Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Leaving Valparaiso, Chile

What do you do for the rest of the day after you’ve checked out of your hotel, and your bus doesn’t leave until 9:45 p.m.? We decided I should get a haircut.

I’d been mumbling about it for days, but every time we passed a barber or salon, I’d make some excuse:

“Looks too busy in there right now.”
“Not now.”
“Tomorrow, maybe. We have plenty of time.”
“Do they do guys’ hair? Looks pretty airy-fairy in there.”

Finally, I worked myself into the mood – or maybe into a corner.

So, after stashing our packs for later pick-up, we ambled along the street until we saw a salon and ducked inside. The hairdresser was just finishing a chat with her last customer – but in German! So we had three languages in common – two which she spoke fluently (Spanish & German), and one in which she could only form broken phrases, and only after much effort (English). Unfortunately, my German and Spanish are only about as fluent as her English, but Jolene says we chattered away through the whole process of my haircut.

She told me she had lived in Germany for 10 years, returning to Chile about 13 years ago. I never found out why she went, or what she did there. However, there is a sizeable German population in Chile, especially in the Lake District, where we were going next, so it looks like there’s a bit of continuous exchange between the countries.

Anyway, haircut done, we ambled back to the arts & culinary district near our hostel to dine on some truly fine Italian food. There being no rush, we dawdled over lunch, took some photos of the Valparaiso harbor from our vantage point on the trattoria balcony, and then wandered the cobblestoned streets of the neighborhood.
As the sun slanted to the northwest, the comfortable daytime temperatures gave way to cool breezes and chilly shadows, so we returned to a favorite spot from the night before. Officially, it is known as “the Color Café”, but we think of it as “The Pirate’s Place”. We had eaten dinner there, but forgot to bring the camera, so we were eager to return and preserve our memories in pictures.

Unfortunately, we were too timid to ask The Pirate for a photo op, so all we have is one blurry, “clandestine” photo and our descriptions. But he is a Real Pirate. We’re absolutely sure! (Anything else just wouldn’t suit our romantic ideals.) Here’s his story, and we’re sticking to it:

The Pirate is husky, about 5’10”, with swarthy complexion, a couple tattoos, wiry black hair and beard, and a patch over his left eye. He lost that eye a few years back, and decided to quit piracy after. Unlike some pirates, he could read the handwriting on the wall: First you lose an eye, next goes a leg, then a hand, and pretty soon every 8-year-old kid on the street is screwing his face into a set scowl, swaggering up to you, and trying something like this:

“Arrrrrrrrr!!! Captain Hook, I see! Me name’s Percy -- ‘Percy the Pestilence’ I’m known round here as. Perhaps you’ve heard o’ me? No? Aye, well, ya’ should ‘a’. Next time yer headin’ out for a bit o’ pillagin’ and burnin’ you jus’ take me along, and I’ll show yer scurvy crew what real piratin’ is all about! Arrrrrrrr!!!”

So he got off his ship in Valparaiso, hung up his cutlass, bought the café, painted the outside deep purple, festooned the interior with all varieties of flotsam and jetsam from his travels, and told his woman she’d better to learn how to cook.

Ordering is a bit intimidating. After you’ve been seated in his café and had about 30 seconds to decipher the menu, The Pirate stumps up to the table, pulls up a chair, props his crossed arms on the table, leans in, and grunts, “Well? What’ll it be?” (or its Spanish equivalent).

All the same, my stumbling Spanish netted us a tasty meal of bread, tomato-mozarella-cucumber salad, potato-leek soup, and stuffed peppers. I failed to find “grog” on the drink menu, so I settled for a terrific, piping-hot mug of thick, minty chocolate sludge. (I believe this is the drink pirate moms give their sons until about age eight, when they’re old enough to switch to grog. But I could be wrong.)

The pirate does have a soft spot or two. For one thing, every pretty 20-something girl who drops by gets chatted up, is then escorted outside for a cigarette break and a further chat, and receives a hearty smooch on the cheek before departure. (I think he felt stymied by the fact that Jolene doesn’t speak Spanish or enjoy smoking.)

Also, the Pirate likes poetry. He’s posted quite a lot of it on the café walls, much of which is written in praise of him and/or his café. Two female students were drinking tea and laboring over their poetry composition when we arrived. After they left, that got stuck up on the wall, too, I think. And if they didn’t get a discount on their bill after all that work, they should have!

The Pirate is pretty good to his woman, too. Between preparing courses for diners, she was allowed to step outside for a cigarette break and a chat with the Pirate, just like the rest. I didn’t see that she got a smooch, but then, she wasn’t departing.

For the mere mortal getting dinner without the smoke break or the smooch, there is still much to enjoy about The Pirate’s Place. The food and drink are worth the effort, as I have indicated, and we spent a good hour enjoying an excellent tea selection while ruminating upon the history of the various artifacts adorning the walls. A sign in the café advertised live music on some evenings, but we were not able to visit at these times. (I'm thinking “Yo-ho-ho, And a Bottle of Rum” is on the approved list...)

Well, that’s the story of The Pirate and his “Color Café”. Worth a visit if you’re in Valpo someday. At the very least, it’s a place to stay warm and entertained (or intimidated) while you wait for your bus out of town…

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