Monday, 3 August 2020

Gracias, Mauricio

Whanganui and Valparaiso get connected today, thanks to Mauricio. He's got a bit miffed about the Durie Hill Elevator's claim, faithfully repeated by me in a story written some time ago that's just been re-run, that it's unique in the southern hemisphere. As he rightly points out, with multiple links to online proof, it's actually not: there's another one, the Polanco Lift, in Valparaiso, with a 150m tunnel leading to a couple of lifts, which take people to the top of the hill, 60m above. Being Chilean, he's understandably offended - also though, being Chilean, perhaps he didn't quite appreciate in-joke of the 'World Famous in NZ' title of the feature, but that's ok. 
I did however think he was a bit over-sensitive in claiming that New Zealanders don't properly recognise that there are other countries south of the equator besides the English-speaking ones. As a nationality, I reckon we get around more than most others, and South America is certainly a popular destination for Kiwis. I've been there several times myself, including to Valparaiso.
That was way back in 2008, on my first big and very exciting trip to South America, when the main focus was on walking the Inca Trail. Before joining the (very small) tour group, I had a couple of nights in Santiago and was escorted to Valparaiso, which is about an hour's drive away through wine country and a range of hills you might call mountains if the actual Andes weren't in plain sight.
Valparaiso is old and very pretty, as well as modern and ugly, and classy and very down-at-heel - typical port city, then. The old part, which was far from being fully gentrified, was full of piled-up wooden Victorian villas painted fabulously bright colours, with towers and iron-lace verandas, set along steep cobbled streets intersected by plenty of narrow alleys where the "bad se┼łoritas" service the seamen. The sailors we saw were togged out in white dress uniforms with brass buttons and even white gloves, and clearly above such shenanigans...
There were stately buildings, tree-lined avenues, dinky fishing boats and stern grey naval ships, sea lions and pelicans on the rocks, and heaps of statues including one of the local horse that holds the world record for highest jump, 2.47m, set there in 1949 by 16 year-old ex-race-horse Huaso, who was then immediately retired. There were less athletic horses hitched to carriages for tourists, and, as ever in Chile, lots of stray dogs - most of them, I'm happy to say, apparently well fed and cared for by people who aren't allowed to keep them in their apartments. There was even an Easter Island moai, my first, which I was excited to see - not knowing then that I would be going there myself just four years later.

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