We’ve enjoyed ourselves in Santiago, the 6th-largest city in South America (with a population 10 times larger than Seattle!). It’s been hot, in the 80s F, which has been a nice change after the cold winter Seattle’s experiencing. Our flight down was totally epic, including 4 different flights and hitting three different countries before Chile. It spanned 24 hours of continuous travel, but we saved a few hundred bucks on it, so I suppose it was worth it…
Santiago itself has been interesting, although it’s very urban and a bit overwhelming. There is graffiti on every available surface, litter clutters the streets, and a “Latin American grime”, as Craig calls it, permeates the city. All the sidewalks are tiled, but poorly maintained, so you have to watch your step. Stray dogs roam the street, usually on their own, and sometimes they look really cute (but it’s somehow easy to remember not to pet them!). And there are vendors lining major sidewalks and thoroughfares, selling lots of junk–unappealing to most Americans, we imagine, but definitely appealing to some Chilenos. In fact, I feel like Chilenos in general are very generous to their poorer counterparts that beg or solicit on the streets… unlike Craig and I, who are miserly hoarding our savings.
On the other hand, there’s WiFi pretty much everywhere, taxis are always available, they have small and large parks all over the city, dedicated bike lanes, and their subway system leaves Seattle’s rail system in the dust. I have yet to find contact solution, but I’m hoping it’s lurking behind the formidable counters of the local “farmacias”.
After our long day of travel, our only goal on Sunday was to find somewhere to watch the Superbowl. We hopped on the subway to an Irish bar, where the Seahawks blew our minds with the incredible game they played. Yeah Seattle! Represent!! Too bad there weren’t any other Seattleites in the bar to celebrate with us… but we were happy enough with the results of the game that we didn’t care too much. I’m a little bummed that we missed all the revelry and polite rioting back home, but… I’m in South America! Whatever!
We walked up to the Cerro Santa Lucía on Monday, and were greeted with countless high-rises gleaming in the sun. The Andes were just barely visible through the smog. On our quest for a larger grocery store that might have more options for our upcoming Patagonia trek, we jostled through crowded sidewalks and eventually ended up, exhausted, in a large park skirting the river that cuts through Santiago. There we saw men carrying popsicles in reinforced cardboard boxes, shouting their wares while listening to their ipods; a persistent woman who asked, in succession, if we could give her money to read our fortunes or give a coin to her little daughter (a hellion running around holding two ice creams). When we said we could do neither, she finally asked if we could just give her a cigarette, to which we (un)regretfully told her, “No fumamos.”
The next day, we climbed an even bigger hill up to the Cerro San Cristobal, to see the daunting statue of the Virgin Mary. Even all the way up there, stray dogs lay in her shade. My parents were worried about stray dogs, but all I’ve seen them do is lay around or sniff encouragingly if you’re eating food near them. It’s actually pretty fun to find them in odd places.
We then walked to La Chascona, one of three houses of the poet Pablo Neruda, now a museum. I loved all the little trinkets that he picked up in his travels to adorn his house, particularly the colored glassware, and the interesting features that he used to personalize the space. Neruda is somewhat of an inspirational figure to Craig, so I think he enjoyed this tour a lot. We then ate some traditional Chilean fare, which is usually the equation of [meat + french fries x fried egg = deliciousness]. The service was surprisingly fast… I almost felt like I was back in the States! For we’ve learned that Latin American time is much slower than North American time… Luckily, Craig and I have lots of time to spare!
This morning we left Santiago and flew down to Punta Arenas (situated on the Strait of Magellan!), which is the beginning of the preparation for our Torres del Paine hike. Things are more expensive down here, and it’s a lot colder! The day of travel was kind of exhausting… subway to bus to plane to bus. We’re tired and not as warm and although our stomachs are full, our wallets are a lot lighter because of it! The hostel also had no clean towels so we had to use our mini camping towels, which is like basically drying yourself with a small square of Magic Shammy. So hopefully things look brighter on the morrow, when we take yet another bus to Puerto Natales! There we’ll buy our camping food, spend the night, and then head out to start the full circuit. Hopefully we can update after the trek!