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Full Circle

Day 169: Valparaiso

Michael Palin - Full CircleAfter nearly two weeks poking about the islands, much of the time in rain and bitter cold, it's good to see warm sunshine and the open Pacific. Darwin must have felt the same when he reached Valparaiso almost to the day, one hundred and sixty two years ago. 'After Tierra del Fuego,' he wrote in his diary, 'the climate felt delicious... all nature seemed sparkling with life.'

Valparaiso is an attractive city. Big enough to have a presence but not weighed down with the heavy responsibilities of a capital. It spreads comfortably along wide hillsides around a capacious bay. There is an atmosphere of lively, run-down gentility to the place that reminds me of some of my favourite Pacific ports - Vladivostok, Qingdao, Wellington in New Zealand. The houses have colour and style with nice flourishes like turrets and wrought iron balconies and orange trees in the gardens. It's also a navy town and with a two-and-a-half-thousand-mile coastline to defend, Chile takes its navy seriously. British-built Leander class frigates and minesweepers stand out in the bay, the florid portals of the Armada de Chile's headquarters dominate one side of the Plaza Sotomayor and the equally exuberant monument to Chile's great naval hero, Arturo Prat, dominates the other. Chile's most commemorated naval action was the battle of Iquique in 1879. Prat's wooden hulled Esmerelda was rammed and sunk by the Peruvian ironclad Huascar, but he and his men boarded the Peruvian ship and fought to the death. They were defeated but you certainly wouldn't think so looking at this triumphant monument.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 169
  • Country/sea: Chile
  • Place: Valparaiso
  • Book page no: 226

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