Chile is having a very difficult month.  At the start of the month there was the large earthquake affecting the north of the country and now the beautiful port city of Valparaiso, Chile’s bohemian cultural heart, is battling a fire that has left a death toll of 12, an estimated 2,500 destroyed homes and 11,000 evacuees. 

Over the last day or so, a letter penned by a Valparaiso resident, María Jose Blanco Contreras, has gone viral in social networks.  In the letter she takes aim at tourists.  My understanding is that it has been both lauded and lambasted.  Make up your own mind.  Here is my translation.


Do not worry Mr Tourist, La Sebastiana (poet Pablo Neruda’s Valparaiso residence, now a museum) is not burning.  The Prat Pier is protected as are the boutique cafes of Cerro Alegre (Valparaiso’s most attractive and touristic hill).  The bars in the port and the pubs on Cuming Street are still serving patrons, turning out drunks in the city with the highest rate of alcoholism in Chile.

The fireworks will look the same this year because the lovely lookouts are still intact.  The Barón Pier is far from the fire so the mall project is still underway.  Even the colourful houses have been saved, those that burn today are grey – the ones that aren’t on postcards.

Those that are running today are those who have always run.  They run every day to catch the bus, they run because they have no elevator (famous in Valparaiso as a means of transportation up and down the steep hills) on their hill, they run to arrive early at Van Buren (a Valparaiso public hospital) so that they can get a number.

Those who run today, with few possessions, are those who have the least to lose.  Do not worry Mr Tourist, the fire is far from the Grand Hotel Gervasoni.  Today the Peruvian tenement is burning, the houses that popped up like mushrooms in the hills.  The neighbourhoods that don’t appear on your map are burning, because on the maps everything ends at Alemania Avenue.

I have to say it:  it infuriates me to read that you are asking about the elevators   I do not understand why you are happy about the undamaged Victoria Square when 12 people have died, burnt to a crisp.

I do not understand you asking about Neruda’s house, when the house is of no use to you but those of 500 families are of great use to them.

You have another 38 hills to visit next summer but now there are 10,000 evacuees who have nowhere to go.  What good is heritage if there is no humanity?


Peter W Davies

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