“Hola-po, Don Sergio!” (Hi, Mr. Sergio!)
Though I had a sneaking feeling I was being had, I was told those words were all I had to say to get one of the most decadent treats I’ve probably ever eaten. Let me rephrase that…those words were all I had to yell. But hey, I was more than willing to play along.
On a recent walking tour of Valparaiso, Chile, Don Sergio was the highlight. Up a steep flight of stairs at the top of one of Valparaiso’s many cerros (hills), in an alleyway I wouldn’t have thought held anything too spectacular, was the front door. Totally unassuming, most people would walk right by.
Luckily, our tour guide (Camilo with Tours4Tips Valparaiso) stopped us. On the other side of that door, he told us, were chocolate alfajores. Caramel held between 2 cookies, the whole “sandwich” dipped in chocolate. Sounds pretty simple, right? I thought so, too. And for someone who’s not into sweets, I was only mildly interested.
Then, the catch. Mr. Sergio would only give them away if we greeted him enthusiastically. And loudly.
Okay, I’m game. Even if it is just for a caramel sandwich. First, the practice round… Camilo: “Everyone say, ‘Hola-po, Don Sergio!'”
The group: “hola-po, don sergio.”
“No, no, no, no… Loud! Excited!” You want loud and excited?? Okay, then. As for the group… well… they do marginally better. I, however, turn that shit up:
“HOLA-PO, DON SERGIOOOOOO!!!!!”
Pointing and laughing (at me) follows. Whatever. Have some fun with it, people!
We knock, and an old man cracks open the door, mock-suspicion on his face. “HOLA-PO, DON SERGIO!!!” He laughs and flings open the door, produces a tray of the goodies, and hands them out. I unwrap the foil and see nothing more than this simple-looking chocolate-dipped cookie. I take a bite.
Holy crap! HOLY CRAAAAAAAP!!! DELICIOSO!!!
So good, that I inhale the rest (I usually do sweets one tiny bite at a time). So good, that I rush Mr. Sergio to rave about it (I kinda have to fight the urge to kiss him). So good, in fact, that we bought and immediately devoured half a dozen more (the first was free, the rest were 200 Chilean Pesos each, or about 30¢ US). So good, that I didn’t. take. a. single. photo (if you know me, you know how uncommon that is. Sadly, I have to resort to this google image search to give you an idea of what they looked like. You can’t know my shame…).
Thanks for pickin’ up my slack, Google…
The alfajores were so damn good, we knew we couldn’t go wrong trying his empanadas, too. Choices were caseras (beef or chicken with potato and hard boiled egg), carne picada (beef) and queso and salmon (self-explanatory), each between 200-400 CLP, or 30-60¢ US. They were all super-yummy and super-authentic, my favorite being the carne picada. These empanadas were the best I had during my 2 weeks in Chile (and I tried many).
This guy…such a good sport!
It’s these kinds of unexpected and delightful moments – finding a random old man in a random old alley, 5,000 miles away, who sells snacks from his front door – that are the reason travelers travel.
If you go
Want directions? Or an address? Ha! I could never tell you how to wind your way to Don Sergio’s doorstep. But Tours4Tips Valparaiso can. Yes, as the name implies, these are free tours; the guides just work for tips. They offer several walking tours, but you’ll meet Don Sergio if you book their Valparaiso Highlights Walk, a 3-hour tour that leaves from Plaza Sotomayor daily at 3pm. It’s a great way to get an overview of the city before diving into some more in-depth exploring on your own. In fact, tell the guide your interests, and he/she will give you plenty of recommendations for additional sightseeing and activities. I highly recommend this tour. Enjoy!