Monday, August 23, 2010

La Serena

To see a map of where we went.

Start of the trip with a 6 hour bus to Santiago, slept at a friend's house. Next day up and at them? we jump on another bus to La Serena. Spend all 6 hours completely alone on a big bus watching Stephen Segaul movies sometimes dubbed, sometimes not. Either way it was weird to have to come to Chile to be forced to watch the seagull.
The bus ride was long but the scenery was pretty, lots of cacti big and strong, San Pedros if I'm not mistaken. The kind you eat to start another type of trip, so I felt like it was fitting. Big hills like the ones you see when you drive into central Cali start to appear and then they just get bigger drier and steeper. Ending up in the land of valleys. Finally we get to La Serena and take a cab literally 2 blocks to our hostal-the guy said it was close.
Hostal was cool if not a little weird, the public computer was right outside our window, making it a point of constant traffic. An older Chilean guy working on his thesis sat in the lounge alone under the stars putting his head in his hands. I sat next to him and tried to figure out what we were doing the next day. I started up a conversation, he told me he was working on risk management but one day he hoped to travel to Australia to become an oceanic geographer. I asked him what kind of questions he asked people and what responses they gave. One of them was whether people felt they were prepared more than the average person for a tidal wave. Most people would say yes and then say they didn't know.
After talking to the guy for a little while we went to 900, a restaurant of meat. We ordered the plate of meat and before long 1 sausage, 1 blood sausage, 1 porkchop, 1 steak, one piece of chicken, 1.5 potatoes, 1 Chilean salad(tomatoes and onions), and 1/2 bottle of wine arrived per person. We sat there staring at the big pit of meat, which was suspended over roasting coals on our table. Then we started to eat.
After about 2 hours, drunk with meat and wine we walked back to the hostal and passed out.
We woke up to a lady screaming repeatedly- turned out to be a seagull.
Next day we woke up and ate breakfast. We shared a table with a swiss couple and talked about what they were doing and what we thought we might do. They seemed a little disappointed at the price of it all. So did we.
We decided to leave la Serena and go camping.
2.5 hours later we arrived in pisco elqui. The tiny little town filled with hostals and tourists during the summer. Now it being the winter there was little more than farmers and artisans selling pisco and crafts to the slow traffic of people coming through. On the bus an Australian man, Tom, asked if we knew when to get off for Pisco Elqui. He didn't speak any spanish.
Finally we got off and walked down a little dirt road to a refugio one of the men from the pueblo told me about and we set up camp next to a little river-covered by trees. Across from us lay the pisco fields. Then we walked back up to the mistral restaurant(the more famous high price pisco) where we greeted with heavy prices and weak english. Tom saw some people he knew. We sat with them and after about three minutes we didn't talk to them. We ordered some pisco sours and empanadas and sat back talking a little bit.
Tom said he used to be a business professional and quit his job a few months back-bought a world ticket, something like 20 flights for 3,000 and had been traveling around the world since. Some how he had gotten throughout South America knowing almost no spanish and having a tendency to get drunk everywhere.
He told us a lot of crazy stories about ex pats across South America and mannequins. We finished up and he jumped on a bus. I didn't know whether his stories were lies or not, some seemed pretty crazy. But I guess it doesn't matter, we only knew him for an hour or so and that is probably in all likeliness the extent of our relationship till death. So, who cares? It was a chuckle or two for free.
We decided to walk around town for a little while. We went up the hill popping into little artesanal tiendas. Bee wax face cream, pisco from the nichos pisquería marked up to triple the price.
We ended up in one store that had a hippy from chile and a world wanderer from germany. We talked for a long time about chile and the weirdness that it is. We talked about where to go and what to do. We talked about the goverment and the food, the rodeo and ponchos.
After that we went to a restaurant that claimed to have traditional food and paid double what anything was worth and sat in complete privacy in a big open tiki hut like structure.
This was a tourist town, and we were not in the tourist season. Things were open only as long as they had to be and after we left they locked the doors.
We went back to camp and took a few pictures of the night sky, amazing by the way.
Next morning we woke up to roosters and dogs barking, and decided to go explore. We walked to the nichos pisquería a few miles down the road and took the tour, drank some pisco, and left. It was a very cool little place, making only 4,000 bottles a year. Once again we were the only ones there up until when we left, when a bunch of wealthy older chileans came in confused that they were not at the mistral pisquería. They took the tour anyways.
We left and walked down the road a couple miles, and decided to eat lunch at a hotel/resort thing along the way. Once again we were hit with heavy prices but no english this time.
We had to leave the next day early in the morning so we decided to go back to serena that night. The bus ride passed quickly and was a nice ride, a lot of people from the villages/pueblos along the way hopped on. It was good people watching.
Later we ended up the only ones in a really cool hostel with white sand for floors in part of it and japanese art on the walls. We went out to eat, bought some ice cream, and came back to sleep it all off.
The next day in the morning we hopped on a bus to Santiago. When we got there, no one was home yet so we decided to eat a snack at a restaurant around the corner that just turned out to be some sort of revolutionary school/cultural center.
It was the woman's birthday that we were staying with. So we went for happy hour at a club around the corner. I drank mojitos and Hunter drank her now ever common terremoto. Having paused eating anything substantial because we thought there would be dinner involved with this birthday, we got really buzzed, really quickly. Their happy hour is two drinks for the price of one, and everyone orders their own two drinks. And unlike America where you get a cup full of ice with coke and a splash of rum-in Chile you get a cup full of rum with some ice and a splash of coke.
Feeling quite loopy and hungry we left the club and walked around to find something to eat, and of course the only mexican food around we happened upon was our choice. Which turned out to be a pretty good one. Cheap and not bad considering the location on earth. Although we could tell the guy was getting annoyed when he had to keep giving us more chile/salsa/tomato sauce.
Then we went back to the apartment and stayed awake for 30 minutes having very loose conversations with drunk people before giving up and going to bed.
Next day we woke up and walked around for 7 hours. We ate Indian food and went to a chinese market-finally providing me with some siracha. Then we realized we were locked out and no one was home. After repeated unanswered phone calls we gave up and decided to walk to the plaza brazil around the corner.
There we ordered a pitcher of artisan beer that was some of the better beer I have had since being here-Chile has some pretty awful beer. A platter de España was ordered and we sat watching the drama of the park across the way. Homeless people fighting, dogs trying to steal food, children playing, and drunk teenagers all co-existing just benches apart with out much interaction between them.
We walked back after a few hours and were relieved to find someone home. After that we argued for 30 minutes or so as to whether we really wanted to go to this one restaurant called las tejas because we'd have to go with our luggage and we'd have to take two cabs. We decided to go and it turned out to be closed. So this guy who was sitting outside of a bar next to it said we should go around the corner to a restaurant that was a hide out for revolutionaries back in the pinochet era. You used to have to say a password to get in.
We walked into the little tiny place that had no windows and looked almost like a delicatessen form the street. Once we walked in a little old man wearing a butcher apron with one eye closed looked us up and down and asked if we had a reservation. We said no, and he asked us where we from. We told him and then said that a bunch of people had recommended this place as being the place to go for chilean food. And that if he had a table that'd be great. He said usually he doesn't take people unless they call 18 hours ahead of time, but maybe he'd make an exception. I still think thats a weird time requirement.....I could see 24, but 18?
He decided to let us stay and told us to wait for a table to be cleared.
While we were waiting a drunk guy came up and said, "hey do you mind if we have a conversation?"
We said "no, of course not."
He said he was an english teacher and wanted to practice and then he said that he and everyone else in Chile hated us, well not us personally but the US. Then he introduced us to his friend who he said we wouldn't like because he was a communist and he wanted to overthrow the US government. Which I agreed with but thought was funny that a middle aged man with braces and a pony tail could be capable of such acts.
We got a table and sat down, there were cards on all the walls of people that had come through including some photos of naked people for some reason and revolutionary sayings that were painted in big red and blue bubbles. In the bathroom people added to the sayings, saying sorry to their girlfriends because they were leaving them for the meat platter.
Then the meat arrived, blood sausage, sausage, ribs, a pig leg, was ridiculous and not for a lack of trying we barely ate any of it. It was not quite the gigantic or meat filled meal either of us had envisioned and I don't think we were really quite braced for it.
During the meal the old guy got on the loudspeaker and said some stuff about chile's independence and then played a folk song that everyone knew in the restaurant at full volume.
Then the first drunk guy got on and said fuck Bush and the US government-obviously for our benefit, and then told everyone to drink some more white wine.
We went straight from the restaurant to the bus station and made it there just in time. We traveled all night and arrived back in conci very early in the morning. With a new little chinese friend along the way. She didn't know too much english and no spanish and didn't know where concepcion was or when to get seems there would be so many lost tourists with out us.
When I walked out of the bus station a drunk homeless man walked up to me with a horrifically bleeding eye that made me think maybe zombies had finally attacked and I was in Chile for it. All my potential strategies felt suddenly ruined. I asked a waiting taxi for a ride and what happened, he said the guy fell...they always say they just fell right?
We split a cab to our apartment and then showed the chinese girl where to find a hostal, she took our picture and then left.
We took a shower and watched the end of clueless which is called ni idea in spanish. And then went to bed. Woke up went to the feria, got some vegetables, went to the market for chicken, made roasted chicken and mashed potatoes then used the white wine chicken stock left over to make potato and leek was delicious.


  1. And the leek and potato soup had green chili in it. So we fed some to our French roommate Yann. It was hilarious! Before he even took a bite he was holding the spoon up to his mouth and started coughing un-controllably due to the fumes of the green chili. A few bites in, he got up to get some water, a few more bites he added some cheese, and was huffing and puffing the rest of the meal.
    It's priceless to watch a virgin green chili eater!

  2. What a wonderful story...great images. Are u keeping a notebook?

  3. great story! I read just now for the second time. I had some problem posting after you originally posted it. I picked up a little more on the second read. Viva la revolution! Crazy. be careful. I want to see you again.