After a 12 hour flight from Auckland, New Zealand, where I did not sleep one wink (from now on I am not even going to try, as it just leads to disappointment) I arrived at Santiago airport in Chile at 1:20pm. Due to the time difference between Auckland and Chile I weirdly arrived 5 hours earlier on the same day I left so I felt particularly disorientated as well as tired. But I was excited (and a bit scared!) about being in a completely different continent where I would need to be able to speak the basics of a different language. This was something I had to face almost immediately. After going through passport control – which took quite a while – and collecting my bags, I exited at arrivals and walked to the CentroPuerto bus waiting on the side of the road. I climbed aboard and asked the driver for a ticket to Los Heroes in basic, broken Spanish (Uno boleto para Los Heroes por favor), which is the last stop but I think the costs all the same – 1,700 Chilean pesos, which is around £2.
We arrived at Los Heroes approximately 40 minutes later where I disembarked and was hit by the immense smog, before crossing the road and walking down into Los Heroes metro station. I felt hot and tired and the machines didn’t seem to dispense solo tickets (only bip cards and bip top ups) and no one seemed to speak any English (Hablas Ingles? Hablas Ingles??) so I walked up to the counter and tried my best to order a ticket to Baquedano and understand what she said in response. It cost me 660 pesos (90p) for about 5 stops on the metro, and then it took me about 15 minutes to walk to my hostel – Chile Backpackers Hostels – in Bellavista. On the walk there I witnessed two things that became fairly commonplace in South America; locals performing on the streets (this one showing off his football skills) for money, and drugs (this one in the form of cakes!)
The hostel was incredibly basic; small rooms with barely any floor space, no plug sockets and only one light for the entire room, with one door that didn’t close properly leading directly into the kitchen and the other door leading to the patio area. Yet the staff were so welcoming and kind and the rest of the guests – mainly South American – were really friendly as well as very accommodating to my basic Spanish skills (I use the word “skills” very loosely here). Despite feeling like I could crash there and then, it was only 4pm and I knew I would struggle to adjust to sleeping that night if I dozed now, plus my excitement and eagerness to explore this new destination and get my bearings – my favourite thing to do when I first arrive somewhere – was too compelling.
So I set off on a personal walking tour of nearby Bellavista, meandering the narrow, tree-lined streets and snapping the graffiti-ridden walls, basking in the joy of exploring on foot once again. I stumbled across Patio Bellavista – a square in between two roads that is adorned with bars, juice and coffee stands, restaurants and souvenir shops across two floors. Back onto Pio Nono – the road I walked along to reach my hostel and a “main” road through Bellavista, I perused the floor markets (a term I have devised for the market “stalls” that are basically goods for sale on a rug on the floor) and passed by the locals eating and drinking on the tables on the street with musicians playing for tips as they passed. I was totally immersed.
I was also hungry, so as I passed by a stall I decided to order a hot dog. A popular snack in Chile the classic hot dog is known as Completos, which comes with chopped tomatoes, mayonnaise and sauerkraut, but I opted for the Italiano as this comes with smashed avocado instead of sauerkraut. 1000 pesos (£1.30) for a small size, it was tasty and the bread was substantial but it was odd combining a frankfurter with avocado – yet I would probably do it again!
At just after 8 I trundled back to my hostel to have a shower and try to get an early night in an attempt to compensate for not sleeping in 29 hours, but with people cooking and chatting in the kitchen, walking in and out of the room, and those having conversations out on the patio, I had very broken snoozes up until around midnight. I woke the following morning at around 9, had some coffee and breakfast (bread “rolls”, but harder and slightly sweeter than our rolls, with butter and jam/marmalade) and did some research until Katie (a friend from uni, but not the same way I spent time with in Australia) arrived at around 11am to join me for about a month in South America.
Around midday we decided to head out towards the city centre to explore on foot, beginning by walking through Parque Forestal -a nice stretch of tree-lined garden through the middle of a main road – before turning off Montijas and making our way to the Plaza de Armas. Intended as a centrepiece for Chile and used as a gathering point since the mid 1800s, the colonial architecture surrounding a square punctuated with a fountain there was a singer performing amongst a buzz of families, couples and friends.
I also decided to pick up an empanada from El Rapido, as recommended in my Lonely Planet guide, but was thrown by the menu selection of which I didn’t understand a word of. After speaking with 3 different people from behind the counter I settled on a Marisco Empanada – which I understood to be seafood – and was disappointed to be presented with a flat, limp square if pastry as opposed to the puffy, half-moon entity I had expected. The filling was lukewarm and mainly mussels and onion, and it just wasn’t quite the local delight I had expected. Definitely a let down for my first empanada experience.
We then continued our walk up market stall-lined Paseo Puente, before looping back down Bandera and along to Plaza de la Constitucion for the Palacio de la Moneda, which, when viewed from La Plaza de Libertad, has a very patriotic and wistful feel with the huge Chilean flag blowing, almost slow-motion, in the wind.
Struck by the Parisian feel ahead of us we continued our walk south down Paeso Bulnes – a pedestrian only road – that was adorned with cafes and trees. We were later similarly drawn to walk down Londres, which then crossed with Paris and felt just as quaint and full of charm. As we hadn’t seen each other in 9 months, most of the afternoon was spent slowly walking and filling each other in on our lives, being halfway through a story before stopping abruptly to appreciate a building or a street; “…and then I began to question my existence – oooo isn’t that pretty!”
On our way back towards the hostel we took the marble steps (that almost felt as though you were entering a grand temple) up to the summit of Santa Lucia for views across Santiago. We were both sweaty and had tired feet by this point so this may have influenced our opinion, but I can’t say Santiago city offers the best landscape for a panoramic view.
We made it back to Pio Nono around 6pm and decided to sit on a table outside one of the many bars to share a litre bottle of Escudo (a local beer) for 2,000 pesos (£2.60) before walking to a different bar to have our first Pisco Sour in South America at 4,400 pesos (£6) for two, although I should mention that a 10% service charge is pretty much expected for all food and drink served to the table.
We then walked through Patio Bellavista before settling on a restaurant on Dardignac Street, a restaurant called Galindo that had been recommended in my Lonely Planet guide as well as by a local on the street for serving good, affordable Chilean food. Here we ordered another Pisco Sour each (4,200 pesos for 2) and I ordered a Chilean dish of Corn Pie with beef, chicken, olives and raisins at 6,700 pesos (£9) whereas Katie ordered a Chilean bean dish with sausage at 5,000 pesos (£6.50). More expensive than Asia for eating out but a lot cheaper than Australia, and the food was really filling and tasty.
We headed back to the hostel around 10:30pm and tried (but failed, on my part) to get some sleep ahead of our travels the next day. An incredibly muggy night in a tiny room with other guests watching a movie just outside until 1am, I didn’t get the best sleep and woke up feeling groggy. But with our aim to get to Valparaiso by early afternoon I had a quick shower, packed my bags and wolfed down breakfast before leaving the hostel just after 10am, walking to Baquedano metro and getting the metro to Universidad de Santiago, where we then booked our very first bus – in ridiculously broken, poorly pronounced Spanish – with TurBus for 11am. We had been advised not to pay more than 3,000 pesos as it isn’t a touristic day, but with our inability to speak their language in even the basic sentences let alone be able to argue or haggle we just paid the 5,000 each requested (£6.50) and boarded our bus just before 11. Of course we then high-fived this achievement once successfully sat on the bus. Valparaiso, here we come.