The first thing I did in Concepción was to leave Concepción.
Initially, it was accidental.
Since I didn’t know the city at all, I started the day at the Plaza de la Independencia, the local “Plaza de Armas”, aka the centre of everything. There was a tourist info centre, so I stopped by to ask for a map.
Concepción really welcomes tourists. At the bus terminal, I was overloaded with brochures and recommendations. Downtown, the tourist info centre apparently hadn’t helped anyone in a while and I was a top priority. After marvelling at the fact that I was not Chilean, that I could speak Spanish and that I did travel to Concepción “just out of curiosity,” I was given a list of about two million places to explore, from beaches to a mine. Unfortunately, most attractions came fine print—the mine was actually closed, the “top” beach was pretty far and I wasn’t keen on spending the day in a park (I’ve seen trees before). The employee also suggested a nice hike, but it involved walking through a one-kilometre-long tunnel somewhere along the coast—“You’ll be the only one around, urban exploration!” Ahem… no, thanks.
“How about the port?”
“Oh, yes, easy. Take a microbus that says ‘Vía Láctea’ to Talcahuano.”
“… The Milky Way?”
The employee gave me a strange look as if it was a very common name for a bus route or company. Never mind.
“How long does it take to go to Talcahuano?”
“Oh, it’s very close to Concepción. Fifteen minutes, roughly.”
Sounded perfect to start the day—a quick trip to the coast, the chance to see the Pacific Ocean again, then back to the city.
I found the bus easily, there seemed to be dozens of microbuses roaming around Concepción. I paid the fare, 530 pesos ($1) and sat at the front, basically using public transportation as my own hop-on hop-off bus tour.
Twenty minutes later, we were still in Concepción.
Thirty minutes later, we were close to leaving Concepción.
Forty minutes later, I was coming to the conclusion that the tourist info centre had underestimated the length of the trip or overestimated the speed of the microbus.
Fifty minutes later, I was the only passenger left in the microbus and we were crossing a dodgy-looking neighbourhood. Maybe the tourist office bureau had a deal with the local mafia and it was sending stupid travellers to that one location where…
Oh, wait, the ocean. Never mind, I guess we’re finally here.
I got off in a busy street along the coastline. Yep, I was definitely in a port—Talcahuano smelled like fish, there was a fish market and people selling fish just outside the building, and there were fishermen fishing.
It all looked really cute, though. I strolled along the coastline—nice view, picturesque boats and colourful town. I saw South American sea lions—yes, it’s a different specie, I Googled it—then I explored the fish market with giant fishes and shellfish. I drew the line at empanadas filled with cochayuyo (seaweed), the smell was just way too strong.
After a relaxing hour, I decided to go back to Concepción and a nice fisherman took me to another street corner where I could catch a quicker microbus. “These damn Vía Láctea’”, he mumbled. “Way too slow. The only way to ‘Conce’ is this bus. Quick, hop in!”
He was right, the microbus was a bit faster, it only took me about half an hour to get back to “Conce.”
I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the city—and then I spent the evening trying to leave it, because a really bad thing happened at one point.
(Yes, suspense. Obviously, I’m okay!)