December 31, 2011: Feliz Año Nuevo!

Happy New Year’s Eve, my friends and family.

As I’ve mentioned before, New Year’s Eve is a huge tourist draw for Valparaíso, with thousands of people coming to the city just for one night. Hostels can charge several times their normal nightly rate, and people overrun the streets. My own little B&B was completely filled, with V. even adding an extra bed to one of the rooms to accommodate all the guests.

I had no particular plans of my own for the night. V. had told me that there was a spot five minutes’ walk away with fewer people and a good view of the fireworks, so I figured I would just wander over there at midnight to see the fireworks. When midnight approached, some of the other guests asked if I’d like to go with them to the vista point, and I cheerfully agreed. We headed up our stairs and then hiked down our tiny street, to a sharp curve in the road enclosed by a low railing, from which we could see all of the bay. There was already a small crowd there: some just chatting, others with tables of food laid out, and others shooting off giant confetti cannons and bottles of spray-foam.

I was hoping to get a photo of the falling confetti. It seems I succeeded too well.

My compañeros graciously gave me a feathery paper mask and a cup of champagne, and we took a few photos as we waited for midnight. The air was full of the shouts of happy people: several false countdowns (“Cuatro! Tres! Dos! Uno! Wooo!” “No, no!”) and a variety of loud declarations of love for Chile (including the one chant I already knew, to my pride: “Chi chi chi! Le le le! Viva Chile!”). All over the sky, red-purple rockets shot up and then descended like drunken comets into the city. It was a little alarming to watch them, still smoldering, fall into a city built largely of wood, but that’s what New Year’s Eve is for, eh?

A parked car covered in fallen confetti and glitter.

When midnight finally arrived (by general consensus), the fuegos artificiales (fireworks) started over the ocean. Since there were two or three rows of people between us and the railing, we could see the show decently, but it was challenging to take pictures — it required lifting the camera high above my head with a long exposure, so most of my results were somewhat blurry. I also took a handful of videos, which I shall aim to process and put in tomorrow’s post.

A shaky attempt at firework photography, but interesting nonetheless.

The fireworks illuminated the clouds with yellow and red and violet, and matched the crowd’s boisterous cries with thunderings and bangs. I wasn’t actually sure how many different fireworks shows we could see from our vantage point, but I think we were watching at least two different ones concurrently. During the grand finale, there were several minutes of ceaseless booming and silver crackling, alongside the colored fireworks. It was a grand and increíble display.

Fireworks and their reflections on the ocean. (My favorite.)

After the fireworks, my compañeros kindly asked whether I’d like to go to see some live music with them en el centro. I still had plenty of energy, so I agreed. We stopped at the house for a moment, where one of them offered me a red plastic bowler hat with a mane of red tinsel hanging down the back, which I wore all night. Then, we walked down into the packed city center. Even though most of our group were chilenos, this was their first time in Valparaíso, so, oddly enough, I ended up being the guide, since I knew more of the city than they did.

We wove through crowds of excited young folk, many sporting tinsel antennae or wigs. Finally, we arrived at Plaza Sotomayor, where there was a looming stage set up with some semi-famous Chilean group performing. The stage was hung with banners: “Valparaíso, Donde se Abraza Chile” (“Valparaíso, where we embrace Chile,” more or less). I had thought that the streets were insanely crowded, but this was even more so: the entire giant plaza was packed with people, shoulder-to-shoulder, crammed together and swaying enthusiastically to the band.

We stayed there for several hours, enjoying the music, and then fought our way through the streets again to head back to our lodging. When we reached Plaza Anibal Pinto, the concept of “streets” had largely ceased to exist: the solid mass of people on the sidewalks here had grown too large for the sidewalks alone, and had blithely claimed the street. As we passed, a police car drove slowly through the street, at a rate of three inches per minute, blaring its sirens and waiting for the street-crowd to part just long enough for it to edge through. I saw a few bottles being thrown at the roof of the police car, which didn’t seem to faze the officer, but I was nonetheless glad to hasten on our way.

We reached V.’s, and spent some time in the living room, sharing my generous compañeros‘ leftover snacks, and chatting. When someone noticed that it was already 5am, I bid everyone goodnight and went to bed, covered in confetti but having had a much more fun night than I had anticipated.

3 thoughts on “December 31, 2011: Feliz Año Nuevo!

  1. I loved this posting. Lots of fun details. I’m SO happy the night worked out. It sounds much better than anything you might have planned: wisdom I believe you might have heard before. How wonderful that your B&B-mates were so generous of spirit and I’m sure they were happy at the result: having you with them. They sound fun. I’m glad you didn’t get trampled or hit with a bottle.

    So much of your entry parallels what happened in my evening only a few thousand miles above you in the same time zone, down to the red bowler hat (mine has stars), flood of people to the area, bomberos or whatever they call them (though I think a bombero is a fireman, right?). Except I was in a more pastoral setting, or at least not in a big city.

    I’m still sad about the kitten. I liked the confetti picture and loved the caption. Thanks for writing! I gotta go to sleep now. Early morning tomorrow. Going to San Pedro, San Whosie and San Whatzit, and then back to Antigua. xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo and HAPPY 2012!

    1. They were lovely. I was glad of it. I am likewise glad I didn’t get trampled &c.

      I suspect we had greater crowds, based on your blog-pictures — I didn’t get pictures of the crowds down in the plazas, but it was consistently shoulder-to-shoulder. I LOVE that we both had red bowler hats. I’m gonna try to bring mine home. Will you?

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