“There’s a couple things you need to know about Valpo,” a friend said the other night, after we found ourselves whining about the city over glasses of wine. She’s lived here for years, and to boot is Chilean, so that gives her a certain correctness in complaining about the place, a respectability that I am unable to achieve as a freshly-minted ex-pat.
“They cut off the water,” she said, “and the garbage workers go on strike.”
Both of these ‘Valpo Highlights’ have been common occurrences lately. It started with the water. A couple weeks ago, I get a friendly message from a Chilean friend saying, “HEY. They’re going to cut off the water today at 6pm! It’ll be back the next day at 6pm. Make sure you save water! Besitos!”
[insert lengthy pause here]
I’m sorry, what? The water will be gone? Who is doing this? The city can’t CUT OFF the water. That’s impossible! 24 hours without water, for an entire city? Valpo, are you nuts?
She was right. Come evening time, all faucets had been reduced to a sorry sputtering drizzle of droplets and then…nothing. The water was gone! Seriously, Valpo??? And without even informing your citizens!
The water came back around the next day as scheduled. But then, a week later, IT HAPPENED AGAIN. The same Chilean friend warned me in enough time for me and my roommates to get showers and stow plenty of water for coffee-making, pasta boiling and more. We’re 5 people in this house now, so it’s more critical to know in advance.
But wait, readers! There’s more.
Valparaiso is known for being rather dirty. Some describe it as ‘filthy.’ I would instead say it has a gritty charm. Sure, there are scrapes of dog poop on every street, the understandable clash between pedestrians and the enormous amount of stray dogs in the city. Wisps of plastic and paper float through the streets at all times, every day. Certain corners reek of urine, I won’t lie.
BUT IT’S VALPO! Half of it’s charm lay in the aura of port-city disrepair.
Garbage disposal is a bit different here. In fact, there’s a system that I still scarcely understand, seemingly composed mostly of word-of-mouth and blind faith. I will attempt to explain the system to the best of my ability, but please be aware that aspects of this may be wildly inaccurate.
For starter’s, you don’t need to call a trash company and pay for service, because there just IS trash service in Valpo. On certain nights, you must leave all of your trash on your front stoop (or at a designated point outside your building if you live in a place with multiple houses/apartments). But not EVERY night, because they only come certain nights, and this information is only available by asking your neighbors. When you wake up, the trash will be gone. People appear in the night to whisk it away, though I’m still not sure if this is accomplished via truck pickup, hired roaming hobos, wild packs of dogs, or obliteration via laser from some of those warships sitting in the harbor.
At any rate, the trash disappears. Usually.
Because sometimes the garbage pickup workers (or hobos, or dogs, or laser beams) go on strike. Which means that all of that unsightly trash you left on your stoop at night will still be there in the morning. And then it bakes all day in the sun. And then the dogs come and poke around. And then one of them finds a hole and steals all of the remains from your asado the other night, leaving a trail of asado scraps and other awkward things you threw away knowing nobody would ever see but is suddenly on display for a quarter mile outside of your house. Like those To-Do lists proclaiming a need for rugs, tampons and soy milk, and other notes to self like “FINISH THE NEW WEBSITE ALREADY”.
Garbage workers striking in Valpo is an annoyance itself, but what it does to the city is heinous. This week, they went on strike for maybe the second time since I’ve lived here. I noticed this only because during my noon-time walk through the city center, there were far more stacks and piles and crumbling pyramids of trash bags than in common. Usually, there are none — during the day. Night time is different, since that’s when everyone telepathically decides to toss, which makes for a striking visual difference depending on when you arrive to Valpo for the first time. Your first impression will be either gritty charm (prior to 8pm) or chaotic, heathen decadence (after 8pm).
The piles of trash lasted for a couple days, and then, governed by the same mystical forces that dictate the water shut off, everything was gone and clean this morning. Including all of my panicked To-Do lists and notes to self.
I’m happy to have water again, and a clean(ish) front stoop. I still don’t know when the garbage workers come — it doesn’t help that when I ask Jorge, who is the Bearer of Garbage Knowledge for this household, he responds “Monday, Wednesday, Saturday…no, no, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday. No wait….Monday, Thursday, Saturday” — but I remain strong in my faith that when I leave my tidy plastic bag of sundry trash on my front stoop, it will eventually disappear, whether by force of stray dogs or mysterious garbage workers that materialize during the night.