Little boxes

Written by Jane Harris No Gravatar

After a few days in Mendoza we decided it was time to move on.  The plan was to go to Cordoba in the North of Argentina.  Stu headed to the travel agent to book a couple of bus tickets and I headed to the supermarket to buy ingredients for a packed lunch. In general we spend a lot of time discussing what we are going to eat and this occasion had been no exception. We had agreed on bread rolls, a tin of tuna, apples, bananas and a few grapes.  On a whim however I’d left out the grapes and added instead two large tomatoes. I hoped Stu wouldn’t object too much to my last minute revision.

I shouldn’t have worried. He had made a revision of his own. He returned from the bus station clutching tickets, not to Cordoba, but to Valparaiso … in Chile. It meant leaving Argentina, not in a week as planned, but the very next day – taking a winding road west across the Andes.

Well, alright then.

The bus took us up to the Argentina/Chile border.  We and our fellow passengers were lined up behind two long plinths with our bags in front of us looking like contestants on ‘Deal or No Deal’.  A sniffer dog  then ran the length of the plinths, its nose alert for anything unacceptable. In a matter of seconds it was all over my luggage – barking in a frenzy of excitement.  The guard dragged me to the front and delving deep into my rucksack soon extracted a small plastic bag.  “Los tomates”, he declared victoriously. Tomatoes. Our lunch was confiscated.  Stu and I looked at each other accusingly – both considering the other to blame for this parlous state of affairs – before walking back to the bus.

We endured the remainder of the eight hour trip in near silence save the occasionally rumbling of Stuart’s stomach.  Eventually cacti clad slopes became vineyards and then the outskirts of a city.  And what a city it was.  I instantly fell in love with shabby Valparaiso, declaring that I planned to learn Spanish and spend at least six months of every year here.

The city is built around a port, with huge ships making countless freight containers look like so many little boxes. The brightly painted, corrugated-iron clad houses have the same appearance. They clinging to what seem to be the unfeasibly steep sides of the surrounding hills. There are colonial-style buildings too, nearer to the port, but they are mainly run down.  In many cases only the façade exists.  I suspect many were never fully repaired after an earthquake hit the city almost a hundred years ago. It is, to say the least, an area ripe for renovation.

We had thought the graffiti in Buenos Aires was quite something but it exists to a far greater degree in Valparaiso.  Apparently this is a very creative city. It also appears to also be a very sociable city.  In one square young couples practised tango. In another moustachioed men played chess. Everywhere we went we were asked whether we needed help finding our way.

Whilst walking around such a city would usually be a joy, the steep slopes make it somewhat difficult. Stairways lead from the bottom to the top of each hill. Even so, it can be hard going and the number of layers of clothing required at any one time is very much dependent on the direction of travel. Thankfully help is at hand in the form of several old funicular railways  or ‘ascensores’ costing just a few pence to use.

A full 24 hours after leaving Argentina we finally got our lunch.  We found ourselves in a small café in one of the older parts of the city. We ordered a drink and a salad (yes, with tomatoes) and were soon chatting with a fellow traveller sitting at a nearby table – a French designer who has spent the last few years living in London.  She had left the UK in order to see more of the world, to replenish her spirits and  consider her options.  Maybe she will continue to live in London, or maybe not. Maybe she will continue a career in commercial design, or maybe she will pursue other artistic interests.  Our reasons for travelling are similar. So, as we sat and watched the sun going down over so many little boxes, we raised a cup of coffee to the alternatives before us and celebrated the freedom to change one’s mind.

3 Responses to “Little boxes”

  1. SarahNo Gravatar says:

    Laughed out loud when I read this – I can just imagine the scene at the bus station!! Great photos. xx

  2. SusieNo Gravatar says:

    tomato traffiking….the shame!

  3. SimonNo Gravatar says:

    Of course it wasn’t the embarassment that Stuart was sulking about, more that he had not factored tomatoes in to the food budget and was wondering when he might sneak away and update his spreadsheet

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