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Published: March 28th 2018
OMG - it is true! Very little English is spoken in Chile ( so far anyway). I don’t think my 6 weeks of Spanish lessons is going to get us very far but we have learnt the words for tripe and liver so hopefully we won’t eat anything too gross.
Santiago, the capital city of Chile is not known as a tourist destination and for us it was a “get rested” spot after the long trip from Ladysmith and before we headed to Patagonia for some hiking, but we managed to keep ourselves occupied. Our home for the next three nights is Conchita Flores B and B in the barrio (neighbourhood) of Providencia. The 100 year old building used to be a monastery and is now converted into a number of B and Bs, each with an attached cafe. Small rooms, a windy steep staircase and despite a courtyard outside our second floor room, it is very quiet.
Day one we walked the 45 minutes into downtown along busy streets interspersed with a promenade through the parks along the brown trickle that was the Rio Mopocho. Drivers are very courteous to pedestrians although there is a tendency for them
to run a red light - so it paid to pause before stepping out on the green man walking signal. Unlike our walking signal which changes to a flashing red hand when time is running out, here the green man starts running so it is a good idea to do the same. Our route to the city centre on day two was via the colourful, leafy streets of residential Providencia.
Each day started with a great breakfast at the B and B - toast, cereal, juice, ham, cheese, coffee and some kind of dessert. After that we were on our own for food which included an ice cream from Emporio la Rosa and a pollo con queso empanada (chicken and cheese stuffed pastry). Dinner the first night was a plate of French fries topped with a meat and mushroom sauce along with cream cheese and chives - this was at one of the many restaurants lining the street of Manuel Montt. Day two we ventured to the barrio of Bellavista and ate at Galindo’s - a restaurant known for its typical Chilean dishes - we had a share plate of Pichanga (pickled cucumbers, olives, big chunks of goat cheese,
chucks of sausage and other meats) and a pastel de choclo- a paste of sweet corn covers a filling of beef and hard boiled eggs. So much food!
Beverages also proved to be interesting - the Terremoto from La Piojero bar consisted of sweet white wine, grenadine and pineapple ice cream. After a long day of walking in 26 degree temperatures (remember that we had just come from the end of a northern hemisphere winter) relaxing in our room with a glass or two of wine seemed like a grand idea - a 500cc tetrapack of 120 vino roja (red wine) seemed like a great deal at 1100 clp (about $2.50 cdn) at the local market but was pretty disgusting and the vino blanco was not much better but at least it was palatable. The pisco sours at dinner however, were delicious.
Sight seeing included the smelly Central Market (fish market), the Plaza de Armas and a stroll to and around the Presidential Palace before ending up at Serro Santa Lucía which is a 69m high remnant of a 15 million year old volcano (in the middle of the city). There is a series of steep stairways and
paths that allow you to walk to the top for a view over the city. The area of Bellavista had some wonderful murals covering the otherwise drab buildings - and lots of bars! Before we left home we had read a lot about how dangerous Santiago is - this is probably an area where you would be at risk as you stumbled drunk out of a bar at 4 am. We don’t have to worry about that! So far the only place where passers by actually warned me to put the camera away was the Santa Lucia Artesenal market.
I impressed myself when I was able to ask (and be understood) what time the local store opened in the morning as we wanted to buy some empanadas for the next day of travel. Other than that, understanding the cost of things is almost impossible as we are dealing with thousands, hundreds and tens - too many numbers to figure out.
March 15 and time to move on. Once again we arranged a taxi through Conchita Flores. When we return to Santiago in a month we will try public transport. Our next destination was Punta Arenas a 3 1/2
hour flight with Sky Airlines. We had booked all flights (and hotels) before leaving home so that we could get reasonable prices. At a latitude of 53 degrees, Punta Arenas is the furthest south I have ever been. From Wikipedia - Located on the Strait of Magellan
, Punta Arenas was originally established by the Chilean government in 1848 as a tiny penal colony
to assert sovereignty over the Strait. During the remainder of the 1800s, it grew in size and importance due to the increasing maritime traffic and trade traveling to the west coasts of South and North America (until the Panama Canal was built, the Strait was the primary shipping route).This period of growth also resulted from the waves of European immigrants, mainly from Croatia
attracted to the gold rush
and sheep farming boom
in the 1880s and early 1900s. The largest sheep company, controlling 10,000 square kilometres in Chile and Argentina, was based in Punta Arenas.
If I thought that Santiago was a relatively uninteresting city - I am not sure how to describe this place of very utilitarian buildings, lots of bars and zero character (not a good first impression). Checking in at the Hotel Albatross was interesting to say
the least - zero Spanish spoken but I understood the important things, like the time for breakfast. It was already late afternoon so we headed to the bus station to change our tickets to an earlier bus ( we were that inspired by the place), had dinner and found a pharmacy to get some cold medication for Kelly - and yes my rudimentary Spanish for “night time, daytime” was successful.
We had a few hours the next morning to explore and wandered down to the waterfront where there were some interesting and attractive sculptures. Many of the buildings along the waterfront had great scenic murals painted on them which brightened things up. Back into the Main Street, there were a few colonial buildings and whereas Santiago had many statues of men on horses, here the star celebrity was Ferdinand Magellan.
So why did we even stay overnight in Punta Arenas? When researching this trip, there was very limited information on how to get from the airport at PA to our next stop of Puerto Natales - so we erred on the side of caution and stayed overnight. So it was a wee bit frustrating when our bus stopped
at the airport on the way north! The three hour bus ride took us through very flat terrain covered with scrubby grasses and other low vegetation that withstands drought, wind and excessive winter conditions. There was a lot of bird life including the Darwin Rhea (a relative of the Ostrich and Emu) as well as flamingos - which came as a real shock. These are not a typical bird I would associate with an area called “Magellana y Antartica” but yes, Chilean Flamingos do live here.
It seems like these Chilean towns are going from one horse to half a horse. Puerto Natales proved another interesting place. It was founded in May 1911 as a port for the sheep industry. During the last half of the 20th century the sheep industry declined and many people from Puerto Natales started to work in the coal mines of Río Turbio
. And now its primary industry is tourism as it is the base for visiting the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park.
The Treehouse Hostel was about a 15 minute walk from the bus station. After checking in to our comfortable room we headed our for a bit of an explore and to search for dinner. True to our usual style we stayed away from the touristy main street and found a small, local restaurant where we had Chorillanos which is a Chilean dish consisting of a plate of french fries covered with chunks of grilled sausage, beef and chicken. All this was topped with fried onions and two fried eggs. If fried potatoes and onions class as vegetables, we are eating healthy. It is somewhat chilly so having a gas heater in our room is very pleasant. When we were in Santiago, the receptionist at the B and B had asked us what we thought about all the dogs. Well, we had not really seen any - until now! And they all seemed to be on the street outside our bed room window.
We spent the next day getting organized for three days of hiking on Torres del Paine. We were really fretting over the weather forecast of 20mm to 30mm of rain the next day (I really dislike hiking when I am soaking wet) but after chatting to a couple of local guides, they advised that Patagonia weather changes frequently and just to make sure our packs remained dry inside (we lined them with garbage bags - and then used four more to fashion gaiters in case we needed them). They also told us about the website Windguru which is used for all sports affected by the wind and they were predicting the rain would not start til 3pm the following afternoon - but they did forecast really strong winds (80 kmh gusting to 100). Our accommodations in the park included all meals including packed lunches so we didn’t have to worry too much about food. Our day packs were organized with a change of clothing, some cookies, toiletries and water - nothing excessive as we had to carry it ourselves. Everything else was left in a locker at the Treehouse.
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