My Introduction to Santiago
28.01.2011 - 29.01.2011
After describing the trials and tribulations of before, I have since been blessed with smooth sailing during the Chilean leg of my trip. Because my flight was delayed, I arrived in Santiago just as the sun was beginning to rise the peaks of the nearby mountains. This was good for me as I no longer had to worry about finding my way into the city at 2 AM and could catch the first bus of the day (the "Centropuerto") for close to $3. Even better, LAN airways had made the fortunate mistake of routing my baggage onto the same flight, so instead of having to play hide and seek with it had I made the prior connection I found it waiting for me after going through customs (Quick Side Note: US citizens have to pay $140 to enter the country as a part of a two-way agreement set up during the Clinton administration regarding travelers, and even though it lasts the duration of your most current passport it is still head and shoulders above other countries). Before boarding the bus I was bum-rushed by taxi drivers who were prepared to speak whatever language necessary to take the gringo into town for a high price, but having been forewarned by a friend of Andrew's at UCSD I evaded the tactics and was on my way.
The ride into the city was an interesting one, because I got to see the city and surrounding areas literally wake up around me. The suburbs of the city reminded me a bit of Lancaster or Victorville in California because of the track housing and the desert-like vegetation, but this scenery became more and more urbanized. If asked, I would describe Santiago appearance-wise as almost a mix between Paris, Brooklyn, and parts of the Mission District in San Francisco. On one hand the city is very cosmopolitan and developed. The public transportation system is amazing, with very well-maintain and modern metro system and bus system linking all parts of the city cheaply and quickly. Additionally, there is some beautiful architecture maintained throughout the city, complete with cobblestone streets and parks filled with fountains and statues where people gather. On the other, there are very real third-world elements, like the constant sights of stray dogs, extremely polluted river and litter surrounding a good number of city streets, and very real urban poverty that isn't always so readily open and apparent in the States. The people themselves are extremely friendly, and although the majority I have met do not speak English (something I prefer because I want to work on my Spanish), they are always willing to go the extra mile to help you out.
So far the stay at my hostel, the Landay Barcelo, has been quite memorable. The place is a funky old building that looks like something out of Medieval Times and is nestled on a pretty quiet street near a local university. In terms of location though, it is close to the center of town, the final Centropuerto stop, and the main thoroughways (translation: bus and metro stops), which makes it really easy to get around the city. The staff are a young and friendly mix of people who have been extremely helpful in correcting my Spanish mistakes, showing me where and when to go places, and even knocking back a couple of quiet ones in the wee hours of the morning while on duty. I like my room a lot because it looks out onto a central patio on the first floor and is near the main hub, has its own ensuite bathroom with two showers (I have been told this is good for "showering with friends"), and has comfortable beds with full linen sets and two pillows. The breakfast is probably the only thing I could potentially point out as a fault thus far, as it consists simply of a bag of white bread, a toaster, and two types of jam, which can be washed down with juice boxes and instant coffee. As fuel though it'll do for now, and I just bought some eggs to spruce things in the community kitchen.
I have spent my first two days meandering about the city's many neighborhoods and soaking up all the cultural and touristy landmarks as I go. Highlights have included a 2 km hike in the city to up to the statue of the Virgin and amazing panoramas of the city, going to a converted railway station that filled with art exhibits (a la Gran Palais), and discovering the interesting architecture that surrounds the Plaza de las Armas (which is pronounced Arma here, because Chilean Spanish includes dropping the s off of many words and "inventing words" as you go). I have found the best times to be out are before 9 AM, before the city officially opens, and after 7 PM, as during both times there is respite from heat (highs have been 34 C so far) and a host of interesting characters out. I have also went on a culinary exploration of Santiago, and have had the three dishes that are its most famous and authentic: mote de hosilla, which is a drink consisting of peach juice, corn, and dried peaches, empanadas de pino, which is a dough exterior filled with beef, egg, olives, onions, potato, and some good spices, and pisco, a grape-based drink with a smoother taste than whiskey and a surprisingly high alcohol content at 36%. Besides that, there is a surprising lack of vegetables, fruits, and variety, with most bars and restaurants selling hot dogs and meat sandwiches "italianos" covered in guacamole, tomatoes, and mayonnaise, and french fries covered in steak and eggs.
I have been fortunate enough to have met people with interesting stories in the hostel so I have yet to suffer from loneliness. The characters have included a group of Germans on a bus-bound odyssey through South America that will take them through Buenos Aires, Quito, Atacama, and potentially the rain forests of Bolivia, a Spaniard from Zaragoza on vacation from his master's studies in industrial engineering, and two Australian coal-miners who just embarked on a year-long journey that will take them around the world. Last night I went out to some of the local bars with the Spaniard and the Aussies, and together we got a taste of the night life here, which includes open air cafes serving local beers (Cristal and Escudo) and pisco until the wee hours of a the morning. My personal favorite was a combination rock bar, complete with wall murals of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Jesus, and Gandhi that played hair-metal and rock from the 80's and 90's, and a salsa bar, with black lights, strobe lights, and curiously enough a bubble machine that would spout off at random intervals. My goal while I am here is to dance well enough to blend in, having seen the bouncer as well as other locals dance effortlessly to the changing rhythms of the salsa music that is omnipresent. Like a true Chileno, I ended the night around 4 AM after last call, having been up nearly 24 hours with a light nap in between, and slept peacefully until 12 the next day only to start anew.
Looking forward to more full days like these.