This weekend the Llama and I indulged in a one night getaway in honor of Valentine’s Day. We packed our bags for Bahía Laguna Verde, about 14km (less than 9 miles) south of Valparaíso. Excited to explore new terrain, we pictured ourselves hiking on the coastline, reading on the beach, playing ukulele and relaxing by a campfire as we had done on many of our backyard adventures on the Oregon Coast or Northern California. While I hate to say our expectations were ill-met, I will say that the Llama and I once again heard the universe insisting that we drop our ideas of what comes next.
One friendly truck ride with some lovely university students and their father, two hot city bus rides, and three dusty colectivo rides down unpaved roads for more luca than I would have liked to part with, and we arrived at the campground Islote Las Gaviotas. The website had featured lots of pictures of campers doing yoga on the beach, smiling over picnic tables and biking into the sunset. They purported to have a van to assist with transportation, as well as bathrooms and showers. Fantastic.
The reality we encountered went more like this:
- The campground property had forty campsites and was massive. Based on the people I saw, I would guess that there were a total of four other sites in use. The Llama and I had the place pretty much had the place to ourselves, along with a few roaming horses and a burro.
- For transportation, I saw on the property a broken down school bus, a red VW bug filled with tires, and a painted station wagon that hadn’t gone anywhere in at least five years. No van for friendly transport in sight. The dueño of the campground wound up picking us up from an almacén about 6km away from the campground in his dusty hatchback and charged us 6,000 CLP for the ride which is a lot for a ride down a dirt road to his campground.
- Regarding bathroom facilities, let’s just say that from the smell in some spots, as well as discarded toilet paper in the bushes, I deduced that a few previous campers had preferred a tree to the bathroom stalls. Once I had seen the stalls, I couldn’t blame them. And though I never went to visit the cold showers (because WHY would anyone want that?!), I would not exactly have called the hot shower hot. Nor would I have really called it a shower. But it did cost an additional 600 CLP.
But since we had accidentally made a side trip to a different beach before we had had the opportunity to take in all of the above (see 3 colectivo rides and being dropped off at an almacén 6km from our destination), we settled into the campsite for the evening.
As soon as we had set up our tent we set off for the ocean. It was beautiful, pristine, and rugged, and the sun had just tucked behind some massive rocks. Waves surged around us in every direction, and the journey of the day melted away. We felt refreshed—THIS was what we had come for.
We ventured down the road, following Camino Al Faro. Crossing a few signs that warned “Prohibida La Entrada” was no big deal since we could always pretend we don’t speak Spanish, right? The bent barbed-wire fence and well-traveled pathway to the other side were all but a personal invitation to advance.
Faro Curaumilla was a catch-your-breath-and-stare sight. Set high on the peninsula, surrounded by nothing but a dry dusty hill and some stubborn vegetation, it looked to me like a toy version of the Cape Cod lighthouses of my childhood. But being there as the sun fell into the ocean felt magical, like that view wasn’t supposed to be for us and might disappear at any moment. But why keep it hidden? A view like that was meant to be appreciated. I felt like a kite ready to take off into the coastal wind, high on the thrill of our find after the effort of the day.
The next day we did sit on the beach at Laguna Verde, where we took in the sun and jumped into the blue-green ocean waves. I enjoyed fresh mariscos at a restaurant with the nicest bathroom I’ve seen in Chile. And though I could have played my ukulele, I didn’t because I was enjoying the sun and my book (reading Bel Canto by Ann Patchett) as well as las gaviotas flocking overhead.
I am trying to remind myself that from the moment we set foot in South America, everywhere we go we have never been before. For better or for worse, I have no way of knowing if at the end of the day I will have found what I was looking for, something else entirely, or nothing at all. These days, just going through it has to be enough. Or maybe that shouldn’t just be these days— I’d be wise to remember this every day. Returning to Viña del Mar, the Llama and I felt relieved to be home, to take a nice hot shower with amazing water pressure, and to plan out the next day—without too many expectations, of course.
A Friendly Glossary of Terms
Bahía Laguna Verde: Bay of the Green Lagoon.
Colectivo: In Chile, “colectivos” are taxis which will take you and as many other people as will fit in the vehicle along a fixed route as indicated on the roof of the car. The price per person is fixed and does not really depend on the distance one is going. Chileans say they are sort of like “mini-buses.” In my experience the vehicles used as colectivos are in very sad shape, are very small cars, and the drivers seem to have a death wish.
Luca: A common term for cash in small amounts in Chile. Sort of like “bucks” in the States as in “I spent a few bucks.”
Islote Las Gaviotas: Directly translated to “Islet of The Seagulls.” I had to look up Islet, which means a very small island. The campground was not on an island, it was set on the side of a peninsula. I presume the name refers to the rocky outcroppings at the nearby beach were there was, indeed, quite a large population of seagulls.
Burro: Donkey. As in there was a donkey running around the campsite.
Dueño: Directly translated to “owner.”
Almacén: Directly translated to “store.” Here in Chile, an almacén sells some produce like onions, potatoes, and avocado, lots of soda and packaged snacks, and fried empanadas. Kind of like a country convenience store.
6,000 CLP: About $8.50 USD
600 CLP: About $.85 USD
Camino Al Faro: Road to the Lighthouse
Prohibida La Entrada: Entrance Prohibited
Faro Curaumilla: Curaumilla Lighthouse was built in 1893 and was operated by a lighthouse attendant until 1995. A lighthouse keeper house was built in 1910 and was there until 1983, and on the grounds you can see the ruins of the foundation of what was the house. The lighthouse is now automated. I’m pretty sure it runs on solar which was cool to see!
Mariscos: Directly translated to shellfish. This particular dish came with a mix of small shrimp, mussels, calamari, scallops, and “machas” or Chilean surf clams.
Las Gaviotas: Seagulls