time when the height stick is the same level as the tippy top of your head (possibly with hair teased a bit higher by mom). This milestone of reaching the height requirement for all the cool rides inevitably forms the foundation around which Childhood Life is based. (“That summer we finally could ride the Magnum”, or “The day you finally made it onto the WildCat”) Boasting to your friends that you finally rode such-and-such roller coaster proves to be good fodder for street cred later in the halls of Perkins Schools once the end of summer hits.

The “Holy Shit What Did I Get Myself Into” Second Thoughts: A brand of roller coaster regret that, although short-lived, is soul-piercing and also nearly fatal. Occurs most often once boarding a new ride, or one you haven’t been on in a very long time, just after your window for changing your mind and getting off has passed and the car begins heading up the first hill. Usually accompanied by an intense urge to pee and or defecate. This is when you shouldn’t look down.

Coaster Second Thoughts tend to occur
at about this point in the ascent.

Amusement Park Exhaustion: A specific brand of exhaustion that occurs only after a special cocktail of elements are mixed, including mid-summer Ohio heat, twelve hours of walking/roller coaster riding/line waiting/greasy food ingesting/water-logged pants from the water rides you swore you wouldn’t go on in your clothes but you did anyway because it was so damn hot out/refusing to sit down and rest because we’re going to ride as much as we possibly can today/lines that reach the 2 hour mark or higher, and sun burns.This exhaustion is usually accompanied by the notable scents of sun screen, body odor, sweat, aforementioned fried food smell clinging to your clothes, and the lingering grit of countless metal hand rails.

Loss of a Beloved Coaster: Cedar Point deals with limited real estate (but really, can’t we extend the peninsula by now? COME ON) which means that certain rides and coasters get ousted in favor of the latest and greatest. Many of my childhood favorites have been heartlessly canned — such as the Pirate Ride and, more recently, Disaster Transport — but at the very least this teaches us an important lesson in the changing nature of life and love. Everything must come to an end. We all get dismantled and discarded eventually….which, I guess in human terms, would be dying. Even Disaster Transport, which, to be honest, I still haven’t dealt with that grief. (Roller coaster counseling, anyone?)

In reality I began detaching myself from 
Disaster Transport when they removed the
outer space theme and the all moving bits and bobs
in the repair bay.

New Coaster Excitement: This is a type of excitement that, for coaster enthusiasts like myself, penetrates deeper than most anything else in life. Let’s talk about Gatekeeper — I’ve been watching simulated video footage of this beast for over a year. I’m living in Chile but I’ll be damned if I don’t get a season pass for the four weeks I’m in Ohio just because I am positive I will go enough times to more than pay for the cost of the pass. This isn’t just excitement, this is dedication. Sure, the ride will be over in a matter of minutes, but that’ll be some damn thrilling couple hundred of seconds. Also including in this branch of excitement are people who track time in terms of number of days until Cedar Point opens.

The “One-Chance Shot” Letdown: This is a brand of disappointment that thankfully doesn’t strike often, but when it does, can be highly disruptive. The scenario usually goes as follows: you’ve either left the city or state for work or school or pursuing-life-goal purposes, and either don’t have it in your budget or priorities to purchase a season pass for Cedar Point. This means you visit once, and during your trip to Ohio you buy a day pass, probably from Meijer. You have one chance to go, and you plan to make the best of it and ride as much as possible, but the one day you’re able to go between park hours, family obligations and general vacation timetable is….the one day it rains. Or the one day all your favorite coasters are down for repairs. Or the one day the wind is so strong that Wind Seeker is closed due to weather and you still haven’t had a chance to ride it since it came out. So what do you do? Ride Calypso? Play Skee-ball? Oh, like that’s worth $50? This is the one-chance shot letdown. Better luck next year!

Other Cedar Point-Specific Phenomena: the Gray-Out that occurs after the first hill on Millennium Force, the specific emotional arc that accompanies Top-Thrill Dragster (anticipation–surprise–glee–one moment of heart-stopping beauty and adrenaline from the front seat at the top curve–glee–feeling like you’re dying/being born–the come down as the ride stops), the spine-jarring experience of the Mean Streak, and the dismay when you realize the Back Lot is full…

As evidenced by this excessively lengthy post, Cedar Point is near and dear not only to my heart, but to my understanding of the world around me. Though there are some life moments that are best understood in terms of roller coasters and amusement parks, I will make a sincere effort to wrangle this probable disorder so that it does not negatively affect my creative fiction. Unless, of course, I decide to get into Roller Coaster Fan Fiction writing…now that might be a real moneymaker that combines all my passions!

Valpo Photo Update!

Jill and I do things apart from writing, working, and making obscene noises…believe it or not.

Here’s some evidence for the non-believers!

Jill, just before a group meal at the ol’ Casa.
She is smirking because she is about to eat
vegetarian red bean stew and homemade German bread. 
ShanFace on a beach in Vina del Mar.
Satisfied due to outwitting the weather that, by all
signs that morning, should have sucked 110% more than it did.
Our first editing meeting in Valpo was mildly successful.
We were slightly distracted by the view and the ugly faces.

A stylistic pause for a picture during Wanderings
in Cerro Alegre. 

A whole crapload of pet food remnants.
Made epic by the graffiti of the Chile country code. 

“This isn’t degrading, right? I’m just standing how it feels natural.”

Views from the cemetery. 

Lock that crap up.

 
Jill and I during her first visit to Taco Tony’s.
Neither of us remember this photo.
(Just kidding – we half remember it.)

More wandering and street art in Cerro Alegre

NEWS BULLETIN

If I had an ostentatious circus tent, a booming-voiced announcer and several barely-tamed elephants, I would use all of these implements to formally announce the arrival of one of my best friends in this life and most likely several others….Jill Smith.

Also known as Jylle Smythe, Billy, Gel, and Jillicus, this life companion of mine decided to join me down south for a month before I head home to Ohio for a 6-week visit. She will be living with me in the extra room in my apartment — which makes us not only best friends and soul mates, but also roommates. I have warned my existing two roommates, who I suspect are both intrigued and wary.

Our plans for the next month include copious waffle consumption, editing meetings in our living room, struggling to successfully navigate the already-hard-to-navigate-streets, hopefully avoiding port-based pirates, infuriating introductions to Chilean Spanish (Jill…I’ll try. But I make no promises), cultural insensitivity, and public displays of tomfoolery.

We have a history of the above shenanigans and the passage of time only refines our god-given skills. Jill has been my travel companion since 2004, and we have no plans to break the tradition. Most notably she was the star companion on the Doomed Voyages trip of 2009 to the Middle East and Europe, a trip that still has her name on a black list in Denmark for reasons that may not be legally discussed at this point in time.

Jill and me in 2009
Nuweiba, Egypt.

Here’s to some damn fine times in my beloved Valpo with my beloved Jillpo. The first test occurs Monday, when I will make a pylgrammage to Santiago to play a game called Find The Phoneless Jill In The Capital. It should probably work out fine.

(But in case it doesn’t, Jill, just remember to brush up on key phrases like “Hey, I’m lost”, “Please help me for god’s sake”, and “Have you seen a white girl with dreadlocks?”)

10 Reasons Why I Will Probably Never Leave Valparaiso

The city is great, folks. I encourage everyone in my life, anyone I’ve ever met, all friends current and old and not-yet-known, to come visit me. And potentially move in with me. And join me for a vegetarian asado. Here are some reasons why this might just be the ex-pat haven I’ve been craving my entire life:

1. There are Ashtanga Yoga classes. Back in 2011, I started a state-wide search for Ashtanga Yoga classes in Ohio. The nearest option was somewhere in Cincinnati, a breezy 5-hour commute one-way. No thanks. I was appalled, as well, that the liberal oasis of Oberlin didn’t even have any options. I was even willing to commute to Cleveland once weekly just for a chance to be instructed in the rigorous ways of the Primary Series, exorbitant gas prices and all. No dice. Here in Valparaiso, I walk out of my cerro and ten minutes into the center and there is a wafish, taut man with exceedingly short shorts and a yogi beard waiting for me with Om’s, chants, and a precise knowledge of the Primary Series. SCORE.

2. Vegetables are cheap. And every Wednesday and Saturday, there is an enormous farmer’s market on the other side of town that sells veggies by the kilo for ridiculously cheap prices. Furthermore, there’s a man in a turban outside the supermarket on my side of town that sells whole-grain bread and soy burgers. We frequently lock eyes and I give him a silent nod of appreciation. Not to mention the variety of other alternative characters selling soy-based products on the street whenever I walk anywhere. SCORE.

3. This view.

PINK-HUED SCORE.

4. I do not need a car. Public transportation is good here – buses, taxis, etc – and walking distances to wherever I want to go are manageable on foot as well. It’s a biggish city, but it doesn’t feel like it. 15 minutes walking and you can get just about anywhere within the city center. (Some people roll around on bikes but let’s be real, apart from the 3-second downhill thrill of any ones of the cerro roads, that’s just crazy talk.) ECO SCORE.

5. There is a surplus of quaint, locally-owned coffee shops. This provides a revolving door of opportunities for me to escape from my daily life, hole up in a new (or frequently-visited) locale, sip super-strong coffee and immerse myself into writing projects. JITTERY SCORE.

6. The hilliness of the cerros is a natural work out. A recent Chilean acquaintance commented that the streets of the cerros in Valpo are so steep that by the end of your route you’re clawing your way up on all fours. This is pretty close to the truth. A natural byproduct of the terrain, however, is impeccable glutes. And damn fine hamstrings. MUSCULAR SCORE.

7. I am a $5 bus ride from Santiago. The capital of Chile sits about an hour and a half to the east — getting to and from the airport is cake, and daytrips to Santiago are easy and cheap (unless I spend a crapton of pesos on new clothes I don’t technically need)…..TRANSPORTATION SCORE.

8. Valparaiso attracts weirdos. I mean this in the best way possible. I consider myself among the weirdo ranks here, and I delight in all the colorful, oddly-shaved, sometimes-studded-and-leathered individuals I find wandering the streets here. There’s musicians, writers, poets, artists, students, sailors, businessmen, families, tourists, and more. Plus the punk scene is alive and well, which isn’t something I originally thought I’d care about, but whenever I see the punks roaming the streets it’s secretly thrilling, like a middle schooler wandering the halls of the high school and catching sight of all the cool seniors. Except these seniors have really pointy blue mohawks, clomp around in huge boots and maybe didn’t finish school or possibly participate in the underground anarchy network. DOUBLE SCORE WITH SPRINKLES ON TOP AND A SEPTUM PIERCING.

9. There’s a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurs and bilingual people. On top of that, Chile has one of the best economies of South America. It’s growing, and fast. This is a great place to be an entrepreneur, and Chile attracts a lot of people looking to invest in ecological, engineering and architectural projects all over the country. The Puerto Varas area was huge for that type of entrepreneurial migration. Though I’m not looking to start wind farms or invest in the salmon industry, there’s a certain sense here that “if you want to start it, you can do it”. Something like the American Dream drifting south, new laws and regulations are being implemented that both support and foster new ideas in the business world, making upstarts and new businesses way easier to create than ever before. Furthermore, with the amount of ex-pats starting and operating businesses all over the country (and indeed, in many other areas of Latin America), it keeps my eventual coffeeshop/cafe flame going strong. This would be the place to try it, too. MEGA OPPORTUNITY AND POTENTIALLY LUCRATIVE SCORE.

10. I feel freakin’ good here. There’s really no explanation behind it except I feel at home here, and called to here, in a way that I haven’t experienced before in other cities and places. That could change – maybe in three months, or maybe in 30 years – but regardless, I’m going to attempt to make it here as long as I can/want/am financially able to/it makes sense. For now, all I can really do is follow that which feels right and natural. And that is to continue on here in the lovely Valpo. Something awaits me here…or maybe I’ve already gone and found it.

Introducing: Valparaiso, Chile

Every person I talked to about Valparaiso prior to my trip north told me the same thing: “You…are going…to LOVE IT.”

When multiple people echo the same sentiment from a variety of sources (from total strangers to trusted friends), it’s hard to ignore it. Furthermore, people that know me down here tended to add, in a lower voice with a meaningful look, “Shannon, you will fall in love. It’s the perfect city to live in and be a writer.”

Okay, I thought. Fine. Let’s do it. Give it a go. I decided to combine my Birthday Easter Island trip with an exploratory mission to Valparaiso, stay there for a week and see what happens. I went prepared to hate it, but also prepared to love it. Really, I was open to whatever. I had a loose plan to move to Valparaiso post-Puerto Varas (god knows I’m not sticking around for the frigid winter down here), so I was hoping I’d fall in love like everyone was certain I would, but I was also prepared to come up with a plan B on the fly if I went and found out it was a miserable, disgusting, awful, dirty city that just didn’t have the charm everyone else saw.

So I went. I found Amanda in Santiago after Easter Island, we took a day bus to Valpo, and began our explorations.

The street art in Valparaiso is incredible, completely unique,
astounding, breathtaking, and poignant. Not to mention really freaking cool.
 
The first thing I noticed about Valpo was twofold: the sea air, and the amount of people. We had arrived to a big city, with buses, people filling the sidewalks, tall buildings, and that unmistakable energy of a port city.
Valparaiso is dangerous, huh? I guess we’ll wear our thug faces to ward off attacks.
 
Valparaiso is centered around the sea-level pleno, where most of the government buildings, banks, big commerce and the port are found. Then sprawling up and around that center, away from the sea, are the 42 cerros (hills) that give Valpo that sparkling, multi-colored, extremely vertical backdrop. Based on my world travels, I would best describe the city as a Guanajuato, Mexico -style Vertical Venice. Add in a healthy dose of collaborative art that covers almost 90% of the city, a bustling port that lends a certain grit and open-sea worldliness, and you have Valparaiso.
The street art serves a purpose. It’s not just for shock and awe,
it’s to prevent the taggers from defacing the buildings.
People hire artists to cover their outer walls in order to
avoid that messy, sporadic tagging common to big cities.
 
What Valparaiso accomplishes, perhaps without intending to, is a small-town feel within a relatively big city. Valpo isn’t the biggest in the country – it’s about the 6th biggest city, and Valpo proper has around 300,000 residents – but it’s big enough to have veganism options, while still retaining an easy-to-understand city layout. By day four there I felt I had a grasp on where I was going. At the close of week one, I was directing others how to get around. That doesn’t include the cerros, necessarily – those, in fact, can be quite confusing and irritating to navigate, especially once you get off the beaten track and decide to “try out the staircase” in a particular area. Chances are you’ll end up several streets over from where you intended, and Amanda and I found an actual vertical street on our trek to Pablo Neruda’s house one day. I’m not sure how cars kept all four wheels on the ground. Driving in Valpo is not something I’ll be trying. Ever.
Valpo girl? Almost.
 
As soon as I got to Valparaiso and realized that I would, in fact, love to stay there, live there, and perhaps base a writing career there, I set to work looking at apartments. I ended up finding a majority of the leads from signs posted around the touristy cerros. Valparaiso is a university city as well, so there is a constant flow of transients, both Chilean and foreign, coming to stay for weeks or semesters or years. There is a huge renter culture in Valpo, and it became quickly apparent that me finding a place to live for any amount of time would be no problem. All that remained was finding the right place to live.
Calle Ecuador – the nightlife hotspot.
With over 20 bars to choose from, this street is
hopping pretty much every night. And the drink specials never end.
 
Being an American from a relatively small town, I am highly acclimatized to privacy, ample living quarters, and quiet. The Chilean style, however, is quite different. It seems most families will rent out rooms in their house to students or transients, welcoming the flow of new faces and energy without a second thought. I’m not sure if the primary motive is extra income, the feel of a full house, or both, but I definitely have found that most Chileans prefer to live with others, even complete strangers, as opposed to living alone. I quickly shed my original idea of “finding an apartment to myself”. Maybe someday, when I can afford to buy out a whole house to myself, but for now, shared living it is. I checked out four places before I found the one that, after 20 seconds, I said, “LA QUIERO” (I want it).
My new bedroom, complete with two windows, a desk, a bookcase, and a closet.
Not to mention a sweet view of sprawling, sparkling Valparaiso.
I EVEN HAVE A DOOR! A step up from Puerto Varas, for sure.

Being that I’m a 2__ year old lady, I’ve reached a point in my life where I feel confident in demanding a certain something from my living situation. No longer can I cram myself and my belongings into an unforgivingly small cube of a dorm room (unless it’s a hostel, and only for a few nights); no longer will I go for the cheapest option, conditions be damned (unless, again, it’s a hostel, and only for a few nights, and I’m broke); and furthermore, I have NEEDS- space to lay my yoga mat, appropriate sun for meditation/contemplation, a desk for my laptop and work environment. My bedroom is my office essentially – for nonprofit work, for writing articles, for writing novels, for translating and copyediting – so having the room to breathe, think and work is crucial. I know this now because I haven’t had it since I moved to Chile. And now, I’m demanding it.

Amanda makes herself comfortable on the couch in the shared living room.
Bad Chilean soap operas come included with the cost of rent.
 
Valparaiso is cool because it’s a gritty, artsy port city, but other lifestyles are within easy reach on the same coastline. Just 10 minutes away from Valpo Center sits Vina del Mar, a newer, slightly classier city that caters more to tourism and family life. It features taller, bigger apartment complexes, better beaches, and fancier options…essentially the Small Suburban Brother of Valpo. In fact, that’s where American tourists may be pleased (or dismayed) to find both Ruby Tuesday’s and Starbucks. (I, for one, was thrilled to visit Starbucks. I never imagined I’d be so excited for drip coffee. When I get back to the States, I’ll boycott it again I promise.)
On Renaca beach, just a bit beyond Vina del Mar.
A father and child in the evening sun on Renaca beach. 
 
Valparaiso used to be Chile’s number one port city; it’s still one of the most important seaports in Chile, but now the seaport of San Antonio takes the number one spot. The influence of the sea-faring life in Valpo is palpable; open-air seafood markets abound, the smell of fish and sticky salt hangs on the coastline, and amongst the hostels in the city center it’s hard not to run into a sailor or two. In fact, on the last night in my first hostel, I recorded English phrases for a Chilean ship captain who was taking a test to obtain certification to sail internationally; one important aspect being able to announce things in English to both passengers and other ships. It was fun getting a look into the life of  sailor, including some of the terminology unique to ship captains. The guy was really friendly and took the time to explain why they say certain things, how the ship is laid out, etc. He’s also traveled quite extensively around Chile and we talked (actually, gushed) for a long time about Easter Island.
View from our walk toward the Pablo Neruda house/museum.
 
Looking up the ascensor Reina Victoria,
which passes right next to my NEW PATIO!
 
Another thing Valparaiso is famous for is the abundance of ascensores, the cable cars that lift you from one level of the city to another. It’s helpful for avoiding the sometimes-vertical and always-rigorous climbs up the winding streets. I still wonder how the hell anyone managed to build a city on these hills. The houses are so jampacked and sprawling, it’s a curious feat to think how many people per square mile are stuffed into the houses on the hillsides. I think this also lends to the small-town feel of the city: you don’t have to go far to get from one end to the other, but there sure are a lot of bodies in between!
Wandering around Cerro Alegre, one of the best-known tourist areas.

I am thrilled to consider myself a resident of Valparaiso soon (even if the government of Chile might disagree with the term ‘resident’). I plan to move by the end of the week, with all of my belongings in tow, and begin inhabiting my new space in Cerro Alegre. It’s not hard to see why Pablo Neruda loved the city so much, nor why he used it so extensively as inspiration for his works and poetry. I plan to be extracting the same creative juices from the air and the sea. Let’s hope the Valpo sights, smells and sounds can similarly infuse my words with that special, time-transcending, port-city magic.


Check out The Best Travel Backpacks before your next trip! Especially if you’re on your way to Chile, or want to swing by Easter Island, I always go with Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet Chile & Easter Island (Travel Guide)