Have you ever been to a place you liked so much and with everything that it has to offer, you wonder why you didn’t fall in love? That’s exactly what I felt about Santiago, Chile. While writing this blog post, I pondered on the reasons why I couldn’t offer my love wholeheartedly.
But, still, there were so many things I loved about this city (or Chile in general). I love how socially progressive it is. Although its population is (predominantly) Catholic, they have managed to legalize marijuana, prostitution, allowed abortion (in limited circumstances), gave couples the right to divorce, and hey our tour guide believes that in no time marriage equality is going to happen as well! Catholic countries are mostly socially conservative countries but Chile managed to defy the church and leans more liberal. It’s blowing my mind really. I love Pope Francis but I think the church needs to become more attuned with the modern times. And with the “me too” movement that’s happening in the United States, our guide has voiced his concern that Chilean men are now afraid to talk to women in fear of being accused of sexual harassment (perhaps a bit of exaggeration on his part).
When my friend and I landed in Santiago, I was surprised to see how organized the airport was. I expected it to be chaotic and perhaps disorderly but it was nothing of the sort, it was in fact pleasantly efficient. It was also amusing to watch the customs dogs sniff on each passenger’s bag and when they smelled something, they would scratch the bag to let the customs officer know.
Our guide, Jorge, picked us up at the airport and took us straight to our hotel, a swanky boutique hotel in the trendy neighborhood Barrio Lastarria. We dropped off our bags and proceeded to tour the city, mostly on foot. I noticed the incredible amount of graffiti everywhere. But for one ghastly wall filled with graffiti, a beautiful mural would also be visible (sometimes side by side).
**It seemed that the whole city was covered in graffiti, which is the first reason why I didn’t madly fall in love with Santiago.
Our city tour started around our hotel’s location—Barrio Lastarria. Lastarria is this hip and happening neighborhood, the center for most cultural activities with rows of restaurants, cafes, and bars.
(Lucky for us, we were there on a Friday night where they had market stalls set up. There were also lively performances (dancing and singing) on the street. We noticed a lot of the vendors sold marijuana pipes and bongs. I really had no idea that Santiago was this progressive).
We then drove to Santa Lucia hill, a lone steep rock that is adorned with wonderful facades, fountains, stairways and where the city was founded in 1541. A beautiful bird’s eye view of the city from the top but the smog obstructed the view of the beautiful Andes mountain. Jorge said Santiago is nestled between mountains and thus the pollution couldn’t escape the city.
**Pollution is the second reason I didn’t fall head over heels with Santiago.
We resumed our tour on foot once again. There were so many stray dogs around and it was really bothering me to see them without anyone tending to them. Jorge asked us if we’ve noticed how fat the dogs were. That’s because people fed them even if they were stray dogs. I did notice they weren’t the typical skinny dogs you’d find in third world countries. But I still felt sorry for them being homeless.
**The stray dogs were the thirds reason why Santiago didn’t steal my heart completely.
Jorge took us to the Paris/Londres/ New York area. There are many pockets of Santiago that are named after international cities (we noticed a lot of the bars are also named after cities like Venezia or Ohio which we found a bit funny). Barrio Paris-Londres is a cobblestoned street reminiscent of the Latin Quarter in Paris (sort of). It has many shops, hotels, and hostels as well as renovated mansions.
While walking, I asked Jorge if I can go to Starbucks. He laughed profusely as if I had said the funniest thing he’s ever heard in his life. He recounted the story of 30 tourists from Hongkong he once guided and they all wanted to go to Starbucks just to buy a “Chile” mug. “Crazy Asians!” he exclaimed. Umm…excuse me, Jorge, but the mugs are precisely why I wanted to go to Starbucks 🙄. I told him I’ve been collecting mugs from Starbucks all over the world. He said we will find Starbucks in “New York” (the area close to Paris/Londres). We walked further and he began pointing at different stores. First was a Belgian Chocolate shop. “That’s where I go to buy my chocolates,” he said. Then he again pointed to a men’s suit store. “That’s where I go to buy my suit. Do you know where I DON’T go that YOU go?” he asked me. I looked at him wearily. At that point, I was already starting to get tired and sleepy. Seriously, I thought, I don’t really care where you purchase your stuff. Then he pointed to Starbucks. “That’s where you go and I don’t!” The sight of Starbucks suddenly gave me a rush and a strange feeling of excitement filled me. I was so happy I almost hugged the guy! I can now own a Chile Starbucks mug. Haha!
After buying my mug, we took a little break at the park. Jorge made it a point to show us that Santiago is a melting pot, with immigrants coming from mostly South American countries. He pointed to the Brazilian group in one corner, Venezuelans in another, and Colombians, Dominicans, Haitians, etc. in all the other corners in the park (one group of nationality congregated together separately from the other). He said most of them come to Chile to work.
By now we have walked for a couple of hours hitting all the major tourist sites. I was thirsty and hungry but no one was talking about eating. Jorge mentioned a stop at a coffeeshop was part of the tour but he didn’t expect we were both women. He can clearly see the confused look on our faces and so he explained further. “I thought you were a couple (man and woman) but because you’re both women, I can’t take you to the coffeeshop. The tour includes cafe con piernas, translated as coffee with legs.” Okay, we were even more confused. Apparently, cafe con piernas are coffeeshops uniquely Chilean, mainly found in Santiago, that serve coffee and other non-alcoholic drinks but with an erotic ambience. They are cafes with blacked out windows and inside the waitresses are in bikinis. “It’s not similar to Hooters,” he said. “Unlike Hooters, they don’t serve alcoholic drinks and the servers wear much skimpier clothing!” As we passed by one of the many cafe con piernas, the door opened and I was able to peek in (just for a few seconds) and saw one of the waitresses wearing a bikini. They surely make Hooters waitresses look as if they are dressed for church.
Unable to enter a cafe con piernas, we settled for juice at the many juice stands sold in the square. I was also hungry and so Jorge took us to El Rapido, an empanada fast food place. It was unlike any empanada I’ve tried before. It was a bit larger and flatter than all those I’ve eaten. They also eat it with a pico de gallo like condiment.
“Our next stop is Mercado Central, the fish market,” said Jorge. While researching for this trip, I expected Mercado Central to be exciting and a lively seafood marketplace (and restaurants) but unfortunately it was nothing short of just a tourist trap. We didn’t stay long and by this time we were so exhausted we were ready to crash especially we didn’t have time to rest after coming from a red eye flight and then going straight to the tour. But before we left the mercado, I did notice the humongous king crab displayed in a case. The owner of the restaurant (where the king crab was served as the specialty) gave us a deal: a large crab for the price of a medium.We told him we might come back tomorrow.
In the evening, I made a reservation to have dinner at Bocanariz, one of the best and most highly recommended restaurants (even by locals) located just walking distance from our hotel. This restaurant has an unrivaled selection of Chilean wines, over 300 bottles from different regions in the country!
This is THE place to come and experience the very best in Chilean wine. We ordered the flights of wine (three samples) themed by region or style. Since we ordered a plate of seafood, I selected the ‘White Wines from Chile’. Next we ordered one of their specialties, the slow cooked short ribs with sweet potato purée and fried onions (after years of not eating beef, it was the first time I had a taste of it again). And because I had white wines previously, it was an excuse to get another flight of red wines. They say when in Rome…heck, I say when you’re in a wine country….
My friend and I ended our first day in Chile by having a pisco sour at our hotel’s roof top bar. Jorge was an informative guy and told us that pisco sour is a national drink in Chile but it is also the national drink in Peru. And both countries almost went to war because of it. “I wouldn’t want my country to go to war with another country just for a drink. Because, seriously, this drink is not even that great,” I wrote on my Facebook status. My Peruvian friend immediately replied and wrote, “that’s because you had your first drink of pisco sour in Chile!” Now I may have started a war among my Chilean and Peruvian friends!
And this concludes my very first day in South America (and I still can’t believe I’ve never been to this part of the world before this trip)!