Sunday, 16th November
We got up in Chile’s capital to a quiet sunday morning. I still find it funny how quiet a capital city can be, some really take sunday seriously and do nothing at all, just hang with their families. I wandered down for the included breakfast and as expected there wasn’t anything that Kirsty could eat so after having a shower and getting ready we went out to find some breakfast/lunch. This turned out not to be that easy. We walked to the ‘bohemian’ district of ‘Lastarria’ to find lots of cafes open and plenty of people frequenting them but they all offered the same set lunches of lasagnes, quiches or sandwiches. Not a gluten intolerant persons best friend, any of these things. We walked aounrd a fair bit and got to see some of Santiago on a sunday. All the shops were closed today and there was a definite air of ‘not being able to get anything done today’, even if you wanted to. We ended up walking back to near our hostel and to the ‘Mercado Central’ which operates as a fish market with some restaurants inside. To be honest it’s an odd place to have fish restaurants, in a market that stinks of fish but I guess it makes the supply-line easy to manage. We found a restaurant, or were rather shown to a restaurant, called ‘Donde Augosto’. There I had some Chilean sea bass and Kirsty had a swordfish steak, both with side dishes. It was a nice meal and I guess we ticked off a touristy thing to do in Santiago whilst eating (visiting the fish market). But it was a pricey affair for our backpacking ways, around US$35 in total. That said, Chile is more expensive than other countries we have been to so far south of the USA.
After lunch we went back to the hostel via a supermarket, wanting to cook our own dinner of fresh vegetables, and rested up for a couple of hours. We wanted to add some more green into our diets as we are both feeling a bit deprived of vegetables here. They are hard to come by in a restaurant. It’s also cheaper to cook for yourself, of course. Added to that I have found a strange occurrence of some of my hair falling out. Not a lot but more than usual and enough to be perplexed. I had read somewhere that altitude can cause this but also poor diet can contribute. Those are both things that certainly apply lately so having come down to lower climbs, I will do my best to eat healthier. Our diets have also made us a bit sluggish, I think also, and having a month to go in our trip after eight months travelling we need all the help we can to give us a spring to our step. We found the supermarkets to be something like an Aldi, with not everything you want to get in the one store and a random layout. We succeeded though and got a selection of vegetables to steam.
It is really hot in Santiago, coming into summer now, and is hovering around 30 degrees. The rest of our trip will be in summer sun and heat I think, not a bad way to finish up. The hostel room could have some more air in it though. We have two windows that open onto a busy, noisy street below, which we don’t have the option of closing if we don’t want to overheat. I do quite like that from lying on the top bunk (yes, that’s right, we have bunks), I can see down to the street below and all the hustle and bustle that goes with a South American street. The ‘Casaltura’ is a nice hostel but oddly designed I think. It must also be a quiet time of year for tourists in Santiago as it’s very quiet here. Just as well with the two toilets and one shower we all share on this floor.
After a couple of hours rest we went for a wander to a local park, ‘Parque Forestal’, where on a sunday lots of people evidently gather to hang out, eat ice-creams and sell stuff. When we got there a couple of policeman were walking through and everyone started to whistle as if to let other people know the police were there. Some packed away their goods they were selling, others persisted and some got told off and had to move on. It seemed like a party atmosphere with music playing and people hanging out, a nice thing to do on a sunday. In this park there are also two art galleries, the ‘Museo de Arte Contemporeano’ (MAC) and the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo de Belles Artes). We walked around the first gallery, with an exhibition of Marcel Duchamp and others before walking out and around the building to enter the second gallery, with a massive, 25-foot high, pile of used clothes the stare attraction in the lobby. Apparently, the artwork ‘seeks to inspire questions about our lives and deaths.’ Not sure I got that from looking at it but it was quite a sight.
Feeling a bit drained from the heat we wandered back to our hostel to hang out on the rooftop which has nice views of the city and to have our steamed vegetable dinner. The sun goes down later here, around 8:30pm so after dinner we went for a walk down to the ‘Plaza de Armes’ (the main square). Here we found loads of people milling about, engaging in that great South American past-time of eating ice-cream or watching some street entertainment in the form of puppetry, singing, acting or dancing. The main square itself was cordoned off with large black boards. Not sure why but I assume some construction work is taking place. We walked along the main pedestrian street some way taking in the atmosphere of downtown Santiago on a snday evening. We walked back to the hostel via a supermarket to pick up a snack, the vegetables not filling our stomachs and went to bed. Kirsty hadn’t seen that classic Arnie film, ‘The Running Man’, so we watched that before falling asleep.
Monday, 17th November
Today was a lot noisier in the morning than yesterday, being a Monday. Our window down to the street was letting in all the noise of the morning traffic which meant I was up and awake quite early. I went downstairs for the hostel breakfast then went back to the room to try and sort out some things for our onwards travel. Top of the list was to pay the ‘reciprocity fee’ to enter Argentina. We would be travelling to Argentina tomorrow and they require that you pay a US$100 fee if you are from Australia. Travellers from the USA and Canada also get stung. It’s a fee that is charged because the Australian government charge for Argentinian citizens to obtain a visa and the Argentinian government apparently feel ‘if they do it why not us…’. The thing is you don’t actually need to arrange a visa for Argentina as you get 90-days on turning up to the border so its clear the fee is not for any processing or anything. If I were to use my British passport I don’t have to pay a bean but the problem is that all the entry and exit stamps for my travelling so far are in my Australian passport and not wanting to cause any fuss at the border, I thought it easier to just pay the fee and use my Australian passport. I navigated the online payment system successfully and paid the fee for which I printed out the receipts to take to the border with our passports. Chile also has a reciprocity fee but only charges to those entering the country through Santiago airport, which we didn’t do so we didn’t have to pay.
We thought we would check out a different neighbourhood today so after sorting out some stuff, we headed out to the Bellavista suburb of Santiago. This is a nice area for wandering and only 30 minutes or so from our hostel, across the brown river ‘Rio Mapocho’. There are lots of cafes and restrauanst here along tree-lined streets and some good street-art. We found a place for lunch which served up sizeable sandwiches and salads. Kirsty ended up taking half her salad away with her for later as it was so large. We keep forgetting to order just the one dish for both of us, being on a budget and knowing they will be large. We walked around Bellavista some more and decided that this might be a nice area to stay when we come back to Santiago after our two weeks in Argentina.
After our wandering we headed to the Museo de Belles Artes to meet up with the free walking tour which leaves everyday at 3pm from there. These are a great way to see a city and a cheap way also, only paying what you think the tour is worth, i.e. they work on tips. The tour took around three and a half hours and took in all the major sights, amongst which were the ‘Palacio de la Moneda’ (originally the Mint but used as the government offices nowadays, hence the name) where we were told about the military coup that took place in 1973 and saw General Augusto Pinochet rise to power. It was good to hear the recent background to the country and how divided the people still are on Pinochet and what he did for Chile. It is interesting that after all the atrocities he committed some people still believe that he was a good thing for their country, strengthening the economy and so on. Of course, there are those that suffered under his dictatorship also. We learned about the ‘coffee with legs’, that is coffee shops with scantily clad ladies serving your coffee. Apparantly coffee shops were introduced a while back but didn’t take off so the entrepreneurs had the idea of introducing waitresses that wore short skirts. The ploy worked and today you can see these coffee shops all over town. They have partially obscured windows so that you can only see the legs of the waitresses, enticing you to enter. Hence the name. We also walked around the Lastarria district, leaning about the street-art in Santiago, and visited the base of the ‘Cerro de St. Lucia’, learning a bit about the indigenous peoples and the Spanish conquistadors. All in all it was a good tour and through which we saw and learned some more of Santiago is an easy to digest format. The tour left us feeling exhausted and after our free wine cocktail drink (didn’t catch the name) at a the ‘Casa Azul’ bar, we headed back to the hostel to prepare for Argentina tomorrow. I had some printing out to do and of course, the packing.
After dinner we treated ourselves to one of Chile’s favourite hobbies, eating ice-cream. Chile consumes the most amount of ice-cream per captia in the South America. We were told they consumed the second most in the world on the tour but after some research this turns out to be misinformation. They are number ten in the world. Incidentally, Australia ties number one spot with the USA. Near to ‘Parque Forestal’, close to the hostel there is a ‘Heladeria’ called ‘Emporio La Rosa’ that serves up delicious ice-cream so we shared a scoop of chocolate with a scoop of lemon, mint and basil. The way they serve ice-cream here is odd, along with many other things we have noticed. They serve it in a cup, with spoons, but with a cone, upside-down stuck into the ice-cream. Prevents drips I guess. Satisfied after our treat, we walked back to the hostel and went to bed knowing that we had to leave for Mendoza, Argentina, tomorrow.