Last known location: London, England

Over the Hills to Santiago

D: We’d had a great time in Argentina, but it was time to move on to Chile, and our next destination; Santiago. This involved a 6 hour journey (supposedly) across the Andes mountain range, via the route known as Paso Internacional Los Libertadores. We soon left the vineyards of Mendoza behind and we climbed gently into the mountains, passing a huge man made lake behind the Potrerillos dam and the isolated village of Uspallata as we got higher and higher.

The road was never that steep but you could tell we were climbing, and the mountain scenery in the valley was spectacular! We passed the snow capped Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas; snow can evidently close the route completely for months on end in Winter, but being late Summer even the highest peaks only had a light dusting.

We eventually reached the border post, and it proved to be one of our longest so far. We had to wait for at least an hour in a queue before anything happened at all, then another hour getting all the passport stamps and having all our bags searched. The Chileans seem very protective of their farmers, and no-one entering the country is allowed to bring in fresh food of any kind, to fend off imported diseases. After having everything thoroughly checked by sniffer dogs everything was x-rayed and I was duly summoned by the customs officer. The culprit was the half kilo jar of Marmite hidden deep in my bag. I then had fun trying to explain to her what it was, to no avail! She was suspicious of the words ‘100% Vegetarian’ on the jar, and I had little joy explaining to her what yeast was! Eventually she got bored and I was allowed to keep it – disaster averted!

On the other side of the border the road is much steeper, and we descended a big chunk of the 11,500 feet via a series of 30+ switchbacks (see left, not our photo obviously!). The road had recently been done up, but no-one seemed to have got round to adding crash barriers, which made the whole thing a bit hairy at times! We made it safely down, but the occasional upturned lorry and makeshift memorial by the side of the road was slightly sobering! We finally made it to Santiago, a predictable 2 hours late!

G: Following from the stunning, but lengthy, bus journey we were keen to get in a good night’s sleep before exploring Santiago properly. We checked into our hostel, the Chile Inn, a fabulous old enormous house with a brilliant roof terrace. Our hostel was in Barrio Brasil, a bohemian enclave, central to hip restaurants and close to other parts of the city. We are young hipsters, after all! In reality it had been a bit of a struggle to find accommodation for the first night in the Chilean capital. It turns out there was a marathon race in the city on the Sunday and a big music festival just outside of town going on all weekend. Unfortunately it was too late for us to enter the marathon, and the festival was sold out. Once checked in, we dumped our bags, made a dash to the nearest supermarket to pick up some supplies, and crashed out, shattered after a long day on the road.

On Sunday we woke up refreshed and raring to go. Not quite as raring as the Santiago Marathon runners, it seems. We arrived around the finish line at about 1pm to see a few stragglers crossing the line. God knows what time it started, sometime before sunrise by the looks of it! Previous to stopping off to cheer on the runners we’d walked through ‘El Centro’, the compact, triangular heart of the city home to some key public buildings clustered near the main square, Plaza de Armas. The cathedral is particularly impressive and we snuck in for a peek, trying not to disturb the Sunday mass! We stopped for a coffee in the square and watched the world go by under the warm Chilean sun. I understand our talk of warm weather won’t make anyone at home jealous now because summer has officially arrived in the UK. We’ll see how long that lasts…!

Before leaving El Centro we popped into the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. The museum chronicles an impressive 4,500 years of pre-Columbian civilisation throughout the Americas with some lovely ceramics, gorgeous, delicate textiles and even some Chinchorro mummies – made by gradually replacing the soft parts of the dead with mud and sticks. It was a wealth of information but presented so well it didn’t feel too overwhelming. Definitely one of my favourite museums so far!

Making the most of the weather we headed for the nearest park, on Santa Lucia hill. It’s a bit of a climb to get up to the top but we were rewarded with some good views of the city. Although the famous smog unfortunately prevented us from seeing the surrounding mountains very clearly. The park was minutes away from the Lastarria and Bellavista areas of the city, also said to be rather stylish, so we headed over for a drink and bite to eat. It appears the area may be a bit too trendy for us, it took about 30 minutes before we managed to get our order in at one of the many cafes with outside seating areas. And a further 20 before any drinks arrived. Still, it was pleasant enough to watch all the cool artist types go about there daily lives. Suddenly it was 7pm so we strolled back to the hostel to catch sunset from the roof terrace with a cold beer or two.

On Monday we made a picnic and caught the metro to San Cristobal park, which towers above Santiago and is the capitals largest open space. The summit is best reached by a rather nifty funicular which climbs 485m from Plaza Caupolican, the centre of the city’s student area. At the top of the hill is an enormous statue of ‘El Virgen’. Mary looks over the city with arms held out, and she’s certainly very large. Draws quite a crowd, too, and we were serenaded with some rather nice music which certainly set a spiritual mood! We found a spot under the substantial shade she offered and promptly tucked into our picnic.

Once we’d explored the rest of the park we headed back down to earth and walked along the Mapocho river, which was decidedly empty. I imagine it fills up pretty quickly as the snow from the mountains melts at the beginning of summer. We stopped at another park, mainly to feed a pack of stray dogs the leftovers from our picnic. They didn’t seen to like the avocado but munched up the ham in record time! Like in Asia, stray dogs seen to be a big issue here – there are so many. We’re thinking of returning to set up a dog sanctuary but doubt we’d get much support, no-one here seems overly bothered!

Our last night in Santiago was date night! We stuck to our neighbourhood and started off at one of the many cosy bars for a glass of wine. We walked through Plaza Brasil, a grassy square full of young locals hanging out; some were singing and playing music which made for a very pleasant atmosphere. We went a restaurant called Las Vacas Gordas, literally Fat Cows. Can you guess the speciality? The iconic, much praised steak-house definitely delivered the goods and we went to bed happy, with very full tummies. Santiago was a real hit, a very attractive city with some lovely neighbourhoods and a very safe and easy-going environment. The setting, with the Andes more or less surrounding the place, is quite spectacular.

1 Comment:
  1. Mum 9 Apr, 2011

    Scenery looks stunning. Is this the same pot of Marmite or have you managed to find another one?!!

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