Sunday, January 3, 2010

Chile, Day 7

A taste of Easter Island in Viña del Mar.

Today I only had a few things left to tick off my to-do list in Viña del Mar, and I managed to do them before noon. That left me a lot of extra time, which I spent stressing out over not being able to find a bus to La Serena tonight or tomorrow morning. But I’ll get to the bus issue later…

Last night was a late night – spent lying on my bed listening to car horns and hotel guests tromping up and down the stairs and slamming their doors. Once again, I turned on my “Processed Brown Noise” MP3 on iTunes and set it on repeat. It was somewhat effective, and when I woke up at 8:00 I wasn’t as bleary-eyed as usual. I had pillow wrinkles all over my face, and my hair looked like a bird’s nest after a tornado, but that had nothing to do with the noisy environment.

I took advantage of my hotel’s free breakfast – toast, which I burned, and coffee so bad I only took two sips – and then decided to walk to the Museo de Arqueología e Historia Francisco Fonck. I wasn’t exactly dying to see this place, but it was supposed to have items of interest from Easter Island, which I won’t be visiting on this trip, and I thought it might be educational and worth an hour or so of my morning.

I was impressed by the lone moai, or Easter Island statue, on the museum lawn, and was happy to find that the museum had English explanations of its photographs and artifacts. About half of the first floor, which isn’t particularly large, is devoted to Easter Island history and culture. The other half is devoted to larger, better-known cultures that inhabited Chile and South America before the Spanish arrived. There are a number of excellent displays of the latter, but the former didn’t really offer much besides some photos, drawings, and a lot of text.

On the second floor are collections of insects, arthropods, and all kinds of old, crumbling, creepy stuffed creatures – almost laughable for their state of disrepair – which include sea turtles, albatross, flamingoes, wildcats, skunks, fish, a shark, bears, warthogs, a condor, etc.

In addition to all these dead insects, they also have horrid black and white photos of people suffering from the debilitating bites of some really poisonous Chilean spider.

"Hola! I'm a conger eel! Raaaa!"

I like the ancient stuffed rodent placed inside the mouth of the ancient wolf. Very realistic...

There were no English translations on the second floor, so I’m not entirely sure what these displays were about. It sort of looked like a taxidermy storage area from the 1970s, and it smelled like it too, but in fact it’s a part of the museum and other people there were enjoying taking photos of each other in front of the displays. I seemed to be the only one who was the least bit freaked out. They also have a room devoted to head-shrinking, and they even have a few shrunken heads on display. Somehow it didn’t seem right taking photos of them, and anyway I didn’t want their images lodged inside my camera. It was disturbing.

The Fonck Museum is at 4 Norte 784 and it costs 1800 pesos ($3.55) to enter. Tel: 268-6753. Web: Hours: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Tuesday through Friday) and 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. (weekends). Closed Monday.

I was already more than halfway to the next place I wanted to visit, so I left the Fonck Museum and walked seven or eight blocks to the Parque Quinta Vergara. On my map the park looks enormous, and because it’s said to be famous for its beautiful landscaping I thought I’d have a look. It turned out to be quite pretty, but much smaller than I’d expected. As soon as I entered the park I passed a nice little wall erected as a tribute to Chile’s two Nobel Prize winners in Literature, Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda.

Not far from here was an amphitheater, and since there was a bit of music playing from that direction I decided to check it out.

The source of music turned out to be an older man playing a handsaw and a table full of porcelain bowls. He was incredibly good – I’ve heard people play saws before, but he was a real virtuoso.

Unfortunately, I didn't capture his spread of porcelain bowls...

I stopped and stared at him for a few minutes, then realized there was a giant amphitheater behind him and had a quick look. The only other place of note in the park – at least that I found – was the Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes.

By the time I made it back to the area where I was staying, I sorely needed caffeine. Remembering that my coffee this morning was undrinkable, I headed to a fancy little restaurant/bar/café called Enjoy Mar, which is right by the water – just beyond wave-crashing distance it turns out.

This is a really nice place to grab a coffee...if you can get anyone to wait on you.

Just like yesterday I was ignored for a very long time and watched other people who sat down after me receive prompt service, but since I had a book with me I decided I’d just camp out there until they realized I wasn’t going away. I guess it worked. I eventually ordered a cappuccino and alternated between reading and watching people get doused by waves slamming into the rocks beside them.

Not long after I’d finished my drink and left Enjoy Mar, I decided to look for lunch. I’d walked quite a bit this morning, and the burned toast I had for breakfast really wasn’t keeping me well fueled. So I started off down Peru Avenue, right by the beach, and then San Martin, which is another street down.

After a young woman grabbed my jacket sleeve and demanded that I give her money -- she wouldn't let go of my sleeve, either, which was very annoying -- I crossed the street and saw these tango dancers performing for passers-by. They were excellent.

I must have walked for half an hour past fifty restaurants, and between 12:30 and 1 p.m. the only ones that were open were McDonalds, a pizza place, and another fast food joint that specialized in ice cream. In the end I broke down and ordered another completo. The one thing that made this in any way redeeming was the fact that the place was featured on No Reservations.

I think I was the first customer today. I passed by here last evening and there must have been 30 people waiting in line.

Actually, the completo here was much better – and bigger – and messier – than the one I had in Santiago. I went with the Catalana Completo, which had a boatload of avocado, some cheese, some chopped tomato, and sauerkraut. I asked for “un poco” mayo but got a huge glob of it. I also squirted some ketchup on top.

Next to my wallet, for scale.

I brought it back to my hotel, much to the delight of the receptionist. I really have no idea how to eat a completo, and since I had no cutlery I basically had to eat it like I would a normal hot dog. I considered taking a photo of my face after I’d finished eating it, but looking at myself after I’d downed my lunch really made me feel disgusting. You know how people look after they’ve had a pie thrown in their face? Well, that’s kind of how I looked from the nose down, but instead of whipped cream or meringue I was covered in avocado, mayo, sauerkraut and ketchup. Like I said, disgusting.

This is obscene, I know. I was debating whether or not to post this, but damnit it's just food.

From this point on I started stressing about my bus ticket. I had the foresight to ask the hotel receptionist if he could call one or two bus companies to see when they leave for La Serena. He ended up calling seven bus companies, and was told that there were no seats available for 36 hours. I really didn’t want to stay in Viña del Mar any longer than I had to, but I went ahead and booked a room here for another night and emailed the hostel I'd reserved in La Serena that I wouldn’t arrive there tomorrow. A few hours later, though, a new receptionist took over and he made a couple calls and found that there was in fact one seat left, so I grabbed a taxi and raced to the station where I bought a ticket for a 10:35 a.m. departure. I hope I don’t oversleep tomorrow or I’ll really be screwed.

I ended up walking back from the station because I couldn’t remember the name of my hotel, and therefore couldn’t tell a taxi driver where to go – I could have told him the cross-street, I guess, but I decided to walk and save $10. By this time it was 6:30 and I decided to grab some dinner. As usual, though, I was way too early. Nothing much opens up until 7:30, 8:30, and in some cases not even until 9. I found one place called The Meeting that was open and immediately jumped for a seat inside. (I found out later that they were about to close; I guess lunch ends here pretty late.)

I forgot to take a photo of the restaurant's exterior, but I did get one of the general seating arrangement. I sat by the window, which is shaded by trees.

The menu looked pretty good, and I went with sea bass in a cream sauce with oysters and shrimp, a side of steamed veggies, and what they called a salad. The seafood was extremely good, and I particularly appreciated what the inclusion of oysters and cream sauce did to the somewhat pedestrian sea bass and shrimp.

The entree looks messy, but it was excellent.

But it was a rather small portion of food, and by the time I finished I couldn’t help myself from ordering a slice of lemon meringue pie with pistachio ice cream and a chocolate mint cookie. Oh, and a cappuccino to top it off. Overall the meal, including a glass of Chilean wine, cost 13,100 pesos ($25.82).

I'm such a dummy about desserts. Why do I keep eating them? This was ridiculously good.

I didn't need this, either...

The Meeting is on Avenida San Martín 203. Tel: 268-8109. Email: (Yes, that’s how they spell coffee on their business card.)

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  1. Hello Sapuche,

    It looks that you are loving Chile & having fun!! Grand pictures & some are funny,..hahaha!

    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Sophie: Hi Sophie! My travels in Chile have been hit or miss--some places I like, others I'm glad to leave! :) Today, however, was a good day. I'm glad you're enjoying my posts and pictures, and thank you as always for your nice comments!