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Tony Gavilanes / Lacy Sarco

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(episode 12)

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With our case of wine we headed out on another fabulous Tur-Bus for a quick jaunt to the sea, quickly finding out where many of Santiago's vineyards were as we passed the misty valleys that held the ocean clouds captive. Serious though, miles and miles of vine.

The downtown area of Valparaiso is quite spectacular with its European stone awnings and which way streets. We got a tour from one end at the station to the other at Plaza Santomayor. Providence led us to the right stop on our bus, which cost a mere 145 Chilean Pesos, right between the pier and plaza. Our destination? Millenium House Hospidaje. Their info mentioned stairs, but in this city, when someone says stairs, it means a 10 to 100 meter climb. It's the reason the map is so hard to follow, the city is set on a mess of hills with the streets labyrinthing in half-circles, separated by staircases and their famous diagonal elevators.

We took to riding one on the edge of the port after visiting the market. Fish, fish, crustacean... One fella was swinging a twenty-pound bag of god knows what at the curb over and over again, smashing the contents to make some kind of fish smoothie, I assume. The smell of the sea was everywhere, and personally I loved the air of Pike Place nostalgia that came with it. But anyway, we ascended the Artilleria elevator and got to see real Valparaiso.

Sprawling across all that scape of hills were thousands of colors. Pink, orange, green with purple trim, red on yellow, and all the combinations in between. This city knew how to paint! And it didn't stop with the building matte. Graffiti in Valparaiso is some of the most prevalent and awe-inspiring stuff I have ever seen. It beats out any place in South America by far. It is a culture of visual art, in fact when I went to check out tattoo shops for the Chile portion, the first ended up being a mix media art studio.

Walking up and over hills and digging the sights was more than any museum or tour could offer. The dogs in the city were specifically frightening, except for one bashful black lab who seemed to take a liking to us and led us all over the place. We all got yapped at by some other creatures behind a gate and our guide dog left us. It was okay, because we'd hit the staircase over Caleta El Membrillo, right on the water. There were kids and old men fishing right off the dock. This was the place to score an aquatic lunch! Only problem we encountered was when we tried to translate the menu, we'd forgotten the word for mussels. Now, I have an allergy that came loose on that shrimp risotto in Santiago, so I wasn't trying for a repeat show, but damnit, I always eat the most exotic thing on the card. In Quito last time, I'd ordered ostrich medallions... Oh well, I stick with the salmon. Lacy ordered some shrimp thingamajig but when it came out, it was covered with parmesan and in small oyster shells. Couldn't tell what was underneath, so she dove in. Turned out to be the very crustacean we'd asked NOT to have. Blast. Oh well, right? She bucked up to it and finished every one.

Back downtown for some sightseeing and a stop at a cafe and artisan ice creamery on Plaza Anibal Pinto. Not they knew how to do it. I ordered a portion of mint ice cream with a delectable slice of chocolate cake turning in the window, and the presentation came decked out with wafers, chocolate sauce, whip cream and cherries. Two spoons.

We had only two days in Valparaiso before the cruise, so the next one was spent scoping some more graffiti on our way to the tattoo spot and buying the other 11 bottles of wine needed to complete our goal of 24. There is really only one reputable tattoo shop outside of Vina del Mar (9km north), and it's called Tattoo Polako. While waiting for the purveyor to finish someone else up, I decided that since I was to see my mother in a week's time I better be looking sharp. We stopped in for a 1200 peso ($2) haircut, and as soon as I say in the chair I realized why it was so cheap. Either the water she was using to spray my hair or her breath smelled like a toilet. I prayed that she hadn't gone and dunked the bottle while I was waiting, and just had a serious problem with her face, but I held my breath and tried to get it over with as soon as possible.

Down in Tattoo Polako, the artist was greaser-haired, wearing a bowling shirt with flames, and had all kinds of ink running from his Dickies shorts all the way up around his forehead. Oh, and piercings to boot. Aside from that, he reminded us of Ludington GT, especially when he put on his reading glasses to get going. He noticed the uneven thickness in the tattoo as was, and said, "it's not perfect. This is forever. Can I redo it?" I later found out that he ended up leaving out a very important part of his country outline, San Pedro de Atacama.

Off we went to the nearest supermarket to score our bottles. This time, were scouring the bottom shelf, and funding the 950 peso ($1.50) "Exportacion." 3 was so overjoyed at the price, that I didn't think that for probably two bits more we could have bought some decent tasting wine. All in all, the white was great chilled, and the red was a great second or third bottle, after you were too drunk to taste it.

We had one more thing to accomplish, and that was going out to the biggest club in all Chile... Huevo. 4000 person capacity, 5 stages of music, and 9 separate levels. This place was fantastic! Taking everyone in our hostel with a pulse, we exchanged our drink tickets as soon as possible and set out to discover this place. We ended up on the roof overlooking the salsa floor while our downtempo DJ spun murky green textures. After a couple pisco-cokes, we ran downstairs to check out the rock band that had just taken mainstage, flung out heads for a bit, and ran off to scope the electronics stage. What disappointment; either the soundman or the sound installer blew because there was no bump to the grind at all. Off to the dancehall for a boogie to Michael, then Lacy and I found the subterranean death metal stage. The show hadn't started yet, so we ordered some bees and waited at a table. Our patience was rewarded tenfold when the jaw-like gates separated vertically, and the smoke enshrouded drummer counted four on the stick. BBBRRRRRRAAAARRRR!!!! The two of us turned to each other with absolute pause, and then started cracking up hysterically. Nothing against heavy metal fans, I just think it's absurd. Absurd enough to order another couple beers and watch the three skinny guys up front with their hands in their pockets, another one throwing his foot-long hair in circles (he was the fat one... with a goatee). Still laughing, we stumbled upstairs to meet our group, and then left early. We had a cruise to catch the next day, mind you.

One last story before bedtime, this Swede we met named Chris eventually told us that he was in fact born in Valparaiso and given up by his mother to a convent who found him his Swedish foster parents. He said he had been in Valparaiso for weeks now, deciding whether or not to pick up the search, he already had his birth mother's name and address. I haven't checked, but I think Cicci and he are still there a month later.

POSTED: March 19, 2009