Published: May 31st 2012May 22nd 2012
We arrive in Santiago 4 hours after we leave Sydney, this is something none of us got over in terms of jetlag for at least a week. The ATM machine in the arrivals hall won't let us take out any more than 50 pesos which we are told is just over 7pounds and every taxi driver in the area soon swarms us offering their services. Being totally dewildered, tired and keen to get anywhere that wasn't there, we followed the one with the most english to his car and headed into town.
Our hostel; the Chile (Aji) hostel is in Providencia district near the student area of Bella Vista. Run by locals and with an attached cafe it is one of the best places I have stayed thus far including my Sydney hostel at around 4 times the price. For around 7.50 a night we got a free light breakfast and a free dinner mon-thurs. Not knowing whether to sleep, stay up or eat after the flight, we grabbed some leaflets and decided that the next morning we would take the Free Walking tour, resolved to stay up until actual bed time... then fell asleep.
The Free tour left
from the main sqaure Plaza de Armas in the centre of town, around a 45minute walk or 10 minute ride on the surprisingly good undergroud service (except is doesn't open untill 10 on Sundays which we found to our cost on our last day trying to get to the bus station). The tour was run by a volunteer who was a music student at a local uni earning some extra cash (the tour runs on donations). It lasted 4 hours, showed us everything we could hope to see and more, was extremely interesting and even gave us a 20% discount on one of the best restuarants in the city which we treated ourselves to after the tour. In the evening we went to a local bar with the other occupants of our dorm for a bottle of Escudo beer, only sold by the litre it costs around a pound which can't be argued with.
We took a trip up mount San Lucia where the statue of the Virgin Mary looks over the city. There is a pulley train up to the top, luckily the cloud was clearer and despite the smog the views of the city and the Andes
were amazing. At the time I thought it was strange that locals, especially younger kids stared at us in the streets and pointed. In places like Africa it was understandable as we clearly stand out, but having been in SA for a few weeks now it is one of the least touristy and Western places I have ever been. Certainly I have never ben anywhere where so little English is spoken; it's reasuring. On every Santiago corner is a fast food stand named "nuts4nuts". We learned on our tour that it was set up by a Chilean man, initially he had no success with the honey roasted nuts so moved to the US and set up in New York and instantly became a massive success and upon hearing that North America liked it, South America suddenly decided they did too. Apparently the Nut guy is a celebrity, they are seriously tasty.
Friday; my brithday. As luck would have it, also the night the hostel organises a BBQ and pre-arranged night out. The BBQ itself was amazing, slow cooked steak in the hostel fire was amoung the best I have ever had. Upon hearing it was my birthday a piece
of cake appeared, and a bottle of Pisco Sour (Chilean spirits) was pushed upon me by the crazy and incredibly nice hostel owner. The rest of the night past in much the same way.
The bus which we eventually managed to book to Mendoza left early in the morning. As aforementioned, our plan to take the underground was thwarted by Sunday's timetable so we hailed a taxi. We had been told to arrive 2 hours early to avoid queues and sort out final passport details to get into Argentina... this was done in 5 minutes and we faced a 2 hour wait in the bus station before anything that sold anything remotely like breakfast even opened. Fortunately the bus journey through the Andes to the Argentinian border more than made up for this poor start to the day; the pictures speak for themselves.
There are more photos below