A friend of mine, Helena, I met working at CGI years ago, splits her time between Chile and Los Angeles. She was born in LA to Chilean nationals, and works there for about 6 months out of the year, and then spends the rest of the time either traveling or in Santiago. Since Santiago was a place that I had already been looking into going to, it was a no-brainer.
I hopped on a bus from Mendoza to Santiago one early morning with Shanti, this dude from Seattle that I met when in Bariloche. We paid in blue pesos, so the international bus ride cost about $30. The ride, I’m not sure if anybody cares about seeing probably the most beautiful drive between the mountains, but if you have a brain and have any ability to see snowcapped mountains as something spectacular, then the drive from Mendoza to Santiago is sure to put you in awe. It is literally peak after peak of snow-covered slopes, similar to California and the Palm Springs area, but much more dramatic and steep. Although the ride was 6 hours, it seemed as though it went by a lot faster because around every bend is a new vista.
In Santiago, I was greeted by Carolyn, another friend who I met through CGI, and a canuck who was down there for the week hitting the slopes, South-American style. The following day, I met up with Helena who gave me a nice tour of the neighborhood where she lives, Provedencia, and an esteemed selection of restaurants around the neighborhood.
Santiago is known for it’s late night clubs, excellent music that comes to the city (which Emilio, the Chilean guy I gave a lift to from Siete Lagos, Argentina, to Chile Chico, Chile, told me all about), making out (a lot), and protests- lots of protests. The third day I was there, I woke up late in the morning because we had been out until around 5:30am the night before at a club, and on TV Helena told me that there were protests, of course around the Plaza Italia, which is apparently where every protest or event happens. I showered and skedadled onto the metro that they have which is very efficiently operated, and it seems like there is never more than 4 minutes between trains, and go to the spot where the protest was. Upon arrival, students were protesting the cost of education, and how in recent years, there has been a downfall in quality of education. One told me that the classes that were now being offered were simply aimed at creating machines out of students that would serve to produce for companies- it seemed as though they were angry that the college level education system, which was once free, now costs money, and has become more and more limited as far as what they offer. Apparently arts don’t even enter into the public universities anymore… I avoided most of the tear gas, pepper spray, and thrown rocks at the police, and got the hell out of there.
Back on the quieter side of town, over the next few days, I hung around and walked the city. It amazes me how everything in Santiago seems more organized than in Argentina- there is no blue exchange rate, it doesn’t seem that there are any real threats (not that I actually ever felt threatened, not even once, in Argentina), and everything just seems better organized. Again, that’s just my take on Santiago; to keep everything in perspective, I didn’t drive all the way down in the most rural of rural places that you can possibly imagine in Chile, but in Argentina I did. Let’s just say, of what I saw in Santiago, comparatively speaking, it seems more organized, where as Argentina seems a bit like the Wild West.
Food is completely different as well. Salads are complete and come with fresh vegetables, and you can still find your empanadas, but they are larger, and not smaller like the ones in Argentina, and the fruits are pretty much to die for- which of course brings me to the wine- like in Argentina, the wine is exceptional, and it is clear that Chile takes advantage of the fact that they have every possible terrain and climate along their over 4000km of terrain, and have grown exceptionally their agricultural products, and export markets associated with them. Bread is fresh and soft, much like a lot of the bread found in Argentina, and olive oil is plentiful, of course.
I took a day trip to Valparaíso, which is Chile’s principal port for shipping. The crates that arrive leave by truck off to Santiago or along the coast much like down in Ushuaia, but it seemed like there are a lot more. I went up a few of the elevators, which basically take you up the side of a hill. They were developed because the hilly terrain of Valparaíso demanded transport other than walking all the way up the steep hills, and it’s neat because they are all over the city and seemingly create neighborhoods up in the hills that section off. Sometimes to get to another part of the city, you have to go down the hill and then up another one.
Back in Santiago, a couple of nights and bars later, I decided to leave. Chile is a great place, and definitely deserves more exploring, much like Argentina. One thing to watch out for though is that almost all of the highways will hit you up for tolls. It’s still trivial, but if I were to do the 10,000km+ that I did in Argentina, it would quickly add up…
Next up, back to the States for a bit of debauchery, and CGI with film…