We arrived in Chile on November 12th and spent the first few days hanging out and recharging our batteries while we waited for Amy’s dad, Dave (a.k.a. Big Dave; named not for his physical stature, but because of his magnanimous personality), to arrive from the U.S. Those first few days in Chile before Big Dave landed, we honestly didn’t do a whole lot; we mostly just walked around town and visited with friends who Mike studied abroad with in 2005. And then Dave arrived!
While we’re sure he would have been perfectly capable of finding his way from the airport in Santiago to Viña del Mar (a two hour bus journey), we worried like parents and promised to go pick him up. But alas, we were late. When we found Dave, he was wandering around looking a bit lost and wondering where we were. In our defense, his flight did land an hour early.
Once back in Viña, we settled into our apartment and made a rough plan for how we wanted to spend the next week. One of the nice things about visiting this region of Chile is that you get three very different cities all in one place. Steeped in history and art, the bustling port of Valparaíso is often described as the cultural heart of Chile. Its neighbor, Viña del Mar is a more suburban coastal city filled with numerous parks, plazas, and gardens. And just a bit further up the coast lie the smaller resort towns of Reñaca & Concón, with their sandy beaches, high-rise hotels, and seafood restaurants.
Being that the apartment we rented was centrally located in Viña, we decided to begin our exploration there. First up was a local market known as a “feria.” Most cities in Chile have some sort of mercado central that operates daily, but they also have rotating markets that take place several days a week in various locations around town. We visited the Sunday Gomez Careño feria in the hills above Viña del Mar. Big Dave loves to cook and is damn good at it too, so we went all out stocking up on produce for our kitchen and fixings for a Thanksgiving feast. The place was absolutely packed with locals buying veggies and fruit. This isn’t the type of market where you buy individual pieces of produce; you buy things by the kilo! Fortunately, Chile’s diverse climate makes it an ideal place for growing many different crops, so the prices can be unbelievably cheap. A whole kilo of kiwis, for instance, will run you less than $1 USD.
We devoted the next two days to seeing as much of Viña as we could. Covering most of the city on foot or by micro (small bus), we definitely hit the main tourist attractions like the Museo Fonck & Flower Clock, but also visited the house where Mike lived during his study abroad and some of the places where he hung out. We walked the coast along Cerro Castillo and Avenida Peru, and we even stopped for completos along the way (a completo is the Chilean style of a hotdog). Dave was particularly excited about trying one at that the restaurant we visited, because it was featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Eating a completo is a major undertaking: a foot-long hotdog, topped with copious amounts of diced tomatoes, a hearty smearing of mashed avocado, and at least a half cup of mayonnaise. Amy tried them twice, and said that was enough.
After a couple of days of walking around and sightseeing, we were ready to relax and enjoy Thanksgiving. This year it fell on Amy’s birthday, which was part of the reason why Dave came to visit when he did. There was no way that the three of us could stomach a whole turkey, but we did cook up a pretty good feast including roasted chicken, artichokes, garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus and a surprise birthday cake from Mike. We can now confirm that Thanksgiving tiredness is not because of the tryptophan in turkey, it is from eating way too much.
One morning we set off to explore Valparaíso, and it turned into an all-day endeavor. The metro, which coincidentally opened on the last day of Mike’s study abroad program, is now fully operational, making it easy to commute between the two cities. Valpo’s most noticeable and beloved feature are the hills of jumbled, colorful, tin houses. You can easily get lost wandering through the winding streets and admiring the buildings and unique graffiti. We made our way into the hills to visit the home of Pablo Neruda, a renowned Chilean poet and national icon. He named his house in Valparaíso “La Sebastiana.” The funky architecture and décor made us long for a home of our own that reflects our personalities in the same way that La Sebastiana does Neruda. After that, we walked through the Open Air Museum which is a “typical neighborhood” of Valparaíso. The path led us down to the base of the hills where we ate at the Casino Social J. Cruz. This famous restaurant serves only one dish called chorrillana; another classic Chilean specialty that is just about as healthy as a completo. Chorrillana starts with a heap of French fries, topped with sauteed onions, fried egg, and beef. While it is impossible to prove, local legend has it that J. Cruz was the birthplace of this tasty treat. After such a gut bomb of a meal, hiking back up another hill would have been too hard, so we took the ascensor up to Cerro Concepción. Before heading back to Viña, we stopped at the brightly colored Café Brighton for an afternoon coffee and incredible views of Valparaíso and its port.
On the morning of our visit to Valpo, we stopped for a brief look at the central market. As we mentioned before, Dave loves to cook. So missing the market was simply not an option. Located just two blocks from the shore, one would expect the market to be filled with fish and seafood, but it wasn’t. In Valpo, there is a separate market for that, so we assured Dave that the next day we would go see “El Tunel.” As promised, the next morning we set-off down la Avenida de España to the fish market that sits right on the border between Viña and Valpo, near the Diego Portales Metro station. Before going into the market itself, we ate an early lunch of fried fish. The market is named El Tunel because it is exactly that, seafood stalls lined up one after another in a narrow, tunnel-like, corridor. When we visited Tsukiji Fish Market in Japan, we thought we had seen every kind of seafood imaginable, but El Tunel still had a surprise in store: the larges barnacles we have ever seen! These things were about the size of a Coca-Cola can and you could see the crabs living inside. After checking out the day’s catch, we headed out back to watch the fishermen feed scraps to hoards of sea lions, pelicans, and a menagerie of other sea birds. It was hilarious watching them swim/fly in mass back and forth between the two piers as fishermen dumped huge buckets of fish guts into the sea.
By this point in Big Dave’s trip to Chile, we had tackled Valparaíso, Viña del Mar and Thanksgiving, but what still remained was the beach town of Concón. We hopped a micro and headed out one day, not knowing exactly where we were going, except with the goal of finding seafood empanadas. If there is one thing that Concón is known for its food, and more specifically, empanadas and seafood. The bus ride was beautiful with amazing views of the ocean and sand dunes. After nearly a week in Chile, Amy’s dad was a pro at riding the local buses and dealing with the masses of people and confusing tariff system. When we arrived in Concón, we tracked down a delicious empanada restaurant and stuffed our bellies. The beach is much more low key than those in Viña and Reñaca, which was a nice change of pace.
Well, that nearly wraps up our time in the Viña-Valpo area. You may not think that the name of this blog is very accurate – did they really chill at all during Big Dave’s visit? In between the sightseeing, we actually did. Our apartment was an oasis of calm, and it was such a treat to unpack and relax together for a week and a half. We had a blast hanging out with Amy’s dad and were sad to say goodbye when he flew out yesterday.