The Localist

Tongoy

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The first memory I have of Tongoy is standing up on top of a whale on the seashore.  I must have been four years old and the image is still vivid in my mind.  I had traveled with my mom. She was in her twenties, and the two of us spent that summer eating so much fish that the smell perspired through our pores. We took long strolls through the small town every afternoon, on our way to a rock that we used to climb to watch the sunset.

The sunset in Tongoy is always special.  It must be because of the vast expanses of lonely beaches and the sound of the wind as it passes through the rocks, waking up the crabs and starfish that live there. Because of the geography, you get the illusion that the sun sets behind land, which never happens in Chile as our western border is the Pacific Ocean.

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Years later, when mom remarried, we went camping in Tongoy.  This time, I remember dancing the twist in the sand, with the freezing water up to my knees, catching machas (local clam) and later eating them raw with lemon.  A fisherman drove his boat in front of our beach spot every afternoon and brought his recent catch for us, which we paid about one dollar for and then grilled.

I have always been in love with that beach.  It is located in the north of Chile – about 4 hours drive from Santiago – and, at least for me, it’s one of the best places to be.  Tongoy is far from being popular or fancy.  It is a simple, low-key small beach town, which happens to be in between two long amazing beaches.

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The town has small wooden houses, mostly inhabited by fishermen.  There is not much to do there, and time passes by really slowly. And for me, that’s what makes it so attractive.

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You can no longer get machas by dancing on the seashore, or stand on top of whales (years later, I was disappointed to find out that I never stood over a whale, but a seal which was caught by fishing nets).  That fisherman is long gone.  But the seafood stalls are still there serving the best cheese and seafood empanadas, crab, locos, ceviche and pisco sour.  The fish can still be bought fresh in the small coast market and there is a gentleman who sells the best churros con manjar ever (Chilean version of the Spanish churro, filled with delicious caramelized milk).  There is an impressive itinerant feria (market) twice a week where you can find everything.  And by everything I mean everything, from fresh olives, goat’s cheese, cotton underwear, local produce and second hand clothes (called “European clothing” for some reason) through to electronics and hallucinogenic cactuses.

The water is still so cold it makes your bones hurt (but its great for your skin, or so they say) and the sunsets are still beautiful.

Tongoy is one of the places I visit whenever I can. I always look forward to getting in the car and driving those four hours north.  After two hours’ drive you reach a town called Los Vilos.  After that, between Tongoy and Los Vilos, there is not much by the road, but you’ll experience the amazing sky, the deep coastline and the wind that gets stronger and stronger, reminding you that you are about to reach a small yet wonderful piece of Chile.

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MEET THE LOCAL: MACARENA QUEZADA

 

Images. Photos by Macarena Quezada.

 

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