This post is a bit overdue, but I’m sitting here in a café a few blocks from my apartment, enjoying fast, free wifi, and I figure that finally updating about my trips is as good as any reason to put off reading an actual book, so here we go.
A week or two into our Intensive Language Program we were given the assignment to take a weekend trip, in groups, out of Santiago to another community and then to give a presentation to the rest of the EAP group about the place we had visited. I was with a group that decided on the general assignment of Papudo/La Ligua/Zapallar, three small towns in the same general vicinity, all very different. We decided to stay in Papudo and head out from there.
A couple of hours in a bus later, we arrived in Papudo and proceeded to a hostel at the side of what could generously be known as the “center of town,” a plaza filled with grass and trees, a busted phone booth and a snack stand. The hostel was a nice place, run by a friendly couple with several rooms in the back, with anywhere between one and four beds per room.
We had had a brief misunderstanding with the prices, as we had thought it would cost $5 per night (dos mil quinientos), but it in fact would cost $25 per night (doce mil quinientos). Still, the place was quite nice, and came with breakfast, and we managed to haggle them down to $20 per night if we all stayed both nights. Still a bit much, but the best we’d be able to find. We quickly split up into our rooms, with people generously letting me take one of the singles due to my hacking cough at the time, and we settled in.
Papudo is a beach town, almost entirely based around tourism and fishing, both of which are far more lucrative exploits in the summer. Going in dead winter, we found the town next-to-deserted, with empty restaurants, beaches and streets with a few local kids and the occasional Santiaguino couple that decided to get out of town for the weekend.
The first night we went to a restaurant to sample the fish, which we had heard wonderful things about, and we were less than impressed when one of our group’s salmon came back still half-frozen. I ordered the hilariously titled Tallarines con Salsa de Loco (con Loco), which translates to Pasta with Crazy Sauce (with Crazy). Loco, it turns out, is also a white fish popular in Chile, but this only became known later, and I greatly enjoyed my creamy crazy pasta.
The second day we decided to go to La Ligua, a nearby town that was well-known for its textiles and pastries. An odd combination, but sure, why not? After struggling to find a bus for about an hour, including getting to the bus stop, waiting, asking if we were at the right place, waiting, asking somebody else, waiting, etc, the hostel owners drove by and offered us a ride. Eagerly accepting, we stuffed five of us into the backseat of their SUV, more comfortably than you’d think possible, and headed out.
Thankfully La Ligua was only about 20 minutes away, and we arrived quickly in the center of town, again a very green plaza with trees and several small vendor stands. Two things that every town seems to have: dozens of plazas, including a “central” one, and a Plaza de Armas (which technically could be filed under thing one, but for the purposes of this post, won’t.
La Ligua was quite different from Papudo, in that as a town slightly inland, it was not a tourist destination at all. It was hot, stuffy, crowded and significantly poorer than Papudo, and even after just a few hours of hanging out, we were more than ready to head back. Still, we had a good time wandering around. We checked out an outdoor market (feria), went to a few shops for textiles (tejiidos) and pastries (pasteles).
Though there certainly were a fair share of small pastry and textile shops, it was far from the wooly, sugary paradise that it had been made out to be. A few of the girls found nice scarves, but every shop I went into took one look at me before politely ushering me out because “nothing exists in my size.” The reputation as a wonderland for the knitted and sewed seems to stem from La Ligua’s proximity to a factory, which accounts for the flood of identical-looking hats, sweaters and gloves that appear on every street corner in Santiago and can be bought for the spare change in your pocket. While nice, none of this beckoned to me as essential, particularly because it was the same stuff I had refrained from buying back home.
The pastries themselves were similar, as you could buy them at nearly every store, but they were the same five or six mass-produced candies all around town, as it seemed there was just one big bakery that made everything and franchised rather indiscriminately to the book stores, toy shops and clothing stores around town. Again, the pastries were good, but nothing to write home about (whoops).
La Ligua will always live on as the place I experimented with my first culinary escapade, as I stopped into an empanada shop as we were walking around… wait, I already described this, here. Check it out if you want.
Still, tired, happy and full from delicious ice cream, and after a good lunch of more ice cream, we piled into a taxi and convinced the driver to take us back to Papudo for a thousand pesos each (about $10 total). In the car I had a really interesting talk with the driver, who talked all about politics (at my urging) and life in small towns like Papudo and La Ligua. He personally had been living in La Ligua for something like 40 years, and had seen it grow a lot in his time, some for the better and some for the worse. I can’t remember most of what he talked about for the town, but I ended up using this conversation for our project, in which I talked about the conservative leanings of towns outside of major metropolitan areas, like these.
Back in Papudo we met up with our friends and trooped along the beach for the next while. It was only about 5 or 6 at this point, so we took bets on when the sun would disappear behind the horizon and, after a short walk, sat down on the beach to watch it disappear. Along the way we rode some horses we saw by the road near the beach, including one that we were pretty sure was about 10 months pregnant (I really hope I never have to google Horse Gestation Period ever again), which was pretty fun.
Our horses seemed really bored with life, and didn’t want to walk, let alone run. My horse mostly wanted to drink from a nearby puddle, which was just fine with me. My previous most vivid memory of riding a horse was many years ago, specifically the part when I was thrown from the horse as it attempted a mid-air acrobatic maneuver without having the forethought of mentioning it to me, leaving me to continue traveling in my original vector as the horse gracefully landed at a 90° angle.
This was less painful than that, though I need to remember to use the bathroom before the riding next time, as riding a horse adds a bit of, let’s say, repetitive stress to a certain part of the anatomy.
The other funny part from that experience was the relatively cheap price of the horses, which was only about 2,000 pesos ($4) for half an hour, which seemed like not very much. As a result, we started measuring everything in terms of horseback rides.
“Well sure, that sandwich looks good, but wouldn’t you rather ride a horse for 45 minutes?”
But I digress. The sunset was breathtaking, and we all left the beach in good cheer. Eager to avoid another restaurant not equipped to handle customers in the cold months, we instead bought supplies at nearby markets and made our own dinner in the hostel kitchen. It was quite a production, with all 11 of us working hard, our friend Drew guiding everyone in the proper things to cut and how, and doing a fantastic job to produce enough chopped salad, chipping and salsa, and garlicy pasta to feed two armies. We shared with the hostel owners, their son and his friend, and had a great night, after which the owners invited us to come back, with or without money, later in the year.
The last day we split up a bit, with some of the group eager to hike the nearby hills, and some of us eager to check out the town more to prep for our presentation. I was in the latter, though the responsible nature of it was completely false, as we ended up just crawling on rocks near the beach for the better part of two hours, meeting later at a restaurant down on the beach called El Barco Rojo (The Red Boat).
El Barco Rojo is a really interesting place, as it hails from a shipwreck by sailors from some country back in some century a long time ago (I knew I should have written about this earlier… I honestly don’t remember). The sailors, whoever they were, had decided to take the wood from their ship and build this building, which became the restaurant that sits there today. It became a bit famous as people like poet Pablo Neruda went there from time to time, and peppered in the ceiling they have letter from all over the world from fans who had been to the restaurant and wrote to talk about… whatever. I guess how much they liked it.
The food itself was fairly good, though as with almost all seafood the amount it appeals to me is inversely proportional to how much I’ve eaten, and by the end I was happy I’d eaten it, but also happy it was gone. We were the only ones in the restaurant, being winter, and I particularly enjoyed the ongoing soundtrack of power ballads (I Want to Know What Love Is, Total Eclipse of the Heart, Walk This Way, etc) and though I was usually the only one singing along, it was quite fun.
The rest of the day we pretty much just walked around, bought a few hours of horseback riding’s worth of trinkets, and caught a bus. Good times.
Now, I’m going to try to add pictures and then go watch Chile beat some Venezuelan ass in soccer, so wish me (and them) luck.