Sprawling outwards and sky scrapering upwards, Chile's capital, Santiago, is immense. Its central core, however, is manageable and relatively small - a roughly triangular area bounded by the Rio Mapocho on the north. It is a city of grand thoroughfares and plazas, lined with public buildings and churches and circled by parks. The grid town plan imposed by the Spanish, however, is conducive to traffic jams and pollution. The Virgin Mary guards the city from the peak of the 860m (2821ft) Cerro San Cristobal, part of the Parque Metropolitano recreational area.
The city's attractions include the colourful Mercado Central, the historical centre of Plaza de Armas, the pedestrian mall of Paseo Ahumada (haunt of buskers and peddlers) and the late-colonial and block-filling Palacio de La Moneda - former mint, presidential residence and the site of Allende's last stand. Santiago has plenty of museums, including the beautifully arranged Pre-Colombian Museum and the Museo de Santiago, which documents the city's present sprawl with dioramas and reconstructions. The Palacio de Bellas Artes is modeled on the Petit Palais in Paris and has a fine collection of European and Chilean art.
Santiago's main budget hotel area is the seedy section of town near the Terminal de Buses Norte. Moderate and top-end hotels can be found in the central area bounded by Avenida Balmaceda and Avenida General O'Higgins (popularly known as the Alameda). Restaurants, from fast to flash, are in abundance, especially around the bus terminals, pedestrian malls, Alameda and Plaza de Armas. Bellavista, known as the 'Paris quarter', is one of the city's liveliest areas, with countless ethnic eateries and an active crafts fair on Friday and Saturday evenings.
15 Dec 2001 - Santiago, ChileBoy oh boy! Last night was a big night and today the effects are making themselves pretty well known. The bad thing is that we had booked a wine tasting and wine making tour. While not being able to discern the delicate aromas of blackberry, apricot, straw and plum we certainly knew how to gulp it down to the amusement of our hosts and Brazilian couple also making the tour with us. A great moment that sticks in my mind is how after our tour guide spent 5 minutes explaining the intricacies of the wine we were about to taste and then offered the chance to try, Adam downed his whole glass in one go to the absolute shock of the guide!
One final point to note; despite the taxis drivers we met being fairly honest, cheerful chaps, if you feel that you have been done ask for the 'boletto'. This is a kind of print out from his computer that displays the distance, cost and the taxi drivers ID.
Chile - Santiago, wine tasting in the De Martino vineyard
An enjoyable day despite our hangovers! We were shown how wine is produced and how to study it; from its appearance to its taste. We learned the subtle practice of swirling a glass of white in front of a white background to view its clarity and colour; the different flavours of red wine and the advantage of storing it in French Oak casks rather than American Oak.
Chile - Santiago, in the grounds of the De Martino vineyard
Adam posing in the gardens for the camera. During wine tasting, Adam displayed his lack of culture by bolting his samples; our teacher smiled politely but her eyes betrayed her shock! After this a different sample and a lengthy description of how it differed was given. Again, Adam pulled off the same trick.
14 Dec 2001 - Santiago, ChileThe final few days to my holiday and it was time to take in Santiago. Some parts of the city really have a colonial feel but a lot of these buildings seem to be coated in rotting paint. However, as you reach the center you could almost be in any highly developed country as there are plenty of shops and more than a few sky scrapers. As you move away from the center the streets become full of traders conducting their business on the sidewalks. We made our way up the hill to see the the Holy Virgin and relax in the sun looking across the city of Santiago with a smoke.
So what is the night life like? We only went on a mission on one night. This was to the more upmarket area of Av. Suecia where the prices were maybe 3 times those what we had become accustomed to in other parts of Santiago and in fact the rest of the country. We went from bar to bar and club to club getting steadily more merry. Eventually a couple of lasses started talking to us and then after about 30 minutes of pleasant conversation and from out of the blue, offered themselves to us - for a price. After haggling, the proposed deal was both of them, both of us, hotel room for the night and all for just £20. The deal was getting stupidly cheap so in order to save face and get rid of them we had to start asking for some extreme practices which not even money would tempt them to do. This left an unresolved deal so both sides saved face and we went our separate ways.
On our way to somewhere that I can't remember as the alcohol was well and truly kicking in we were approached by one of the blokes in the street handing out flyers to strip bars. "Maybe something special for you, huh? You come with me, no pay, just look. You don't like, you leave. No pay. No problem". Well I wasn't keen but Adam was keen just to have a look. With one arm wrenched behind my back I too agreed to go along it would be interesting to say the least! After making it clear that this was not to cost anything while using English, bits of Spanish and clear hand signals we followed the chap to a flat situated near by while I discretely redistributed my money (which I didn't have much of anyway) and cards around my body in case we were walking into a mugging. In we went, were given a seat in the living room and in walked a scantily clad professional lady. We told the bloke we didn't like and he said "Fine, no problem. I show you my other girls". Cue laughter from Adam.
Off again this time to a different residential block. We had to be very quiet as the neighbours would be upset but we weren't allowed in straight away as they had a client. I got a little nervous with the waiting and my mind began working out the best way of escape - not easy when the only way I knew was via the lift. After 5 minutes two blokes came out. One of them was an American who seemed blown away by what he had received - quite literally as well. In we went and were sat down again.
This time six scantily clad ladies of ill repute walked out, each one giving us a kiss on the cheek before standing on parade in front of us. We had to make our choice but again said that nothing appealed to us and out we went. Before the reader thinks, "Ah, but what if they had been attractive? Then what?" Well the truth was that some of them were quite nice and with us in our drunken weakened state it could have been quite easy to slip. But no! Neither of us wanted any of that kind of action.
Chile - Santiago, one half of a £20 deal!
After many minutes engaged in interesting and promising conversation with an attractive Chilean lass wearing a Union Jack top (this was the age of Cool Britannia), she suddenly and from out of the blue asked if I would be interested in sex for money (that was the snag). This hooking lass is her pal and was the other part of the deal. No wonder Adam is laughing. Eventually we talked our way out the situation.
Chile - Santiago, a night out on the drink
Adam doing a fine impression of a lunatic. I remember the night revolved around a number of trendy bars in the upmarket area of Santiago.
8 Dec 2001 - Santiago, ChileOn our return from Patagonia we again made immediate arrangements for another expedition. This time it was for a two day coach journey to the far North and the Atacama desert. This required another early start the next day so it was a quiet night and early to bed. Only upon our return would we have time to see Santiago.
1 Dec 2001 - Santiago, ChileMy trip to Chile began in the capital, Santiago. For me it was a great venture, for my old uni buddy, Adam it was just another foreign trip. This was the first time I had seen him since we were in Thailand with the other Chamberlain, Hywel and Jint in August 2000. Since then Adam had been bumming around the world - good luck to him, how many people can say they've taken so long off to travel the world?
We got a bus to the city (though a taxi was only about £10) and immediately sought out a respectable youth hostel. Like many YHA Hostelling International venues this one proved cheap and gave a good standard of accommodation and the location was excellent. The cost was about £5 per night and was the cheapest of the quality budget hostels but you could easily pay more and get less. At the time of writing, if you are on tight budget this country is very do-able and won't involve a puritan lifestyle. This was to be our base for now. Adam being the experienced traveller came prepared with a lengthy itinerary which was just as well because although I had read the lonely planet's guide to Chile I was still unsure where to start. We decided that the first destination would be an expedition into Patagonia. This would require an internal flight down to Punto Arenas so our first job after arriving was to arrange another flight.
This we did at an independent travel agent and received service second to none - talk about going the extra mile! Here wasn't the typical air-head travel sales agent you normally get in the UK. This bloke obviously knew his country well and could speak very good English. The relationship progressed past the usual "to go here costs this much, this one's slightly more..." type of blah. Actual conversation was struck while the rest of the staff attempted to join in with our man acting as translator - very friendly people. After receiving a quote for a flight with Lan Chile we left for a little scout around to make sure the price we were being quoted was a good deal - after all, why were they so friendly? After checking the Lan Chile web site it turned out that we were being quoted a fare lower than Lan Chile were offering directly. Great, we swept our earlier cynicism aside and returned to the agent!
Getting the deal though wasn't simple. We were due to depart the following morning so needed the tickets immediately. The agent drove us in his own car through Santiago giving us an unbargained for tour. This gave us a good chance to observe the everyday goings on of normal Santiagans while one of the agents kept us busy with lots of interesting chat. As this person's English wasn't very good it got a little difficult at times but thankfully Adam had picked up a bit of Spanish and could muddle though.
Our eventual destination was a shopping mall. The driver waited in the car while the assistant took us in to the booking shop. This was a Lan Chile shop so we had to wait in line to be served before we could buy our tickets. Instead of the expected 10 minutes it took over an hour. When we eventually got back to the car the driver must have been wondering what had happened but he still had a great big smile on his face. As it was now quite late we tried our luck and asked if we could be driven back into central Santiago which they agreed to. The profit they made on this deal must have been very little and the amount of time they put into it seems quite disproportional. Customer service to the extreme!
By now we were hungry so we chose a plush looking steak house near the youth hostel. Between the two of us we had a good sized portion of shellfish each, 500 grams of steak for me (a whole pound!) and 250 grams for little Adam. Side plates of salad, rice and chips and two bottles of the best Chilean wine. This came to the unrealistic price of £23 between us - absolutely fantastic! The South Americans really do like their meat. From observing the other diners I noticed that a lot of them only ordered a plate of meat. No vegetables or side dish but just meat. A cardiac specialist need never be out of work in this country. And so on to bed with a heavy stomach ready for the following day's 6AM start.
Chile - Santiago, You can't beat a bit of bully!
Definitely a photo for the pale faced, skinny vegetarians! Half a pound of steak gone and only a half more to go. Actually, I couldn't finish it - the only time I haven't been able to eat a whole steak. Once the jaw ache set in, eating simply for greed was no longer an option.