Vistoso Valparaíso!

I started trying to explain to my kids how the International Date Line worked about a month ago and by the time we boarded the plane in Auckland, bound for Santiago, I still hadn’t even vaguely covered it. “Yeah, so, there’s this line and you basically need to take a day away – or stick an extra one in – so that the, erm, times add up everywhere else and you don’t, sort of, time travel”. Wandering Knights in the Space Time Continuum is still a work in progress.

It was ever thus: mentally, going round the world with four children is like unpicking a Gordian knot with your teeth. Also physically: man oh man, facially, travelling is an absolute bitch. Not only is there a (very sensible) voice telling you you’re ‘on holiday’ so should never refuse a drink, but then there are the flights, the sun, the Crazy Quarto – your face ends up more than a little ‘rugged’. Now I know why all those explorers like Scott and Edmund Hillary and Rauld Amundsen looked so beaten up: YES I KNOW it’s not a straight comparison, but what I lack in penguins, I make up for in Eddies.

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So when we landed in Santiago feeling not-that-shit I thought we’d finally nailed this travelling lark. Get us and our twelve hours on a plane breeze. We jumped in a van, got driven to Valparaíso (believe me, they pronounce the accent like their lives depend on it) and found ourselves in the totally cool old Palacio Astoreca overlooking the port with it’s causeway of containers.

And then THE CRASH. I was felled like a tree. About 5pm till 7pm, drooling, spread-eagled, not the faintest idea where I was, what time it was. The official line was that we had travelled across the IDL sometime in the middle of the night between January 30th and 31st and then, well, basically gone back the fuck in time by a whole day. Which meant that we were now 3 hours behind GMT rather than 13 hours ahead… so, 16 hours behind New Zealand. Aye caramba. My head hurts just typing it.

But a rumbling stomach accomplished what my raddled old frame could not, and dragged me out for dinner, a few streets away. And what streets! Almost every wall in the old quarter near the docks is brightly muralled. Even the verticals of the steps are striped like Refreshers. Valparaíso (go HARD on that accent) has had a rebirth as the educational, artistic & cultural capital of Chile and the official line is that Graffiti is Great as long as it’s Good (tagging is still illegal and large scale murals need permission in advance). Why don’t more cities do this?

Throughout the 1800 and 1900s, Valparaíso dominated the Pacific coastline as the place to bring goods into South America and Chile’s main naval port. This all came crashing down in 1914 when the Panama Canal was opened: in the space of a month, Valparaíso went from ‘The Jewel of the Pacific’ to ‘A Big Pile of Boxes That Smell of Dead Fish’ (think Grimsby with more noodly guitars). Artists love a city on it’s uppers (not least because they can at last afford an apartment) so they moved in and started decorating. Art saved this city and it wants you to know about it.

The other people that saved it, though, were tourists and their filthy lucre and that includes their filthy kids. More so than most places we’ve been, it seems that Chileans like childreans, which is fortunate. It being Eddie’s birthday on February 2nd, a chunk of sightseeing time was spent winding our sweet way to Viña del Mar, a sort of swanky satellite resort connected to Valparaíso in the North, full of apartments, beaches (yadda yadda) and a sizeable Lego Store (yey). They even have a real live Transformer and that tree off Guardians of the Galaxy.

I like Valparaíso: it’s a chilled, interesting place. The trolley-buses stop wherever you stick your thumb out and the chaps guarding the government buildings don’t mind getting flash mobbed for a selfie.

I’ve been doing my bit to support the economy by spending my filthy lucre on Pisco Sours. Dry January was almost at an end and to toast the success of those that actually did it, I have embarked on an exhaustive survey of one of Latin America’s most lethal tipples.

I’m happy to report that the double-distilled Pisco we had in the restaurant on our second night is a clear front runner. In fact it was so good that when the SuperBloodRedBlueEclipseWhateverTheHellItIsMoon came up across the bay, I got so excited I almost ran off the balcony.


Gaining a day is great when you gain it in Valparaíso. If you ever find yourself crossing the International Date Line, my advice to you would be not to try to explain it: just grab a drink and accept that – like Morris Dancing and the plot of Inception –  some things are best left a mystery.

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