While my study abroad program was based out of Valparaíso, I didn’t actually live within the city borders. Instead, I lived in the adjacent city: Viña del Mar. Whereas Valparaíso is a world heritage site layered in culture and art, Viña is a cosmopolitan beach town.
It’s a popular tourist destination in the summer for wealthy Argentinians and Chileans, has a giant mall that wouldn’t look out of place in the US, and has huge hotels that parallel the ocean. The people have a different feel than those from Valparaíso, and there’s definitely a sort of rivalry between the two cities.
For example, people from Viña like to say that people from Valpo are “flaite”, whereas people from Valpo call those in Viña “cuica”. Flaite doesn’t translate perfectly to English, but it more or less means “sketchy” or “ghetto”. Cuica translates to “spoiled” or “bratty”. Essentially, the words come down to differences in socio-economic status. Valpo is overwhelmingly liberal, takes great pride in its strong Chilean identity, and tends to have a lower standard of living. Viña is wealthier, much more conservative, and has the feel of a European city, rather than a Chilean one.
It’s a stark contrast. And, just listening to this description, you as a reader might think there’s a serious physical separation between the two cities. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The two cities are so intertwined that the actual border dividing them is just a random sign in the middle of a road. Here’s a visual representation of that divide. While this map doesn’t show it perfectly, the two cities literally collide with one another, and without the sign, I would have had no idea one where one began and the other ended:
The red marker is where my house was: more or less equidistance from the center of the two cities. While technically in Viña, I didn’t necessarily feel much more connected to Viña. After all, if I walked a short distance from my house, I was in Valpo (although walking to the city center took 45 minutes). I took classes in both cities, went out in both cities, had friends in living in both cities, and genuinely felt that neither would be the same without the other.
Admittedly, some of what I’ve written in this post seems rather incongruous. How can two cities be so clearly different and yet the line between them still be so blurry. I’m not sure there’s a perfect answer to that, and I think for me that was one of the most interesting things about my time there. How I could rectify the disparate yet someone unified communities? It’s why I spent so much time bouncing in between the two cities, rather than just staying in one of them – they both had their own perspective to provide about what it meant to live in Chile.