Sitting on the back of the bike for several hours every other day for few months really does something to your levels of patience. Even for such an impatient creature as me. I find that I am much easier with waiting around at normal every day situations, such as waiting in a long queue, at a traffic jam. Waiting for anything really. It is like a state of zen. It certainly helped me when it took us four hours to cross the border from Argentina to Chile.
We were told that the Paso Cristo Redentor can get very busy, but we did not imagine the lenghty queue of vehicles that awaited us after the long tunnel making its way under the mighty Andes mountains.
All together to get from Mendoza to Santiago, we spent 11 hours on the road, including all the breaks and waiting around. We arrived in Santiago at 8pm only to struggle to find our hostel, which was tucked away in a small residential street, hiding behind flowery bushes in full bloom.
The place of our choice was Chile Backpackers Hostel, a relatively new place, run by a chilean guy named Marcel. Upon our arrival it turned out that our booking was slightly messed up and we ended up with a small triple room, with a bunk bed. Everything in the hostel seemed a bit chaotic, slightly unfinished and bohemic, but Marcel was happily chatting away and sorting things out as we spoke so we decided it is not a big deal. It would not be the first time we sleep in bunk beds and usually it is quite fun, specially if Carl sleeps at the top and I can steel his clothes, hehe.
Similarly as Buenos Aires, Santiago does not really have a city center in a traditional, more European way, but several neighbourhoods of different characters. We stayed in barrio Bellavista, famously bohemian and poor artists quarter, now turned upscale, artistic area to live and play in. As we discovered straight away in the first night, the area is bursting with cafes, bars and restaurants, offering a wide range of cuisines and many of them also play live music. We had arrived on a Saturday night, so the tables were spilling out on the sidewalks, full with people enjoying the warm night, indulging in food and wine.
Next morning we dedicated the first part of the day to a walk to the nearby Parque Metropolitan, where the Cerro San Cristobal is located. At 300m above Santiago, the peak is the second highest place in the city, making it a perfect spot for photos. It is a popular spot both for hikers and cyclists alike, as there are good, but windy routes above. Lazy people like us might prefer the furnicular, which, located near to the entrance of the park, allows for a quick access to the top. For more religiously inclined, there is a sanctuary at the top of the hill. The sanctuary together with a 22m statue of Virgin Mary is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and at the footsteps of the statue there is an amphitheatre. At the lower part of the hill, there is also a zoo, so some form of entertainment is guaranteed for everyone.
We decided to walk down the hill, but missed the easy way down so instead we took few hours down by sharing the route with many cyclists.
By the time we got down and found some lunch it was well into a late afternoon and we needed a rest. It left us only a little bit of time in the evening to have a walk around our neighbourhood to admire all the amazing street art, which forms the bohemian vibe so characteristic of Bellavista. I might have gone a bit snappy-happy and Carl was laughing at me, saying that people will think I am completing a college asseament. Below are some of my favourites.
We only had another day to spend in Santiago, so, despite the fact that usually we are not into tours, we decided to try out Santiagos famous ‘Tours 4 Tips’ after reading many great reviews online. We chose the early morning tour as that promised more of an insight in the life of locals instead of a history talk, but as we woke up all groggy and tired the next morning, rushing to a tour was out of the question. We decided just to have a self-guided walkabout to the downtown, but as we were chatting with Marcel at the breakfast table, he eagerly offered to walk with us and possibly show as some places. We happily agreed and little did we know, it turned out better than any official tour we could have had.
We started off by leaving Bellavista and venturing into the Patronati neighbourhood, which was a mindblowing change of scenery. Gone were the wide sidewalks with green leafy things, instead we were walking down dirty busy streets full with any possible asian supermarket or dressmaker. As Marcel explained, Patronati is where the largest asian community in Santiago is based.
Following all the noise and dust of Patronati, we found ourselves in Recoleta, equally busy neighbourhood, but here Marcel lead us to the largest and most famous market in Santiago – La Vega. La Vega is your safest bet for cheapest food in the big city and if you cannot find something in there, you won’t find it anywhere else. Amidst all the colours, smell and noise of the market we bought big bags of cherries and nuts around 2 times cheaper than anywhere else.
I was walking around like in a wonderland, seeing all the colourful fruit and vegetables, admiring the big sea creatures ladden out on some ice, all fresh from the Pacific Ocean and, when we finally got hungry, Marcel took us to a whole building dedicated to food, dotted with small shabby eateries, common to all the big markets around the world. Don’t be deceived by shabbyness though, we feasted on a delicious big meal of some soup, fried fish with potato mash and a big salad, for $3500 each (equivalent of £3.50).
Once our bellies were full, we walked down towards the Historic Center where on the pretext of me bursting for a pee, Marcel got us to walk in one of the oldest bars of the city – ‘La Piojera’. Whilst I was busying myself in the ladies, Marcel was explaining to Carl how the name of the bar literally means ‘fleahouse’ and comes from 1922, when the president Arturo Allesandri Palma had been invited to this local bar favoured by the poorest people of the city. Upon his arrival and seeing his surroundings he has been rumoured to say “Y a esta piojera me han traído!?” (roughly translated to “And I have been brought to this fleahouse!?”)
Of course now we had to sit down and have a drink and what else would it be, if not the traditional drink ‘terramoto’. ‘Terramoto’ means ‘earthquake’ and consists of sweet wine, pineapple icecream and grenadine syrup. Why an earthquake? Because after few of these, the ground feels very shaky.
No shaky legs, but a fuller belly now, we left ‘La Piojera’ and went to Plaza des Armas, where, after exploring the beautiful Catedral de Santiago (which has been rebuilt 5 times after being destroyed in numerous earthquakes!), Marcel had to leave us, but he left us with good instructions on how to get to Palacio de La Moneda – the seat of the president of Chile and a beautiful neoclassical style building in the centre of downtown.
The historical centre itself is bursting with many great examples of different architectural styles and influences.
After seeing the La Moneda, we were tired and had quite a walk back to the hostel. We finished our two days in Santiago with a big meal in a local restaurant and then it was time to pack our bags for a Christmas adventure in Valparaiso.
A blog post coming soon.