High up on a hill, up steep staircases daubed with art, past hidden doorways and wooden-shuttered windows, around the corner and up again, you’ll find a large square lit with buttery lamp light and dotted with palm trees. Down from the square, over the shadows of the higgledy-piggledy streets beneath, the inky Pacific ocean stretches out lazily into the immense night. We stood, our heads fuzzy with Pisco and our bodies still warmed by the heat of the day. I remember my hair smelling like charcoal from the barbecue earlier. We were milling in groups, talking, laughing, swigging strong drinks from plastic bottles. We were lost in the ceremony of the evening. And then, with an explosive pop-pop-bang, a million multi-coloured sparks burst into the sky. 2017 had arrived. We turned our gaze upwards, our eyes slow with wine, and cheered the year that had past and the year to come.
This night marked the halfway point of my trip, the crease in the middle of my timeline. I wanted to celebrate it somewhere memorable and, despite warnings that ‘Valpo’ would be a hot, expensive, mess of a weekend, I booked my ticket and headed out.
Valparaiso is around two hours out of Santiago. It sits in the coast and is an important port for the city, and indeed Chile in general. Sprawling abruptly upwards from the sea, the historic part of the town nestles around a series of jutting staircases and narrow cobbled streets. Everywhere you look, there is a view to stop you in your tracks: a wall covered in vivid, vibrant street art, or a gap in the buildings that reveals an iron-wrought balcony framing an ocean view.
Every year, a million people descend on the city to welcome the New Year. They come to fill their stomachs with seafood, to drink beer around tiny wooden tables at hole-in-the-wall bars, and to watch as miles and miles of coastline is lit in a thousand shades of light.
It was hectic. Taxis were non-existent. The buses were so crowded that we were hanging out of open doors as they careered along busy roads. The shops warned of dwindling supplies and a siege mentality overtook the city. Vast swathes of the streets disappeared under a blanket of litter. McDonalds resembled a moshpit. But as the blurred photos and hazy memories will attest: it was the perfect send-off for an unforgettable year.