(Updated on 2/5/07 to remove photos due to possibly related spam issues. Please see this post for full photo regalia)
Given we’re prolific (if typically local) explorers, and especially of the urban neighborhoods and corners others would rather skip or don’t even know exist, the M.A.S. and I talk frequently about authoring a travel guide more suited to our tastes. Turns out on this 18 day trip to South America, we were also looking for travel buddies. Seems urban or overseas tourists are either in their study-abroad or retirement periods, with not enough exception. Other than a random Alabaman siting, some enthusiastic Kiwis traveling round the world, some missionizing college-age Pennsylvanians, and a lone male Floridian looking for a Brazilian site to watch the college football championship, we crossed paths with very few travelers that might have made suitable, fleeting companions for an afternoon or two. At lunch one day the M.A.S. asked, “does no one travel in their 30s because they all have kids?” Good question, and one I couldn’t answer after multiple glasses of Sauvignon Blanc.
(pic o’ wine belongs here)
But I think he’s on to something. What follows is a recap of our adventure that won’t show up in the male-dominated, thrifty, hippie trekker-oriented Rough Guides and Lonely Planets (i.e., we didn’t ride the bus and thus didn’t linger in stations of any kind), and hopefully is not as aged as a Frommer’s recommendation.
As urban planners and afficionados, we’re not looking for a strictly beach vacation. While we’re seeking R&R and nooky like any couple who escapes from home for any period of time, we need a lot of intellectual stimulation, if also some space to roam. Thus, this trip of exploring foreign cities and their surrounding coasts worked well for us.
With roughly a week each in Santiago, Chile and Recife, Brazil, we had a couple days each week to devote to the beach, tanning, reading and at least one night of an intense UNO showdown (This game really needs 4 people, especially if 2 of them are Tergie and Mrs. Goofball, heckling each other until Mrs. Goofball is totally salty!). As mentioned, the Pacific Ocean along which Chile lies is too cold for most sane individuals (e.g., me),
and the urban beaches of Recife are not clean enough (and smell as such) for most Americans. The one suitable strip of Recife is the up(per)-scale Boa Viagem, which also offers enough people-watching; snacking on fried cheese-curd popsicles (The Cheeseheads are stirring….), fresh pineapples and shrimp, hot dogs, the local firewater cachaca, and of course, tasty coconut milk; and the occasional shark scare to keep any beach goer engaged for an afternoon.
In Brazil, we ventured out of Recife for an afternoon to the cleaner beaches in the South, fleeing the initial destination of Porto de Galinhas (Rooster Beach, “rooster” being a code name that stuck for a secret slave delivery point long after slavery was outlawed in Brazil) when we discovered how touristy it was (we literally could not move on the beach it was that crowded; seems all the pristine, spare guidebook photos were either taken at dawn or in 1948 before the site was developed) and ended up at Calhetas, a much more secluded (though hardly sparse) and chill beach cove where we befriended Recifens Emilio and Theresa – a cop and physical therapist – and drank cachaca with them all afternoon while we tried to describe to them Brazilians in Boston and I admired Theresa’s amazingly waterproof red lipstick. After several cachacas – which, when not in a caipirinha, is poured like a tequila shot and sipped slowly – Emilio got stuck on the notion of the M.A.S. tying the knot and spent the rest of the afternoon demonstrating to me how to catch my other half by grinding and turning his thumb and second finger against his opposit open palm, as if putting the screws to something. His point exactly, I suppose. I told him that just as he encouraged us to take our cachaca – “SLOWLY, SLOWLY” he repeatedly chanted – so did I approach my relationship (never-minding planning an almost 3 week trip with your new boyfriend). Nothing like drinkin’ with an off-duty cop for a few laughs and free rounds.
(M.A.S. in hats and bathing suits, lying blissfully in the sand)
A couple hours north of Santiago, Cachagua has a worse rap in some of the guidebooks (of the Rough Guide/Lonely Planet breed) as a vacation spot for Chilean society types, but mostly it reminded me of an upscale, Spanish version of the area of Falmouth on Cape Cod where my aunt has owned a home for years. Roving packs of teens, families that all know each other, a walk to the beach, sitting around at night with beers and the grill going, the place was not unfamiliar. Leaving out the logistical nightmare that cut short our stay in Fran’s house, the M.A.S. had a wild New Year’s Eve there, complete with grilling, boozing, dancing and even fireworks. I was memorialized in a few minds for crowing “I love fireworks” with a 6-year old’s innocent enthusiasm as the display kicked off, but it’s true. I love fireworks!
The rest of the Chilean coast speaks for itself, and might leave you speechless. We went from Zapallar through Cachagua down to Vina del Mar (certainly the Jersey Shore of Chile if one exists there) and on to Valparaiso.
(The Vina strip)
As mentioned earlier, we were almost mugged in Valparaiso while lost via the popular “creaming” strategy in which tourists are “egged” (our case) or hit with some equivalent murky substance so as to be approached by lingering cons posing who appear helpful with tissues, etc., and then offer to take you somewhere – in our case, into an abandoned elevator shaft – so that they might mug you. We got away with our wallets, cameras, etc. intact, but with our pride and confidence wounded. I’ve lived to tell, but like Jamaica, Valparaiso is forever sullied in my mind. Nonetheless, we got some cool shots, had a great lunch, and rode the rickety old, monumental elevators with the best of ’em.
Despite the sunny, turquoise allure of the photos, that’s about the extent of our beach vacation. The rest of the trip was spent exploring urban, cultural terrains. Subsequent chapters of the Redstar Guide to come.