There is one thing in particular that makes Chile feel a little more Christmassy for me: there’s a type of Euphorbia tree growing all over the town, and they have all just burst into bloom, which revealed them to be poinsettia trees! I’m not sure if they’re the same species, but they must be at least closely related. I’m neutral about the usual scrawny Christmas potted poinsettias, but these wild red trees are entrancing — and seasonal.
Now that I no longer have Spanish classes to get me moving, I’m implementing a new strategy for my days in Valparaíso. It’s called Go Out and Do Something Mildly Interesting Every Damn Day. Today, I decided to go ride an ascensor. Specifically, I wanted to ride the ascensor that I had spent many a weary hour in my Spanish classes surreptitiously watching out our schoolroom window: Ascensor Artillería.
In case you were wondering, ascensors are also known as funiculars, and are a type of cable railway. They consist of two cars attached to each other by a cable, and they run on parallel rails up or down a steep slope: one goes up as the other goes down, serving as counterbalances. It’s like a strange combination of a train, an elevator, and a pulley… or something.
I entered through a small foyer, and climbed into the waiting ascensor car, which was rectangular and wooden, with some windows glassed and others open to the wind. After a few moments, the ascensor attendant closed two sets of doors behind me (like they do with old-fashioned elevators), and after a single lurch, we started rattling up the hill. We had a nice perspective of the more port-industry-esque part of the bay.
At the top of the ascensor, I discovered a small plaza, with one side facing the ocean and the other abutting a series of grand navy buildings. The ocean-side of the plaza was punctuated by viewing platforms and telescopes to look at the ocean, as well as benches shaded by jacaranda trees. There was also a row of small shops, selling souvenirs and elegant crafts. I browsed for gifts, and — bad girl that I am — picked up a lapis lazuli bracelet for myself, and a handful of useful gifts. I think this is another of my new favorite Valpo places: I’d love to bring a book and a coffee up here sometime.
I wandered a bit further into the hilltop streets, peering through the gates of a giant navy command building. There was also a Naval Museum nearby somewhere, but it was closed.
I ambled down a dirt-road byway for a different view of the ocean. As I started to walk back up, two women came by, carrying a large glass-fronted cabinet between them. I stepped aside to let them pass and, after a moment, asked, “Quieres un mano?” (“Want a hand?”). They agreed cheerfully, and I grabbed the middle of the cabinet and helped them heft it down the rest of the hill, through a gate, into an apartment building, and up two sets of narrow stairs. Then, we walked back to the main street. I started to wave goodbye, but one of them asked me to wait for a moment, ran inside the building they’d come from, and returned with three foil-wrapped artisanal chocolates for me. Every now and then, you stumble across one of those perfectly-molded moments that makes you feel all squishy and optimistic about humanity and community. This was one such moment.
Still smiling a little, I walked back to the ascensor and rode it down. I strolled back across town and hiked up my hill, just before it began to get dark.
Would you like to ride on an ascensor too? I am very silly, and made a video of the ascensor descent: