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Published: January 19th 2010
Me, with my backpack, arriving at my hostel in Santiago.
On my way from Cusco to Santiago, I had a stopover in Lima, where I saw once again with incredulity that the Lima airport has not one, but at least two Dunkin' Donuts shops. How the chain has managed to find its way to South America but not to the US West Coast, I have no idea.
Sitting in Lima airport, I realized I had no idea where I would be staying upon arrival in Santiago, and I hadn't been able to get ahold of Sam or Sonja. For whatever reason, the payphones in the airport kept giving me error messages when I tried to call their cellphones, and I hadn't heard back by e-mail. Recognizing that walking around with my big backpack in a huge city like Santiago looking for a place to stay would be exhaustig, I began to feel apprehensive, and I only had about a half hour before my flight was to board. As luck would have it, though, an airport bar had a few computers for customers' use. I grudgingly handed over $5 for a small coke, and logged on to make a hostel reservation.
By the way--I want to take a moment here to point out how awesome the internet is. Being able to stay in touch with all of you, documenting my trip along the way and preserving my photos, and basically being able to take care of any travel need on a moment's notice - I can't imagine how much more difficult travel would be without it, or at least how much more limiting it might be if I just had to rely on my (pretty crappy) guidebook. Thanks, Mr. Gore, for inventing the web :-D
A few hours later, I was asking the man sitting next to me on the bus from the airport into town where I needed to get off to get on the metro. Luckily, he was also going to the metro station, and he told me just to follow him. I bought my ticket at the window (they have three different prices, depending on the time of day), and hopped on the train at Pajaritos station. I made the easy connection at Baquedano, and got off at Santa Isabel station, from where I walked the last few blocks to the hostel I'd booked a few hours earlier from the Lima airport bar.
I was not optimistic about the location when one of the first shops I saw walking out of the metro station had a big pink sign on it that read: "Porno" and had a penis drawn on it. The fact that there was a camera attached to the buzzer on the hostel gate did nothing to reassure me of the safety of the neighborhood. On the other hand, once I got inside, it seemed perfectly fine - the hostel even had a pool.
After checking in, the German guy who ran the hostel told me where I could get a SIM card for my phone, and I hustled back to the metro station and backtracked a few stops to try and get there before the store closed (it was already after 8pm, though given how light out it was still it felt more like 4). I made it to Hites, a retailer that I think is probably like a K-Mart or Target and got my SIM.
Fifteen minutes later, dialing the same number I tried from Peru, I managed to get Sam on the line, and another 20 minutes after that I was meeting him at the metro stop nearest the apartment where he was staying, which belonged to a friend of Sonja who was out of town. From there, we went to dinner at Las Vacas Gordas, where although it was 10pm there was a 30 minute wait for a table for two. It was well worth it - we both ordered Lomo a lo Pobre, which is a steak served with a side of fries, sauteed onions, and sunny side up eggs. The steak was cooked and seasoned to perfection, and was one of the better ones I've ever eaten. Along with a bottle of wine and a salad, our meal came out to about $36 (18,000. CHP). And, they accepted credit cards, which seems to be pretty common in Chile, in contrast to many of the places I've traveled, and they didn't even charge a surcharge.
Since the metro stops running around 11pm, and it was already about midnight when Sam and I finished dinner, Sam and I split up and took taxis back to our respective residences for the night. I was about set for bed when Nathan, a gargantuan New Zealander, started asking about if anyone wanted to come out drinking with him -- his girlfriend was out for the night with her lady friends, and he was not about to stick around at the hostel. Perhaps I should have taken the hint when his friends turned him down in favor of going to bed, but I said I'd go for only one drink, figuring I'd be back by about 1:30.
How wrong I turned out to be. Three hours later, and a thirty minute walk away from the hostel through a dark and unfamiliar neighborhood that Nathan navigated with ease to the bar area (Bella Vista, where there are bars lined up for several blocks), we were closing down the bar. My "one beer," that Nathan ordered, was one liter of beer, not the 325ml I'd expected. I learned a bit more about Nathan than was probably healthy for me to learn, too -- like that he spent a week in Argentina with a group of local crackheads, sharing equally in their communal haze. In any case, Nathan wasn't ready to head back to the hostel when the bar closed at 3am, and I still had no idea where I was, so I followed him to another bar that was still open. My beer, which followed the wine I'd had with dinner, was enough for the night, since I was feeling dehyrdated and exhausted anyway.
Fast forward a few more shots and drinks for Nathan, and the bartenders at the second bar are trying to get us out the door. Not because we're making any kind of a scene, but because it's 5am and they want to close up shop. "Thank you," I thought to myself, "now I can finally get some sleep." Only, I wabout to be proven as wrong. A man approached us in the street with promises of another bar that was still open, and despite my protestations that the man was very very sketchy and the fifty alarm-bells ringins in my head, I was unable to persuade Nathan of my cause.
I decided to take my chances and said goodnight to Nathan there and then, and by dumb luck managed to retrace my steps to the hostel -- I've never been praised for my sense of direction, so this was quite the feat. I climbed into bed, and fell into a deep slumber, from which I was awoken about three hours later by the sound of what at first I thought was a freight train. It wasn't.
In fact, the sound was the fat lady on the lower bunk across the room snoring the most incredible snore you've ever heard. I mean, it was truly awe-inspring to listen to her take in each breath as if it took the equivalent effort of climbing Everest, and then let it out again with all that same force. I may never forget that sound, it was life alteringly disturbing.
So, I got up, ate a breakfast of bread with butter and jam and fruit, and called Sam. I put in my understated request that we leave Santiago for greener - or rather, more sandy - surroundings immediately. As much fun as the previous night out was - and it was fun, either in spite of or because of Nathan's energy, I wasn't sure I could do another night there, and in any case I was more interested in seeing the surroundings than the city of Santiago. So, by 2:15, we were on a bus to Valparaíso.
Sorry for the lack of pictures, I may post a few later if I can copy some from Sam, but I didn't really take any in Santiago.
P.S. - Nathan was up a few minutes before I left, and he told me that after following the sketchy guy around for a little while, even he decided that it was time to call it quits and return to the hostel. No harm, no foul, I suppose.
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