Cut throat running in Valparaiso, Chile

It seems that running in Valparaiso can be quite dangerous, but I didn't know that when I first set out for my run.

The city of Valparaiso is situated at the bottom of a steep hillside. Chile's largest port lines the harbor. In the distance Chile's main naval base is visible. Destroyers and a tall ship dock there.

Valparaiso has a bohemian reputation, in marked contrast to business-minded Santiago which lies a two and-a-half hour bus trip inland.

Since I love to run up a good hill, Valparaiso appeared to be an ideal city for running. In the mid afternoon on a Sunday, I took off for a run up the hill behind my guest house.

The road went straight up the hill at the maximum possible angle for vehicles. Now and again a bus passed me.

I was worried that if the breaks on any of the passing vehicles failed, I might be in trouble. Anyway, that was not what I should have been most worried about, apparently.

Block after block, I ran up, up, up the hill. I ran past ordinary looking houses, not terribly big, but well kept.

Finally, I was perhaps thirty blocks above the harbor -- an elevation of perhaps three hundred meters (photo at right).

The straight road I had followed up from my hotel turned into a fork.

First, I took the right fork -- clearly the road less traveled of the two. The road followed the hillside around a steep ravine (photo at left). Homes along this road were more shack-like in appearance than many other houses I had passed. But even here there were cars parked along the street. People in this neighborhood might not be able to afford big homes, but they seemed to own cars. The area wasn't rich, but it didn't look desperately poor.

In South America, the more impoverished people tend to live higher above the cities. For example, in La Paz, Bolivia, it makes sense that the more expensive dwellings would be at lower elevations. That's because the city is at such a high altitude that breathing can be difficult -- at least for a visitor.

Some dogs barked at me. I passed a couple old men talking by the side of the road and said hello. Eventually I came to a dead-end of houses. More barking dogs. I turned around.

On my way back to the fork, a red pick up truck passed me. Young men were sitting in the back. I said hello. The men stared back. The car sped by quickly. Which was just as well. The guys in the truck did not seem very friendly.

I made it back to the fork (photo at right), and then took the road that went further up the hillside. That's when I came across a lady with two children.

The lady pointed up the hill. Then she pointed at me. I nodded. Then the lady pulled her arm back and -- her hand outstretched -- made slicing motion across her throat. From her throat came a guttural sound.

The lady had just had given me the universal "turn around" gesture. She seemed quite confident. I decided I was not about to find out whether or not the warning was warranted.

I followed the lady and her kids down the hillside. At one point on a steep staircase between a row of houses, the older girl stopped to pick some flowers.

When I arrived near to my hotel, a man standing on the side of the road said, "Hello! Where are you from?"

I told him.

"What are you doing?" he asked, puzzled by my running outfit.

"I was running."

"Where?"

"Up the hillside."

"Don't go any higher on the hill than this. It's not safe for you."

"Not even up that street?" I pointed where I had just come from, but I didn't bother to explain that I had already been up that way.

"Two more streets up is OK, but then it becomes dangerous."

I had just descended from about 20 blocks higher than that. I thanked the man for his advice.

* * * * *

Back at my guesthouse I met a distraught Frenchman named Antoine. He had been sightseeing on the other side of town where a mugger relieved him of his camera.

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