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Published: July 19th 2010
Cerro Alegre, Santiago de Chile
A right of passage for Latin American cities, a religious figure looking over the city.
After leaving the desert in the north of Chile (San Pedro de Atacama) Kayce and I boarded a 24-hour bus down the coast to the beautifully eccentric port town of Valparaiso. Before you cringe at the thought of 24 hours on a bus, I should mention that the buses in Chile and Argentina are downright luxurious. There are only 3 seats across (two and one) which lay almost completely flat. Service includes hot meals, snacks, wine, coffee, etc. In addition, there is no hostel to pay for during these trips. So…as crazy as it seems, I actually look forward to our bus rides. A far cry from the sweaty chicken buses of Central America or the dingy, druggy Greyhounds of the USA.
Valparaiso, at least for the first day, was a delight. My best analogy for Valpo would be a South American San Francisco, with a bit more of a bohemian art scene. The streets are a combination of colonial architecture mixed with the colors and personalities of a romantic poet. The famous ascensores
add to the character of the city as the trolley car does for San Francisco. These are more or less tin shacks on train tracks that
scale the many vertical slopes of the city, used by both locals and tourists as a necessary means of transportation to the peaks of the cerros
which create the sharp backdrop to the port below.
While in Valpo we knew we would only have a day to see the city since a harsh storm was to arrive the following day and made the most of our time as we hustled from one tourist site to the next. Each corner we turned had a surprise of its own as there were decrepit old colonial buildings, pastel colored homes and secret passageways running through the hillsides. The most memorable of all though was the food (see title for this blog).
With all due respect to the people of this part of Chile, I swear the old sailors who came up with this food had to have been drunk while doing so. Let me explain…. Completo
: A foot long hot dog, topped with “old clothes” (shredded beef), all covered with an absurdly generous topping of mayonnaise and guacamole. Now when I say generous, I mean that when this thing is served to you it looks like a perfect cylinder. Delicious. Chorrillana
: Common to find restaurants that ONLY serve this dish, nothing else. Typically served with a dark beer, this can be ordered for 2, 3 or 4 people but it will always come on one plate that everyone shares. As for the makeup of it. A large bed of greasy french fries covered with eggs (scrambled or over-easy) and topped with grilled onions and a mountain of steak. Gut-bomb. Terramoto
: This “cocktail” which translates to EARTHQUAKE is quite possibly the most interesting of the bunch. Given Chile’s most recent 8.0+ rumbler you can bet that if they are going to name a drink the Earthquake, its gonna have to be national disaster serious. Served in a glass ranging from 16oz to a full German stein, this drink is comprised of homemade, thick white wine, a large scoop of pineapple ice cream and floated with a generous amount of fernet. What is fernet you ask? A poor man’s Jagermeister is the best way to describe it. All the bitterness of the licorice flavor without the sweet finish. To survive the terramoto one must stir their drink early and often, begging the pineapple ice cream to blend in. After one
of these you may feel the ground beginning to shake, after two you better run for safer ground.
Continuing with our Chilean adventure, the capital city of Santiago. Oft criticized for its cruel ability to trap smog inside its geographical bowl at the base of the Andes Mountains, we actually found it to be pretty enjoyable. It even proved to be quite picturesque for the time we were there. The highlight of our time there was a really entertaining walking tour with a young local guy who described his tour as unique because he designed it with theme of “where Santiagans spend their pesos.” He had noticed the somewhat ridiculous things the locals spend their money on and took us around to see what he had discovered. Amongst other things, we checked out a very blue-collar fish & soup market that stretched for many city blocks, had some terramotos at a working class bar and visited the most bizarre coffee shop I have ever seen. Café con Piernas
(Coffee with Legs) is a phenomenon brought to Santiago 20 years ago by a Venezuelan with a liking for both coffee and beautiful women. What he came up with is
Frankfurter, shredded beef, mayo and guacamole. Mmm....
considered genius by some and a raunchy case of machismo by others. I won’t offer my stance on the issue😊. What he started was a coffee bar not so different from your favorite Starbucks or Peets back in the States, with one glaring difference. All the workers are women. Long-legged women to be exact with very, very short skirts on. This has gotten so popular in and around the financial center of Santiago that there are now around 150 of these coffee shops filled with men in suits sipping their morning coffee. My first glimpse of these infamous women reminded me of very attractive airline stewardesses who happened to have short skirts on. Still looking professional though. What I saw next was beyond belief. Our guide explained to us that he wanted to show us the “classiest” one and led us into an indoor mall, still in the financial district. Upon arrival to the “coffee shop”, we entered through darkly tinted doors and all I could think was that he had taken us to a strip-club. Neon-lighting, women in clear plastic stilettos, scantily clad tops and bikini bottoms…..serving coffee. It was 11am, and the place was filled with businessmen in
Chilean Naval Armada
As countries like now-landlocked Bolivia have learned...you don´t mess with the Chilean Navy. I mean come on, they have a nearly 4,000 mile coastline.
suits, sipping their morning coffee. Totally bizarre, yet totally accepted.
That’s all I’ve got for Chile. Originally we had planned on going much farther south but given that we’re in the middle of winter here, we decided to head northeast for warmer weather. We will surely be back to the south of Chile and Argentina on another trip as the sights we have heard about and seen in pictures look amazing. I am writing to you now from a rainstorm in southern Uruguay. Argentina blog coming very soon…..
PS My apologies for no pictures of the café con piernas
, that would have been difficult. Haha.
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