In which we embrace Chilean culture (the food and drink at least), pound the streets of the city and cross the border at the top of a mountain pass (disappointingly in the dark!)
12.02.2013 - 16.02.2013 33 °C
Buenos dias desde America del Sur! Having an amazing South American experience so far, despite being gutted to leave New Zealand. We landed in Santiago on Tuesday afternoon (after a 24 hour journey and crossing the international date line - serious jet lag alert) and took a shuttle straight to our hostel Don Santiago. Exhausted and tired we were met by the friendliest people and shown straight to our very funky room, complete with kids bike mounted on the wall!
The hostel is lovely, although slightly out of town in Barrio Brasil, it means its a more local area with few tourists. After a shower we decided just to get out before the need for sleep was too great, so we had a walk around Barrio Brasil and stopped off in a bar for local beer and a traditional Chilean pisco sour.
We also saw some traditional Chilean dancing which started just in the square we were sat in. A few guys turned up with guitars, someone started singing and the next thing loads of people, from teenagers to couples in their sixties, started dancing. Marcus even got an offer to dance (but declined)! All just on a Tuesday afternoon.
A few hours and a few more drinks later, we went to a traditional parillada restaurant, which is basically all about the meat. Looking slightly confused by the menu (how can there be three pages just for different kinds of steak?) a Chilean couple invited us over to their table to join them for dinner. And this is how we met our next amazingly friendly Chilean people, and also how we ended up ridiculously drunk on our first night in Santiago. Guillaume and his girlfriend were lovely, born and bred locals from Santiago, but Guillaume had lived in the US for a while and spoke great English. So we had a mixture of my terrible Spanish (although I swear it got better the more pisco sours I drank) and his much better English. It turned into a really fun night.
The next day, tired, hungover and jet lagged we spent the afternoon at the Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos (the museum of human rights) which charts the events leading up to, during and the end of the Pinochet era of military rule in Chile.
Although much of the exhibits are in Spanish, its an incredibly powerful museum. One huge wall is covered with photos of 'disappeared' people, and there's the opportunity to listen to Presidente Allende's final radio address to the nation (he died later that day during the coup) which is incredibly poignant. Because its relatively recent history, much of the exhibits are video which really brings home what happened - it included video of the presidential palace being bombed by the air force, and attacks and murders of protesters against the regime which were somehow filmed. Like so many of these places, harrowing to visit but really important in understanding Chile today.
The walk there was also a good opportunity to see some more of the local area, which is covered in slightly run down colonial architecture and loads of graffiti.
That night Pablo, one of the guys who runs the hostel, lightened our mood by making traditional terremoto cocktails for everyone in the house. Terremoto translates to earthquake because apparently you end up with shaky legs after a couple! Pablo was really secretive about the ingredients but we later learned it contains a special kind of wine, rum and pineapple ice cream. Somehow, it tastes really good! Pablo then treated us to an impromptu musical performance in the hostel living room.
On Thursday we were still really jet lagged so spent the morning being lazy before going to the centre to join a free walking tour run by a company called Spicy Chilli. These guys just work for tips, so you pay what you think its worth at the end of the tour. Our tour took us from Palacio de la Moneda (the palace bombed during the coup in 1973)...
... to the Plaza de Armas which is the main square and has some beautiful architecture including the cathedral.
After taking us through a few more neighbourhoods the tour ended in Barrio Bellavista which is quite trendy, full of students, more cool graffiti and lots of bars and restaurants.
We met some really fun people on the tour so decided to go for dinner and drinks at a local Chilean restaurant our guide recommended, where I tried the traditional dish of pastel de choclas.
Its basically a corn casserole with meat, eggs and olives in it, quite sweet because of the corn.
We then finished the night with another recommendation at Emporio de Rosa, apparently the best ice cream in Santiago (you can imagine how much our ears pricked up at that one). We can confirm it was pretty damn good.
The next day was our last in Santiago as we'd booked a night bus to Mendoza. So we hit the streets to do a bit more exploring, including visits to the Bellas Artes gallery, a brilliant Guggenheim exhibition and climbing to the top of Cerro Santa Lucia, one of two hills in Santiago centre from which you can get views if the Andes. Unfortunately it was really hazy, but you can just about make out some snow caps.
We had been hoping to get a closer look at those mountains as the bus to Mendoza takes a pass directly over the Andes with a border crossing into Argentina at the top. But when we went to book tickets we were told that we could only do the journey at night. It turns out there were massive landslides which closed the road last week, and its only been cleared for one lane. So by day you can travel from Mendoza to Santiago and by night the opposite. We were unlucky enough to get the short straw and had to do the trip overnight, which also meant a pretty chilly three hour stop at the border in the middle of the night. Not much fun.
I think the great thing about Santiago has been that it was a total surprise. Everyone (including the girl who booked our flights) told us there was nothing there worth seeing and that we'd want to move on as quickly as possible. Maybe we've just been lucky to meet good people, but the Chileans we've met have been some of the warmest, friendliest and funniest people we've met on our trip. Santiago. Definitely underrated.