Thursday, January 7, 2010

Chile, Day 11

It was nice waking up today under a cool, cloudy sky. All the more so after getting a night’s sleep that wasn’t interrupted by guests, receptionists, traffic, or loud sea birds. I grabbed a quick breakfast, which the hostel owner provided, and she joined me for the latter half of it and talked to me about her life here.

She told me an interesting story about her mother, who lived in Los Angeles for 35 years and worked for some insanely rich family the entire time, and recently came back to Chile due to health problems she was having. I guess it’s been a hard adjustment for her, even though she’s 80 and has her children nearby for the first time in several decades. The hostel owner, too, worked for a family in Los Angeles, but only for six months. She’s owned and operated the hostel where I’m staying for fifteen years. It’s a beautiful home. Maybe I’ll upload photos of it one of these days…

After breakfast I decided to walk down the steep hills of the Playa Ancha neighborhood and make my way to La Sebastiana, one of Pablo Neruda’s three houses. It was one hell of a walk, but an interesting one for sure. Once I got down to the bottom of Playa Ancha, I found myself in Barrio Puerto, a rather poor and dirty area of town – it looked worse because it was cloudy – but in a way I found it more interesting because of this. I didn’t expect to see so much fresh seafood being sold on the sidewalk, right on the edge of what appeared to be the business district, and I slowed down a bit to see what was on offer.

As I continued toward Cerro Bellavista I began to notice how much colorful artwork decorated the walls of buildings, fences, small alleys, even light posts. I’ve included a few snapshots of some of what I came across during the day.

About thirty minutes after having set out from my hostel, I found myself at the base of an intimidating hill, and I knew I had quite the climb if I wanted to make it to Neruda’s house. But the climb was fascinating and picturesque, and after stopping a number of times to enjoy the location, I finally took a rest at Plaza Mena, which is only one hundred meters or so from La Sebastiana. But I was pretty sweaty at this point, and I didn’t want to enter the house looking like I’d just completed a swimming competition.

La Sebastiana was the house Neruda gave up first when his legs could no longer handle the hills of Cerro Bellavista and the steep, windy staircases of his home. It was an information tour – it’s all done by little audio phone devices – but it was a little strange standing in rooms with ten other people with their audio devices pressed against their ears. If you took yours away from your ear, the room was utterly silent – it was just people standing their, looking around, with these weird plastic devices pressed against their heads. But this is unimportant.

The house has an outstanding view of Valparaiso, and Neruda used to remain here on New Year’s Eve so he could watch the city’s famous fireworks show from pretty much anywhere in his house.

La Sebastiana is at the top of Cerro Bellavista, at Ferrari 692. One adult ticket costs 3000 pesos (~$6). Tel: 225-6066. Web: Hours: Tuesday - Sunday from 10:30 a.m. - 6:50 p.m. in January and February. Tuesday - Sunday from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. the rest of the year.

By this time it was already noon, but since I wasn’t particularly hungry – my motivation for doing everything – I decided to give the Mercado Cardonal a try. It wasn’t exactly close, but if I map was accurate, it seemed that once I got back to the bottom of Cerro Bellavista I only had a fifteen to twenty minute walk to get there. So off I went.

And I’m glad I did, because it was a very lively place, as colorful as many neighborhoods in Valparaiso but with the added attraction of being redolent with fruit.

I’ve had some incredibly flavorful fruit since arriving in Chile – the tomatoes are maybe the best I’ve ever had, and this morning’s honeydew and cantaloupe were no less amazing – but I’ve also had some unfriendly encounters with people here. Wanting so badly to get some local fruit to take back to the hostel, I managed to explain to a young woman at a stall that I was interested in buying a quarter kilo of black cherries and a quarter kilo of apricots. A scale was right there, there were plenty of bags for customer purchases…and then there was the woman’s mother, who hurried over once she saw what was going on and refused to let me buy less than a kilo’s worth of fruit. Her daughter protested, but her mother cut her off and repeated her words to me. I tried to explain that I couldn’t possibly eat a kilo of apricots and a kilo of black cherries by myself, but she’d heard enough and shooed me away.

As if that weren’t enough, I decided to leave the market and find someplace to have lunch. I walked about fifteen minutes and then came across a restaurant mentioned in Lonely Planet called La Moneda de Oro – remember that name, please, and don’t ever go there. As soon as I saw a waiter come out to the entrance of the restaurant I said, “Una persona, por favor.” He scowled at me, looked me up and down (really, I looked fine), and with an index finger wagging in front of his face he said no. No? A person can’t eat alone at this restaurant? I asked him this, and he repeated himself. I stared at him in disbelief, then kind of laughed and went off. I quickly found another place – Lord Byron was the name – that was happy to have me, and though they didn’t have a sterling lunch menu, the ham and egg sandwich I ordered was enough.

Lord Byron, too, had a much nicer atmosphere, as their outdoor seating gave views of Valparaiso’s Hero Memorial and Armas de Chile.

By the time I’d finished eating and paying for my bill – and wandering around a little more – I returned to my hostel, which meant climbing up the hills of Playa Ancha. I stopped at one point to pet a cat in a window, but he stuck his tongue out at me so I just continued with my climb.

One nice thing I found right around the corner of where I’m staying was a charming little mom-and-pop store. I bought five apricots – no problem! – and since they were eating lunch when I came in I pulled their ladder to their tall shelves, climbed up, and bought a liter and a half of agua sin gas. I was good for the rest of the afternoon.

I stayed at home for a while and read on the back patio of the hostel, then after doing a few other small things it was time to go have dinner. I didn’t want to go too far, but since my neighborhood really doesn’t have any restaurants I had little choice but to head back down the hill and into the city. I went to a place I’d passed earlier in the day called Restaurant Los Porteños I.

All the staff was eating when I entered at 6:30, and I was afraid they wouldn’t be open until 8 or something. Luckily they were open, so I ordered fried merluza (hake, and it was a huge portion), a side salad (another huge portion), and a glass of red wine – all for a mere 3400 pesos ($6.90).

The people here weren’t the slightest bit mean to me, and my waiter even spoke a little English – anyway, he knew that arroz means rice. I definitely recommend this place to visitors staying in the vicinity or who find themselves in the Barrio Puerto. You can find Los Porteños I at Valdivia 169 in the Barrio Puerto. Tel: 225-2511. Web:

On my way home I entered a busy little pastry shop and ordered a croissant for 200 pesos (~$0.40).

It was all I could do to finish it off at home, after which I started to write this entry.

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  1. You seem to be the unstoppable traveller!!!

    What lovely places you visited today!

  2. Sophie: Haha! I'm about to become the stopped traveler, actually. My job resumes today (!), which I'll be doing over the Internet, and I'm back in the U.S. in only one more week! But yes, this particular day was a memorable one. Valparaiso is a really unique city. I hope you're staying warm and are doing well!