So we've made it to the capital, after some long and arduous boat and bus rides through the lower half of the country, which I daresay is way too long. The last entry featured us exclusively on the big island of Chiloé, where we spent some pleasant days looking at a variety of wooden churches throughout the island, sampling a wide range of empanadas, sandwiches and papas fritas, and wondering when the hell those fucking Spaniards in our hospedaje would finally shut up. We then went on to truly German country, the Lago Llanquihue, which was settled by a myriad of krauty Prussians in the middle of the 19th century, leaving their mark through churches reminiscent of the ones back in the Reich, a broad range of recipes for kuchen, and a fondness of punctuality and cleanliness, which, unfortunately, hasn't permeated the rest of the Chilean population. A day trip to the very German settlement of Frutillar, which nowadays is little more than a tourist trap with almost nobody understanding German due to too many well-assimilated generations after Uropa Fritz, saw us marvel at the romantic German village-style architecture and at the fact that almost all of the monuments had a
little plaque on them to indicate that they were sponsored by Nestlé. Frutillar also boasts a very nice Museum about the German settlement in the region, with a watermill, a smithery and some old school houses with antique furniture and family portraits.
The student town of Valdivia, which was our next destination after the picturesque Puerto Varas, is home to one of South America's best beers, Kunstmann, which, as the name already indicates, has been owned and operated by a German family for the last four or five generations. Of course, we had to visit the brewery-restaurant, which, with its excellent beer and the persistent yodelling that emerged out of the boxes made me want to slip on my best lederhosens and hit the nonexistent dance floor with a mean schuhplattler. Unfortunately, the garzones didn't quite understand why I wanted the cream sauce with my spaetzle, so they gave me some Chilean equivalents instead.
We then moved on to Pucón, which is the outdoor capital of Chile, and as a consequence pretty touristy. We didn't arrive in high season, so it was still quite pleasant to stroll around town. We found a good and cheap place to stay,
and the only ones who stayed there besides us were a middle-aged Austrian couple who were gullible enough to believe I was Australian. Since their English wasn't the best, that meant less awkward conversations for me. We got our asses going the next day to join in a not too wallet-crushing outdoor activity, canopy. Means you get fastened on a harness, then attached to a steel cable, suspended over a valley or canyon, and then you slide from one side to the other. Was quite fun, and reminiscent of childhood playgrounds. Afterwards we could soak our travel-weary bodies in hot springs that could have been hotter and less populated with senile, old Chilean people. At least we defied them by braving it into the mud baths, with the pre-mummified looking on in astonishment and disgust from the inside.
The next day we decided to do the obvious and climb Volcán Villarrica. It was quite an experience to do that, and fucking hard as well. The best part was literally sliding down the volcano on our non-bare asses, which left us badly bruised, apart from contracting a terrible sunburn on nose, cheeks and chin.
We then finally went on
a night bus to Santiago. and it was quite a ride, not only on the bus, but also spending the next week in the city's crazy capital. It has a quite different feeling to it than the southern part of the country, which seems to be a bit rougher, whereas the people in Santiago really like to dress up and be posh holier-than-thous, looking down on you when you're not dressed according to the acceptable standards. We got over it, laughing Chilean conformist conservatism brazenly in the face. An interesting cultural experience was walking into Café Bombay, thinking of Indian food, and realizing it is one of the 'cafés con piernas', which are cafés directed at middle-aged businessmen where waitresses bare a bit more than usual while listening to the suits pouring out their hearts.
Our hosts was a Chilean couple in their thirties, quite friendly and hospitable, albeit a bit conservative with a little crazy twist. They are proud owners of a tandem, and Andrés, the male half of the couple, took us on a ride through the city. That is, I stuck to a normal bike, whereas he and Jaclyn occupied the tandem. He let us try
a bit in a park, though, and after five or so minutes we had a puncture, of course, and nobody knew why. After an awkward changing of the tire in the middle of a busy street, we went on to Cerro San Cristóbal, which was a bit steep, but ultimately rewarding with its views on a smoggy Santiago. We had a cup of mote con huesillos, which is rehydrated peaches in its own juice mixed with barley kernels. Very unique, and very refreshing and yummy!
We also taught them how to make sushi, and got taught to make empanadas, which are sursprisingly simple to do, and are best when you can decide about the filling. Still, we were quite happy to have a bit of an alternative cuisine in Pucón after being completely empanada'ed out from the first couple of weeks in Argentina and Chile. Andrés told us some funny Chilean football stories, the most hilarious being of the goalkeeper of the national team. Apparently, Chile played Brazil in the World Cup qualifiers for '82, and during the game some jerk in the audience threw a firecracker onto the field, next to the goalie, and it exploded. The firecracker
was harmless, but the goalie apparently saw that as the only chance to maybe win against Brazil, so he took a knife that he was hiding in his glove and cut a wound into his own face. Of course, the ruse was detected, and Chile was suspended for the next four (!) World Cups! Nobody seemed to have asked the guy why he was hiding a knife in his glove in the first place, though.
Of course, we had to visit Pablo Neruda's famous house 'La Chascona'. It turned out to be in a nice and quiet suburb of the capital, and it more than proved that Chile's most famous poet was more than just a bit eccentric. It was partly built like a ship, with very narrow rooms and circular stairways, and it contained numerous objects from his collections of gigantic things, like shoes and fans. After Neruda's death shortly after the coup in 1973, the military went on to loot and flood his house, but it was good to see that many important things could be rescued or repaired, and that Neruda's legacy lives on despite the persistent attempts of the fascists to dirty his name.
The only real downside to our time in Santiago was the fact that we couldn't seem to be able to get into the Palacio de la Moneda, where Salvador Allende either killed himself or was shot during the military putsch. The guards just kept telling us to come back later at a certain time, but when we did, we still weren't allowed in, and soon gave up from sheer frustration.
Apart from that, Santiago seems like a really livable city with lots of culture, hustle and bustle going on, and it's nowhere as dangerous as its reputation. It could just have a bit less smog, really, but we survived that as well. Onwards it is then, to the lovely port of Valparaíso. ¡Hasta muy pronto, compadres!
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