We arrived at our Air BnB around 10.30pm, greeted by a small, bizarre, Star Wars obsessed man. The apartment block was a nice new build with a pool on the roof top, so naturally we had increasingly high expectations even though we had picked a listing with no reviews (someone has to be the first, right?). Upon arrival our host kindly poured us a glass of Sprite and offered us some of his spliff, but there was something not quite right. He kept saying ‘you’re my friends’ and from the way the guy on reception responded to us, it became clear that he hadn’t notified them he was renting it out. Before leaving he showed us his big hydroponic tent where he was growing his weed. Not too fazed, we didn’t really think too much of it. But after he left we realised there was only 1 double bed for the 3 of us, no wifi as he had listed, a broken hob and a horrible dirty boy smell throughout this tiny apartment. Deciding it wasn’t really somewhere we wanted to stay any longer, nor pay for, we called Air BnB to let them know of our uncomfortable situation. Hats off to them, they are very good with their customer service; they agreed that this wasn’t right, refunded the cost immediately and gave us 150 USD to find ourselves somewhere new. Awkwardly, the host returned whilst sorting this out in the apartment block foyer because he hadn’t received our payment – this guy obviously had no clue how Air BnB works and was desperate for some money! We spent half an hour frantically looking for a place to stay at 11.30pm at night, but luckily found an instant book swanky apartment on booking.com in a really nice part of town that was covered by the money offered by Air BnB. So even though our stay got off to a bad start, we were spoilt for accommodation for the rest of our stay so can’t really complain!
One thing that has been quite amusing…pretty much every South American looks at me blankly when I say my name is Charlotte, let alone when I introduce myself as Lottie. One bus company put me down as Chanoute and the other as Chanolle Crone…So, on many occasions I have taken the easy route and renamed myself Carlota… what d’ya think?!
I started the first day with scrambled eggs, chorizo and avocado – my absolute new favourite breakfast, lunch or dinner – and we headed to Plaza de Armas for Santiago’s free walking tour. These tours are completely hit and miss and often make me question if I want to leave the suggested tip, but lucky for us we hit the jackpot in Santiago. Our tour guide Felipe also worked as an actor and was entirely enthusiastic, engaging and entertaining, especially considering this was our longest tour yet (4 hours!).
I won’t bore you with all the stops, but he showed us some interesting places like a strip of cafes filled daily with businessmen and waitresses with tiny, tiny dresses. Some decades ago these cafes would have had a ‘happy minute’, where the cafes would lock their doors and the girls would take their clothes off for 60 seconds. So bizarre!
We were also informed that Santiago has 150,000 stray dogs, which considering all the poo didn’t really surprise us at all. In Parque Forestal there are little dog houses dotted around for all the homeless dogs! These dogs aren’t skinny or noticeable pests. In fact a fat and locally famous dog called Mateus joined us for 20 minutes of the tour; I can only assume he has done this twice daily for many years.
The tour gave us a chance to try the best of Chile’s national food and drink (now you can see why I was such a fan). First stop we had an ’empanada pino’ (beef, boiled egg, onions, raisins and a black olive in pastry) washed down with a pisco sour (pisco – a potent grape brandy – fresh lemon juice, sugar and egg white), which I adored. Peru also claim authority over the cocktails origin, so it most definitely won’t be my last! I sampled mote con huesillo, which is sold by street vendors on every corner. It is a refreshing drink/pudding made with peach nectar, a preserved sweet peach and strangely, barley wheat. I wholeheartedly believe in sampling different cuisines so I’m glad I tried it, but it’s probably not something I’d rush to have again. I finished my food tour off with a combination of 2 of my favourite things: warm churros stuffed with dulce de leche. Ahhh!
Whilst I’m talking about food, I have a little note on coffee… I was under the assumption that in travelling to South America I would be in coffee heaven. Well, to assume is to make an ASS out of U and ME, and in this case I’m an ass. They may export some of the best coffee in the world, but they certainly don’t drink it. The majority of the coffee you buy – even from some of the fancier establishments – comes from a Nescafé tub, and they don’t really know how to distinguish between the generic ways to serve a coffee. In Buenos Aires Amy had a ‘espresso’ that had hot chocolate powder in it. As caffeine lovers, we’re still on the look out so watch this space!
As the tour finished across the water in Bellavista, we took the opportunity to get the short and cheap (£2) funicular up to Cerro San Cristóbal. The views were marred by a great deal of smog, but pretty cool to see nonetheless.
The next day we got up super early for a tour of the Andes and a short ‘trek’ towards a volcano. It took about 2.5 hours to drive there and about 1 hour of walking either way. It was good fun and we saw some cool views, however at around £65 it was very, very overpriced for what it actually turned out to be and in my eyes definitely not worth the price tag. Amy did some solid research beforehand and that appears to be the standard price, so I would personally avoid going by tour if you’re interested in an Andes hike. Still, we eat the world’s most incredible bagel and sipped on Chilean wine at the foot of the volcano so there was a saving grace.
Our friend Tristan that we met in Buenos Aires joined us later that evening and we all got ready to meet his Chilean friend Bran for a party. He told us to meet him at Candeleria at 10.30pm. Despite thinking this seemed a bit early for South Americans, we hopped in a cab and arrived at the club to find it completely empty. The bouncers told it may be busier in a few hours, but not to bother getting a stamp or putting our names on the guest list. Without Wifi or a phone to call Bran, we decided to head back to the apartment, carry on drinking and then meet him a little later. An hour or so later we got back in a cab to find the club still completely soulless. Somewhere lost in translation was the fact that for one night only, this club night was being moved to a special location…so like a bunch of tourist tools, we jumped in the 4th taxi of the night, finally headed in the right direction! Luckily the night was so worth it; Bran was an absolute blast, we partied open-air among the palm trees with an insane view and didn’t spend a penny all night. I believe in the day time the area was a hilltop viewing point of the city, but either way it was a pretty sick venue for a party.
Despite terrible hangovers, we got up to make the most of our last day in Santiago and with Tristan (although as it turned out again, this was not our last night together…). Don’t ask me why, but we headed to the famous Mercado Central – a large fish market. Andrea said she had sick in her mouth as we entered. We ate in a small restaurant recommended by Felipe and with a complimentary pisco sour from the tour. Amy and Tristan were adventurous and tried the seafood garden – something that most definitely didn’t pay off. We’re still not entirely sure what was on the plate that resembled vomit, but both of them didn’t feel too good afterwards. We went for Santiago’s best ice cream at Emporio La Rosa and then headed back to the apartment to give Tristan’s bad knee a rest, get some sleep and get back on it for round dos.
Around 8.30pm we headed to the Costanera Center for Gran Torre to watch the sunset. It is the tallest building in South America, standing 6 metres shorter than The Shard in London. Entry was quite dear to get in and there isn’t a bar or anything when you’re up there, but if you like a night skyline then this is a pretty spectacular one. As aforementioned in another blog post, an iPhone 5 camera doesn’t quite cut it for views like this, but trust me when I say a sparkling city with the snow capped Andes behind is something special.
We went on and met Bran at his expansive apartment and pre-drunk pisco and ginger ale with his friend Sergio. We headed to another local party, this time in a vast multi-roomed building that resembled a conference centre, or similar. Drinking a lot of piscola (pisco and coca cola), we non-stop danced to local music which reminded me a bit of Daddy Yankee – Gasolina. Fuelled with said pisco and thinking my C in GCSE Spanish was in fact an A* A-level, I got talking to lots of locals and made friends with a guy called Benjamin, who would turn out to be a very useful friend to have!
Afterwards we went back to Bran’s flat, and I ended up drinking so much piscola that I fell asleep on the toilet. A pisco hangover is a really bad hangover and we were all feeling pretty sorry for ourselves the next day. Bran was an absolute rockstar though, and got on a plane for a work meeting with no sleep – madman. In need of comfort and carbs, the rest of us went to the heavily air conditioned shopping centre and ate like kings at the Hard Rock Cafe, although instantly regretting it when looking at our bank balances.
When chatting to Benjamin I discovered that him and his two friends, Joe and Jack, were driving to Valparaiso later that day. It’s about a 2 hour drive to there and close-by Piña del Mar, and many of Santiago’s inhabitants – especially the young ones – head there for the weekend to party and chill on the beach. The boys were kind enough to offer us a lift, and assumingly actually went out of their way by taking 2 cars rather than 1 to accommodate us and our ridiculous sized bags. Benjamin picked us up in a beautiful BMW and gave us a tour of the city as we left, including out in the hills of Santiago (I don’t recall the name) where he and Joe lived. The area was stunning with the most incredible views – I imagine it to be the Beverly Hills of Santiago. Driving through the Andes as the sun set to the soundtrack of some of my favourite tropical house tunes was a million times comfier than a shabby bus. Unfortunately due to pre-made plans and crippling hangovers we didn’t see the boys again in Valparaiso, but it was a pleasure to meet them and maybe we’ll catch up again in the future!
We stayed at Planeta Lindo hostel which sat at the top of a very steep hill lined with cafes, restaurants and little shops. We were greeted by an American and a Chilean who were nuts; I think they’d both smoked so much dope that they’d just totally lost it. The hilarious Chilean described everything as ‘fucking bueno’ and would turn whatever you said into the most cheery song on his guitar. The hostel had comfy brand new beds and an incredible rooftop kitchen and terrace, with views across the city and harbour. Absolutely shattered, we all went straight to bed. Whilst the girls slept through the morning, I popped out to catch the England vs. Scotland 6 Nations game (woo!). In a constant state of exhausted, we spent the rest of the day mooching and waiting for Bran and Tristan to arrive for our 3rd ‘last night’ together!
I genuinely think this might be one of the most fun nights I’ve ever had. Bran knew a guy opening a new hostel and who was having a pre-party for its opening in a few months. Still being decorated and incredibly capacious, it was such a cool space and the perfect playground for the night. We met a really lovely bunch of English guys and girls on their year abroads and an American guy from Texas who was a whole lot of fun. We started up some beer pong whilst munching on barbecued burgers piled high with avocado, and dancing to all my favourite songs. I spent the entire night either playing beer pong, ping pong or dancing (and both at the same time). Amy, Ben and I were the dream team at beer pong; the best moment being when Ben turned to face me looking me dead in the eye and said ‘this won’t work but watch this’; keeping his eyes locked with mine he took the shot and it landed straight in a cup. Lord knows how with this many beers down, but I managed to pop the ball in the final cup. We ended up crashing there for what was left of the ‘night’ and eat the breakfast bits left out from the previous day’s photoshoot.
Ashamedly, this additional hangover crippled us and we never really got out to explore what Valparaiso had to offer. It has Unesco World Heritage status, so it is certainly no ordinary city. From what I did see, it had a frenetic charm, with brightly coloured and chaotic crumbling houses nestled on the edge of a large hill overlooking a historical port. There was a lot of tacky graffiti (think ‘G woz here’ on a SE London train bridge) which did spoil some areas though and made it look run down. I didn’t really get any decent photos that captured the essence of Valparaiso, so here’s a photograph of a postcard I bought instead.
One thing I can tell you is that if you do go, find a sushi placed called Mori – they do the most incredible fresh sushi and you get loads for just £3!
So far chile has been an absolute ball and I think Santiago may be my favourite city so far. It was beautiful and it felt a lot safer and friendlier than other cities we have visited; the kind of place you could see yourself living. Instead of kissing their teeth and making crude comments, men would call us beautiful and welcome us to Chile…much more pleasant. Despite the smog, the place feels clean, and the pavements are flat and in good repair. I’m finding it difficult to describe, but the vibe from Santiago and Chileans was a good one for sure. Definitely one to add to your wanderlust list if you haven’t already been!
Love, Lottie xx