My Argentine Experience

This post is the last of my South American adventure and I’m so glad I was able to relive that journey through this blog. If I had to sum it up, Buenos Aires is a mixture of Manhattan and Paris—permeating the energy of New York (BA in fact made New York the city that naps 😊) and the architecture of Paris (hence the nickname, “Paris of South America”). Though my experience was not enough to be fully immersed in the Argentine culture, I feel incredibly fortunate to have seen and feel the vigor of the country’s capital city, that is Buenos Aires.

The “Argentine Experience” Dinner was listed as part of our itinerary in Buenos Aires and the description is as follows:

This evening’s highlight is the Argentine Experience: A unique blend of food, wine and interacting with the locals. Learn how to make traditional empanadas, dine on grilled provolet cheese with sliced chorizo sausage, warm bread and homemade chimichurri. Order steak (reputedly the best in Argentina!) in Spanish and make your own traditional mate. A convivial atmosphere and great food! Your guides throughout the evening will answer questions on Argentine cuisine and culture.

This seemed interesting and I looked forward to it all day. But it didn’t start until 7pm so I had all day to explore and to create my own Argentine experience.

I have read about a fascinating bookstore called El Ateneo Grand Splendid that was just recently named as the world’s most beautiful bookstore by the National Geographic. The building, in 1919, was originally a theater, then it became a cinema, and eventually became a bookstore in 2000. The stage, the balconies, the amazing architectural details, and even the red curtain were all retained from the original.

The bookstore also has a cafe located at the back and it is on a raised platform (as this was originally a theater). I was tempted to eat lunch there but I was still full from our breakfast this morning.

Each of the floor had a balcony where you can look down and take amazing photos. I searched for English books but didn’t find any. I found out later they only sold books written in Spanish. I was disappointed that I couldn’t buy a book from there but I ended up buying a stationary as a souvenir.

From the bookstore, we explored more on foot and found local boutiques (not the usual Zaras and H&Ms you’d find all over the world). I heard that once Argentina was famous for its really high platform shoes but no longer in fashion today (or I would’ve bought one!). By this time, I was ready for some food and Cafe Tortoni came to mind.

Café Tortoni is the oldest cafe in Argentina and was originally owned by a French immigrant named Touan. It was named Tortoni after the Parisian cafe in Boulevard des Italiens in Paris (thanks Wikipedia). The coffee shop has been visited by high profile names such as Albert Einstein, the King of Spain, and Hillary Clinton to name a few.

I wanted empanadas but they ran out so I ordered hot cocoa and churros only because everyone on TripAdvisor was also raving about the cafe’s hot chocolate drink. I’m not sure about those people but the hot cocoa was not great at all. I was picturing thick hot chocolate like the one at Angelina’s in Paris. The churros was cold and a bit chewy. I don’t really eat churros so I’m not sure if that was the right texture.

After a long day of walking and shopping, we were ready for tonight’s activity. The Argentine Experience dinner was in an unassuming building that looked more residential than commercial. We walked to the second floor and went into a room where two long wooden tables were set up. We introduced ourselves to a British couple who were sitting across us. The husband is a professor who is currently on sabbatical and brought his family to live in Argentina for a few months. They both seem to speak quite a bit of Spanish so l suppose living there paid off. Other tourists started arriving and when both tables were filled, the staff began the Argentine Experience presentation. First, we had wine and cocktails then tapas kept coming that I seriously can no longer remember the order they came. All I could think of was this was the kind of experience I’ve been looking for— anything to do with food and alcohol lol!

They showed us how to wrap an empanada and told us there’s going to be a competition on who gets to present the most artistically prepared empanada. I’m not very artistic and I knew I won’t win but I was fine as long as I get to eat good tonight. I made a heart empanada (see above photo) with an arrow across it but it really didn’t look that pretty so don’t judge me! My friend thought the arrow looked more like a man’s private part hahaha!

We made more empanadas, choosing between meat and veggies or both. I stuffed mine with both and gave them to the staff to bake. More food came and each one was super delish. Then came the main entree, the most famous food from Argentina—beef! Based on last night’s dinner from the tango show, I was very disappointed with the steak I had so I was hoping tonight’s steak is going to be way better.

The steak was juicy and tender. This is the quality of beef I expected from Argentina. I really have not had a mind blowing experience yet when it came to food while in Buenos Aires. I had researched where to get the best steaks in the city but my friend wasn’t interested in going so I didn’t go. Looking back, I should’ve just gone on my own.

They showed us the country’s national drink called mate (pronounced mah-tay). It’s similar to tea but more complex and contains more caffeine. The desserts were amazing as well. Towards the end of the evening, they announced the winner for the empanada contest and surprise…..I didn’t win haha!

I’m so thankful for this experience. It was absolutely the best way to end, not only the evening, but my South American trip! There are definitely things I would change (in this trip) to make it much more enjoyable but overall, I had the best time.

On the day of our departure, we had the morning free to explore before heading to the airport. We didn’t go far from our hotel (Palermo area) but we were able to do last minute shopping at the flea market. But the highlight of the day was this mural I saw of Donald Trump portrayed as the joker. It’s too good not to share.

**I’m so glad I finally posted all of my blogs on my South American vacation. It’s been a struggle to write lately, with all my life’s ups and downs. I also had distractions this past year but I’m thankful for everything that’s happened in my life. It’s definitely the only way to grow, learn more about myself and really know what I want out of life!

I’m ready for my next adventure!!!!!!

Tango ruined my night in Buenos Aires!

My first night in Buenos Aires was ruined by a tacky tango dinner and show. They also served tough-as-a-leather steak and my expectations of a delicious, melt in your mouth, Argentine beef were lowered. But as a consolation, the included tango lesson enabled me to at least tick off “learn to dance the tango in Argentina” in my bucket list!

A poet once wrote, “only the dead goes further than Patagonia.” It is, after all, referenced as the Ends Of The World. A trip to Patagonia is enough to acknowledge this said title. It took us a full day to get there and another to get out. On the day we left Patagonia Camp, we embarked on a six-hour drive to Calafate, the border town between Chile and Argentina. To reach Buenos Aires from Calafate is another four hour flight. The airport in Calafate was pretty basic with just a couple stores and a restaurant. But getting into Jorge Newbery Airport in Buenos Aires was the complete opposite: it was chaotic, loud, and had more familiar spots (yay for Starbucks and if you know about my obsession collection of Starbucks mugs, you’ll probably understand my frustration upon finding out they didn’t carry a Buenos Aires mug 😱). Two hours later, our luggage have not shown up yet and out of frustration, people started clapping, screaming, and making all sorts of noise.

Our hotel, Hotel Clásico, is located in the swanky Palermo area, walking distance to many shops and restaurants. Breakfast in the hotel was amazing but after the first morning, we realized they typically serve huge servings so we were full for the rest of the day everyday, which was a shame because I wasn’t able to explore the many amazing restaurants in Buenos Aires.

Our tour guide came to pick us up in the morning for our three hour private guided tour. Driving around the city of Buenos Aires, I can see why it was nicknamed as the “Paris of South America,” mainly because of the European influence in its architecture.

Our first stop was at the Recoleta Cemetery, the final resting place of the most famous Argentinian, Eva Peron (aka Evita). Wandering through the cemetery, I was in awe at how grand and luxurious each tomb was but understandably so. Famous and notable people were buried there—past presidents of Argentina, Nobel prize winners, and even a granddaughter of Napoleon! We saw some very ornate and intricately detailed structures but surprisingly, Eva Peron’s was among the simplest.

From the cemetery, we proceeded to San Telmo, the oldest residential neighborhood in Buenos Aires. We explored on foot the vibrant neighborhood of La Boca, the place where tango originated from. Walking along the colorful Caiminito Street, there were people dressed as tango dancers asking tourists to take photos with them for a few bucks. For only $5, I had my pictures taken with a tango dancer plus they gave me a costume to wear. Hey, you’re in Buenos Aires once, so who cares if this is a touristy thing to do. My friend didn’t want any pictures taken of her which I honestly didn’t understand why. She must’ve thought it was too cheesy but seriously it’s not like you’re in Buenos Aires everyday.

I really enjoyed playing dress up and pretending to dance the tango. My pictures were so much fun and worth the five bucks I paid. Caiminito Street is what I had envisioned Buenos Aires as a city— energetic, flamboyant, and colorful! Touristy but not too tacky (in my opinion).

From La Boca area, we visited the beautiful Metropolitan Cathedral, where Pope Francis led mass as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Besides that, this church is best known for housing the mausoleum of General San Martin, the liberator of Argentina, Chile, and Peru from Spain.

Plaza de Mayo is the site of Argentina’s most important historical events. I’m not going to lie though, if there’s one thing I could remember from our guide’s historical babble was this balcony (where Eva and Juan Peron stood to wave at the people) and its significance to the movie Evita (yes, embarrassingly so, but at least I’m honest 😄). During the filming of the movie Evita, the producers asked permission if they could use the same balcony but the government had declined. There were speculations that Madonna’s sweet talk about the president, citing him as, “not only kind and generous but also very handsome,” in one of her interviews. This obviously charmed the president and eventually allowed them to film in the actual balcony. All I can say is never underestimate the power of a woman!

Our guide dropped us off at a shopping area where our city tour concluded. My friend and I decided not to eat lunch since we were looking forward to tonight’s activity: to watch a tango show that also included dance lessons and dinner. I found this company online that offered all three and had great reviews on TripAdvisor. They also paid for our taxi to get to the place which was great. As soon as we arrived we were directed to a room with other tourists. The instructor paired the women without male companions with men also without female companions. I was paired off by this quiet man from Michigan and he and I learned the basic tango dance steps. It was quite awkward because we were told to look at each other while dancing but I was too shy to make eye contact. He, however, intently stared at my face the whole time we danced.

After the dance lessons, we went to the showroom where we would eat our dinner before the show starts. I chose the steak even if I don’t eat beef as much because everyone told me I must eat steak in Argentina. The dinner included a bottle of wine but it was a very mediocre red wine. It took them forever to bring our dinner and when mine came, it was well done (I asked for medium). I would not send it back if it was good enough to eat but it was tough as a leather so I had to ask for another and made sure they bring me a steak that was cooked medium and not well done. It took them a whole hour to bring in the replacement and by then I was no longer hungry. The show also began very late (at least over two hours after we ate our dinner) and I can tell everyone in the room was getting very irritated with how slow everything was. I heard from the table next to us that their meal was awful and I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt that way.

When the show finally started, we were no longer enthusiastic about it. Although if it had been a great show, then we could at least forget all the mishaps and enjoy ourselves for the rest of the night. Unfortunately, the show was not quite as entertaining.

My first night in Buenos Aires was ruined by this tacky show but at least I can tick off learn to dance the tango in Argentina (or…okay just the basic dance steps) as it had been in one of my bucket lists.

Hiking in Patagonia: Grey Glaciers

Our telephone rang and it was someone from the front desk to inform us that we missed our scheduled hike that supposedly started at 7:45am. I was confused because one of the guides last night told me that our Fauna Tour hike was at 9am this morning. I checked my watch and it’s only 8am. We spoke with the people at Patagonia Camp for other options and we were informed there were no longer hiking trips available that day. I was so disappointed and almost in tears thinking our last day in Patagonia has been ruined. The last thing I wanted to do was to sit around and do nothing.

After a few hours of fidgeting, the manager approached us and told us we could do a private hike with Fabian but only after he takes the people in the Grey Glacier tour to their boat and while waiting for them to finish with the ride. It was such a great option, even better than the Fauna hiking tour we were originally going to do, so we put on our hiking boots and off we went!

Fabian is a charming young man from Santiago. He took us to his favorite hiking spots, where he’d usually go when he is by himself.

The terrain wasn’t difficult, just right for me and my friend, but of course my ambitious self was thinking I could’ve done something more challenging (even after experiencing hardship yesterday). Although today’s hike wasn’t difficult, we still had to deal with long ascents (I suppose there aren’t any flat terrains in Patagonia. I reminded myself this ain’t Dallas lol!).

After our hike, Fabian took us to the Glacier, where we could see massive icebergs floating in the water. While walking towards the icebergs, it rained hard again but luckily the winds weren’t that strong.

This private hike with Fabian was a great way to end our hiking expedition in Patagonia. We had a great time getting to know about him and the reasons why they all decide to become guides. He said the money was good enough to sustain their livelihood and meeting people from different countries was the most exciting part of being a guide. Also, living in Patagonia was way simpler and less stressful than living in a big city such as Santiago.

We came back to Patagonia Camp where happy hour drinks were waiting for us. I think this was one of my favorite activities there! While we were hanging around the bar having drinks, a miracle had just happened: the clouds began to clear and there it was in front our very own eyes, the view of Torres del Paine National Park!

At dinner, our server was an adorable young lady who had just graduated from high school. She told us she was taking a break from school and wanted to do this job to make money and of course meet people from different parts of the world before she begins her college life.

Seated on the table next to us were a lovely young honeymooners from Denver. I immediately took a liking to them and after hours of talking we found out that during their wedding they had all their guests take a swab to be a part of the bone marrow registry! What are the odds! I told them about my son who battled cancer twice and had two bone marrow transplants! We all couldn’t believe what we had in common. At the end of the night, we all hugged each other and hopefully someday we will meet again! ❤️

It was a beautiful night to conclude our trip in Patagonia. The journey to get there was long and tedious, definitely was no easy feat, but the rewards are unparalleled: beautiful landscapes, friendly people, and amazing food!

Tomorrow we fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina!

Hiking in Patagonia: Condor’s Viewpoint

I haven’t been active here for several months now. My drafts have been left unfinished, finding no motivation to write lately.

My heart had been silent for so long and when it spoke, it only spoke of its sorrows. I tried everything to alleviate the sadness. I traveled, I hiked, I wrote, I drank. The battle continues. I contrived to stay afloat with my fighting spirit. But I can’t fight on almost empty. I was spiraling down to a place of total darkness.

Hence the lack of motivation.

Someone suggested I should go back to blogging and so I revisited some of my old drafts and was surprised that I haven’t posted anything on my hiking adventures in Patagonia. Imagine that! Hiking in Patagonia was my over-the-top, hiking dream trip and yet I neglected to write about it. It’s been almost ten months since I went there but the memories of Patagonia still lingers.

So here it is, get ready to read about my ass-kicking hiking experience in this part of the world where they call the last frontier of South America!

If you’re a control freak like me, forget about planning that perfect hiking trip in Patagonia. The weather, first of all, decides everything for you. Before I arrived in South America, I had planned to hike the French Valley and the base of Torres del Paine. Unfortunately, as soon as I got to Patagonia Camp, I wasn’t too happy to hear from the guides that the hiking we were going to do in the next few days were all dependent on the weather (and most likely hiking the French Valley and the base of Torres del Paine were quite dangerous due to the wet and slippery conditions). They talked us into going to several locations (where it wouldn’t be as windy and with less rain). Knowing I wouldn’t have the chance to hike the two most popular hiking destinations, I was disappointed to say the least. Eventually, we decided to to do the Cuernos + Condor Viewpoint Hike the following day, which marks our first day of hiking excursion.

Our day began at 8am, right after a sumptuous breakfast buffet at the camp’s main dining area. Our guide introduced us to six Americans who were going to be our hiking mates for the day. They were married couples— two couples from California and the other from Texas. They’ve all been friends for years and two of the gentlemen went to medical school together. They were older than us and if I had to guess their ages, they must be in their young sixties. Our hike started at El Salto Grande, a waterfall that’s 15 meters high. But as soon as we got there, it began to rain hard and the wind was blowing so heavily that I thought my body was going to fly and be thrown off the cliff. I could feel the rain coming down hard on my face which felt like little pebbles. No one moved from where we were standing, in fear of being blown away. But as expected with Patagonia’s crazy weather, the rain and wind stopped after a few minutes.

We continued with the hike, despite the on and off rain and heavy winds. Our guide had to change the plan and directed us towards a different path where he thought was safer. Everything around me was stunningly gorgeous. I was surrounded by beautiful landscape, abundant wildlife, and picturesque trails.

In all honesty, Patagonia was not even included in my travel bucket list. I was just curious and fascinated to be somewhere far away, to this fabled edge of the world! My aunt from Chicago, whom I ran into at the airport in Dallas before embarking on my trip, asked me where my destination was. When I told her I was going to South America but mainly to go hiking in Patagonia, she was shocked to hear it is actually a place. She thought Patagonia was just a brand of clothing. Well, this is why I chose to come here, a place somewhere on earth where many haven’t visited or even fathomed it existed.

Our guide announced we would stop for lunch, picnic style. To our surprise, he and the driver had set up our table so elegantly. Besides our packed lunch, we were offered wine served on real wine glasses (not disposable cups), beers, snacks and each of us had a tupperware with our sandwiches. I had smoked salmon and the regional Calafate beer. During lunch, I noticed my friend was drinking more than she should (I was worried she might get tired especially we still have the rest of the afternoon to do more hiking). But knowing her, she can outdrink anyone I know, thus I was confident she will be okay.

After lunch, our guide informed us we would be hiking to Condor’s Viewpoint. He told us that the hike difficulty is moderate although we will be ascending for a whole hour. Not knowing what to expect, I was excited to finally be hiking with the rain gone and with a little bit of sunshine. Well, shit, this hike isn’t the same as the flat terrain I’m used to back home. I was climbing uphill for what felt an eternity and worse…on a muddy trail! Using my hiking pole really helped especially the trail was quite slippery. I was getting tired and starting to run out of breath! When I looked up, the Americans were already way ahead of me. Holy crap, I was embarrassed and felt defeated. These people were at least 10 to 15 years older than me yet they seemed much more fit and way faster than I was. I looked behind me and didn’t see my friend. I knew she was trailing behind me but she was nowhere to be found. I waited for at least 15 minutes and still has not shown up. I began to panic. What if she fell off the trail and died? I started to blame myself for taking her to this trip. It was my idea to go on a hiking trip to Patagonia and now she is dead because of me. I was picturing a scenario on how I’d break the devastating news to her family!!! I looked ahead and saw our guide waving at me with the Americans looking impatiently. I didn’t know what to do, whether to wait for my friend or proceed ahead. I really wanted to catch up with the rest of the group but I felt responsible for my friend’s well-being. A few minutes later, I saw a glimpse of her body, moving very slowly. She did not look good. I asked if she was okay. She tried to catch her breath but didn’t say anything and instead waved at me to go ahead. I yelled and told her to stop and wait right where she was and take a rest. There was no point to encourage her to catch up. As exhausted as I was, I didn’t want the Americans to think I was a weak and inexperienced hiker. So I began my ascent and was determined to reach the summit. When I finally caught up with everyone, I apologized to my guide and to the six Americans. I blamed the delay on my friend who was resting down below. (It’s okay she couldn’t hear me and will never know I put all the blame on her)…LOL!

The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking! This hike was definitely unforgettable and if it hadn’t been cloudy that day, a panoramic view of Lake Nordenskjold, Los Cuernos del Paine, Valle del Francés and the Patagonian Andes would’ve been visible. As we made our descent, my friend joined us and told us about her low iron level which explains the lack of oxygen while ascending.

This was definitely a difficult terrain, but then again, I’m not a skillful hiker. It was quite easy for the six Americans who have been hiking most of their lives. I wondered what would’ve happened if I did the base of the Torres del Paine or the French Valley. I’m not sure I was ready for them after today’s experience. I was convinced that I need to do a lot more hiking in the future to be ready for any type of terrain.

Arriving at the camp, we wanted to chill at the bar after a grueling hike. We were introduced to a regional drink called Calafate Sour. It was so good that I must’ve had two or three glasses before dinner. All the dinners at Patagonia Camp were awesome. The first night was a buffet that included lamb (which was a Patagonian specialty). The second and remaining nights we were there, we were given a choice of an entree—with appetizer, dessert, and unlimited amount of wine.

Luckily there’s that unlimited amount of wine I indulged in after this first, difficult, and miserable hike.

Tomorrow, however, is a different story…..

Fin del Mundo: Reaching the Ends of the Earth @ Patagonia Camp, Chile

After a 3+ hour plane ride from Santiago to Punta Arenas and another 5-hour drive to Patagonia Camp (where we would camp out in luxurious Mongolian style yurts for 3 nights/4 days and a couple of days of hiking within Torres National Park), I can honestly say I have reached the ends of the earth! Patagonia (and no, not the clothing brand we are all mostly familiar with) is the untamed frontier of South America, bordering both countries, Argentina and Chile. The picturesque trails and lush forests make this region an adventurer’s playground.

We left Santiago at around 10 in the morning to fly to Punta Arenas in Patagonia. After three and a half hours of plane ride and another five-hour- drive from Punta Arenas airport, we finally arrived at Patagonia Camp. It was already 7:30pm. That’s practically one full day of excursion within Chile.

If you look at the map above, Punta Arenas is the southernmost tip of Chile (bottom of the map). We spent three nights in Patagonia Camp near the Torres del Paine National Park. I can now say, I have reached the ends of the world and the most southern tip of South America.

One night during happy hour and over a few glasses of margarita, my bestie and I were talking about taking a trip together. We thought of going to Peru, perhaps go hiking to Machu Picchu. Although practically everyone we know have been to Machu Picchu. So scratch that idea out. How about Nepal (where I’ve been dying to go)? Nope, that’s waaay too far for her. I suggested another place: Patagonia. “So you know anyone who’s been to Patagonia?” I asked her. “No one!” she said. And that’s when we decided Patagonia is going to be our destination!

Of course it took about two years before the trip materialized and a lot of planning on my side. I’m sort of a control freak when it comes to my vacations and fortunately my friend is the type who is hands-off and allowed me to do all the work. But since I’ve never been to this part of the world (my first time in South America), I contacted the company, Swoop Patagonia, to help me out with some of the planning. They booked all our flights and hotels within South America and they included private city tours in Santiago and Buenos Aires. I usually do all my travel arrangements but I’m glad I did it with Swoop because I was able to eliminate all the hassles of arranging everything in two countries (Chile and Argentina). I would’ve had a lot of headache dealing with the airline since they changed the flight times months after we have already booked our tickets and the new flight times were no longer convenient with our travel schedule. From Patagonia, we would’ve missed our flight to Buenos Aires, considering it takes a good 6-hour drive to get from Patagonia Camp to the airport in El Calafate, Argentina. Anyway, to make the long story short, everything worked out at the end in spite of all the changes and headache the airline had caused us.

Once we landed in Punta Arenas, a representative from Patagonia Camp was there to greet us and gave us all the information we needed. Our driver arrived soon after and brought us a light lunch to eat on our 5-hour drive to Patagonia Camp . There were only four of us in the van (a couple from London and my friend and I) which made the ride comfortable. I sat next to our driver whose English was pretty limited but we still were able to understand each other. He was playing a lot of English 80’s music so I asked him if he can play Spanish songs instead. He asked me if I want to hear Mexican music. I laughed and said no. I’m from Texas and I can listen to Mexican songs in the States. I told him I wanted to hear Chilean music. So he put on a song, one that’s from Patagonia. He also sang along with some of the songs and he actually sounded good 🙂

It rained on and off during our drive. They say weather in Patagonia is very unpredictable. You can experience all four seasons in one day so packing for the trip was a bit tricky. With that said, I made sure I brought both summer and winter clothes. March was the beginning of autumn in South America but it was still fairly warm in Santiago.

The drive was quite smooth for the first four hours. The last hour was very bumpy (the road was no longer paved). But once we reached Patagonia Camp, all I could feel was pure excitement. Staying at a yurt was a new experience for me and I was ready for this adventure!

Patagonia Camp is an all-inclusive luxury camp in Patagonia, near the Torres del Paine National Park. We stayed at a yurt with two twin beds and the 3 nights/4 days were surely hands down the highlight of my South American adventure! My main intention on this trip was the hiking but the unlimited wine and scrumptious picnic lunches and gourmet meals each night were definitely an added bonus.

On our first night we had a buffet with Cordero al Palo (spit roast lamb), Patagonia’s most famous dish. I wasn’t going to try it because I rarely eat meat other than chicken, but I figure I may never come back and curiosity always takes dominance! 😊

In terms of hiking, not everything listed was available. The type of hikes each day were always dependent on Patagonia’s unpredictable weather. Although I wasn’t able to do the hikes I planned to do such as the base of the Torres or the French Valley, the camp and the food made up for it!

Oh and did I already mention the unlimited wine (great ones too!) and the region’s specialty drink, Calafate Sour? 😋

….and of course nothing can beat these views!

What I learned about myself while in Santiago, Chile

Santiago has been overshadowed by its South American neighbors (it does not have the beaches of Rio or the architecture of Buenos Aires) but it is definitely emerging and is slowly recognized by global travelers as THE next exciting city in South America. The food scene is exploding, neighborhoods are swanky, and trendy bars are plentiful. Oh, let’s also not forget its close proximity to some of the top notched wineries!

Santiago is also full of surprises. On my second day there, I learned more things to love about the city as much as I’ve learned about myself.

Before we left for this trip, I made a reservation at Concha Y Toro for a wine tasting tour. For a little over $40, we get four glasses of wine and a charcuterie. But when I mentioned about it to Jorge, our city tour guide in Santiago on our first day there, he talked us out of going. He said it’s very touristy and he preferred Sta. Rita winery instead. Because we didn’t have a transport to Concha Y Toro, we decided to book us a wine tasting tour at Sta. Rita Wineries in Spanish (the English tour was sold out). My friend speaks Spanish but I do not, and honestly, this was a big mistake on my part.

The driver wasn’t going to pick us up until 1:30pm so we had the morning to explore Bellavista, a Bohemian neighborhood in Santiago, and only a fifteen minute walk from our hotel. If you are looking for bars and restaurants, this place has plenty of them. Pio Nono Street is the main street where most of the bars are located. Towards the end of the street, you’ll see people lined up for the funicular and teleférico to reach the summit at Cerro San Cristóbal. It was about 11:30 am and they told us it’ll take more than a couple of hours for the whole experience. We decided to buy the tickets now to avoid the long line later when we come back from the wine tasting tour. Waking back to the hotel, we looked for the restaurant, Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate). We were told tourists come here just to take their pictures in front of the restaurant. After looking inside and checking out the scrumptious menu, we decided to have dinner there tonight.

It took a little over an hour drive to Sta. Rita winery. I realized that this tour that costs about $46 was the classic tour, not a premier tour unlike what I had reserved at Concha y Toro for about $41. After realizing that, I felt that we made the mistake (we wanted transportation, which we got, but the tour itself was nothing special). And also the fact that it was in Spanish, I stood there, lost among the crowd (who were giggling and laughing whenever the guide would crack a joke). I did feel I was cheated of this experience (at least my friend was enjoying herself and sometimes she would translate something to me). I only have myself to blame because I agreed to the Spanish tour (thinking I was there for the wines so who cares if the tour was in a language I barely understand). But I wish I hadn’t listened to Jorge. Yeah, now that I think about it, this was his fault! If he hadn’t dished on Concha y Toro, then we wouldn’t have been here in this vineyard right now. Of course, it was too late when I became fully aware of the mistake I made. We were already there, I might as well make the most of it.

To make the long story short, I didn’t really enjoy my time there—something that I kept to myself because I didn’t want to ruin it for my friend. The whole time she kept saying how much she enjoyed the tour and that it was the highlight of her trip so far. Yeah I would’ve perhaps enjoyed it too if I knew Spanish lol! I kept thinking how dumb I was to let this happen to myself—on my own dime and time.

Fortunately, the wine was good. I bought a 2015 Medalla Real Gran Reserva Carmenere that was awesome and from what I was told it was not widely sold in the stores in the US (or Texas—I can’t remember which one, not after the good amount of wine they poured on my glass 😁). I’m such a lightweight, I was tipsy after the wine tasting. I’m glad wine makes you forget everything. By this time, I was no longer feeling angry at myself.

On the way back to the city, we asked the bus driver to drop us off in Bellavista, where the funicular was, instead of dropping us to our hotel. We only had about less than three hours before they close. Luckily we were smart to get our tickets beforehand, skipping the long line.

This funicular is probably the steepest funicular I’ve been on. I’ve only been on three other (in HongKong, Paris, and Southern Italy) but I don’t remember them to be steep. Suffering from acrophobia, I almost shit my pants when I looked down while the funicular was going up. I thought I was going to have a panic attack (this explains the lack of pictures).

We got to the cumbre (summit) and there it was another birds eye view of Santiago. It was also here where we rode the teleférico (cable car). I failed to mention to my friend earlier that this was my first time to ride a cable car and told her just as we hopped on it. She laughed and couldn’t believe I’ve never been on one.

I developed my fear of heights when my husband (who was my fiancée at the time) and I went to Mexico City and climbed the pyramid (I can’t remember which one, either the moon or the sun) in Teotihuacan. I had no fear climbing up until it was time to go down. I panicked when I saw how high we were and my knees were trembling while going down the pyramid.

To ignore my fear of heights and be willing to get on the cable car knowing how high it was going to be was a huge accomplishment. It meant I was willing to overcome my fears. Of course it didn’t stop me from screaming as soon as the cable car started moving. The people we were riding with didn’t help either because just like me, they too were screaming at the top of their lungs. I guess I wasn’t the only scaredy cat there. 😹

On our way down, on the funicular, a young Indian guy (who looks like he was in his twenties), screamed to one of the operators to let him out (he saw how steep the funicular was and panicked). His friends were laughing, thinking he wasn’t serious. But he did get out and his friends at this point were quite shocked. I asked the young man how he’d get out of there without taking the funicular, he said he’ll find a way. My friend and I didn’t think he would be back at his hotel tonight if he had to walk down. Tomorrow perhaps! I bet he had to take the funicular anyway and had no choice but to face his fears. If not, he’d get stuck there overnight.

We went back to our hotel to change our clothes for dinner. I was excited to go to Como Agua Para Chocolate. If you read the book, Like Water for Chocolate, this restaurant is exactly based off of that. The waiter told me the restaurant was already in business even before the movie was released. But the movie enhanced the restaurant’s popularity. We were initially at the bar waiting for a table to open up and the bartender was really helpful describing the different drinks in the menu. I ordered his recommended specialty and glad I did because it was really good.

For dinner, I got the Cazuela de Jaiba y Camarones (spicy broth with crab and shrimps) served in a clay pot. I could’ve ordered a lot more (appetizers and dessert) in the menu but sadly my friend vetoed that desire. She decided to eat less not only on the first few days of our trip but on the entire trip! It was too bad because the reason I travel is to immerse myself in the country’s culture and trying out the food is a huge part of the learning experience. I don’t ever think of dieting when I’m in a different country. Also after each breakfast, she’d announce that we better skip lunch and that was every.single.day we were in South America (except in Patagonia because we were at an all-inclusive resort). Our three days in Buenos Aires was even worse and I missed out on trying a few great restaurants. Of course, I could’ve gone by myself but that’s not easy to do when you have a travel partner. But I was still grateful my friend was there with me although I realized traveling solo gives you the optimum results if you want to accomplish everything in your trip.

There were so many things I learned about myself on this trip. First, I learned that I can challenge myself to overcome my fears. Second, I also learned that I really enjoy traveling solo and third, I have FOMO–fear of missing out (which in this particular trip, I did miss out on a few things 😭)!

Como Agua Para Chocolate was the perfect place to conclude my last night in Santiago. It signified what the city of Santiago is—charming, hip, modern yet romantic, and definitely unforgettable.

Totally crushing on Santiago (but why I didn’t madly fall in love)

Santiago is sophisticated and polished but can also be handsomely rugged. He has an exquisite taste for fine wines and gourmet foods. He can be mysterious, who shares most of my progressive ideals, yet ironically devoutly Catholic. I am totally and absolutely crushing on him but surprisingly didn’t fall head over heels.

Oh by the way, Santiago is not a boy. He is actually a city in South America. Chile to be exact. You’re probably wondering why I did not totally fall in love with Santiago, a city that is an absolute dream boat. Well then you better read up!

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).

Day 1: City Tour of Santiago

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)!