This is our last day in Valparaìso, a city that has wrapped herself around me.
We were planning on taking the short trip to Viña del Mar today. It is a polished, modern city – or as the locals of Valpo would say – uncultured and plastic with no heart or personality. Stephano and Anita, our hosts at LAB00, rather recommend heading south to the tiny fishing town of Laguna Verde – a flat little village built on the beach that no tourist guide book will ever tell you about. You get there by catching bus 520 going south on Avenida Brasil. It is a scenic 30 minute drive along windy cliff hugging roads that dive into greenery along the way. We also drive through some of the poorest areas this side Valpo and it shows an existence of blissless ignorance. The people just aren’t bothered by wanting to make their environment better..it’s sad.
Laguna Verde sits on a vast beach at the bottom of a cliff. Houses are built right on the sand and if the water level of the Pacific rises even just a little bit all these people will be homeless..but it sure is beautiful coming around the bend of the cliff face and seeing this little town and her ocean below.
The microbus drops us on the main (only tarred) road that runs through town and we walk toward the beach along a dusty path. We may be right by the ocean but the soil and air is very dry here. We walk past a few small, local shops and a seafood restaurant. The locals gawking at us, knowing we are from far away, and probably wondering what brought us here. This place has much more character than Viña del Mar would have had I’m sure. Of course it’s a beautiful place, I can imagine, but I would much rather see real than shiny today.
From high above the beach seems idyllic, but as closer inspection reveals it is littered with garbage. Still that South American cultural problem that we’ve seen all around the continent. People are not taught how to keep the environment around them clean. Parents throw drinks bottles and cans and food wrappers out car windows and don’t even notice when their children do the same. There is litter everywhere and no-one seems to mind. Some say it stems from the fact that people used to wrap their food in leaves and drink their drinks from hollowed out coconuts and there would be no problem if you just chucked that in a bush. But now, because they are not educated from a young age to be aware of pollution, they still just chuck everything in a bush and expect it to disappear like natural materials would disintegrate and become part of the earth again. Unfortunately plastic doesn’t do that! (That’s my little rant for today)
This is the very first time that T or I has seen and touched the Pacific Ocean! It is freezing and extra salty. We sit on the beach for a while, contemplating life and our plans for the future, until rumbling tummies bring us back to the present. We remember the charming little seafood restaurant we spotted on our way in and don’t even think twice about trying it. A building made from wooden logs, sea sand as the floor, little tables everywhere, and family and friends talking, laughing and enjoying the day. It could not have been more perfect if I had conjured it up myself. Bread with a variety of dipping sauces, a cheesy empanada, a mixed seafood pot and a bottle of wine later we are ready to move on again. If you ever find yourself in Valparaìso and in the mood for a seafood lunch, it is definitely worth the 30min drive out to Laguna Verde. The magnificent views you will see along the way is an added bonus.
Back in Valpo we take a leisurely stroll around town for the last time. We wander through street markets and have some ice cream of course. We were told to eat a “chorrillana” at Casino Social J Cruz. What is a “chorrillana” you ask..? Well, picture this – a bed of thick French fries, mountains of melted cheese, strings of fried onions and strips of succulent beef as the cherry on top. After our delectable seafood lunch it sounds kind of gross, but we went to take a look anyway. J Cruz is situated at the end of a narrow, colourful alleyway just off Avenida Condell between Ramirez and Pudeto. If someone doesn’t show you, you won’t be able to find it. We asked a barber in a neighbouring shop and it turned out we were his 5th request for directions that day. It is there, I promise. It has been for years.
The “Chorrillana” started in this little hole in the wall as the perfect hangover food. Small and cramped with fascinating décor that includes an army missile hanging from the ceiling and an enormous white porcelain dog watching over you as you eat. It is definitely worth a look if you are in the neighbourhood. (I would show you some phone pics, but unfortunately my phone and the pictures on it found a new owner in the not too distant future, before I had a chance to download the images..) We decide to skip the “chorrillana”, although it is a rite of passage of sorts for any gringo visiting Valpo. When you go to J Cruz don’t bother to look at the menu – they only make this one thing, but you can choose to have it with beef or pork or chicken.
One last walk up the steep stairs and narrow passageways to LAB00 and I am sad that this is our last night here. To me Valparaìso is like that potential best friend you meet at a conference or on an airplane that you get to spend only a short amount of time with. But we know that if we had more time the connection would be solid.
I will be back one day!