Llanquihue in Chile’s los Lagos region to Valdivia is little more than a two-hour drive and it sort of mirrors the experience you might expect if you were to set off from a little village in the Cotswolds and end up in the centre of Birmingham. Possibly being a little unfair on Valdivia, but then my expectations were hijacked by a Chilean of German descent who described it as being “sehr schön”.
With its dilapidated buildings, obvious lack of public investment and poor infrastructure, it is not unlike many other Chilean cities away from the richer suburbs and, even if this might hold true for some Western European cities, it is the predominant malaise that extends to the town centre that accentuates the difference that you might find between a Burnley and Bath. In the main city square attempts to attract tourists give way to locals, sometimes employable and sometimes not, occupying benches, whiling away the time. With a bottle of booze, unmanageable debt, or nothing at all, it is “siempre mañana” for many.
The flight north and Valparaiso has brought a contrast. The poverty is still evident, but, even if, here and there, there are posher cafes and restaurants, this is a city of no illusions. But, then we should have no illusions too. The character is retained, there is an obvious left-wing culture, a proud working class, and a plethora of bars and cafes that cater to those who know how to have a good time within their means. However, the process of gentrification is underway and one wonders what the readily available flat white will really cost when it prevails in a couple of years time.
Still, perhaps, South America’s major port should be grateful. After all, unlike Valdivia, it will have the option of the flat white culture. Yes, maybe it is much of a muchness in this neo-liberal world of winners and losers. “Ten thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire”, and “yesterday’s paper, telling yesterday’s news”, but no flat white in the Valparaiso Cafe pictured above.