Speaking Spanish By The Seashore

This blog entry about the events of Sunday, December 19, 2010 was originally posted on December 22, 2010.

DAY 4:  After breakfast, Emily intended to ask Enrique, our host, how we could take the bus from Valparaíso to the resorty beach town of Viña del Mar (just a few miles north along the coast) to the best of her non-Spanish-speaking ability.  However, the only thing that came out was, “Uh… autobus?

I interjected and asked with the best of my I-only-know-the-present-tense-of-verbs Spanish, what was the best way to get to there.

“[The metro is the best way,]” Enrique told us in Spanish, giving me his electronic rechargable Metro card.  “[Here, take my card.  It’s one thousand pesos per person.  One thousand for you, one thousand for you.  Put two thousand on the card and then swipe in, then pass the card to her.  It’s the best way.  Just give me the card when you’re done.]”  I translated to Emily.

Vamos!Emily announced.  “[You] like that?”  We smiled.

Contrasting the urban and colorful graffiti-lined walls, staircases, streets, sidewalks, cafés, and stairwells of Valparaíso is Viña del Mar, a resorty beach town frequented by foreigners and Chileans alike for its beaches and shopping.  Emily and I hopped on the train and in less than fifteen minutes we had been transported from an industrial port to a beachfront town that reminded me of southern California, with its palm tree-lined streets, parks, and promenades.  Despite all that, our first order of business was to check out the big supermarket in town, to gaze at the sausage freezer and grab some soft drinks.  (Chileans are wild about sausage.)

A casual stroll down the main shopping promenade brought us to the coast.  Along the way there were street performers with drums attached to their backs, sax players playing “Careless Whisper,” shopping malls with weird footed gift boxes that hung from the ceiling, and artesenal craft markets selling wallets, jewelry, and kitschy dolls.  Despite the temperature being in the low-to-mid 80s, a guy was still dressed up in a hot Santa Claus outfit to appease the children. 

“How do you say ‘beach?’” Em asked me.


¿Donde es la playa?” she said, practicing her Spanish.  “Mas por menos,” she said pointing to a storefront.  “I know that one!”

We eventually made it to the beach, took off our legs and leggings, changed into our flippy-floppys, and strolled onto the hot sand to lounge for a bit and get some sun.  Emily was happy to get some color because she said she looked like a ghost on the first day, only she was getting tan lines and not enough sun on her neck area.  “You’re the opposite of a redneck,” I told her.

“A white neck.”

Sitting on the beach was pleasant — especially with Guns ‘n Roses’ “November Rain” playing faintly in the background — however there’s not one view of the ocean without a huge, port-dwelling barge obstructing the view of the horizon, even from the top of the Castillo Wulff (picture above) just north of the fancy Sheraton hotel.  From the coast we walked beyond the grand casino and into a more residential part of town, where the signage and architecture screamed 1970s.  It was in this part of town that we got some homemade empanadas from a well-known place offering 27 varieties of fillings, several of which we needed to pull out the phrasebook to figure out the Spanish.  Spinach and shrimp, chorizo, and the traditional pino stuffing filled our mouths, and I washed it down with an ice cold Cristal.

The Archaeological and Natural History Museum was nearby, which was good to kill some more time.  Characterized by the Moai statue in front (a peek into things to come on this trip), the museum had many artifacts (like shrunken heads) and taxidermed animals, which I got a kick out of placing my finger in their mouths (from behind the glass), or squishing their heads or beaks.  “I can’t believe you’re laughing,” Emily told me.  “It’s not funny.”

“Oh, it’s hilarious,” I told her truthfully, still chuckling.  “It’s maybe not funny by itself, but as a series.”  She eventually joined in on the goofiness and popped her head behind a two-headed goat.

SPANISH BY THE SEASHORE continued back in Valparaíso, which we returned to by public bus.  There was just enough daylight to go into the don’t-go-there-at-night part of town, where we got on a collectivo boat tour of the harborJuan Carlos spoke only in Spanish to the 20-person vessel of mostly Chilean families and one American family (from Minnesota), which took us around to see the Chilean Navy battle ships, the loading cranes, the titanic Holland America cruise ship in town, the boats shaped like ducks, the boats with ducks painted on them, and the sea lions exposing their necks to the sun.

“Look, they’re laying out to get sun [under their chins],” I pointed out to Emily.

“Good technique!” she called out to the animals, not that they knew English, or Spanish for that matter.

Spanish was not necessary for the rest of the day — the rest of our stay in Valparaíso — for we had dined at a place that was nice but unavoidably touristy because it was one of the few establishments actually open on a Monday.  (Most things are closed Sunday-Monday, if you’re taking notes.)  Decanted Malbec complemented Chilean dishes of pebre (tomato, onions, seaweed), tender beef tongue, and salmon with charquican (a Chilean corn-based vegetable dish).  We were happy, as opposed to the awkward middle-aged couple next to us.  “Can I take a picture of his shoes?” Emily asked; she was on a mission to take pictures of the shoes of people that we encountered as a quirky art project.

Spanish wasn’t necessary when chatting up the travelers at the hostel over wines and pisco sours later that night, but the language helped when chatting up our host Enrique, who was preparing breakfast for those leaving on early morning buses the next day, including us. 

Es como Rapa Nui,” I told Enrique (”como Iglesias”), referring to the Moai statues of Easter Island.  I don’t know what spawned a series of photos with him, Emily and me posing with eggs, but it was pretty funny anyway.

“[Your friend is always smiling, always happy,]” he told Emily the next morning while I packed my bags.  She was getting the hang of the Spanish language after all, even without me to translate.  Not that I’m the authority on Spanish; when trying to get some ointment at a pharmacy in Viña del Mar to soothe what I guessed were bed bug bites I got on my first night in Santiago, I stumbled on my Spanish and asked for crema de cama, i.e. “bed cream.”

“[That sounds a little disgusting,]” Emily told me.  Hey, we can’t all be on our toes with another language all the time.

Next entry: Adopted Families

Previous entry: Chilean Graffiti

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Comments for “Speaking Spanish By The Seashore”

  • More to come…  Today is a blog catch-up day.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  12:35 PM

  • more panorama pics!

    empanadas b.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  06:43 PM

  • how often do you have “decanted malbec” with pebre

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  07:26 PM

  • “Guilty feet have got not rhythm.”  Classic travel tune to really make you think.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/23  at  05:39 PM

  • how come you didn’t stick your finger in the sea lions’ mouths? wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/27  at  04:26 PM

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This blog post is one of nineteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Chill Out in Chile," which chronicled a trip through the country of Chile, from the central and coastal cities of Santiago and Valparaiso (plus a quick jaunt to Argentina's nearby wine region of Mendoza), followed by a trek through southern Patagonia, and a journey to Easter Island.

Next entry:
Adopted Families

Previous entry:
Chilean Graffiti


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