Santiago, Chile

I’d describe Santiago as being like Madrid, but in South America. It’s a pretty nice city – lots of historical buildings, wide roads, parks, monuments, and a few edgy districts thrown into the mix. We’d been warned by fellow travellers that it was a bit rubbish, so we were expecting a very urban, ugly and run-down city, and were pleasantly surprised when we didn’t find this to be the case.

Ass burger anyone?

The president’s gaff

We were staying in a studenty area of the city, and were reminded of normal life by the numerous open days and enrolment events going on at nearby colleges for the new academic year (February being our September in terms of seasons!)

We stayed at a hostel that was nice, if a bit run-down, with high ceilings and a beautiful original building shell, but also scary things like a boiler that made threateningly loud noises 24/7, and a very vocal washing machine (!) We met some lovely people there though, and ended up having an asado (BBQ) one night with Chilean travellers, who managed to make regular steaks, chicken and sausage taste absolutely incredible, thanks to their skills on the charcoal BBQ. We didn’t tell them about how a British BBQ normally looks (in sad comparison!)

The city itself was a lot of fun, and we spent a couple of days there getting our ‘big city’ fix after so much time spent in small towns. Lots of parklife, cool graffiti, and sights to see.

Outskirts graffiti, with Pinochet

On the first day, we visited a very sobering but awesome museum called the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, dedicated to remembering human rights abuses, specifically documenting those of the Pinochet dictatorship of the 70s-90s. It reminded me of some of the best museums in Berlin (like the Jewish museum) – with heartbreaking artefacts from the workcamps of Chile, such as seahorse pendants carved out of bones. These were common because prisoners would only ever see the ‘seahorse’ depicted on a tile in the bathroom, and the rest of the time they were blindfolded, whilst they were tortured. The parallels between the dictatorship and the holocaust were abundant, and the effect on society heartbreaking. We saw video footage of women in soup kitchens trying to feed their villages, people’s homes being ransacked and those inside abducted, a female student protester being shot in broad daylight, and Chilean people’s pleas to the pope, who came to visit to make the people feel heard (but resulted in the military police violently attacking the attendees) Finally we saw how Pinochet was overthrown by an electoral vote, and jubilant Chileans celebrating their freedom. Needless to say, I spent about 75% of my time in the museum crying. Couldn’t believe how recent the history was, and how little I knew about it prior.

Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos

ANYWAY. Onto cheerier topics… we also managed to find some brilliant INTERNATIONAL CUISINE in Santiago, which our taste buds had been craving even more than we suspected! Twice in our time there, we shlepped out to Patronato, which is the Korean/Chinese/Indian quarter of the city, for delicious foods. We had an ace massaman curry, sweet and sour chicken, spring rolls, sushi, pad thai, and katsu curry in our short time there. And other than the katsu (which was an underwhelming piece of fried chicken with weird soy sauce accompaniment), all the food was spot-on, and we were overly delighted with our finds! We also had a great shwarma kebab. Basically all the foods that weren’t cheese or ham.

Spring rolls, instantly demolished

Other than eating, we also visited parks, an old railway station that’s been converted into an art and cultural centre (earthquakes have steadily destroyed the Chilean railway system over time); an old food market; a historical plaza… the usual city fare.

Sam and his robo-buddy

What stood out the most was a pretty cool city hill/park called Cerro San Cristobal. It’s insanely high up (870m above the city) so you ride a rickety old funicular (cable car on tracks) up the hill, where you find a zoo, a park, some swimming pools, a church, and a statue that looks like a mini version of Rio’s Christ The Redeemer, but is in fact the Virgin Mary (religious faux pas!) It’s surprisingly hard to find where things are in the park, as it’s all on a massive hill, so we just wondered around in the baking heat for a bit, bought some cheap ice lollies, found a nice look-out, then headed back down. We were super excited because we thought we’d finally get the chance for CURRY but as it was a Sunday, the restaurant was closed. I’ve never seen Sam look so crestfallen. I thought one – or both of us – may cry. But luckily we held it together long enough for us to get drunk with the guys at our hostel and forget all about it.

On top of San Cristobel

Virgin

Some nuns kicking it in the chapel

There were tons of Spanish-speaking folk at the hostel, so we once again tried practising our shit Spanish, with Chileans, Spaniards, Argentines… We were informed that Argentines hate us because of the falklands, that we NEED to learn Spanish soon, and learnt that Chilean people love shit Brit/US music, like Robbie Williams. They still listen to his solo stuff! Weird.

After possibly the most hungover ticket-buying experience I’ve ever had (I thought I was gonna vom all over the cashier), we purchased our onward tickets to Chile’s wine country. A couple of ‘lomitos’ (chicken and avo sarnies) later, we boarded the bus to the Maule Valley….