Thursday, June 18, 2015 Valparaiso, Chile UNESCO-listed Valparaiso must rate as one of the world's most unusual cities. Back in the day, this was the leading merchant point along Cape Horn and the Pacific Ocean routes. Today it is still a very significant container port and cruise ship stop off, but its contemporary fame is largely related to its many eccentric charms. The dockworkers, ladies of the night, and fishermen still frequent this strange urban creation but these days you are just as likely to meet artists, anarchists, Swedish backpackers and ever-so-slightly-pretentious-philosophers here.
It took us two hours to get here from Santiago and its good to escape to the coast and smell the salty sea breeze and feel the warmer air. Much of the architecture is stunning, often dating back to the end of the nineteenth century, while the more modern buildings are 1970s retro, many with the original signage. It's a 30-minute walk from the central station to Cerro Concepcion where we are staying for the night in a hostel on a steep cobbled street full of quirky bars and graffitied murals.
A quick pre-match walking tour takes us to the port - where two Chilean destroyers are resting up - past the attractive Plaza Sotomayor with its palatial Naval Command Building, and up into the famous hills above Valparaiso. The city has a total of 15 funicular, known as ascensores, but some have recently been decommissioned and instead we climb the steep Paseo Yugoslavo for our first elevated views of Valparaiso's crazy hotch-potch of nineteenth century town houses with their multi-coloured corrugated-iron facades. We find one classy old town house that has been turned into a restaurant. It boasts fantastic views of the port and the surrounding hills and also sells bottles of Chilean craft ales. Really, Valparaiso is quite unlike any other city I have been to.
We attempt to grab dinner in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant close by our hostel but with the ceiling fans caked in dirt, having clearly never been cleaned, we decide its best to swerve and find somewhere else food-poisoning-free and with beers. Valparaiso's football stadium is a couple of miles out of town, past the vast container port and along the coast. With the road up to the stadium gridlocked, our minibus driver pushes on another kilometre and drops us by a beach with the surf violently crashing on the rocks below.
Today's Peru v Venezuela game was the only match we all managed to get tickets for before flying out to Chile. It is fair to say, this is not the biggest match of the first round of Copa 2015, but we are all enjoying the pre-match buzz and bottles of Cristal and pisco sour.
Hannes is lucky not to get in trouble as a policeman grabs the bottle of beer he is rather conspiculously guzzling from, just outside the stadium, but i guess he realises he is just 'thirsty' and lets him off without a fine or arrest.
Our legitimate tickets aren't getting us into the 23,000-seater stadium. We know people were getting into previous games with fake tickets so this comes as a bit of a surprise; particularly after they scan our passports and refuse us entry.
By the time we sort out the ticket issue, it is just three minutes to kick off, and we grab some seats on the second row of the northern stand with a bunch of Venezuelan fans. We were expecting the Elias Figuero stadium to be half empty but it is probably 80% full as thousands of Peruvian fans have flocked to Valparaiso for this encounter.
It is a hard-fought stalemate until one of the Venezuelans picks up a red card and then it is backs-to-the-wall time from then on for the vino tintos. The majority of Venezuelans around us are apparently in exile from their homeland, affluent middle class people, who were constantly living in fear of their lives in the past year or two. "We couldn't even buy toilet paper or shampoo before we left. I couldn't go out anywhere without worrying i might get shot', one twenty-something lady tells us.
After Peru take a 1-0 lead there is no way back for Venezuela. Many of their fans are rather taken aback that five Europeans are here supporting them and joining in the Venezuelan chants. It is all a good craic but it is fair to say this hasn't been the best game of this year's Copa.
We walk back along the coast for the best part of an hour, back past the container port and jump into a 'restaurant' near home. I must say Chile is one of the worst places I've ever been to for meals. If you are a vegetarian, you can pretty much forget eating out. I mean, the most popular evening meal is meat sandwiches with very greasy chips. Beef and ham inside a big white bap, full of mayonaise. If you ask for a vegetarian option you get offered cheese and ham sandwiches. Actually, the smell of meat and grease in this restaurant is so pervasive - especially the mega plate of offal and chips, otherwise known as a Chorrillina, on the adjacent table - that I find it turns my stomach to such a degree that I have to run outside and throw up down an alleyway.
Thank God, we escape that carnivorous grease hole, and enjoy beers in an atmospheric jazz bar along our street. The interior is made out of a converted bus and there is live music. The lads are necking the famous local cocktail Teremoto. It is made from wine mixed with ice cream and God knows what else. It is the kind of drink that guarantees someone will wake up with a horse's head in their bed tomorrow morning so i wisely choose to stick to the Kuntsmann beer.
There's live acoustic music two doors down from the hostel in a bar about as big as someone's lounge. The bar is very cool, the music is excellent but as much fun as all this is, it is a little too much on the grungy side for my tastes. I can already see the Teremoto is sending one of our party over the edge as i spot him muttering to himself and trying to prop himself up against the wall. It is 3am. I think I will crash and leave them to consequences of their ice cream and wine cocktails.