Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Chile, Day 10

Valparaiso from a restaurant perch.

Today I traveled by bus from La Serena to Valparaiso. Since the bus was scheduled to leave at 11:35, I woke up at 8, took a shower, and headed a block away for breakfast to Café Colonial, which I knew opened up at 9 (nothing in town opens earlier than that, it seems).

I ordered the “house special breakfast” – homemade pancakes with syrup and cream – and a cup of coffee. It also came with orange juice.

This makes me slightly queasy just looking at it.

Now, before I say anything about the breakfast, let me just repeat something I’ve said previously about Chilean people in general – they like sugar. In a big way. And my breakfast this morning was insanely sweet. My orange juice was so sweet I could barely get it down, and my pancakes, as the photo shows, were not only drowning in syrup, but also made with an insane amount of sugar and then topped with whipped cream. I ate my pancakes – except for maybe two bites at the end – because I didn’t want to waste the food, but it was too much for me. It was also a huge amount of food, and I didn’t get hungry again until around three p.m. or later. Still, the café is rather charming and the women running it were patient with my terrible Spanish. I’d go back there if I had the opportunity, but I’d definitely go with eggs next time.

Café Colonial is at Balmaceda 475. Tel: 543-158. Hours: Monday - Saturday, 9 a.m. - late at night.

From there I returned to my hotel, checked out, then grabbed a taxi to the bus terminal. Unfortunately, the bus was an hour late leaving, and then it broke down in Viña del Mar and the bus drivers weren’t sure how to get us all the way to our destination. But they pulled through, and I arrived at around 7:30 p.m. in Valparaiso.

I sat on the wrong side of the bus for 8 hours. But when the person sitting next to me got up I took a couple of quick snaps.

About two hours north of Valparaiso.

By the time I checked into my hostel it was already 8 p.m. The owner was kind enough to have prepared a map for me full of various bits of information I’d need to know, and helped me find someone to take me on a tour of some local wineries on the weekend. She showed me around the hostel, which is gorgeous (if a little out of the way) and has gorgeous views, and her tiny white poodle named “Poopy” (I think it might be Spanish for “puppy”) demanded that I spend ten minutes scratching her belly.

View from the hostel where I'm staying.

Another view from back of hostel.

Since I basically skipped lunch today I was feeling pretty hungry, and for dinner the hostel owner recommended a restaurant called Café Arte Mirador. She had initially recommended a restaurant that appeared to be ten miles away, but she insisted that this second place was nearby and so I set off to go find it. It was a really nice walk through the Playa Ancha neighborhood where her hostel is located, and I loved the charming, weathered look of the homes that I passed. The restaurant turned out to be just a ten-minute walk away, but rather than enter immediately I wandered around the lookout area and gazed across the city and bay and down over the seaport.

Eventually, though, I went inside Café Arte Mirador.

At first the dirty, wrinkled, and hole-spotted tablecloths threw up a red flag or two, but then I realized that all of Valparaiso is much the same and in any case I’m all for gritty surroundings, even in restaurants.

My waiter was very attentive and helped me choose a local red wine – it was incredibly smooth and well rounded, and I want to give it some props here in case anyone reading this cares to look for it: Exportación, produced by Concha y Toro. Once I’d ordered wine, I also decided on Reitana Meditarraneo (swordfish, I believe) as my entrée and asked for some steamed veggies on the side.

It was a nice, flavorful fish, firm but light in texture, though the portion was somewhat small – at least it was considering that I skipped lunch. And since I left my willpower elsewhere, and conveniently forgot that I had a week’s worth of sugar at breakfast, I did a very bad thing and ordered a piece of chocolate cake and a cappuccino for dessert.

Why do I keep doing this to myself??

So stupid of me. But it did taste good. All throughout the meal, and for a long time afterward, I enjoyed watching night fall over the city from my perch in Playa Ancha. The views from the restaurant were incredible.

Café Arte Mirador can be found at Paseo 21 de Mayo 214. Tel: 228-0944. Web: Email:

On my way back home I chose not to return in a straight line, but wandered around the quiet neighborhood to see what it offered and to get a sense of its end-of-day rhythms. I really like it here – at least my first impressions are very good. I’ll be here for a few more days, and hopefully Valparaiso will continue to grow on me.

City lights on neighboring hill in the background.

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