After the staggering journey through the Andes and crossing into Chile, we arrived at a hectic and bustling bus station in Santiago. My first encounter with a Chilean was with the porter offloading the bags from under the bus. ‘Money money money!’ he shouted in my face. Laughing, I turned away from my blatant gringo treatment. With our bags and our Romanian friends we made it out of the hoards of people and headed out of the station down the road in pursuit of a reasonable taxi to the hostel the Romanians had prebooked. This was an epic fail as the taxi driver demanded a huge amount, justifying it by telling us we were 10km away. This was obviously ridiculous and Al made it clear that if we didn’t cover the 10km, we wouldn’t pay the requested amount. The driver tried every trick in the book and eventually tried to drop us off 2 blocks away from the hostel. He had realised that as soon as we arrived we would check with reception what a reasonable fare should be. This ended with him and Al shouting in the street until he got less than he asked for but still too much! Welcome to Santiago we thought. Luckily this bad start did not reflect the amazing hospitality we received in our 10 days in Chile.
The hostel, Nuevo Horizonte, was fantastic. A new hostel that previously had been student digs. With only one dorm room, a living room with with confy sofas, a fully equipt kitchen, hot showers, a courtyard, a roof terrace. The lovely Evelyn and Claudia, who manned the deck were so welcoming and over the time we stayed there became more like friends and flatmates. A geeky guy called John worked part time there too, we really warmed to his carefree chilled nature.
On arrival we dumped our bags and made our way to a food and beer source. We were directed to a supermarket nearby by a lady with perfect English. It was interesting how much better at speaking English people seemed to be here.With it being a Sunday night and having been shocked by the prices of everything in the shop, we decided to buy a bit for dinner with a beer and relax in the hostel. It was such a luxury to watch an English spoken film on a comfy and clean couch in a quite hostel. Ahhhh. On the couch opposite, Coco, a friend of Evelyns, who lay there laughing at the American cheesiness in the typical blockbuster. Over the next week, our meeting with Coco became a great opportunity to meet more great Chileans as it turned out he organised events for students.
With new mattresses, soft duvets and plump pillows we had a blissful sleep; despite the general city noises we had become unaccustomed to and Maurio’s sinus problems that made him sound like a suffocating pig.
On our fist day in another big city we took it easy and adjusted to the hot and dusty city. Plaza Brasil, near the hostel was a perfect first stop with cafes lining the square. With a huge coffee we got some tips from the friendly waitress. Finally feeling much more confident with our castelleno, we began speaking in spanish with her. But yet again, a new south American country, new crazy accent. She immediately started talking a million words a second and I looked at her a little blankly. Well, it would take a fey days to adjust to the different accent and speed. Plus I didn’t feel too bad. Many Argentinians had told me that Chileans speak weirdly! For the afternoon we got our bearings and had a walk around the famous fish market and ate empenadas. Mariosco empenadas are famous, basically with seafood. We had heard a lot about them, but personally I didn’t enjoy the mussel meet pasty. Chile is famous for all sorts of seafood though, and we had vowed to eat at the market one day. I have always wanted to try sea urchin, which was dominant on all the restaurant menus. On our way back we went via the main plaza and cut through ther city centre and past the government buildings. It just so happened that President Obama was visiting the city and as we walked we reached a road with barriers. Within 5 minute lots of high profile black cars with tinted windows started driving past, and then there he was, Mr Obama smiling and waving! It was a random thing to see him but kind of cool. Al and I jokingly bickered all the way home about who he had waved at…I am still sure it was me!
With such a nice relaxing hostel, it was a good place to chill and not spend money, so we made use of the free computer and internet to research our next leg of our travels…the pacific. With New Zealand 10 days away it was necessary! That evening we cooked at the hostel and picked Evelyn’s brains for local recommendations. She told us about a drink called Terremotos. A must-try in Santiago. She described the wine and pineapple ice cream cocktail and in the end said we should have a party the following night and she would make it for us.
I think just stopping and allowing ourselves to rest gave our bodies time to feel a little under the weather and tired. Al had a nice long sleep in, which was easier once Maurio had left the room and there were no more disturbing grunts from the opposite bed occurring. I was feeling ok, and wanted to source the Las Vega market to buy lots of cheap fruit and veg. As we were planning on staying in Santiago for the whole 10 days it was good to get in some local produce. With a smoothie machine in the kitchen, I planned on whipping up some fruity delights for my under-the-weather Al, and I wanted to get my hands on avocados which are plentiful in Chile. Las Vega is on the north side of town, about 10 blocks away from the hostel. I walked all the way there. It was an enjoyable walk, sharing the pavement with early city commuters. It felt very European compared to any other South American cities I had visited. The market itself was unimpressive compared to those in Peru and Bolivia, but there was some similar produce including the aji salsas already mixed and sitting in bowls at particular market stalls. With it being a dry and tiring heat along with so many bags of fruit and guacamole ingredients I got the subway back. It was super quick. What would have taken me 45mins to walk, took me about 10mins. Back at the hostel I made strawberry smoothies and sat on the roof terrace with my book as Al slowly came around. Late afternoon we took a walk a few blocks south of Plaza Brasil to an area called Conch y Toro. It was an area which had been owned by rich wine makers and they had created a beautiful street and little round plaza with a quaint water fountain. Students hung out on the shady benches chilling in the quite area away from a very busy street only a block away. We found ourselves in a restaurant sampling a Chilean version of a Pisco Sour whilst it was happy hour. We hadn’t had a pisco sour since Peru, where arguably it originated from a place called Pisco. The Chileans are adamant that Pisco originated in Chile though…they do have a reputation for claiming the fame for popular things like Pisco and Cerviche. Either way, the Pisco Sour was good, but I do prefer the Peruvian version. Colder and they use a tastier Pisco in my opinion. Of course I did not let on to the patriotic waiter.
Back at the hostel we had a tasty dinner using the aji salsa I picked up as a chicken marinade. Then Evelyn set up the terromotos making area in the courtyard. Evelyn, Claudia, a long term resident Marcia and a friend of theirs, Marcus joined us for our introduction to this lethal cocktail. Using a sweet white wine, shot of Fernett Bernett (a popular liquor that tasted of plant matter), shot of grenadine and a scoop of artificial tasing pineapple icecream. Surprisingly it tasted good, despite being very sweet. The drink was served in a plastic pint glass with a straw, somehow this seemsed very apt. We were told that even a grown man cannot drink more than 4 of these. I think I managed about 2, and Al probably the 4 knowing him! The Romanians joined us and also had a good initiation to the crazy cocktail. Listening to music and improving our Chilean castelleno as the night went on. Claudia and I discussed the differing recipe of Guacamole, which she promised to teach me the ultimate South American recipe. It was a late evening, but a very enjoyable one. Great to have bonded with our Chilean hosts so soon into our stay. Marcus invited us to the Mercoles Po (organised by Coco) the following night. This was the biggest and best club night on the student callender, he said it was a must if we like electronic music! Of course we were in.
The boys didn’t emerge until at least 2pm the following day. Claudia asked me to go to a local market with her. It was a local food market, so I went to pick up a few more bits for the week. The market was only on Wednesdays, so I thought I might as well. At the end of the market street a little excitement, even for the locals began. A pursuit was being made by the PDI (Chilean FBI) and the police. Black vans after 4x4s after incognito police cars zoomed down the connecting road all with sirens. One guy leaning out of a 4×4 on the phone, sussing out what was going on further down the road. Soon there were helicopters overhead. The noise of it all was relentless and didn’t fade for some time. It turned out that a man had been shot and the culprit was on the run. All the chaos had not been good for the boys beauty sleep and they eventually emerged, to find Claudia showing me her recipe for Guacamole. So, hungover we dived into one of the most delicious versions I have ever tasted. We ate it with boiled Andean potatoes, what a treat. Evelyn mentioned that there was a festival at the weekend with the same DJs that would be at Mercoles Po tonight. The festival was on the coast a few hours south of Valparaiso, and if we wanted to go we would be welcome. It turned out to be organised by Coco and would be a student event, not advertised to everyone in Santiago. It certainly sounded appealing and a good oppertunity to see a little more of Chile, which regrettably we didn’t have much time to see.
Another day of chilling at the hostel before getting ready for the Mercoles Po. It certainly felt like we were falling into a student regime! Evelyen walked Al, Maurio and I around the corner to Marcus’s place. She used to live there herself. The student share house was a very similar layout to our hostel. In the courtyard a group of students, some Chilean and several foreign, were sitting around drinking beer. A very international bunch of people, we counted 7 nationalities within 11 people. It was free to get into the club before 11pm, but in true South American style this didn’t happen. We rocked up at 11:30pm, but it turned out that Coco was also the landlord of the student digs, so we got in for free anyway. Ushered to the electronic room upstairs we tried to get a drink. Everyone was so pushy that I had half my drink spilled betimes we found a less busy place on the balcony. The music was good, but a bit strange that this was the best night in Santiago. We realised just how spoiled we are in London with immense clubs and top DJs always available to watch. We were both tired and didn’t want to spend much money so we stayed for a while and enjoyed the music and the mix of Chilean and foreign students. Leaving Maurio to it we headed back to sleep.
Realising that we hadn’t seen that much of the city, we spent what was a beautiful sunny day walking through the centre towards a hill called Santa Lucia. Weirdly no one had recommended this to us, yet it was a significantly big park on the map. Also marked on our tourist map was a ‘bohemian’ area just beyond the hill that we were aiming to reach too. Santa Lucia was beautiful. A steep hill (and park) with a paved road spiraling to the top. As we neared the top, a fortress looking post area emerged. We couldn’t believe no one had mentioned this great park to us. With a fantastic view of the city, we were pleased to have discovered it. Nearby was a much larger hill with a ski lift that seemed to be the main tourist attraction. We agreed we were happy to miss it out having explored Santa Lucia instead. Looking for the descibe ‘bohemian’ area on the other hand was a little bit of a let down. I guess when I know the bohemia of Brighton and Brick Lane, I perhaps had high expectations. Actually the area was an expensive boutique shops and posh wine bars and restaurants where I can imaging the yummy mummies of Santiago would lunch. It was a tree lined area with cobbled roads which made it a nice place to window shop and try a Chilean glass of wine. Not overly impress, realised we had been spoilt rotten in Mendoza and our standards we too high on the wine front now!
That night we met with a friend of Al’s, Stephen. Al and Stephen met on the Antarctica cruise. He is from the UK, but traveling and at this point staying with some friends in the posh end on Santiago, El Golf. We were invited to join him and some of his friends at a birthday party in a nice Italian restaurant. First though, Stephen came to our hostel where we shared a cold beer on the roof terrace before jumping in a cab to the other side of town. It was a great evening, enjoying for high quality pisco sours and better wine with some pizzas. Apart from Stephens’s friend, the rest of the group were ladies in their 40’s and 50’s. They were such a laugh and a true testament that age is just a number in front of your name. With quite a bit of pisco and wine in our stomach we were up for more fun after the meal. They dragged us to a samba club nearby. It was such a fantastic night. With people who could really dance, it was a pleasure to watch. It wasn’t even that embarrassing to join in with mine and Al’s basic moves. Stephen, having recently got back from Las Vegas,was happy to get some bubbly in for the ladies whilst he and Al enjoyed rum and cokes. The end of the night came and Stephen insisting on footing the bill. We were so grateful for his generosity, it had been a great cultural and fun evening. Until we left to catch a cab home I don’t think either of us realised how tipsy we were. In the morning John, at the hostel was laughing at us, telling us we had be giving him group hugs and dancing in the living room. He though it was hilarious.
With no time to recover the following morning we set about stocking up on supplies. We had decided to go to the festival Evelyn had mentions, it’s name, ‘Amnesia’. Coco was going to pick us up at 1pm, so we needed to get water and food for the 2 days. Al went on the mission whilst I cooked up lunch. Before we knew it Coco was at the door with a truck waiting to whizz us into town to catch the organised coach. With 10 litres of water, a couple of bottles of rum, a huge block of cheese and some bread and pasta ingredients we loaded it all on the back. Offloaded in a central location we waited for the coach with many others. All in the mood for a party. We were surprised to see so many gringos at first, but later learnt that they we all students, many on exchanges or simply wanted to go to university abroad. We, were actually the only really gringos, well backpackers. Finally on the bus, all with our own name tag the bus started rolling out of town. It was a load party bus with most people standing in the aisle shouting, laughing, singing. Pisco flowing and singing along to what ended up as the themed song of the weekend, Barbarah Streisand. A new one for Al and I. We were well behaved, trying to recover from the previous night and conserve our rum rations for the actual festival. The bus left at 2pm and was meant to take 3hours. Only, the bus got lost, stopped at a supermarket, almost got stuck in a muddy road and the door began to fall of after a 100 point turn down the wrong road. 6hours Later we arrived at the campsite. The coach turned around to go back to Santiago to collect more people, we all wondered when we would see them if at all, that night! Most people on our coach were worse for wear already. All very funny to observe. One group fell into their tent as they attempted to put it up, so just lay on it for some time. At this point we realised that the name Amnesia was very apt. As we all got unpacked, to Als delight as asado began.
An Argentinian guy volunteered his skills and ended up as the weekends hero, always ensuring a great bbq and everyone got fed. The campsite hut became the hub, the the asado and music located there. The Djs got set up and put on some great party tunes. We danced the night away and got to know everyone. The second coach arrived very late, and some had already passed out. Al and I were still up and helped several pitch their tents in the dark. Although we were aided with a bright starry sky with an almost full moon. Eventually crashing anting to preserve energy for day 2 we found our minuscule tent.
Awoken by a hot tent, I shook a still drunk Al and we all staggered to the
beach, a 15min walk away. Al, who was quickly dubbed as Jesus by everyone, did not fail to deliver in his image that morning. It was a really good feeling to see the sea again…especially the Pacific. It was the first time since Lima that we had seen this ocean. We hung out for the good part of the day, messing about and getting to chat more to our new friends. Cota, one particular guy hit it off with Al. We all shared his bizaar humour so it was fun to ‘talk shit’ with him.
The girls sunbathed and the boys perved…especially those spaniards!
Back from the beach Coco had lined up paint balling, but we chose to listen to the tunes and enjoy the campsite pool. I painted Als back with Cota’s body paint, they found I had a queue of guys lining up!
After a siesta, the party started again. This time with everyone here. More Barbarah Streisand and plenty of good beats, much more asado, dancing and tequila with crazy Chileans. I think I can safely say we did the Amnesia festival justice. Evetually Al and I carried eachother to out little joke of a tent. The next day we packed up and got on the second coach back to Santaigo hoping it would be straight forward this time. Unfortunately, the first coach had broken down and all those more desperate to get home were stranded near a toll office on the side of a motorway. We arranged ourselves so those who weren’t fussed about getting back volunteered to be the ones to wait for the coach to be fixed. Happy about this arrangement, it meant that a load of drunk Chileans singing really really badly got off our coach at this point. Few, our pounding heads did not need that!
Sleep should have been good at the hostel, but this time we had Maurio and a new snorer, one much louder. At some ungodly hour we escaped by on the floor on loads of duvets in an unused room next door. The next day Evelyn agreed to give us a discount and allow us to use this room for the next 5 days. Perfect solution for us and her. It meant that she had an extra dorm bed to fill.
With a few days left in Santiago, we unheld our vow and went to the seafood market to try sea urchin. It might have been the wrong thing to do after a heavy weekend, but I still think it was the most disgusting thing I have ever tried. The texture and lemon salt water it was served in was gross beyond words. However, I was happy I had tried it, never again though!
On Tuesday we met up with Cota for the evening. I was really cool as we finally had a local to show us around. He took us to his favourite place, right on the edge of the city with motorways surrounding a strip of green. We had a view of the Andes in one direction and Santiago plus its smog in the other. We watched the sun set behind the cityscape and enjoyed joking sat on bench telling eachother wacky stories. Hungry, we then discovered panchos. Hot dog, but with so many different combination of toppings we were in heaven. I particularly liked the guacamole one.
On our last day in South America and in Santiago, we invited Stephen to our hostel and made an asado with 2 new English people staying in the hostel now along with Claudia, Evelyn and Marcia. With the 2 new brits we headed out to source good cheep asado ingredients. Of course Al being the carnivor he is was acting like a kid in a sweet shop and bought so much meat in the end!
That evening we shared our most favourite Mendoza wine with Stephen and had awonderful night at our new home, Nuevo Horizonte. We had the most amazing time in South America, and it was such a pleasure to wind up our adventures in Chile with great people. Late into the night we managed to get a few last samba dances in at a live music bar around the corner form the hostel, then playing in the play park in Plaza Brasil.
The day of departure was more rude than our arrival. On the way to the airport I was pickpocketed. The first thing I have had stolen in my whole time in South America. Luckily, 2 out of date credit cards and only a little cash in several currencies from around the world was lost. I didn’t let it leave a sour note to an epic 7 months in beautiful continent, friendly people, fantastic food. A trip of a lifetime.