Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Heaven is in Chile (but so are Earthquakes)

It’s times like these that we feel guilty.

Backpacking is supposed to be uncomfortable. It’s supposed to be difficult. We should be in a run-down hostel in a nasty part of some third world city, right?

Instead, we found ourselves in a tiny Chilean fishing village renting a studio apartment with a massive balcony high on a cliff over the Pacific Ocean. 

I'll just throw it out there now: this post might contain a lot of bragging.

And this after three relaxing, fun days in Santiago, basking in the hospitality of our friend Devin, a buddy from Columbia who has been living in Chile for two years. I’ll cover our time in Santiago in a later post, as we are going back there again this weekend.

For now, I want to wax poetic about Valparaiso and brag about our stay in Heaven, I mean, Horcon.

From Santiago, we jumped on a bus heading to Chile’s 2,700 mile (4,300 km) long coast. More specifically, we went to the city of Valparaiso.

A few months ago, we met an American guy, a travel writer (lucky bastard…), who had fallen in love with Valparaiso and told us to spend as much time there as we could. Apparently he had found a welcoming home in a nice hostel there and stayed for two weeks. He told us about eating local fish every day, drinking too much wine on the hostel's patio at night; there had been a girl- you know how that can be- and the city for him was as its name implies: paradise.

Our time there was less paradisaical, but still interesting enough. 

First off, it’s a genuinely cool city. Think of Valparaiso as that hippy girl who is actually average-looking, but whose cool, quirky personality makes her seem really pretty. She is nice to look at, but more for her unique style and colorful airs than for her aesthetic beauty. She’s natural, and as a result, can be a little dirty, even stinky at times, but somehow that rawness only makes her more attractive.

Beyond the cheesy metaphors, Valparaiso is a coastal city that flows up into the hills just beyond the port in a colorful, crazy, jumbled wave of brightly-painted houses and buildings. Ugh- why can’t I stop writing in metaphors?!
Just a random salsa band playing professional renditions of Buena Vista Social Club songs on a sunny Wednesday morning in Valparaiso.
For us, the few days we spent in Valpo (as the much-cooler-than-us locals call it) was defined by two things: graffiti and an earthquake.

First, the graffiti. Valparaiso is covered in it. I’m not talking about small-minded, anti-establishment tags. You know, someone’s name scrawled sloppily in spray paint on the side of an historic monument as if writing in cursive makes it any less trashy. 

No, I’m talking about art. Intricate, creative, unique public art. Everywhere. I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but it was vibrant and intriguing and made the whole city come to life. 

Tell me you don't want to dance down those stairs. 
Now that's my kind of civil disobedience.
Did Dr. Seuss live in Valpo?

And as I said before, we had an something of an earthquake situation in Valparaiso.

We were in bed in our thankfully sturdy hostel and had just fallen asleep when there was a deep rumble all around us as our bed started shaking, waking us up immediately. The entire world was moving: the walls, the groaning doorframe, the rattling stain glass skylight right above our bed (Helloooo, safety hazard…). 

You all know by now that I’m a giant drama queen, so I’ll just say it: it felt like the world was ending.

It lasted about 30 seconds, which doesn’t sound that bad, but believe me, when you think you are going to die, 30 seconds is a LONG time. We were both just paralyzed, pinned to the bed with fear and confusion. I had vague ideas of getting under the bed or moving to the supposedly-more-stable doorframe, but instead I just lay there, frozen, repeatedly yelling, “Oh my god. Oh. My. GOD!” until the shaking finally stopped.  Heroic, I know.

We felt two aftershocks in the minutes following the quake (which ended up being a 6.8 on the Richter Scale) and those slight rumblings, coupled with my waning adrenaline, broke my nerves completely.

I cried.

Kind of a lot.

But enough about natural disasters, let me tell you about our little slice of heaven that we found after that!

To counterbalance Valparaiso’s craziness, we took a bus up the coast through a series of small towns until we came to Horcon, a tiny, tranquil, colorful fishing village with absolutely nothing to do that would attract any other tourists. We rented a studio on a cliff overlooking the ocean and were the only gringos in town.

It was what we had wanted Valparaiso to be: paradise. 


The view down the coast from our balcony

Horcon was heaven. Every morning, we woke up to the sound of the waves below and to the view of those waves through the floor to ceiling window at the foot of our bed.

After coffee and breakfast on our balcony, we would meander down to the port to watch the fishing boats come in (and then be pulled up onto the beach by horses!), knowing that our dinner was aboard.

We bought the freshest shellfish from a beachfront fisherman’s shack and if we were feeling especially decadent (which we usually were), we would grab some seafood-stuffed empanadas and a cold beer from one of the nearby food stands before heading back home. Evenings were spent on our balcony and in the kitchen, cooking up and devouring our daily purchases.

We basically didn't move from here for four days.
A little too excited about his seafood feast
One of our few restaurant meals: Paila, a Chilean seafood stew
Basically, we did absolutely nothing besides eat seafood, sleep, and bliss out on our balcony. Actually, that's not true, we did go to a deserted beach one day, which was nice except that within 30 seconds of being there, I almost literally stumbled across the decaying corpse of a long-dead seal, half covered in sand and rotting in the sun. Charming. We ran back to the seal-free safety of our balcony soon after that.

Our four days in Horcon was perfection (minus the seal). It was like vacation, only instead of having to go back to work afterwards, we had to go to Easter Island.

I’m trying to think of something humble or negative to say to soften my bragging, but I got nothin'. 

Dead seal, anyone?


  1. Your writing so amuses me.

    Are we related? Your writing and sarcastic humor so quickly puts me in front of a mirror. better or worse.

    thanks for sharing your trip, lives and selves.

    David Evansville, IN

    1. Thanks David! And we just might be related- my dad's family, the Iglehearts, are from Evansville! Thanks again for reading!

  2. It all sounds lovely and wonderful with 30 seconds of earth-shuddering excitement thrown in! Love the photos! (Including your feet!)

  3. I catched up! Go and bring us more bragging!
    next time go under the bed

  4. Hello,
    We are a British couple living in Chile and we're thinking of heading to Horcon for a few days next week (you've inspired us!) Could you possibly give me details of or directions to the Studio you stayed in? It looks great!
    Many thanks!

    1. Hi Ellen,
      Thanks for reading! Horcon is really wonderful, you'll love it. The studio we stayed in was through the site: http://www.cabanashorcon.cl/cabanasA.html

      The lady who owns it is named Michaela. If there are only two of you, I suggest to get a cabana simple, but ask for the one all the way to the left, which has more windows and better views. Hopefully it will be available, but if not, the others are nice too. Enjoy!


    2. That's great, thanks so much Elissa!
      Happy travels,