A Short but Happy Trip up the Chilean Coast

29 Mar

Tongoy

I arrived to Santiago de Chile on Thursday morning, where I was met by my friend Nicole’s family with a welcome lunch. After going out with some friends that night, Nicole and I moved north on Friday, driving almost 4 hours up the coast towards La Serena. This city is about 450 kilometers north of Santiago, and is the capital of the Coquimbo region (it also neighbors the city of Coquimbo, literally just a split in the road like one suburban town to another). La Serena is one of the oldest cities in Chile, but we were actually heading to a small beach town village called Tongoy, 50 kilometers south of La Serena. This is where Nicole’s father recently bought a cottage overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and where Nicole has been spending time studying for the Chilean BAR exam.

The drive up was peaceful as we talked and looked at the increasingly arid and spotted landscape. After an hour or so the Pacific Ocean dramatically came into view on the left and waves crashed against the rocks and beaches. About halfway into the trip we made a stop at an hostería that seemed to be in No Man’s Land where Nicole said we would get excellent cheese empanadas. Chile is known for having excellent empanadas, and I was not let down. Argentine empanadas are great too, but the Chilean variety are larger and have different options. This kind was a fried queso mantecoso (sort of a buttery cheese) which fueled us up for the rest of the ride. By mid-afternoon we were rolling into Tongoy, and I could start to see the houses and cottages built into the hills.

The Beach in La Serena

Tongoy is a peninsula which used to be an exclusive and popular resort town, but in recent years has lost favor with the jet set crowd. Yet you still find beautiful homes (though many sit abandoned) and in the summer months the beach fills up. Since it was late March, the town was nearly empty, but the weather was still pleasant. I’ve never been to Greece, but for some reason through photos and videos that I’ve seen, I got the impression that I was on a Greek island. There was a definite Mediterranean feel to the place, and the fact that the town was nearly empty made me feel that we were alone and on an exclusive piece of land just for us. Across the inlet was a string of white condos which reflected the setting sun in the late afternoon.

The rest of the time in Tongoy was spent doing exactly what you’re supposed to do in a beach village–vegging out and relaxing. The cottage was rustic and gave me the feeling of a Cape Cod house, the kind that a family may rent for a week in the summer time. This brought me back to my own youth when my family spent a couple of summers vacationing in Dennisport, and it reminded me of days spent heading to the beach for a few hours, playing games, reading, watching an old movie, and just recuperating. Joining us at the cottage was a friend from Nicole’s childhood, Claudio, and his mother, and that night Claudio and I made an asado under the starlight. It was a bit chilly but we had some good wine to get us through it, and later we looked out on the water and could see the horizon dotted with the lights of fishing boats, hauling in the next days’ fresh catch.

More Beach

On Saturday we got a late start after waking up at our leisure and headed down to the beach. As I said before, the season in Tongoy already ended, so we were practically alone as we walked the length of the shore and to the rocks. I was hoping to go for a swim but the Pacific Ocean on the Chilean coast is pretty much always cold, coming from Antarctica on the Humboldt Current, so I just settled on getting my feet wet. It was the first and only chance I’d get to visit a beach this summer (even though it was now fall). We headed back into town to get fresh fish for a big lunch with just about everything you could want to eat in one sitting. We even had outstanding empanadas with shrimp and mussels, which is something you’ll probably never find in Argentina, a country which isn’t too big on seafood.

In the afternoon Chile played Portugal in a friendly soccer match, and though I realized that my flights back home the next day were messed up while doing my Web Check-in, we maintained the good humor by heading into La Serena that night for a final dinner. As always, Nicole’s hospitality was excellent and leaving me with a desire to come back to Chile again. There’s so much more to see, and whether it’s up in the north in the Atacama Desert or in the Patagonian south, I know that it will be a good trip.

From the Hill

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