As part of our pre-planned flights, we had to cross the border into Chile and make our way down to Punta Arenas to get to a suitable airport before flying up to the capital, Santiago. This would involve a few more busses and a pass through what was expected to be troublesome customs. Chile is very protective of its borders and has strict restrictions on food produce, so we were a little nervous of bringing any food in. After a quick munch of our supplies on the bus, Annie declared her last remaining chocolate bar to a rather relaxed officer, turns out it was no hassle at all.
We only spent a short evening in Punta Arenas as we had a 7am flight the next morning. The city is right at the bottom of South America, ships and boats leave for Antartica, not sure if I fancy that trip, one day maybe. Staying in a budget hotel, we felt spoilt having a TV with 100 channels, some from North America and in English. I’ve not really watched TV since leaving the UK, bar a few shows on the tablet, and not really missed it, but this was a nice little splurge. A brief wander around a few streets is all we saw, along with dinner in a diner style restaurant before scooting off up north to the capital.
Arriving in Santiago we were both awfully tired, narky and a bit worn out. Unsure what to expect from Santiago, we unpacked and looked for what to do. Annie being half mermaid has been suffering from a lack of swimming; in Argentina we searched for proper outdoor pools but kept coming up against closures. It’s still currently low season/springtime and combined with the fact that swimming doesn’t seem to be a popular past time in South America, it has been a bit of an issue. A little research showed that a local facility had both indoor and outdoor lane swimming pools, but as there was a public sector strike on in the capital, both were closed to the public. Trainers on and out for a run was the backup option, a reasonably popular activity with the locals it seems. See Color Run for more on running in Santiago.
Wandering around the streets, there are street vendors everywhere selling all sorts of food and drink. I was intrigued by the Mote con huesillo, a sweet drink that has a base of husked wheat and filled up with a really sweet dried peach liquid, mixed with sugar, water and cinnamon. It was really sweet and unfortuantly not that nice.
A local walking tour was recommended by fellow travellers called Tours for Tips. Billed as a free tour, you pay what you want at the end, and we went along for a nosy. Seeing the city with a great guide and a nice bunch of people, with the sun splitting the skies, we were really impressed. We wandered about the massive fish, fruit and veg markets (Annie’s heaven), watching the locals going about their daily activities, it was interesting and a real taste of Santiago. The quality of produce was unbelievable and an absolute bargain. Santiago was really starting to glow. As a mid morning snack we had a Sopaipilla; a delicious deep fried pumpkin, made with flour, corn and salt patty covered in salsa, beautiful.
The tour went on through the city cemetery, a little bit of a morbid thing to see but coated in rich history. Stories of communist and socialist leaders, local idols and shared coffins were enjoyed by all before ending in a pub for a sample of Terremotto, a potent local cocktail made with pineapple ice-cream & pipeño (sweet white wine).
The same afternoon we went on a bike tour across different parts of he city, focusing on politics and history, covering a lot further but lacking the detail that was gained from the closer groups in a walking tour. I was really impressed with the historical muriel expressing the city’s fights with power, government and industry.
Over the week we were there, a few things caught our attention. Blur and Beck were playing at the local stadium, Annie being the uber Blur fan was torn over going along, at £46 a ticket we eventually decided to let it pass by and focus on using our fund to do alternatives to what we can see at home.
Our final day was spent down at Chile’s second city Valparioso, a large port that was an essential route back in the California gold rush of the early 1900’s before the Panama Canal opened and effectively killed the city. The city is famous for its hillside neighbourhoods, linked to the bottom with 18 funiculars. This being Latin America, there was another strike on leaving all 18 closed for a few days, time to walk! Every single wall in the city has some form of graffiti on it, generally of very high standard. The locals have an accepted rule that good work does not get tagged over, so whilst empty walls are full of tagging, homeowners encourage the locals to use their walls for art. It works beautifully.
We also sampled a homemade version of a local snack that South American’s love, Alfajores. You get them all the time on busses and airplanes; two wafers covered in chocolate and sandwiched together with some dulce de leche in the middle. Sold by a little man from his house who is now a Chilean celebrity, anyone is welcome to walk up, ring his doorbell and buy one for 200 pesos, quirky!
Thats the end of Chile! Next stop was the neighbouring country of Peru, heading to what was top of my South American list to do, Peru and the Inca trail.