Hegira to Valparaiso
“My cousin Roland Blas did the ancestry research and he didn’t find any record on him other than the name Don Jose Liberato Guerrero born in 1840 and must have immigrated from another country as a spanish soldier and settle on Guam and married a chamorro woman. Spanish records shows that on october 23, 1857 he sponsored a sailor from Val Paraiso City, Chile and settled in Hagatna, Guam. So there is really not much to go by. We don’t even have the name of the sailor he sponsored. It was assumed that he is from Val Paraiso just because of his sponsorship. Another assumption is maybe from spain as he was a spanish soldier. So don’t sweat it especially if the place is dangerous.”
My mom wrote this to me as I was considering my next move. I had heard from more than one person that the thieves were, well, thick in Valpo. One scam was a person would squirt mustard or water on a person, and while acting as if they were trying to clean or dry the person they would also be pickpocketing them as well. I heard this from more than one person. Facundo, in Frutillar, told me about a woman he met who had everything stolen from her, including her cellphone, purse, and backpack in Valparaiso. Ricardo, my host in Frutillar put it this way:
They have very high unemployment with all the young people there. And whenever that happens wherever that happens, crime follows as a result.
The stories had me rethinking my plan on going to Valpo, but Ricardo told me, ‘You must go. Your great great grandfather is from there. You can’t go to Chile and not go there.’
I know that the theft probably happened outside the tourist sections of town, and I heard that if you stay away from a certain side of town (north?) you’d be fine, but how was I to know what from what? After contemplating getting a bus on my own, among other plans, I decided to just join a tour.
I’ve always been a non-tour, non-cruise sort of person, but as far as sticking to the tourist areas and being with a group of people with a guide shepherding us all seemed like a good way to check out the city for the first time.
Vina Del Mar
The tour was split to 2 different places, Vina Del Mar, or “Vineyards facing the sea” — something like that — for the first part of the day, then Valparaiso the second.
Vina Del Mar is a big wine growing region of Chile, and our first stop of the day was a vineyard — and at 10 am I found myself drinking a sweet red, a sweet white, and a dry red. Samples, but still — sorta early in the day for that, right?
I made a stop in the restaurant inside the vineyard and discovered my old Buenos Aires breakfast food — medialunas, washed down with a nice cortado coffee!
We also visited this impressive rounded stadium, which also had some statues of Pablo Neruda at the entrance:
In fact Neruda was sort of a underlying theme to the whole thing, with photos, paintings, and tchockes galore being sold imprinted with his image. Chile is very proud of their native son, as they have a right to be. He is arguably the 20th Century’s most noted poet in the world. That he is also Chilean has to be a point of pride (and source of tourist revenue).
He is everywhere, and became a sort of stand-in for Don Jose Liberato Guerrero, the abuelo de mi abuelo de mi abuelo…
We also visited a place that had one of those sculpted torsos with the huge heads from Easter Island. And I thought, “Maybe I should go there?” But, as this Dutch person on the tour told me, who had travelled for a year and a half in her younger days, “You soon realize you just can’t go everywhere, and so you go where you can.”
We had Almuerzo (lunch) at the coastal restaurant in Vina Del Mar, and I was right: Chilean Sea Bass in Chile IS just called Sea Bass.
Valparaiso is hilly and picturesque, with paintings and colorful arty graffiti decorating the walls, and multiple houses tumbled together in bright colors befitting the seaside town of Pablo Neruda. Apparently he had 3 houses he owned, and one of them was a sort of museum that was part of the tour.
Walking the colorful art-filledstreets, I felt that I would have had no issues in Valpo — it is a city like other cities, with all the dangers and precautions one had to take in any city you find yourself in. And as a person who has travelled through New York, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, et al, I should not have been as concerned as I was.
But, like the venerable Mike Tyson said, ‘Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face.’
I knew that I would not find any information about Don Jose, but perhaps my photos of Valpo could assuage the searching hearts of my relatives, perhaps show parts of Valpo so that they may see what he might have seen, experienced a bit of what he might have experienced traversing the hills and streets full of art many decades ago.
I feel the spirit of Don Jose here, though. I feel a sort of kinship. What it must have taken for him to travel by ship to a tiny foreign island, marry a native there and start a family. And leave beautiful Valparaiso behind.
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Originally published at gripandclip.com on May 11, 2017.