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Bob in South America. Part 2 – Santiago, Chile
If Jenson Button ever decides to quit Formula 1, then his team should fly to Chile and enlist
Victor who took me into town from the airport. I swear to god we travelled at speeds I have never yet experienced, racing along the motorway and in and out of tunnels along the river before coming to a screeching halt outside my hotel. Victor showed no emotion, hidden behind his cool shades and Armani chic as I climbed out from the vehicle, shaken and maybe even stirred too.
Bienvenidos con destino Santiago indeed – click images to enlarge.
Still, having recovered with a hot shower and a stiff drink from my encounters with the cab driver it was time to hit the city. Spurning the efforts of the hotel concierge who thought me unwise to venture out alone without ‘official’ help, I easily found my way to the nearest metro, bought my ticket and took the underground to the Plaza de Armas, the centre of the city and of Chile itself.
I always like to arrive and wander, soaking up the sights and sounds and trying to get a feel for a place before setting about ticking off the major sightseeing locations, museums et al. Today, feeling a little jaded after my long journey, the square was just the tonic. On one side the Catedral Metropolitana dating from 1780, next to a high rise shiny office block. Opposite the Correo Central and town hall and an entire side lined with snack food stalls under covered walkways selling completos (more later).
The square is a lively place, full of street theatre that would not be out of place on the Ramblas in Barcelona, albeit with far more charm and a distinct lack of tourists. Couples danced to Chilean songs belted out by a female vocalist, while a man dressed as a tree performed a mime act. Vendors sold art work, while men played speed chess to an attentive crowd on the bandstand. A group of earnest types took turns to look into the lenses of telescopes at Venus while a double act of portly, inebriated men entertained a large group of onlookers with some strange banter that appeared to be nothing more than a front for collecting cash from the audience.
I love this kind of thing. And can watch and listen for hours as the soap opera of daily city life plays out in front of you. So I just soaked it all up for a few hours, watching the world go by and getting my first taste of Chile. Jaded by the long flight from home, sleep would soon beckon, so day two was when the serious work of the tourist would begin.
Now my friend Di swears by the joys of the hop on, hop off bus, so in honour of her, I picked up a ticket and off I went, touring the city for the entire day, getting on and off on a whim and exploring areas that interested or caught my eye. The weather was stunning, bright blue sky, warm sun and a light breeze making it a perfect spring day for exploring. My highlights were in no particular order;
- Mercado Central – fish piled high under a British market roof built in the Black Country of the West Midlands of all places – and my first ever view of pico rocos, an alarming shellfish on sale there.
- Mercado de flores – a wonderful flower market, heady with sweet aromas
- The ‘step back in time’ shopping where all the goods are hidden behind counters like a Ronnie Barker ‘Open all hours’ shop.
- Bellavista – an area of arts and crafts shops, relaxed bars and restaurants
- The funicular to Cerro San Cristobal and amazing views over the city to the Andes
- The young guy who ran into the major road intersection when the lights were on red and performed an acrobatic act to the waiting drivers, somersaulting his way across the tarmac to beeps of the car horns
- Museo Nacional de Belles Artes for some artistic culture and Frida Kalo paintings
- Santa Lucia hill – an oasis of calm in the city centre where the locals were practising sword and fencing skills – as you do.
- Catedral Metropolitana to watch mass and reflect on the day
- Wandering around the streets of ‘Sanhattan‘, the business district with skyscrapers modelled on New York and new builds going up all over the city.
So as you can see, I made use of my day. I don’t like to be too lazy eh!
Food during the day was provided by one of the many snack stops; the famous completos – hot dog smothered in avocado, mayonnaise, tomato and sauerkraut with beer and cheeky empanadas pino (pastry with meat and onion fillings, like something you would get from Greggs at home). Or fruits and juices from local stalls and scoffed on the go. Yum.
I took dinner at Las Vacas Gordas in Barrio Brasil for my first steak, before heading back to Bellavista for pisco sours (the national drink made from local brandy, lemon and sugar) and some live music before falling fast asleep back in the comfort of my hotel.
I’d only just scraped the surface of this bustling city but knew I had had one of those great days discovering somewhere new. I certainly want to return and stay a few days longer to really get under the skin of the place. Santiago has a great feel, lots going on and way more developed than I expected it to be. And it has set me up for my journey South; to lakes, volcanoes and an award winning eco hotel which seems to be featured in every publication I have picked up since arriving. The journey continues…..