• 06 . 07 . 11
  • In which we use a popular beverage to explain funny tasting water and rancid chicken, after a night on unusual cocktails. We also happened to go to Valparaiso.

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In Poor Taste

I had only been convinced that I should eat KFC to help banish a hangover that threatened to sabotage our day trip to Valparaiso, and now I felt worse than ever.

Santiago certainly feels much safer than Rio and we were very comfortable walking around the streets last night looking for a bite to eat. It helps that we’re staying in the student area of the town, with plenty of people around at all times of the day. Chileans typically head out on the town at 11pm, before making their way to clubs which stay open until about 5:30am, but we’d intended to wind things up a little earlier in order to get home for a sojourn to the coast this morning. It didn’t quite work out that way.

After a day of wandering around the town, we had decided to reward ourselves after dinner with a few glasses of the infamous Chilean beverage known as Terre Moto, or The Earthquake. This cocktail, inspired and diabolical in equal measure, was apparently invented here in Santiago in a bar called The Headlouse in the 1920s. It is a fairly simple drink to make and starts with a base of about 3 shots of rum, in a frosty litre glass. Into this goes about 3 shots of grenadine, and because that still leaves a lot of room in such a welcomingly spacious glass, it’s topped up with ¾ litre of white wine to make sure it doesn’t get lonely. You can probably imagine that it is not perhaps the best wine in the world. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this wine makes Passion Pop look refined. It aspires to bag-in-a-box-wine standards. It dreams of being good enough to be used in a game of Wheel of Goon. Then, to give it a unique Chilean twist, the crowning glory, the masterstroke, the coup de grace: 3 scoops of pineapple sorbet.

They are surprisingly good, and taste like strawberry Opal Fruits, before they became Starburst and lost their flavour. They are also strong. The kind of strong that, upon standing up, makes you sit down again. Violently. Earthquake is a suitable name. Three of those between the two of us and that pretty much was our night. We stumbled back to the hostel in a giggly kind of mood and with a glow that kept at bay the chilly Chilean night air.

We were not so giggly this morning, waking up at 11am, fully two hours past the time we had intended to be on a bus to the coastal town of Valparaiso. If there was ever a time for a fast food hangover cure, this was it. I can’t recall ever seeing KFC spelled out in full before, but through the trees near the subway station we spotted Kentucky Fr        ken and opted for what we knew. I don’t have KFC very often – on the grounds that it’s terrible – but the KFC in Santiago this morning was by far the worst I’ve ever tasted. The mayo was off, the lettuce was flavourless, the chicken like it wasn’t cooked through. The post-mix Pepsi, average on a normal day, tasted like it had been spiked with charcoal. Nobody else seemed to be complaining though, so I thought we’d maybe just got unlucky.

I started having doubts when we bought a bottle of sparkling water and it tasted… off. Now there’s good sparkling water and bad sparkling water, but I can’t ever remember water that tasted sour.

With the impending travel to the dizzying 4000m heights of La Paz later in the week, we’d started taking altitude sickness preventative medication called Diamox. The sour water reminded me that one of the stated side-effects was taste alteration. It only affected a small percentage of people though, so we were in a quandary. Was Chilean water really bad, or were our taste-buds screwed up? Water quality varies considerably throughout the world after all, and this was the first bottle I’d bought in Chile. We were both on the medication so we couldn’t do a comparison. What we needed was a control substance (no, not a controlled substance) – something that we both knew the taste of instinctively. There could only be one choice. Good old, reliable, always-the-same-no-matter-where-you-get-it, grown-up-with, meets-the-Pepsi-challenge, could-tell-it-blindfolded, Coca Cola.

It was not the real thing. It was worse than Coke One, the short-lived prelude to the infinitely superior (divide by) Coke Zero. It was worse, I imagine, than the misadventure of New Coke. It was worse even, than Pepsi. It was, to be clear, disgusting. Naturally, I spent the next hour sipping at the bottle, grimacing each time and yet marvelling at the (admittedly mundane) thrill of the unexpected from the expected. Never before has such a foul-tasting drink made me so irrationally happy. When I’d finished mine, I started on Emily Benjamin’s, who had wisely stopped drinking after the first gulp. The sensation lasted a full three hours, which made me forget about my hangover and kept me entertained for the entire bus trip to Valparaiso.

Valparaiso is much bigger than I’d expected. From what I’d read, it was supposed to be a small town between the mountains and the ocean and I suppose it is in the grand scheme of things, but it wasn’t the small fishing village I thought it would be. The waterfront is dominated by a huge industrial port and train line which makes it very difficult to walk along the water’s edge. It’s also the former home of Pablo Neruda, a man who has been described as Peru’s poet and who is famous for writing sonnets to his favourite foods. He was both in love with and deathly afraid of the sea, regularly spending entire days in his fishing boat on the shore beside his house with a bottle of wine and then announcing that he’d been sailing all day. I’d expected that we’d just turn up and it would be there right in front of us, like Dali’s house in Spain, but it wasn’t to be and we never actually found it.

Aside from that, the town has some nice colonial architecture, but the vast majority of buildings are small box-like artifices crammed together on the hillsides. The saving grace of the town is its vibrant colour. Seen from a high viewpoint, many of which can be found by ascending one of the numerous funiculars, the town looks like it was made of Lego, with primary and secondary colours thrown together as if a rainbow melted over the hills and stained the houses perched on them. An abundance of graffiti adds to the effect and in many of the districts there is no wall left unpainted, each daubed alternately with political slogans, expressions of love, caricatures or abstract art. As the afternoon wore on and the sun began to fall, Valparaiso felt warm in the yellowing light. I’m not convinced there’s actually that much to do there, but it is certainly a nice day trip out from Santiago.

If you manage to arrive sans hangover and at the time you planned, you might even get to see Pablo Neruda’s house.