Monday, January 4, 2010

Chile, Day 8

Near the Plaza de Armas in La Serena.

I was pretty happy to leave Viña del Mar this morning. I didn’t have the best experience there, and I thought that La Serena would be a better destination for a couple days. No one at my hotel seemed to know how long the bus ride from Viña del Mar to La Serena was, but most people seemed to think 5-6 hours. That was doable, especially with the large reclining seat that I paid for. (Too bad the seat was unable to recline.) I boarded the bus to La Serena at around 10:30, and was not in the least surprised to find that the man sitting next to me was a grouch. I think we shared all of two words between us: the “Buenos dias” I said when he sat down. But that was fine. Sometimes it’s better to travel in your own personal bubble.

The ride ended up taking six and a half hours. The scenery was excellent – not stunning, but really interesting – as we passed through green valleys with rivers cutting through them, then coastal areas with rocky outcroppings offshore, and finally a very dry but rolling region that reminded me in some ways of desert Texas or Arizona.

I only brought a banana with me for food, but I was told we’d stop somewhere for lunch and I wasn’t worried. I think it was at around 2 or 3 p.m. that we finally came to a tourist stop and I bought a seafood empanada for about $3.

Before this, however, an older man boarded the bus during a brief highway stop, and he walked down the aisle with a basket of pastries and sandwiches for sale. He sold about eight of them to a woman in my row, but when I motioned to him he looked at me and picked up his basket and hurried back to the other end of the bus. This is pretty normal here for me, and I’m getting used to it. Sort of.

By the time we arrived in La Serena it was a little after 5 p.m. I got a taxi for the three-block drive to the hostel I’d arranged -- Hostal Maria Casa, which Lonely Planet recommends (if you come to La Serena, please don't stay there) -- but the owner had given away my room half an hour earlier. Why? I have no idea. Instead of apologizing, he told me to follow his girlfriend to another hostel he wanted me to stay at – he wouldn’t let me use the hostel’s phone to see if there were vacancies anywhere else – so I grabbed my luggage and followed his girlfriend for about four blocks. She dropped me off and hurried away – probably because she knew I wasn’t about to stay in such a pit as that. I thanked the owner of the second hostel for showing me the different rooms, then I consulted my guidebook map and walked about ten more blocks to look for other places. The first two places I tried were also fully booked, but luckily the third place I tried had a room for one night. Unfortunately, the door lock was broken, but if I didn’t mind that I could have it. I said sure. I was too sweaty and tired to say no.

I unloaded my things in my room, asked the receptionist to keep an eye on my door, and went around the town to take a few photos and get dinner. After wandering through La Serena for a while, and admiring its small Plaza de Armas, I came upon a restaurant called Restaurant La Serena.

It looked very “local” from the outside, and when I stepped inside I actually liked the gritty look of the place. I could have done without the balloons and streamers, but hey, it’s their restaurant and if they want balloons and streamers I’m fine with that.

I ended up ordering a small mixed salad (it came with lettuce, cabbage, beets, cauliflower, cucumber, tomatoes, and avocado) and a tabla de ave (roasted chicken with fried green pepper and onions, piled on top of what must have been a full kilo of French fries). I also ordered a Cristol beer.

The food was an enormous amount, and I ate just about everything but the beets and maybe 1/4 of the fries. When I left the place, I was waddling. The food was very good, and I recommend it with the caveat that it took me 30 minutes to get my order, and 20 minutes after asking for my check I had to go directly to the cashier, where I paid 6100 pesos (~$12).

La Serena Restaurant can be found at O'Higgins 590. Tel: 211-962. Email:

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