Santiago de Chile is at the top of “A LOT OF UNFINISHED BUSINESS” list for this part of the world. Dear Santiago, I shall return sooner than you might think. We only got to spend a day together but you manage to steal a piece of my heart which I hope you’ll keep forever.
To get to Santiago we crossed the Andes from Mendoza. We went all the way up and all the way down again. I could feel my ears popping a few times. The border between Argentina and Chile is right in the middle of the mountains and when we got off the bus do get our passports stamped we couldn’t believe how cold it was and that we were surrounded by mountain snow.
We thought it would be nice to chill with chilli in our chilli because it’s chilly in Chile, but then they have no chilli in Chile although it’s chilly. Now, that’s a sentence to remember from Chile.
Just walking around
We spent half of the day we had on hand walking around the city centre enjoying its offerings: the pedestrian streets with plenty of shopping stores, the Parque Forestal alongside the Mapocho river, and the street art.
Street art in Santiago seems to be mandatory in Santiago, as the majority of walls are covered with graffiti. And unlike other places, the graffiti from Chile is a delight to see. It spirits up the city streets and makes you think you’re on a continuous walk in an art museum.
Coffee with legs
This deserves its own flashing title with exclamation signs around it.
Apparently Chileans don’t like coffee. So a while back, in order to make coffee popular this guy invented coffee with legs. It’s a coffee shop where girls wear short skirts and serve you coffee. Then, another guy took it to a new level, he stripped the girls more and darkened the windows so one can’t see inside. Then, another guy brought the ultimate level, the happy minute, when doors get locked, the girls take their clothes off and for one minute they put on a show. I guess it worked since Santiago’s business district is packed with these places. They are only open during business hours though.
However, these smart guys forgot to include the female customers in the equation. So they’re losing them to places like Starbucks. They tried starting a “coffee with abs” place but apparently it didn’t last longer than a week… It seems that the ladies go to coffee shops for coffee. Shocker!
Welcome to the real fish market
A must in Santiago is to try the seafood in the fish market. I am not saying this because I read it somewhere, but because I actually tried it and it was amazing. Better than the seafood I had in Lima. Sorry Peru, Chile wins this one.
The fish market is exactly what it sounds, a fish market. In order to reach the restaurants you have to go in and walk around on narrow corridors sided by dead fish starting back you. From my understanding the fancy restaurant is in the middle of the market. We didn’t get that far as we landed in one on the side because they offered us free pisco sours and ceviche. I guess you cant go wrong with that. It was called la Julita. So romantic.
The best walking tour
We spent the afternoon continuing to enjoy the beauties of Santiago but this time we had some explanations of what we were seeing. We joined the afternoon free walking tour and absolutely fell in love with it. It is the biggest MUST if visiting this city. The stories our guide, Franco, told us were not only interesting but also funny. And we somewhat got to understand the city and its culture in only a few hours.
We started with the Santiago cathedral. Remember that all South American cities have the main square and the cathedral, right? Santiago is no exception. What I did find different about this place though was the silence we found inside. Unlike other I have seen, this place gave me a feeling of calmness the moment I entered. So much that it became uncomfortable… Very strange.
From here we went to the Pre-Columbial Art Museum where we were introduced to the Mapuches. They represent 9% of Chile’s population and are the oldest indigenous population in the southern part of the continent. Having resisted the Spanish conquistadors for a very long time, they have become a large influence to the Chilean culture especially in the south. Based on my readings, it seems that even in our times there are still some conflicts related to them.
What I found very interesting about this culture is their female focused communities, which would explain why in certain parts of South America female leaders are more prominent. We didn’t enter the museum so I added it to my “unfinished business” list.
We continued to be exposed to the country’s history by visiting the Government House (Palacio de la Moneda). Like many other countries around the world, Chile also went through periods of dictatorship and this is the place where many important events took place.
Then we saw a building that used to be the tallest in the city…
… and a flag that is the size of a soccer stadium. The story goes that the Chilean flag was made un-officially popular by a tailor who just got sick of waiting for the government to chose one. So he designed his own version and started selling it on the streets as the official one. It became extremely popular, and by the time the government figured out what was going on, it was already considered official by the people. So they just went with it… This is just one of the many stories that make up the Chile charm…
…and then we saw a statue with some children. It was a gift from the Argentinian government and it’s called “children playing”. Historians agree that the child on the left is Chile, being pushed by Argentina and kicked by Peru, which is supported by Bolivia. Or something around those terms. Maybe Argentina should rethink its gifts? Or maybe historians should get some hobbies?
Santiago has two major hills that can be visited – something like Rio but not really. The first, San Cristobal, is the tallest and a nice view of the city can be seen from above. We chose not to go up because the weather was not on our side – smog was covering everything. The second, Santa Lucia, is smaller but provides a pretty good view too. I mean as good as it can get since Santiago is not very good looking from above…
Then, we went through the Forestal Park again where we learned that most of the statues on display are gifts from different countries in celebration of Chile’s 100 years independence anniversary. For this event Chile invited different countries to celebrate with them. To prepare for the event, the administration decided to do some city redesign so they decided to move all the “bad places” from the south side of the river to the north side. Of course these included bars, clubs, artifact sellers and everything else they considered undeemable of foreign emissaries. As a result, the south side of the river is the boring side while the north is the fun side.
And then we visited the “fun side” where we stopped by a few places including the Bellavista neighbourhood packed with restaurants and bars (some cheap, some not) and Pablo Neruda’s house, now a museum. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit it – “unfinished business” list.
Santiago not only completed the west coast adventure but also the tour we joined in La Paz. It was sad saying bye bye to everyone. The dinner and wine we had helped but not so much. We did spend 20 days together without imposing any permanent damage on anyone. I hope… The truth is we made some great friends along the way and that’s all that matters 🙂
PS: Valparaiso is also on the “unfinished business” list.