After a late arrival into Santiago we had been looking forward to a sleep in, but no, our tour starts with an 8.00 pickup. Our guide, Christian, is a very happy and upbeat guy who is bursting with energy. This is good as we’re a bit sluggish to start with.
Our first stop is San Cristobel, a hill overlooking the city. The views are amazing, you see Santiago laid out before you with the snow capped Ande’s just out of touching distance. The hill also features a old church as well as a huge outdoor church that apparently is packed every Sunday. The old church has links to the Basque community in Spain.
From here we drive down into the city itself for a walk around. You can see the influence of different groups in the architecture of Santiago. There are buildings that are distinctly French or English by design but perhaps the most striking area is around the stock market on Nuevo York street. You can guess the influence here.
As we enter the square near the President’s Palace the changing of the guard us taking place. They occasionally have guest bands for this and today’s is from Argentina. The pageantry is quite something to see, formation marching and military pride on display.
We then wander along one of the pedestrian malls, stopping for a coffee, a good coffee… Chile developed a tradition in the late 80’s of having coffee served by women in very short skirts. Café con piernas (literally, Spanish for “coffee with legs”) is a coffee shop style popular in Chile where the service staff consists of females dressed in clothing considered to be revealing. There are no tables or seats, instead a high counter to stand at while you drink your coffee. No seats means people dont linger, it’s in drink and out.
From here we enter Plaza de Armas, a central square surrounded by churches, museums and government buildings. The square itself is filled with local art as well as a mini-botanic garden to showcase local and exitic species. There are also numerous street sellers as well as some beggars and homeless folk, you heart wants to help but Christian informs us many are scammers, similar to those we saw elsewhere in South America.
Next on our walk we Mercado Centrale, a market whose main commodity is seafood. We stroll for a while taking in the sights and smells, the produce is amazing and the prices, well some are so cheap. The market also features a range of restaurants but we aren’t stopping here for food as it’s off to winery country for us.
Our driver collects us and we head out of town to visit a local winery. Before this though we stop for lunch at a place featuring local food. We start with a local corn dish called ‘Pastel de Choclo’, a blend of corn ground with chopped onion, meat, eggs, olives and local spices. It’s served piping hot with crusty bread, we need to get the recipe… we follow this with empanadas. A good local meal.
Then it’s on to Concha Y Toro for our winery tour. We discover thst although Chile makes some exceptional wine local consumption is very low, most of the wine is exported. A good thing too, we will be on a little buying spree when we get home.. Our tour is also the first time that our little twosome became a foursome, we had two Canadian flight attendants join us. It was good to have extras along to join the fun.
Then it was back to town for us. The traffic here is like most we’ve seen, people create their own lanes and squeeze cars into gaps way too small. Road rage is seldom seen but use of the horn is common.
After a good sleep we spent Tuesday wandering the streets on our own. We’d seen a couple of cafés in the square during our tour so decided to visit one for desunyo (breakfast), mmm a mixed choice. The pancakes were sensational, filled with a luscious caramel and coated with icing sugar, and for breakfast too. Our waiter, who looked about 80 brought us our coffee. A pot of hot water and a bowl of nescafe… mmmm .
After this we wandered around just taking in the sights. We booked a tour to Valparaiso for Wednesday, more on that later. We did visit several museums, never again will I complain about our students behaviour on excursions. In one museum we encountered a mass of students on a day trip. Their main aim seemed to be playing hide and seek around the exhibits, doing their hair in the mirrors (boys and girls!) and taking selfies. Oh and never mind the noise, you could hear them all over. Security looked on disapprovingly while their teachers appeared disinterested in proceedings. Sadly teaching is not a highly regarded profession here, so it doesn’t attract the highest quality candidates. This is then reflected in poor standards, something several people we spoke to lamented.
That night we had dinner at a local place down the street from our hotel. At 7pm we had the place to ourselves, Chileans don’t go out for dinner until after 8, many not until much later. The food and wine were amazing, not sure about excess baggage, just hope they dont weigh me!
Wednesday saw us head to Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, two seaside towns about 100 km from Santiago. We were picked up from the hotel and then taken to a meeting point to board the bus. The tour was okay, not quite up to the standard we’d become used to. Out of a bus of 40 or so there were only 4 English speakers so a lot of the comments were lost to us. We had mainly wanted to go to Valparaiso and relax by the beach so possibly i picked the wrong tour for us. It did improve in the afternoon when we reached Valparaiso itself, it’s an amazing town built on steep hills by the coast with a rich history of colourful housing and interesting characters. By the time we returned to our hotel after battling Santiago peak hour traffic we were too tired to go out for dinner. We grabbed sushi from the place next door and chilled in our room with a good Chilean red wine and sub-title movies.
Today was the last say of our South American odyssey, we started the day with a walk into town. Then headed to an outdoor cafe we’d spotted that consists of four VW Kombi’s in a courtyard. Only one was open, not to mind though it had the best coffee of the trip, served up with a rich chocolate brownie. The rest of the day was spent navigating Santiago’s Metro system, fairly simple once you get the hang of it, to visit a local mall and have lunch. We were also going to go up the tower there, the tallest building in Latin America. But by the time we eaten and done some shopping robot mode took over and we headed back to the metro station..
So now we are packing, mmm will it all fit, before waiting for our driver to take us to the airport. Hopefully no baggage mishaps this time, i did try for upgrades with LAN after our last flight but they don’t seem forthcoming.
Thanks for a great trip South America, when we get home we can look at a highlights package. There are just so many that it might take a few days or weeks.