Chilling in Chile
Days Travelled: 226
Countries visited this trip: 11
After making our way across the stunning Andes mountains we arrived in the capital city they embrace, Santiago. We treated ourselves to an apartment to enjoy the city life and set off exploring. We did a four hour walking tour which wasn’t particularly interesting but we learnt the essentials: the best food and drink to try in Chile.
The first we sampled were a food I generally hate. Hates probably not even a strong enough word, I despise hot dogs. Even the smell of them makes me want to gag. But they have made hot dogs their own in chile, renaming them ‘completos’ and topping them with Avocado, tomato and creamy sauce. I was mildly tempted, but once I was informed they also had ‘As’ completos which exchange the hotdog for shaved beef, or Papalletos, where the meat is substituted with potato, I was sold. They became a favourite cheap snack in Chile. Most people are familiar with the Pisco Sour, a cocktail made from sweet Chilean wine, lemon juice and sugar, but we were also advised to try a ‘Terremoto’ or ‘Earthquake’. This drink is a mix of a similar wine topped with Grenadine and Pineapple icecream. It gets its namesake partly because Chile has many earthquakes and partly because it makes your ‘legs shake’ from the strength of the wine. Both drinks were delicious to try in responsible portions of course. In Santiago we were also able to witness the changing of the guards at the Presidents Palace, a process filled with traditional and culture not overly familiar to Australians. I found it fascinating. After a few nights in Santiago we were off to Valparaiso.
Some people have a spirit animal, I think Valparaiso was my spirit town. Colourful houses, colourful streets little market stalls selling handicrafts. This town has slides you can use instead of stairs. The staircases they do have are either painted rainbow or in the case of the ‘Beethoven Steps’, as a piano. I can’t make this stuff up. We went on a walking tour which I actually paid attention, enjoyed exploring the town, in awe of the amazing street art around every corner, made some friends and watched soccer in a local pub. Valparaiso is known as quite a rough neighbourhood and they actually encourage the street art as a method of healthy outlet and to instill some pride in the neighbourhood. I couldn’t help but think what an amazing project this would be in some of Melbourne’s dicier areas. As part of our walking tour we met a place which would further fuel an already skyrocketing obsession, empanadas. They have empanadas all through Latin America but so far I believe Chiles are the best. They are usually baked or fried pastry filled with cheese ham and tomato or shredded beef. If Chile is the empanada country this place is Valparaiso would have to be the capital. They boast over 80 flavors, all made fresh to order, needless to say we visited multiple times and between us tried tuna, corn, cheese and tomato, salami cheese and pineapple, and mango cheese and pineapple.
Viña del Mar:
After Valparaiso we went to visit my friend Begona in her home town, around 10 minutes from Valparaiso, Vina Del Mar. Time here was mainly spent chilling and catching up on seven years apart. Begona was an exchange student of my best friend from high school. I was happy to be able to now speak a little Spanish, and we enjoyed hanging out in the town, going to see the seals and visiting the botanic gardens. Viña was by far the closest I have felt to being in Australia and we enjoyed the clean, calm streets and the high quality food.
Bahia Inglesa and San Pedro de Atacama:
After another tearful farewell we headed north on a bus to a halfway point between Vina and San Pedro. Still a part of the Atacama desert, the turquoise water blending with the desert in the background was truly an outstanding sight. The water was freezing as is usual in Chile but I still had to have a little dip as the water was such an inviting colour. The neighborhood was an absolute ghost town, only usually a summer destinations for locals. Our accommodation in Chile overall was expensive in contrast with the rest of Latin America, especially due to a 19% tax for foreigners booking accommodation, so we were happy to just spend one night here and keep moving. Our next destination was the core tourist hub of the Atacama desert, San Pedro de Atacama. We arrived in the morning after an overnight bus to exactly what you imagine a desert town to look like, dusty, clay buildings including the church, stinking hot during the day and freezing overnight. It was a bit like stepping in to a Wild West movie. We walked around to try and get a better deal on a room, with online sites charging through the roof. We found this to be true of the whole town, if Chile was more expensive than the other South America counties, Atacama had timesed that by 3!
It was also the first time we had encountered people being truly rude. Overall we had found the Chileans to be extremely friendly and helpful. On our first night in Santiago, we asked directions from a street vendor who we expected to just give us a vague wave in the right direction, on the contrary he pulled out his google maps and made sure we knew exactly where we were going. On our first night in San Pedro however, we took the advice of the lonely planet and some locals and headed for the local mercado for a meal. We had been eating the local meals our entire time in Latin America and found the meals to be not only far better value but we preferred to give our money to those types of vendors. We were shocked and disheartened when we asked a few stalls in Spanish if they had some food and were taken aback with a ‘not for you’, aka not for tourists. We were pretty surprised that in a town that was so clearly trying to rip people off our money was better spent in ‘Gringo restaurants’. Needless to say we decided to cook the remainder of our time there. We went on a tour of the ‘Valley of the Moons’ which was spectacular and value for money. Then that night we braved the freezing temperatures for an astronomy tour of the nearby crystal clear skies. Unfortunately the skies were pretty cloudy so very little could be seen by the naked eye, though through the telescope we could make out Saturn and Venus. After being a little disappointed with San Pedro, we booked our ticket out of there, a 4wd trip across the desert to Bolivia.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by my experience in Chile and had a wonderful time. Often a country that is missed on many South American itineraries I think that is a terrible shame because it has a lot to offer from its breathtaking snow capped Andean peaks to pristine beaches to surreal desert landscapes. All this considering I didn’t even make it to the true jewel of the country, Patagonia and the South, much to the heartbreak of new and old Chilean friends alike. Although we all know that that means, I’ll just have to come back!