Saturday, January 2, 2010

Chile, Day 6

There were a few sand sculptures by the beach, but only one caught my eye – I think because I saw some of myself in it.

Today I moved on from Santiago to Viña del Mar. I started off after a minimal breakfast and arrived by taxi at the Central Bus Station at around 9:40. I found the ticket window very quickly, and after paying 3400 pesos (US$6.70) I had a ticket in hand and went looking for the platform from which I’d be departing.

I nearly missed the 9:55 bus, however, because my ticket was stamped with the wrong platform number. Luckily, the bus I needed was caught in the parking lot and I hurried over and took my seat.

The bus was pretty nice – it was air-conditioned (the driver turned it off whenever we went uphill), had an American movie playing on it, and there was a bathroom in back, too. These perks helped compensate for the screaming kids and babies on board, though the ride only lasted 90 minutes.

Interestingly, not to mention frustratingly, the 10-minute taxi ride from Viña del Mar’s bus station to my hotel – no more than a mile in relatively heavy traffic – cost me 6000 pesos (~$12) -- nearly double the price of my 90-minute bus ride. I even watched the meter click upward twice in quick succession after the driver pressed the stop button. Nice little trick…

Since my hotel room wasn’t ready when I tried to check in at noon, I decided to walk to the beach and see what it offered. One of the first things I noticed about Viña del Mar is that carriage rides are quite popular. One can hear the clomping of horses’ hooves on the streets, and oftentimes the drivers will be stopped along the curb, feeding their horses straight from very large sacks.

When I got to the beach, I was a little disappointed. From the research I did before coming here, I had the impression that the local beaches were pretty nice. Not so. Granted, I came here from Hawaii, but there’s something about giant derricks on the beach and the sand packed with sunbathers that drives me away. I guess I’m spoiled.

Although an electronic temperature gauge I passed said it was only 68 degrees (20 C), it felt much hotter, and in any case the sun was really intense.

This little girl had the right idea. Now all she needs are cardboard wrapping paper cores to fit over her arms.

After about 45 minutes I returned to the hotel, checked in, and decided to go get lunch. My walk had made it apparent that, despite a number of restaurants in the general area of the beach, there weren’t a ton of great choices. It’s certainly not the kind of place to get typical Chilean food, though it was nice to see so many seafood choices. The receptionist at my hotel recommended a place called Delicias del Mar Restaurant Basko, so I gave it a try.

The first thing I noticed upon entering were all the Marilyn Monroe photos on the wall. (No, they weren’t nudes.) In both dining rooms, on every single wall, hung framed photos of her. For a long time I tried to figure out why, and when I stopped a waiter passing by and asked him, he told me that the chef and owner was obsessed with her. He said the kitchen had even more photos of her, and he had other stories about him that I couldn’t understand, unfortunately.

Once I had the Marilyn Monroe puzzle more or less solved, I ordered one of the house specialties: paella. Although the presentation was rather sloppy, and the portion wasn’t large, it was excellent. I loved the bit of sausage mixed in, and the meaty, giant crab claw was a bonus. I’ve had paella before that’s been quite greasy, but this wasn’t bad at all. And for 7600 pesos (~$15), I figured it was a fair deal.

Afterward I came across a dessert shop on San Martin Avenue. All the seats inside were full, and the only seats outside were in the sun. Even so, I figured I’d brave the heat and sun and order something sweet to top off my paella. However, after sitting there for more than 10 minutes without any of the four waiters coming by to give me a menu, I got up and decided I didn’t need dessert after all.

Instead, I decided to cross the bridge over the Marga Marga estuary and climb the hill toward Castillo Wulff.

A duck swimming in the Marga Marga.

I seemed to go everywhere on the hill except Castillo Wulff – for the life of me I couldn’t find the entrance – but pretty soon I found myself staring down at the lookout tower, which meant I had a better view of the ocean and coast from where I was. It was a nice view, and the neighborhoods in this part of the city were pleasant to walk through.

Later in the day I was going to visit a museum I’d circled in my guidebook, but at 4 pm I realized that it had closed at 2, so I just wandered around Plaza Mexico, in front of my hotel, and listened to people play music in the grass.

For dinner I headed to a place that is known for its innovative empanadas. I won’t mention the name because I’ve decided I don’t want to give them positive exposure. (You can see the name in the photo, anyway.) Here, too, I was roundly ignored by the owners and wait staff, though in this case it was more frustrating because it was so small inside that there was no chance they didn’t see me or mistakenly believed I’d already ordered. (There were only two other customers inside.) Right away I felt a weird vibe here, and I was made more uncomfortable seeing the poor treatment of a dog by what appeared to me to be the owner's family of totally out-of-control children.

Unfortunately, the place had more customers by the time I left.

I was right about to leave, but after fifteen minutes I finally made eye contact with a waitress – about the only eye contact I’ve made with a Chilean person in six days, I have to say – and ordered one empanada with spinach, tomato, cheese, onions, and olives, and another with shrimp, mushrooms, cheese, and cilantro sauce. Both were good. Both cost 1200 pesos ($2.36).

It was a hassle to get my bill, too, and when leaving I felt like I obviously wasn’t going to be asked back. Like I said, it was a weird place. I’m not sure what the problem was, but maybe they want to keep it “local.” Then again, I’m starting to find that a lot of Chilean businesses, and even people in passing, aren’t what I’d call...warm. The almost total lack of eye contact I’ve had with people here is very odd, though.

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  1. I like the 1st picture,....hahahahaha,...the last pictures tempts my tastebuds!!

  2. Sophie: Hahaha -- Homer's stomach is a lot like mine right now, unfortunately. :) I'm happy that my food photos make your tastebuds tempted! Thanks for your comment, as always!