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Not quite a week in-country, and it is away from the Andes, and off to the Pacific coast. The destination is Valparaiso, the most significant port in South America, back when seafarers had to brave treacherous Cape Horn. Native peoples inhabited the place for eons thanks to its lovely climate (think Santa Barbara, CA) and protected access to the sea. In the early 1500’s the Spaniards arrived, but it wasn’t until the early 1800’s that Valpo, as it is called locally, really took off. The city boomed, crawling up the steep hillsides from the sea, its colonial buildings and residences painted in fanciful Caribbean colors. Narrow cobblestone streets lead ever upward, with galleries, restaurants and residential neighborhoods clinging to the steep slope.
After the opening of the Panama Canal, Valpo fell on hard times, but in recent years, its designation as a UNESCO heritage site has lifted its fortunes, this time in tourism. The port is still active, but not like in its glory days. Not much of a town for beach going, rather, wandering the maze of little streets and finding a secluded cafe with rooftop access from which to gaze at the sea and drink strong coffee and munch heavenly pastries seems to be the thing to do. Galleries are plentiful, but not particularly necessary as you shall see: Almost every flat surface is covered by a form of upscale graffiti, and tagged and retagged by skilled artists.
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