And Then I Came to Valparaiso

IMG_0739The impressive three-story mural facade of my new home, Hostal Po.

I recall talking to Monica about how a lot of people I’ve talked to didn’t like Santiago when they came to visit.  Monica responded by saying something along the lines of, “It’s impossible to know how you feel about a place when you’re only there for a couple of days.”  To which I agreed, and then I came to Valparaiso.

As Ari and I rode the local (and funny) bus through the maze of hills that makes up Valparaiso to our hostel, I smiled as I thought to myself, “Yes, I like this place.” Later that afternoon I told Ari that I wanted to live here, at least for a short while, before heading back to Texas.

To say that Valparaiso has a lot of character is an understatement. Everywhere you turn, even in the most random nooks and crannies, you’ll find beautiful street art that causes even the most unartistic person to feel inspired to pick up a pencil and draw something. With that said, it also comes with a healthy dose of crime and poverty that cannot be overlooked. It was here, in that first visit with Ari, that I experienced my first open act of theft, as two guys came up behind us and ripped her purse off her body and ran. We tried chasing them but as they knew the city better than us, they were gone.  To calm your fears, please note that the next day we learned that we had walked into a part of the city that is off-limits after the sun goes down…ah yes, good to know.

I find myself telling people that if you were to take Fairmount, my beloved historic neighborhood in Fort Worth, and turn it into a city, it would resemble Valparaiso – all of the beautiful and ugly parts.

With that said, although I was pumped to move here, I was also a little nervous. The nerves were only partially generated by what happened in my first visit, as it more so has to do with leaving my comfy life in Santiago for the unknown.  As this feeling has appeared again and again over the last 6+ months, I’m a lot more comfortable with feeling it and knowing it will pass.

As I pulled up to the hostel the evening before my first night of work, I smiled as I was greeted with one of the best murals to be found in the city on the façade of Hostal Po.  After being buzzed in and walking up the multi-colored stairs and art-filled hallway to meet my new home for the next month, I smiled again.  Oh yes, I found this work exchange through a website called workaway.info, introduced to me through Ari.  It’s filled with many opportunities similar to mine where you exchange work of some sort – working in a hostel, tending to a farm, building something, etc., for a place to stay and maybe a meal or two. It’s my first time to do something like this, and it couldn’t have come at a better time in my life where I have been feeling the call to help/do something different.

The next day during my first shift, it felt nice to move – sweeping and mopping the bathrooms, cleaning the stove, taking out the trash and learning about how to create guest receipts, as opposed to sitting in front of a computer – which I have been so commonly used to doing for “work”. I told Paul, the owner and designer of Hostal Po, that for the first day in a long time, I felt at ease, peaceful, and was thankful for the opportunity.  The city, the hostal, the vibe, the job – me caes bien (literal translation – it falls on me well). Note: I was even more excited the next day after Paul let me re-organize the front office desk and said ‘whatever you think’.  Yes!

Even this moment, feeling relaxed enough to sit down and write, is not a feeling I’ve had in a long while.

Ahh…Valparaiso…thank you. I’m looking forward to our time together.


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