Five things you probably don’t know about Pichilemu

A snap from one of the bigger days while we were there. Photo props: Dango.

The surf here gets gnarly. Real gnarly. The surfing world spotlight is on Pichilemu (a few hours south-west of Santiago) when big swells hit, primarily due to a wave called Punta De Lobos. It’s not uncommon for solid 20ft waves at the left-hand point break and it’s featured in the Billabong XXL global big wave awards a few times. Check this video and these pics to see it when it’s scary big. To put it into perspective, we surfed the place at a more mangaeable five feet and the waves were primarily only breaking alongside those giant rock formations you see way in the foreground of the video. I found the waves similar to the fabled Uluwatu in Indonesia. It was a bit fat out the back – not the best bodyboarding wave – but the inside sections were a bit suckier and rippable with the odd barrel. We got it pretty fun, about 3-5 feet most days but it was about 10-12ft on the first day. No thanks.

I did manage to scrape into the odd barrel out there on the fun inside section. Photo props: Gravy.

Pichilemu boasts a thriving op-shop scene (‘thrift store’ for you North Americans). There are about five little stores within just a few streets walk full of the most old-school jackets, trucker caps, T-shirts from the ’80s etc. It’s an untapped resource of rad-ness that’d have you looking like Blazin Hazen in no time (see video). I didn’t end up buying anything despite trying on about 20 garments, because I’m trying to watch my spending but I’m already regretting the decision.

Like much of Chile, the place has been shook by some nasty earthquakes. On March 11 2010 a quake measuring 6.9 Moment Magnitude Scale (Richter has a btter ring to it)  rattled Pichilemu, causing one death and damaging local buildings. The quake’s epicentre was just 15km northwest of the town. This happened only a couple weeks after an 8.8 magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami had devastated the country, killing more than 500 people. A 5.7 quake rocked the region two nights in to our stay here (March 28). I didn’t feel anything because it happened at 3am and I was asleep. No damage or casualties resulted from the quake but people in high-rise buildings in major centres felt it strongly apparently. We went for a day trip to another left-hand point called Puertecillo a few hours from town and our driver wouldn’t take us the last 30 minutes or so down the road to the beach because he said the roads had been damaged so badly by earthquakes. Whether he was telling the truth or not is debatable – he was king of the tall tale and was dying for a beer when he told us. Located in the Pacific’s volcanic belt, Chile is considered to be the country with the most seismic activity in the world and boasts the world’s largest recorded earthquake (Valdivia, 1960 – magnitude 9.5).

My friend Mariana, whose apartment I've been staying at in Santiago, snapped this pic of the underground carpark next to the building the day after the Feb 2010 quake. No one was hurt, thank God. She said the apartment shook violently for about three minutes and I'm looking at the cracks in the ceiling that resulted as I type this.

There is one empanada store to every one person in Pichilemu. Not really, but it seems as if every second shop in town sells the crispy little packages of joy. If you’re wondering what empanadas are, they’re basically these stuffed pastries which are baked or fried and usually full of cheese and other mouth-watering ingredients. They’re similar to the Australian pasty (but I dare say better) and you can find them across Latin America. They’re the perfect post-surf feed and just typing the words cheese, tomato and oregano makes me wanna run down the street right now to fill up a sack of the things for dinner.

The first casino in Chile was built here. Way back in 1906. Know how I knew that? Because I stayed with this cool local guy José during my visit and he’s a keen historian (his dad, too was a famous writer who has written books on the town). We hooked up the stay through Couchsurfing.com, the first time I’d got around to actually use the site. Fuck, why wasn’t I on to this earlier? Not only do you get free accommodation but you learn heaps more about the place you’re staying at because your living with someone who lives and breathes the town or city. José even hooked us up with his legend friend in Santiago, so we’ve been staying here in her apartment at the foot of some dreamy mountains the past few nights while the Lollapalooza Festival’s been on. All for free. If you haven’t made yourself a profile yet, do it because you’re missing out. Did I mention it’s free?

You don't wanna see a picture of a building. Here's me finding some shade again at Lobos, this time on the knee. Photo props: Gravy.

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