Internet has been few and far between lately so it’s been tough getting a blog out. I have some catching up to do. Here’s our update from Santiago, Chile a couple weeks ago:
I have to admit I had my mind made up about Santiago before we even arrived. I have seen plenty of cities in South America and figured Santiago would just be another one. We loved Buenos Aires and Rio, but sometimes other big South American cities start to seem redundant. Santiago is extremely populated. Over a third of Chile’s population lives in the city. The city is so polluted that the surrounding mountains are hidden under a blanket of smog. I wasn’t too excited about a big, overcrowded, polluted city. I was quickly proven wrong about Santiago. A lot of times it seems like the places that you have the lowest expectations for end up being some of the best. Santiago has a character and a vibe all of it’s own. And the food was like no other city we’ve been to so far. If we didn’t leave Santiago after three days our clothes wouldn’t fit. I could’ve stayed in Santiago a few more days, but my waistband wouldn’t have survived.
Walking around a city with your guidebook doesn’t give you a real understanding of a place. If you really want to know the inside scoop of a city you’re visiting, check to see if they offer “free” tours. This is a relatively new concept from Europe but it’s spreading quickly. Bryan took his first free city tour in Budapest, Hungary a few years ago and became a fan. The tour companies are based solely on tips so the guide strives to give you the best experience possible. A tip around $10 USD per person is usually expected, depending on your satisfaction. This is a steal for the amount of information and insider’s perspective you gain. The tour we took in Santiago lasted four hours and the guide pumped us with info from Santiago’s past and present. I found it interesting that fairly recently (1973 until 1989), Chile was a military dictatorship under General Pinochet. During this time, thousands of people were killed or disappeared (supposedly dropped into the ocean or the mountains). Our tour guide’s daughter’s grandfather is one of the people who went missing. According to our guide, nearly every Chilean has a relative or a friend who mysteriously vanished during this period if they didn’t support the Pinochet dictatorship. But this violence is hopefully all in the past. Chile has enjoyed democracy since 1989. They also have a steady economy, despite a vast disparity between the rich and poor.
Santiago Street Dogs
There are dogs everywhere is Santiago. Of course I wanted to clean them up and take them all home. But according to our tour guide, the street dogs are a part of the community in Santiago. There are doghouses in the park for them. In the winter, you will see them all wearing sweaters. We’ve heard this from several people but no one seems to know who makes all these sweaters or who puts them on all the dogs. The dogs hang out at cafes and bars with the locals, taking naps with them on the grassy lawn in front of the presidential palace. I know that these street dogs have a rough life just trying to survive, but overall they seem pretty well-fed and content (especially compared to other places). Hopefully something is being done to control their breeding. I would love to take the “Neuter Scooter” on a South America tour. It’s greatly needed.
The food we had in Santiago wasn’t gourmet, but it was unique and tasty. Bryan’s been craving a “Completo” since we arrived in South America after our friend Johaan told us about them. You can guess what our first meal in Santiago was. Completos and Italianos are hot dogs with heaps of mayonnaise and whatever sauces you want on them. Italianos were our favorite – guacamole, mayo, and tomato on a hot dog, along with whatever else you wanted to add. They call them Italianos because the guacamole, mayo, and tomato are green, white, and red like the Italian flag. You don’t have to like hot dogs to like these, you barely taste the actual hot dog. Incase our cholesterol intake wasn’t high even after Completos and Italianos, we conquered Chorrillanas the next day. This dish consists of a plate piled high with greasy french fries covered with caramelized onions, beef (or various other meats), and a couple of fried eggs to top it off. Bryan ate them for three meals straight. Our final Chorrillana was the best – the steak on top was perhaps the best piece of meat we’ve had in South America!
Drinks to Make the Ground Shake
You’re going to need something to wash all this greasy food down with. Don’t worry, Chile has you covered. Chileans love to drink. The bars are hopping every night of the week, especially in the Bellavista neighborhood where we stayed (there are several nearby universities). We have never been to a city in South America that had such a high concentration of bars and nightlife in one area. Several streets were filled with bar after bar, almost all of which were filled with people even on weekdays.
Chorillanas and Completos are perfect bar food to go with a cold beer, but one of Chile’s national drinks is the Terremoto (spanish for “earthquake”). The drink is named after an earthquake because Chile is known for having major earthquakes; and after you drink a few you’ll feel the ground start to shake. Terremotos are made with a few scoops of pineapple ice cream, a big glass of white wine, and a splash of Fernet (a “crappy version of Sambuca and Jager” is how Bryan describes Fernet). We can’t describe the Terremotos as “good”; that’s kind of a strong word when it comes to these drinks. Just make sure to keep stirring as you drink for the best flavor. After consulting several sources (a few locals, a city blog, and our guidebook), we received the unanimous consensus that the best place to go for a Terremoto is a local dive bar called “La Piojera.” Throughout our travels over the last few months, people have consistently told us how unfriendly Chileans are. One fellow traveler who lived in Santiago for a few years told us that if you are looking for a seat at a McDonalds or a café, Chileans would refuse to let you sit-down with them if all the other tables are full. Ironically, we were standing in “La Piojera” drinking our Terremotos when two Chilean women waved us over and asked us to sit with them. They even shared their beer and wanted to know all about us. They didn’t speak a word of English but we were still able to converse for an hour or so over beer and Terremotos. The great-grandmother was particularly interested in Bryan. It’s probably a good thing I couldn’t understand everything she was saying. She definitely made it clear enough with her motions what she wanted to do with Bryan. When the two women left (after asking for some pictures with us), we heard English and moved to a table with some tourists and two Chilean guys. Again the Chileans couldn’t be any friendlier. I passed on the “blow it up” fist pound to them. They loved it and people from other tables joined in. By this time, the Terremotos were starting to kick in and we went back to our hostel for an unexpected four-hour nap.
If you’re looking for something without alcohol, there are “Mote con Huesillo” stands throughout the city. These are a sort of snack/drink. They’re cups with a scoop of grains, a dehydrated peach that’s been rehydrated, and peach juice. Motes make a refreshing, super sweet mid-day snack to hold you over until you can find a Completo stand.
Coffee with Legs
Apparently the coffee in Chile is complete crap (I didn’t try any). But the Santiago coffee bars are full of businessmen all day. They aren’t there for the coffee. Take a peek inside and you’ll see why the business men spend hours there drinking nasty coffee. All the waitresses have super short skirts and high heels. They serve coffee and flirt with the businessmen, feeding their egos. Some of these “coffee with legs” joints look like a classy coffee shop, some look like a strip club. Apparently there’s still one “coffee with legs” that features the “happy minute.” The waitresses shut the shades and doors to the shop, dance on the counters naked for a minute, and then open the shades and doors again and act as if nothing happened. It’s funny to walk by the sketchier looking “coffee with legs” and see the dark coffee shops in the middle of the day with all the businessmen’s white collared shirts glowing.
Protests in Santiago are an everyday occurrence. The day after we arrived there was massive protest planned in Santiago with university students protesting for cheaper education. Luckily, we only saw a few small crowds of people gathering. The riot police were out in full force. They drove armored trucks with what we first thought were machine guns. A group of students started yelling and blocking traffic and the “machine guns” shot them with a strong blast of water. This continued several times until a group of policemen ran side-by-side and chased the students away. People were even throwing glass and paintballs at the police trucks. We quickly learned why all of the police vehicles in Santiago have metal caging around their windows. Bryan stopped to take pictures for a while but we figured it was time to leave before the water machine gun hit his camera.
This hilly, artsy port city is about two hours from Santiago. In the late 1800’s Valparaiso was an affluent city because it had the busiest port in all of South America. The city took a huge hit with the opening of the Panama Canal. The economy suffered greatly and in the 1980’s Valparaiso was filled with crime. The naming of the city as an UNESCO World Heritage city in 1990’s has put the city on the map for tourism and things are turning around. The large, colorful homes in the hills give the city a kind of San Francisco-slum feel. There are brightly painted Swiss, French, Spanish, and German-style architecture homes all on the same corner. You never know what to expect when you turn a corner in Valparaiso. There could be the most colorful, artistic graffiti mural, or there could be a bum squatting on a busy sidewalk, pooping beside a stray dog. I’m not kidding. I couldn’t make that up. A day-trip to Valparaiso was just enough time to check out the city and take a “tour for tips.” This was another great tour and even included a pisco sour (national Chilean drink), a homemade alfajore (the best we’ve had), a funicular and trolley ride. My favorite part of the city was the incredible graffiti murals. The city actually hired a team of nine graffiti artists to paint sections throughout the city. They figured it looked much better than a cracked, tagged concrete wall. Residents also hire artists to paint their homes and businesses. This keeps random people from graffiti tagging their property. There is an unspoken code that artists can’t paint over one another’s work.
After three days in and around Santiago, it’s time to cross back into Argentina for one of the parts of South America that I’ve been looking forward to the most: Mendoza!