Published: May 4th 2008April 10th 2008
Crumbling splendid architecture, fantastically elaborate street art, avenues called things like 'Avenida O'Higgins' and 'Avenida Vicuña Mackenna' a combination of Spanish and Irish, sandwiches and empanadas (pastries containing fillings such as Jamon y Queso - ham and cheese), delicious juicy steaks, purple-red fragrant wine, huge Escudos of beer, friendly locals, bars that spill out onto the street, men spinning around beating rhythms on drums they wear on their backs, packs of wild dogs roaming the streets. Messy, frayed at the edges, faded glamour and yet so strangely beguiling that you have to force yourself to leave. Santiago.
We didn't know what to expect when the plane touched down four hours later than expected, and bizarrely, two hours before we left New Zealand, making my dream of being Marty McFly come alive. Confused, tired and excited we somehow found the shuttle to town. After eleven or so weeks in English speaking countries (Australia, New Zealand and Stewart Island(!)) we struggled with our Spanish, trying to remember what we had learnt last year in Andalucia. But we shouldn't have worried - from the first interaction, Chileans totally supported us in our efforts, being infinitely patient and even helping us out, straining at
Bellavista. The whole barrio was covered with the coolest street art we've seen anywhere in the world
our pronounciation until eventually they smiled and said 'Si!'
The other passengers on the shuttle were a Dutch couple who had taken the Trans-mongolian train across Russia just a matter of days before us, so we chatted about that as we caught our first glimpses of the city. It's great when we meet other travellers that have been to the wonderful places we've seen so we can chat about them, and they were lovely, so we were delighted to see that they were staying in our hostel in beautiful funky Bellavista.
After we dumped our bags time began to go a bit wonky - neither of us had ever experienced jetlag and the next few days were interesting to say the least, as we experienced it full on. The first evening we did what you're supposed to, walked around as the sun set looking at the vibrant barrio full of interesting bars and cafés, bought a bottle of Chilean wine, delighting at the cost and the fact that Santa Rita, a wine we've often had in Dublin, was the local tipple. We played pool (or 'plains and fancies' as we call them in honour of Ali in New
for under a fiver!
Zealand) in the hostel, chatted to the girl running it and then went to bed expecting to wake up in the morning.
But we didn't, waking instead at two in the morning and not being able to sleep again until eventually at nine o'clock, just when we were about to get up, something happened and we conked out. We woke up in the late afternoon utterly confused and starving hungry, so out we went to Bellavista and had a lovely dinner and wandered about. At one point in Patio Bellavista we walked by a statue of a pig that I caught sight of out of the corner of my eye and I had this awful moment when I thought it was breathing (obviously spazzed out of my head with jetlag) so back to bed, collapsing asleep and then waking at four am. So then we decided to force ourselves to stay awake and went on a big tour of museums and local architecture and sights.
It was a great day the sun shining down as we strolled around the sights, stopping to look at pre-columbine art and the national museum with its interesting artefacts of the first European
Our Lady of Cellophane
Holy trinkets for sale outside the cathedral
settlers. We went into a real spit and sawdust diner near the opulent mercado central, just enjoying having a no-fuss meal of Barros Lucos for Alan (traditional sandwich of steak and cheese, mmm) and I had an avocado and chicken roll. After that we went a bit slumpy but were determined to stay awake and wandered streets after streets looking at the houses of parliament, department stores and Chile's oldest building, a church from the 16th century, eventually ending up back in Bella Vista where we went for a steak and wine dinner. Convinced we had beaten the jetlag we went out for an Escudo (brand of local beer that comes in huge 1 litre bottles) in one of the groovy street-side pubs, which consist of loads of picnic chairs and tables strewn along the pavement, pub after pub running one into the other. Street sellers tried to beguile us with their crafts, drummer boys and their older relatives spun around beating rhythms and beggars asked for a sup of beer or a peso. We sat watching and interacting with all this colour and excitement, as locals sang, laughed, loved and hollered.
We ended up talking to a bunch
At the corner of O'Higgins and Nueva York
of young Santiagoans and ended up having great chats, although they had limited English and we had even less Spanish. Still we all learnt something as they taught us to say 'Salud' while looking at one another and we did the same, teaching them to say 'Sláinte' while looking at the floor as we do in Ireland. We were told all about the local soccer scene and bonded over music, all naming our favorite bands and nodding and saying 'si, si!' By the time we decided to go home it was after four in the morning - early enough to head for bed in Santiago. We promised to meet them the next night at the fanclub's launch party for the band Muse's new DVD(!) but unsurprisingly we ended up welching on that promise (sorry Phillipe!).
As the jetlag receeded we went up on the funicular (an original from the 1800s and as rickety as you would expect) to the enormous statue of Mary, mother of Jesus, and sat in the sun looking down on the haze of the city and its surrounding mountains. In the early hours of one morning we listened to the cries and brays of the
The view from our balcony at sunset
animals in the nearby zoo, the sound travelling through the silent air. We found a favourite restaurant, the 'Venezia' where the waiters were so nice to us despite our pathetic language skills, and they helped us increase our vocabulary greatly (and our available food choices too).
We visited the Museo de Belles Artes, the modern art museum, which was really great. We were both very impressed with the art and spent hours looking around, enjoying being able to chat about it later over a slice of cake and coffee in the empty coffee shop. There is a lot of great street art around the city too and we spent ages looking at and taking photos of some fine examples around Bellavista in particular.
There are tonnes of wild-dogs in the city and they travel around in packs, but unlike home, Thailand and Russia where we've also seen wild dogs, those in Chile are often pedigree or from a pedigree background and it isn't unusual to see huskies, poodles, sausage dogs, dobermen and even a dalmation or a combination of the above, wandering around together. One pack the strutted past us had around twenty dogs in it, and a
Colourful Bellavista houses
This was the groovy Barrio where we lived!
few stragglers following behind.
During our time in Santiago we chatted about our plans for South America and decided that we would take it easy and go overland at a nice slow pace, seeing Chile, Argentina and a bit of Brazil. We've been travelling for over eight months and are finding that we're getting tired, and the idea of taking a slower pace, even renting an apartment in Buenos Aires for a little while if we can, is very appealling. And so, after taking our time in Santiago, we bought tickets to La Serena and boarded an amazingly fancy bus up the coast.
There are more photos below