Valparaiso was one of those places I had never heard about before getting to South America, but once I heard about it, I immediately decided I would visit. As I said before, I found Chile to be a bit too conventional for my tastes - too clean, too organized, too-not-what-I-imagined-it-would-be. Everyone told me that Valparaiso was completely different from the rest of Chile - it was an artsy place, where people wore bold colors and dared to different in all kinds of ways. I quickly added it to my itinerary.
I planned to take a 4:15pm bus to Valparaiso from Santiago. It was only an hour away by bus. I got to the train station, bought my ticket and the girl at the ticket counter, had a pretty bad handwriting. She wrote my bus would leave from platform 7....or so I thought. I waited and waited and finally at 4:30 I went to the booth to find out why my bus was delayed - only to find out my bus had left from platform 1. She told me I would have to buy another ticket or try my luck talking to a bus driver for the next bus - I tried my luck and was luckily able to get on the next bus without any additional charges. I had slowly been picking up enough Spanish in Bolivia to survive, have basic conversations etc, but I realized that I could barely understand anyone in Chile - they speak really fast and have a different accent.
When I got off the bus to Valparaiso, I was directed to another bus that would get me close to the hostel I was to stay at. My hostel was on top of a proper hill. Valparaiso is very hilly and there are old school elevators linking lower parts of the town to upper parts. The bus driver assured me that I would be at my hostel shortly when I hopped on the bus. Half an hour later, we had been driving and driving and driving - dropping people off and still no sign of my hostel. Another half hour later I was now the only person remaining on the bus and I started to panic. Of course I had no idea where we were. I kept on asking the driver if he was still going to get me to my hostel and in his rapid fire Spanish, I think he said something like, "The moon is wearing a purple dress." With this assurance I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the view. My anxiety came back when we got to a bus parking lot - not quite different from bus station in Nairobi except for the fact that it was deserted. I remember thinking of what I could use as a weapon in my bag because by now I was beginning to think I was getting kidnapped.
The driver got off the bus and came back with a broom and started cleaning the bus, "Cough! Cough! Ahem! I am still here." His response, "Yes the sun shines a brilliant blue." After this he proceeded to count coins. He then sat down, read a newspaper for 15 minutes and finally started the bus after that. In another 10 minutes I was close to my hostel. I was able to get a cab from the bottom of the hill. I was in no mood to lug my backpack up a hill for half an hour. I still have no clue why the driver took me around on a sort of not so joyful joyride.
I got to my hostel, rang the bell and a barefoot Indian guy with a British accent and long dreadlocks came and opened the door. I immediately knew I would like this town. It just seemed like a very chill place. He directed me next door where he told me I could buy some yummy empanadas (meat pies) for dinner. I went there, bought some food and drinks and came back to the hostel. It was such a happy place. I went to the lounge, ended up meeting lots of friendly people and we shared drinks and talked till the wee hours of the morning.
One particularly fascinating conversation was about ayahuasca. I had seen a documentary about this crazy natural hallucinogen that is used by healers in parts of the Amazon forest to give them visions that enable them to cure sick people. One of the tourists in our midst told us how he had spent a few months living with a tribe in Ecuador in a forest and that he had used ayahuasca to "become one with humanity", "open my mind" etc. I sipped on my beer and thought to myself, "Some people are just from a different planet."