The Fourth Region

Trip Start Oct 16, 2010
Trip End Aug 01, 2011

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Flag of Chile  ,
Monday, April 4, 2011

If you need a place to stop in-between Antofagasta and Valparaiso/Santiago, this is a nice stopover. La Serena is a lively college town with comfortable city streets for pedestrians, beautiful beaches, good rock/metal bars and a great Japanese garden. There are many cultures to explore between La Serena and Coquimbo (just up the beach). Like all of Chile, many parts of the city seem to be very indulged in their fashion and consumerism. Although we didn't get the opportunity to be here during high season, it sounds like a madhouse or a great beachy party area – however you describe it.

La Serena day 1

Since our bus from Antofagasta wasn't leaving until late, we wanted to get our luggage from the hostel at a reasonable hour so as not to bother the kind hospitality. We ended up waiting 1.5 hours at the busy Antofagasta bus station but that's OK because it is very comfortable. The Pullman bus showed up almost on time and we set out on the 12 hour smooth-road journey in our comfortable $25 semi-cama seats. The next morning, upon arriving in La Serena (another very nice bus terminal) we only had to walk about 5 blocks from the terminal to our hostel.

Hostal Balmaceda was more like an apartment than a hostel with a full kitchen and three bedrooms for just $38 a night. This is a definite high recommendation if you can catch it when it is available. We still craved seafood and beer (since being at the coast for a couple days now) but after walking the pedestrian walkway 30 minutes to the beach and another 5km along the beach we didn't find anything open (The high season is January and February). Therefore we headed back to the MallPlaza (which at this point looked amazing to our famished eyes) where we found Bariloche for shrimp and queso empanadas and Pisco Sour happy hour. It really hit the spot as we desperately needed caloric intake. Maybe they were the best empanadas in Chile but it’s hard to say when you are so hungry.

We were so excited to have a full kitchen and to be able to prepare our own meals we later headed to Jumbo grocery store just behind the mall for the ingredients to prepare the most american meal we could think of, homemade Mac n' Cheese and wine.

La Serena day 2

Still sick with a change of weather cold from Bolivia and we can't seem to beat it. Therefore after some good rest we headed out for a little exploration. The Plaza de Armas was a short 5 blocks from the hostel and it was popping! Many people both young and old sat on park benches at the plaza eating ice cream, along with a dog who had caught a bird and was now having lunch. The churches in La Serena are very plain and Spanish looking. There are really too many churches to count but the cathedral at the plaza where the archbishop presides was a little more elaborate. To our surprise, the tourist office at the plaza actually had maps of the city (unlike the other "tourist" office on the beach in the lighthouse). Now we know everything.

It had been 5 days since the screen on our laptop was broken so after quite a bit of research we went to Paris department store at the mall to buy a netbook. It's a great item to have and it's very convenient to carry with you (especially for writing blogs on the bus). On our excursion to the plaza we saw a sushi deal at Jackfish Ceviceria so we tried a great corvina ceviche but the simple california roll was not what we expected and we don't suggest it. Definitely a high recommendation for the ceviche!

There was some type of festival with blaring music we could hear from inside our bedroom starting at 11pm until the wee hours but we were still not feeling up to a party and just too lazy to get dressed again.

La Serena day 3

This was a mostly quiet day. Having such days is the real advantage of having a nice apartment to stay at for a while. Bee was getting a little sicker and therefore spent most of the day resting while Raymie searched for apartments in Santiago, setup our new computer and went on an hour long adventurous pizza quest.

La Serena day 4

Our relaxed homebodiness ran into another day today. We spent the first half of the day researching and working on our travel blog. We even found a good apartment for our month stay in Santiago. Before it got dark we wanted to do some more exploring of the city. Since Bee still was a little under the weather we did not want to venture too far so we walked all around the La Serena city center.

The Parque Pedro Valdriva is very impressive as it has beautiful open exposition spaces, a roller hockey rink, and many animals such as huge ostriches and llamas to see and interact with free of charge. There are also hills in the park covered with people making out – a sort of inspiration point it seems.

Across from the park entrance is the entrance to the Jardin Japonese. For a skimpy $2 entrance, we explored the beautiful gardens, lagoon, bridges and zen. There are also waterfalls and peculiar looking swan/goose-like birds.

On our way back through town we stopped at Coffee Express for Serena Sours with papaya juice. A very nice stop to sit and people watch but they didn't have any empanadas. While sitting next to the cobblestone street enjoying our drinks one of the local universities came through holding what appeared to be an adhoc parade. There were a couple oddly put together car-floats, a dragon, some people dressed up and a small marching band leading the way. Maybe a bit of a pep rally??

For dinner we rolled into a German Restobar but we were informed that they were no longer serving food. We tried another place and it was the same story. We thought this strange as it was only 9:30pm and the people in the country generally eat much later. We ended up checking out Wan Wen Zhang Rincon Oriental for chinese food. Fate handed us a bad card. It was really bad and expensive Chinese food. Chinese food can be bad or expensive but I don’t think I’ve ever had both. For a nightcap we tried out the Duna Classic Rock Bar. It was packed for inexpensive drinks and classic heavy metal music. We enjoyed a liter of Stella Artois for only $3.60! Wonderful.

La Serena day 5

Since we didn’t explore too much yesterday we dedicated today to stretch ourselves. We grabbed a couple bikes that were available from the hostel and headed out to the beach and beyond. We rode about 10 km up the beach to Coquimbo. It was so nice to be riding along the waterfront again after being landlocked for the past few months. As Coquimbo drew closer you could tell we were entering a different world. The transition really takes you form a Sacramento grungy college town through a yuppie beach village into a well-developed Ocean Beach/Pacific Beach peninsula. (California references)  After crossing into Coquimbo we found the fish markets. They were impressively large and provided the typical mix of fish products, restaurants and artisans. Walking dockside and through the markets was a very nice introduction to the city.

Another km or two down the road, as we entered the heart of the peninsula we came across the strip of restaurants and discoteques. It was heavily saturated with fun-looking places but nothing was open on a Saturday afternoon as usual. We are having the hardest time understanding why nothing is open in South America on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. It is such a great time to go out and have fun. After continuing through the beach community’s parks and commercial districts we decided to head back to the fish market for great ceviche at Comedores Casanova. The seafood was fresh and tasty but when I asked for a beer I was told they only had wine. When I asked for red wine I was told they only have white. When I received my white wine it was in a coffee mug. . . and soon after receiving my white wine in a coffee mug, the tables on both sides of us received red wine in proper stem glassware. What kind of nonsense are they trying to pull on us.

After riding around the city a bit longer we headed back down the beach strip separating the two larger communities. The strip is spotted with beach restaurants and bars every block or so but try finding a place open on a Saturday afternoon. Finally we found Kardamomo, a nice restaurant with a perfect deck pertruding into the beach. It was the perfect location for a couple of well deserved beers. Austral Patagona red ipa may have shot its way to the top of our South American beer list after this experience.

Yeah Naptime! And leftover pizza! It is so nice to have a kitchen.

After collecting ourselves and cleaning up for the evening we headed out for our Saturday night adventures. We first ran around La Serena looking for a jazz bar or some other action but the city is mostly filled with college style rock n' role bars – not exactly what we are looking for on a Saturday night. We decided to bite the bullet and take a $10 taxi to the beach between La Serena and Coquimbo where we new there was a row of nicer clubs and restobars. We started at A Votre Sante Lounge Resto Bar. We love the name and the atmosphere kind of matched it. Sitting at the posh bar we observed the thirty-somethings eating, drinking, laughing, and bouncing to the mashup of housy lounge and 1980’s hits. They advertised disco house and hits de hoy, but for them "today" must have been 30 years ago.

Given that the club upstairs was not open yet (it probably opened about 1am) we walked across the street at about midnight to Club Oxigeno Lounge. I think they had a cover but when approached by the door man I just acted dumb and without Spanish so they ushered us right in. It had pretty good music and a large packed dance floor. There was a very entertaining MC that constantly commented and sang with the music. This is usually annoying, but not this guy. The crossover to latin beats provided a very different set of songs than what we had been used to in northern South America.

After a couple hours we decided to make our way back to A Votre Sante to check out their upstairs. Apparently we needed a ticket to get into the club area and the acting Spanishless dumb wasn’t working this time. But fortunately, a photographer that was taking pictures of us when we were at the bar earlier overheard the conversartion, went to the bar and brought us back two tickets for admittance. No cover all night!! This place was much nicer with multiple levels and nicely dressed people. Bee danced with the Chilean Wayne Nelsen while Raymie was in the bathroom but as soon as he came back Chilean Wayne got scared and ran away. It was a really fun night and leads us to think that high season in this area must be a great time for the Chilean vacationers.

La Serena day 6

Lazy Sunday Movie Mornings! This morning we walked to the nearby MallPlaza for food since it was early Sunday and nothing else would be open yet. We tried Fritz’ in the food court for sandwich combos with schop (draft beer) but no beer was available because they were "cleaning" the lines all day or something stupid. The service took forever and they weighed the fries on the plate so we received exactly 200 grams. The food was not the best and we would not recommend people to go to this establishment.

Since we were out and about we decided to get some groceries for the rest of the day so that we could try to get some productive things accomplished. We hit the local Jumbo grocery store for Fondue in a box (which turned out to be pretty good but Henning would still not approve), wine, bread, apples and chocolates – a typical Sunday evening feast.

The only other time we left our apartment was to walk to the bus station to inquire about bus tickets to Vicuņa. Buses basically left all day and we couldn’t even purchase tickets a day in advance.

Lazy Sunday complete!

La Serena day 7

Nothing like morning wine and bread leftovers while packing before carrying our 60 pounds of luggage (each) on our backs to the thankfully close bus station. The bus stations in Chile are a breeze, safe and comfortable. We're off to Vicuņa!

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