Ideally, I try to leave Santiago for one weekend a month at a minimum. This past weekend Marcela and I grabbed a bus with really no plan other than to head to the sea. From the city, it’s only about an hour fifteen to get to the central coast. We hopped off the bus in El Tabo, and there was a lady waiting to rent out rooms in her house. I hadn’t felt like reserving anywhere, so we took her up on it. We figured she’s nice, the price is right and it’s simple enough. It’s not quite high season [December – February] so lodging options abound if you are looking to comparison shop.
From the house on the peninsula between El Tabo and Isla Negra, we wandered down the hill toward the sea, over the bridge and onto main street for a pan-fried merluza. Then we thought it was time for champagne on the beach. After searching three shops, we found a chilled bottle and the pedestrian path to the waterfront. On our way down walking past the artisans selling their craft, we happened past one of Pablo Neruda’s houses, which is now a museum. He had several homes in Chile, and they were all filled with knick-knacks, trinkets and collectables. The word on the street is that he would help himself to stuff in people’s homes that he liked. They say he asked of course – didn’t just fill his pockets at will. We noticed they were setting up for an event inside. Turns out they had live jazz for free at 7 PM. Excellent! We are both big jazz fans so we happily had our next plan of action.
The name Isla Negra, or black island, chosen by Neruda seems to come from the giant, black, mottled boulders lining the beach. It isn’t an island though, but a sort of peninsula. This isn’t the kind of beach for lolling around with a book or playing volleyball. The rocks are jagged and awkward, so you have to strategically position your bum for maximum comfort. It’s the kind of beach for staring at the salty waves and contemplating if your life is where you want it to be. I feel like it washes my brain free of cranial debris. It’s really easy while relaxing here to decide to build a cabin in Patagonia or a stilt house on the beach. If I have internet, I can live nearly anywhere.
As we are in Latin America, we figured the live music wouldn’t start on time. We were wrong, so the doors were locked. It can be hard to plan when to arrive on time, and when to show up late in this country. We decided to sit for a bit in the little park next door on the chessboard-covered picnic benches. A white-haired grandfather strolled up to greet us. After his “having a picnic?” opening, we moved on to talk about travel, history, politics, family and food. I love meeting such friendly folk who enjoy a quality, random hour-long chat that ends with bear hugs.
Not to be outdone, we met Isabel and Ivan, a truly delightful couple who make fantastic fresh empanadas – mostly fried, some baked – and serve homemade meals, including vegetarian ones, roasted chicken and dessert all at great prices. Their restaurant is right where the bus stops in downtown Isla Negra, which makes their to-go dishes quite convenient. Not only is their food wonderful, their disposition is incredible. From a simple food stop, we ended up talking with them for nearly 3 hours. I had no idea so much time had passed. That’s what happens when conversing with sincere people. They shared their perspectives on the region, tourism, language, culture and much more. Truly, heart-warming individuals. They offered us some Cola de Mono, a tasty alcohol-based drink with cloves, cream and other spices. It has the same texture as an Irish Cream. We will definitely be seeing them again, and you should, too. Try the Empanada Chilena. It’s filled with cheese, perfectly sautéed onion, cilantro and a touch of tomato in a flaky pie crust.
From there we went to The Eighties Bar for a good local brew and some hilarious karaoke. My karaoke stylings are usually limited to when I hang out with my parents. My dad’s nickname is Tom Jovi. My mom loves to sing Pussy Control by Prince. But this evening Marce and I couldn’t be stopped! Except for closing time. After that we wandered back home and woke up with a hankering for a good Mariscal. We found it in San Antonio on the caleta, or dock. There are numerous restaurants right on the sea, but be aware that if you get a table with a view it won’t be über economical. But oh, the freshness!
That’s it. We installed ourselves on the bus full and happy heading back to the city so that Marcela could vote in the presidential election. Go green party! Although we all know Bachelet will be the next president. She could appoint Sfeir as Minister for the Environment. Just sayin’…
Así de simple, you can get outta the city even for 24 hours, have great food, smell clean sea air and meet kind people. And what’s not to love about looking at foamy waves crashing on ebony-colored rocks?