We arrive in
There are no obviously poor people here; the cars are new,
though small; the roads are modern and the drivers reasonably polite—more so than
All except for their coffee which, like the Peruvians’, consists of a cup of hot milk into which you spoon … Nescafe—no, it has not disappeared from the earth, it just went south—from an ornately decorated tin permanently stationed on each café table. Café con leche becomes leche con café. While this is not as bad as it sounds, it is nearly so. Yet this is not something they have to drink because they cannot afford real coffee; it is something they like. I suppose it is one of those ratios: as light beer is to regular beer, as cigarettes are to cigars, as creamer is to cream: the pseudo versions begin as a convenience or an economy, but then take on a life of their own and have their own admirers who rather prefer them to the genuine.
As usual we walk a lot.
Though for me it’s a little bit iffy due to my digestive system. Nevertheless we manage to look around some,
and Tricia quite a good deal. One day we walked to the park at a time when
there was a big political rally. I believe the dictator had given over power
some years previously but I am not aware whether leftists or rightists are in
power at the moment. In any case, it was obvious that this was a leftist rally
complete with speakers, political signs, patriotic music, and all the other
accoutrements of political propaganda. It was quite interesting to watch. I had
a fleeting thought at one point which was that, considering history, I hope
they don’t realize we’re from the
The city is quite modern compared to
Nevertheless, after a few days with me grouchy and lying sweating on the bed most of the time in Santiago while Trish was out exploring and procuring, she indulges me once again and we decide to move on for a little breather north, up the coast. We rent a car and I get back into stick shifting after lo these many years, since this is all that is available here. Hey, you never forget, just like riding a bike. I began to feel better as we left.
Vamanos! a la Playa
We drive to La Serena,
a beach town on the Pacific coast about 300km northwest of
The small round hills erupting spasmodically from the plain
through which we travel are gorgeous. They are covered with a very long, lush, though
vividly golden grass—this is semi-desert, like southern
We are driving on a glass-smooth, four lane divided highway
going, like everyone else, about 120kph. At one place along the highway, with no
town visible whatsoever, dozens of people are standing on the shoulder and they
are all waving little white flags. After translating a few signs we figure out
that the message is: “buy your homemade candy here”. We continue. Forty miles
further on, and still going 120kph, I startle to see a bunch of (wild?) burros
crossing the highway—in my lane! With a reaction time that belies my 66+
years—I think the stick shifting had gotten me revved up—I manage not to kill
them—or us. There is a fence of sorts along the highway but it is one of those
suggestive, Latin sort of fences that the burros didn’t even slow down for. We
I think to myself, after we pass, that when we come back, going south, this could be like a progressive dinner with the sweet at the end.
La Serena is a beach
town of 150,000 souls that is not on the beach. The founding fathers were
ranchers, not bathers, and they firmly placed the town square a mile or two
inland and built out from there. In one direction, the west, they, in the
process of growing, and quite by accident, ran into the
Having no reservations, and arriving in the town itself at about five in the afternoon, we walk around and find a hostel with a vacancy, just in order to have a place to sleep before evening. In the morning, after a nearly sleepless night, we admit that the room we are in is dark, gloomy and damp and the pillows are like logs. I don’t like making a fuss, but after a brief conversation with the hostelry—me in the room, Trish on the front lines—we make the switch to a three-star hotel a few blocks away. Old-nice, sixty bucks a night for a small suite, including breakfast and pillows that have a little give to them. Now I’m feeling better.
Our new residence is a block from the town square, a very pretty quadra of tile walks, old statues and older trees. This place is busy from six in the morning till two the next morning: sidewalk vendors, entertainers, helados (ice cream—very big here), one night even saw a fellow who was a fire-breather who just managed not to incinerate the encircling and highly entertained crowd, or even to singe his own eyebrows.
The food here, as in the rest of the country—one should
really say in
This food business is a mystery that intrigues me while it annoys me. Perhaps it is simply the gaucho gastronomy where the aim was to convert the tough, stringy, rather tasteless beef into something that would fill you up and get you back to work fast. So you ground it up, you spiced it, smoked it, grilled it and sauced it, and there you are.
expands the culinary mystery; while they do have Pan Bimbo, the Latin American equivalent of Wonder bread, they also
seem to have all the breads for which Europe is famous: baguettes, round
crusty loaves of many types and sizes with their tops slashed and browned. Some
have a milk or egg wash that makes them glisten. They’re all here, beautifully
piled up in the bins of the Panaderias
(bakeries) that are all over
We begin our trek back