Today we hitched a ride with some Start Up Chile friends and headed for the coast. For the last seven or eight years I have lived about a mile from the ocean, first in San Diego and then in the South Bay Los Angeles area, so I’ve really been missing the ocean since we moved to Chile. Yes, it’s only been about two weeks, yes, I am spoiled. Anyway, as it turns out a couple of other Los Angeles natives were also missing the ocean, so we all piled into a rental car and set off for Valparaiso.
It’s a short drive, about an hour and a half from Santiago, and it’s a pleasant one too. The landscape is really lush and green, and dotted with a few farms and wineries. The roads were surprisingly well kept, litter and pot-hole free. I am continuously amazed by the cleanliness of this city. Los Angeles could learn a thing or two from the Chileans about cleanliness!
In Valparaiso we parked in a big town square type thing in front of this rather curious and imposing building. I think it had something to do with the navy or the ocean or… Anyway, Valparaiso was once a very important port for ships making their way around the tip of South America, but of course once the Panama Canal was completed in 1914 it became less frequented. People just love a good shortcut :) It does still seems to be in use and on a fairly large scale though.
Valparaiso, like many cities on a bay, is built up into the surrounding hills. This makes for a very interesting looking city as well as offering many wonderful vantage points to take in the bay and the ocean beyond.
Valparaiso is composed of many tiny, steep, winding streets that pass for two lane roads (somehow). There are also very steep flights of stairs…
And this frightening contraption
Which we rode, even though I was pretty sure this wasn’t going to end well :) This funicular is at a 45 degree angle and was built in 1883 (There is another funicular in the city that is at a 70 degree angle!). The funicular car is the original and is made entirely of wood. The creaking was a bit disconcerting. And when we got to the top we found that our fate rested in this man’s hands
With the help of this wheel contraption he hand cranked us up and down the hill
After disembarking from the nearly hundred and thirty year old wooden box and kissing solid ground a few times, we proceeded to stroll through a very neat and highly artistic neighborhood in search of some good seafood.
Now I am a pescetarian (meaning as far as meat goes I only eat fish), and I was a bit worried that moving to Chile would make it difficult to keep up this lifestyle. But when I found out that Santiago was awfully close to the coast, I figured seafood would be both plentiful and of good quality. Sadly, this was not a very good assumption. To be fair Iv’e only been in Santiago for two weeks, but there has been a notable lack of seafood on the menus that I have come across. Additionally, the selection of seafood in the grocery stores had been rather disappointing. Suffice it to say, I had very high hopes for great seafood in Valparaiso. And I was not disappointed. We found a little restaurant tucked away on a tiny cobblestone street that was packed when we got there (always a good sign). We ordered ceviche and a dish called camarones al pil pil to start. The ceviche was not only beautiful, but absolutely delicious. And the camarones al pil pil was tender, with a rich olive oil and garlic sauce.
This was a wonderful and exciting surprise as I think it certainly exceeded everybody’s expectations. Tom and I both ordered albacore steaks. Mine came with a mixed seafood sauce (nobody at our table was able to understand what was in the sauce even though the waitresses described it to us several times and in many different ways including with hand gestures and miming) that was a little sweet and very earthy. I also ordered papas fritas, because even though papas fritas are big in Chile and you can get them pretty much anywhere, I have yet to get an impressive batch and I am not one to give up on fried food. These fries were not a let down :)
Tom’s albacore came with a coconut curry type sauce with shrimp and lentils. Both of our tuna steaks were cooked perfectly, unbelievably tender and juicy.
This was easily the best meal that I’ve had in Chile and actually the best seafood I’ve had in quite awhile.
We did see more interesting street art in the city. I’m finding that Chileans really do love their street art, and who could blame them. It’s really beautiful.
Valparaiso is a bit underdeveloped and rough around the edges. It’s clear that when the port became less vital and subsequently less frequented the city suffered. However it still has it’s old world charm and it is easy to imagine what it must have looked like in the 1800s when it was a bustling hub of commerce and culture. The various maritime and naval buildings sprinkled throughout the city are a constant reminder of its illustrious role in the building of the western hemisphere.
We genuinely enjoyed our day by the coast and look forward to visiting Valparaiso’s less historical and more modern sister city Vina Del Mar, where hopefully we will run into more delicious seafood! And since I can’t survive for long without getting a little taste of that cool ocean breeze, I’m sure we’ll be back to explore even more tiny side street restaurants in this charming seaside town, Valparaiso!