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January 23, 2009
“The houses became colors: a blend of amaranth and yellow, crimson and cobalt, green and purple.”
--Pablo Neruda on Valparaiso, from Memoirs.
The front desk calls to say that Hector is waiting downstairs with the car. Funny, I only recall consuming two Pisco Sours last night. My attenuated morning routine puts me in the lobby 15 minutes later. We’re off to see the historic port town of Valparaiso and the nearby resort of Viña del Mar.
Hector cruises along Highway 68, slicing through the rolling vines of Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Merlot in the Casablanca Valley. By mid-morning, we stretch our legs at the open-air market at the entrance of Valparaiso. We examine the curious choclo, a large grain Andean corn roughly twice the length and width of an American ear, and can’t quite figure out why people at this hour are buying the now slightly pungent fish and shrimp. A little farther down, the produce gives way to the flea market. Following a quick inspection, we return to our car. Hector then deposits us by the port.
We spend the next 90 minutes climbing the steep paths and labyrinthine allies of the Cerros, admiring the brightly painted bohemian houses and the spectacular view of the city. From these heights all things are clear.
We circle back to the port and idly watch some cargo being offloaded when Hector’s horn summons us to lunch.
We follow the coastal road through the popular summer resort of Viña del Mar, continuing on to the neighboring town of Concón and our restaurant, Don Chicho, where I heartily recommend the corvina (sea bass) with pink peppercorn sauce. Corvina, sometimes translated as sea bass, is really weakfish--a dense fish with sweet firm flesh. What we call "Chilean Sea Bass" is really Patagonian toothfish. The great Argentine boxer, Luis Firpo, who once sent heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey through the ropes, attributed his great strength to a daily diet of corvina.
From our table we can see a family of abalone clinging to the rocks below. All this sun, sand, and surf raise the obvious question: Why don’t we travel like this all of the time?