Days 2 & 3 in Chile

On my second day in Chile, Alison and I took a bus out to the coastal town of Valparaiso, an hour and a half north-west of Santiago. Valpo, as the city is often called, is situated on dozens of steep hills right off the coast, all of which are densely populated and covered in brightly painted houses and apartments. Prior to the existence of the Panama Canal, all major ships had to pass through Valparaiso, so the city was very wealthy and well-developed in the 19th century. Over the last decade, it has become more run down, but the vibrant colors of the houses and street graffiti are an incredible sight nonetheless.

We spent the day wandering the hills (me taking way too many photos and Alison waiting patiently) and finding the best lookouts, then stopped at an adorable cafe for coffee and a quick sugar hit before heading back down the hills toward the bus station. Everywhere you look in Santiago and Valpo there are dozens of wild dogs. They’re all relatively tame, and for the most part just like to lounge in the sun, mostly in the way of everything and everyone.

Once we got back into Santiago, we took the Metro back to Alison’s to make dinner — grilled chicken with a side of roasted onions, peppers & potatoes. Then came the task of packing: somehow fitting 18 days of clothing (plus shoes and toiletries) into our relatively small backpacking backpacks. Several hours, and many tough decisions of what to leave and bring, later, we passed out from exhaustion.

On Wednesday, we spent the morning walking over to downtown Santiago, where Alison gave me the grand tour of all the important and historical buildings of the city, including the Gabriela Mistral Center, a beautiful new center of the arts the city has developed in the last year. We met Ignacio for lunch at the Cultural Center and then headed to the Claro (a cellphone provider) store, where I got a lesson in Chilean patience. Alison and I were put on a bit of a wild goose chase, since she wanted to unlock her phone so it could be used with an Argentinian SIM card/chip, but every Claro store we entered told us we had to go to a different location, even though the one before had told us we needed to be at the other location instead. Finally, we reached the right place and then had to stand in line for 45 minutes. However, unlike in America, the dozens of people ahead and behind us in line were not impatient whatsoever. Nobody huffed or puffed or even complained, they just stood there in silence, waiting patiently. A very bizarre scene.

Once Alison’s phone was successfully unlocked we did some more wandering up onto Santa Lucia Hill, a small hill in the middle of the city that is home to a gorgeous yellow and white structure that looks almost like a mansion, and Fort Hidalgo, a fort overlooking the entire city of Santiago. I fell in love with the views and the architecture, and couldn’t take enough pictures. Then we went back to Alison’s apartment, where we had an hour to finish packing and organizing before heading to the airport. Once we got in our taxi we zipped straight to SCL, checked in and then had a very gourmet dinner at Ruby Tuesdays, considered a high-class steak joint down in Chile, and an expensive one at that. We had a very easy flight over to BA, and once we paid our $160 entry fee into the country (steep, I know!) we found our arranged taxi driver, who was very chatty and gave us a great tour of the city as he drove the 33 kilometeres to our bed and breakfast. After the owner showed us our room, we both crawled into bed and knocked out!

Day 1: Santiago!

Today is my last day in Santiago before we head out to Buenos Aires (and then to Uruguay and Iguazu Falls) for 18 days. I’ve been staying in Alison & her boyfriend Ignacio’s gorgeous studio apartment — they live on the 13th floor of a high rise building in Santiago Centro (downtown Santiago) a block out of Providencia. They have absolutely incredible views of the Andes and Santiago skyline, not to mention a gorgeous rooftop pool! Of course, their rent is 1/3 of what I’ll be paying when I move out to NYC. Nuts!

Anyways, they picked me up at the airport on Monday morning and we had no trouble finding each other. Luckily all of the taxi drivers with signs waiting to pick people up from the terminal mostly left me alone — I’ve been told I don’t stand out immediately as a gringa (the slightly offensive Spanish word for a white, American foreigner) which is a good thing in some ways, but when people start to speak rapidly in Spanish to me assuming I understand, I can do nothing but give them a blank stare.

After I showered and we ate some breakfast, we left their apartment to do some wandering. It was a national holiday in Chile on Monday, so the streets were eerily quiet — Ignacio and Alison were both shocked at how dead the city was. It was easy to wander down to Plaza Italia and down through the city, past a beautiful library where Alison often does work. We grabbed lunch at an Italian eatery (pizza and pasta are very popular in Chile) and then made our way over to a really cool sculpture garden. Santiago has a ton of public spaces and gardens that are integrated well into the city — it makes the city seem much more accessible, which is definitely nice. From there we walked up to the base of the San Cristóbal Hill, which seems rather out of place when you first get to the city, as its this huge hill rising out of nowhere. It houses the city’s public zoo, an amphitheater and apparently, a huge statue of the virgin Mary. We considered making our way to the top, but it was a smoggy day so we knew the views wouldn’t be great, so we decided against it.

After using a public restroom (which you have to pay 200 pesos to use) we walked back down to an ice cream shop (another incredibly popular food in Chile) through a beautiful residential neighborhood, where a lot of richer Chileans live. Similar to other cities and countries in the world, Santiago has a lot of stray dogs that wander the streets. The majority of them mind their own business and don’t bother you, but it’s strange/sad to see homeless dogs, who are often absolutely adorable, just hanging out on the streets.

After ice cream, the three of us found ourselves exhausted and in a bit of a food coma, so we came back to Alison’s apartment for a quick siesta. Ignacio went to a friend’s to watch Game of Thrones (he’s obsessed) and we went out to meet two of her girlfriends for Indian food. Now, I know what your thinking. You came all the way to Chile and you’re eating every type of cuisine but South American food! The problem, mainly, is that Chilean food is mostly meat and potatoes, so it’s hard to eat out when you’re vegetarian (or, semi vegetarian in my case, since carne and pollo are often mixed here). Considering how far we are from India, and how spoiled my best friend Swati has made me in ordering incredible Indian food for me, our food was delicious and perfectly spicy, though a bit heavy. I did laugh a little with the restaurant owner, in perfect English, welcomed me back and was shocked when I told him I’d never been to his restaurant before!

An interesting thing about South America is the customer service policies. Here, you have to practically flag down your waiter or waitress like it’s a sport, and you tip a very standard 10% everywhere you go, definitely not like in the US.

Of course it’s the beginning of the trip and I’m already a day behind in blogging, but I promise tonight when I’m on the plane I’ll write about our day in Valparaiso yesterday, which was incredible and there will be more photos up on Flickr soon! xoxo