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The Lighthouse Coffee Shop, La Serena, Chile

There are certain moments in life that signify proper adulthood. Home ownership, marriage or co-creating a tiny, angry version of yourself are some of the most ubiquitous (certainly where social media is concerned) but having spurned a career and our flat in favour of a year of travel, none of these are particularly within reach. But no matter. For me, there’s a much more significant indicator that I’ve become a proper grown-up: I’ve started to eat eggs.

This may seem insignificant to many, and it probably won’t make front page news. I doubt world leaders have gathered to discuss the economic impact of an extra half dozen eggs being bought every fortnight; the housing market and world population (other than for a handful of would-be chickens) will remain unaffected. Nonetheless, this is a large gastronomic step for me – for three decades I have spurned the oddly globular foodstuff that is such a staple for many. In part this was through necessity, as breakfasts throughout Central and South America will often be egg-heavy and it’s an undeniably cheap way to guarantee some sustenance at some point in the day.

However, things have gotten so out of hand that I now actively seek them out on menus. Where once I’d have to sigh and order another round of toast (an odd thing to do when you almost always have bread – and a toaster – at home) the world’s of Florentine, Benedict and Sakshuka are now open to me, though boiled eggs can stay safely in their shells surrounded by the crumby remains of their fallen soldiers, thanks all the same. It must also be said that my own cooked eggs would make Gordon Ramsay weep into his chin gristle, usually fried out of all recognition as a wobbly white is still a step too far, though I’m coming round to a soft-poached as long as there’s plenty else to mop up the golden goo.

Luckily there are lots of cafes offering to cook eggs pretty much any way you please. One of the finest examples we’ve found was The Lighthouse Coffee Shop in La Serena, a Chilean beach town that’s unfailingly popular despite (or perhaps due) to the giant malls, central screaming motorway and uninspiring beach. A quick internet search will proclaim The Lighthouse ‘best for breakfast’, and though the pitchfork-wielding hoardes of TripAdvisor are so often wrong, in this case they are undeniably wise.

The cafe and tea shop are secreted down a side street, away from the pedestrianised shopping centre and therefore far more tranquil. A small space indoors spreads out to a wood-heavy courtyard decorated with bright bird boxes and battered metal signs, upside-down umbrellas and hanging plants, and as the menus are delivered one thing is clear – they take their coffee very, very seriously. Coffee weight, temperature and milk proportions are listed to the decimal point, presumably meaningful to the better informed; either way, the coffee’s delicious. More exciting was the promise of brunch served until 4pm, and with a days’ worth of bus travel only just behind us, we set about it with gusto. Soon great plates of poached eggs, spinach, homemade bread and some unusually decent bacon and sausages were before us. They didn’t last long. After another coffee we left with an over-caffeinated wave and a promise of “hasta maƱana” – little did they know we’d be back every day until we left town.

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Best #brunch @lighthousecoffeeshop, La Serena.

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Hidden Gems, Arica to Santiago, Chile

Some might say (and often do) that I don’t have a good sense of direction. While my sister is known as a Scottish Sat-Nav there have been times when I couldn’t direct someone two streets from my family home. The Egg Poacher claims a better internal compass, but considering recent escapades that include getting stuck on the side of a volcano and taking a 45 minute detour to a pub around the corner, I suspect what he actually possess is an ability to sound like he knows where he’s going. A relaxed approach to research and our strange insistence on not using a map can mean we find ourselves wandering streets for longer than sanity or an amicable relationship normally allow. And yet we continue to eschew Google and turn our noses up at guides, for this haphazard manner can reveal hidden corners and unmarked paths – normally safe before nightfall. This was to be the case in Chile, too, where an itinerant approach brought us some unexpectedly excellent cafes (and there’s little more satisfying than a surprisingly good coffee after you’ve been walking the streets for hours).

Nusta Cafe, Arica, Chile

Our first stop in Chile was the strangely uninspiring Arica, full of promise with a long stretch of coastline that turned out to be somewhat lacklustre against the backdrop of high-rise hotels and arid desert. Despite a wonderful stay in Hotel Apacheta we were ready to move on, and with time to waste before our bus out we sought out a cup of coffee from the clapboard cafe opposite. Though tiny and boasting a highway view, Nusta Cafe was a surprise, offering fantastic coffee and a small food menu served by a friendly and generous couple.  It was here we’d experience the concept of ‘yapa’ first hand: the idea of a little extra for valued customers, usually offered by cholitas (stall owners) across the country, here embodied in the extra glass of smoothie I got, as well as a tour of the miniature space and its retro miscellany before our bus arrived.

Diablo Cafe, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Our most common introduction to a town – the bus station – isn’t always the most appealing. Though San Pedro’s was nicer than some (no visible cockroaches, relatively non-scabby dogs, minimal shouting) we weren’t expecting much, but after a long overnight bus we decided to linger for a much needed caffiene injection before finding a hostel. There are a couple of cafes to choose from, but Diablo’s striking wall art drew us in; inside, there were soothing tunes and local crafts on the wall and an incongruous promise of WiFi from somewhere so obviously surrounded by desert. A gleaming machine produced decent enough coffee, while from the tiny kitchen came enormous empanadas and various continental breakfast options, all excellent fuel for the short but intensely hot hostel hunt that was to follow.

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Excellent bus terminal #breakfast, Atacama

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Mackalo Cafe, San Pedro Atacama, Chile

Book-ending our trip through the Atacama and into the Bolivian Salt Flats, we’d returned to San Pedro before commencing our journey south. While waiting for our passports to be stamped at the nominal border post in town we spotted the ever-promising signs – chalk-covered A-board, gleaming chrome food truck – that suggested coffee was nearby. And so it was: a short menu offering various filtered options in Styrophome cups, it was expertly brewed and happily accompanied by crisp and delicious pastries presumably baked some distance from the truck’s diesel engine. There were plenty of cafe and restaurant options in the town itself, but few so unexpectedly good as this.

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Amazing coffee at Mackalo Cafe, Atacama

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Cafe Forestal, Santiago, Chile

Through repeated experience we’ve finally learnt that the world – at least from a tourist’s point of view – closes on a Monday. Museums, galleries and parks are shut and despite the likelihood of a host of lost foreigners wandering the streets with nothing to do, restaurants and cafes often follow suit. During such a days’ amble past padlocked gates and ‘Cerrado’ signs we spotted the pretty exterior of Cafe Forestal, toying with us with its bunting, chalkboard walls and solitary Chinese cat waving from behind closed windows. When Tuesday came we filled our boots, visiting all the public buildings we could find and beating a path to Forestal’s door. And it was worth the wait – a tiny space with a few pine stools, the coffee was the best we’ve had in South America, with high-quality and Fairtrade beans shipped from Colombia and brewed with care. Coupled with some truly decadent cakes and a very friendly welcome, this unassuming little place would be on our map – if only we remembered to carry one.

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The really very lovely Cafe Forestal, Santiago

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Hotel Apacheta, Arica, Chile

It feels slightly ridiculous booking treat nights during what is, essentially, an entire treat year. With nothing to do but head vaguely south, stopping when we find somewhere we like to drink coffee, wander streets or beaches and devour cloth-eared spy novels, it hardly seems necessary to spend more money on the building in which we sleep.

And yet there are times when a hostel just won’t do. When shared bathrooms of varying cleanliness, neighbours of alternating volumes and kitchens with a hundred spoons but no knives starts to wear a little thin. At times like these hotels towards the middle of the sorted price list start to look very tempting, and it doesn’t take much – “it was my birthday last month”, “we didn’t go on that dive in January”, “it’s, um, Wednesday”- to justify spending that bit more. Which is exactly what we did before making our way to Chile’s northern coast.

When we arrived in the town of Arica we weren’t overly impressed, the closed metal and chipboard buildings and huge motorways doing little to pretify the vast swathes of arid desert. There was sea, to be sure, but limp waves and a string of high-rise resorts didn’t make it all that tempting to spend a day on the beach. As we’d arrived late the night before our booking we chose to stay the first hostel we saw, a dark place opposite the bus station run by a monosyllabic man with a tribal neck tattoo. Our room fit two single beds at an angle and no more. But we didn’t mind much, as it would provide a stark contrast to the hotel we’d booked for the following nights. Or so we hoped.

In the morning we left the hostel early and made our way into town to wait it out until check-in. The centre was a bustle of pedestrianised streets full of shops, bars and cafes and we set about drinking coffees at a snails’ pace to pass the time. Eventually we were on the road to Hotel Apacheta, a place so fancy it didn’t even have a sign. Online we’d been wooed by pictures of sea views, minimalist designer interiors and promises of giant beds and drench showers. In real life, that’s exactly what we got.

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Saturday afternoon

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Our bags were swept away by the owner, athletically rich in a former-banker–now-surfer kind of way who bore an uncanny resemblance to Prince Eric from the Little Mermaid. We took in the views of waves crashing all around, the building designed in a clever L-shape that means all the rooms point to the sea, blocking the view and the noise of the road behind. Safely in our room we launched ourselves across the huge bed and watched seagulls and a handful of pelicans bob on the surface of the water; as bigger waves struck, there would be an explosion of noise and feathers as they all took flight.

So unaccustomed are we with such settings that, once we’re in, we’re likely to stay. We decided we’d seen all that ‘town’ had to offer, so instead spent our days reading, snoozing and horizon-gazing to the sophorific melody of the tide. The only times we ventured out were for food, forcing our sluggish bodies down the road for dinner, or down the small set of stairs to our hotel breakfast – and it was here that we were most in our element. Bagging a table closest to the huge windows we’d watch for the resident sea lion as plates of food were brought by friendly staff. Granola, yoghurt and honey, fruit salad and scrambled eggs were all on offer, as well as individual caffitieres of coffee that I tried to deny made me feel fanciest of all. This would be life for three blissful days and on our last we eked out our breakfast for as long as possible. Finally we had to admit that the road – and its myriad hostels – was beckoning us on.

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Breakfast at Hotel Apacheta

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