A few weeks ago, I turned 3o years old, and Max and I returned from our trip to South America the day before my birthday. I wanted to blog from there, but while I was soaking up all the sights, sounds, and smells of the other side of the world, I found it difficult to do anything other than take notes on my travels. I will attempt to capture some of our journey here. It will take more than one post, forgive me!
Max toiled for several months in order to get our major flights in business class. He used credit card miles and some great websites to help him along the way, and it certainly paid off in lay-flat seats, access to the VIP lounges, and free sparkling wine with dinner on our LAN flights. I was so excited about the business class section on our flight from Miami to Lima, Peru, playing with the seat, exclaiming over the free dop kit (complete with shoe horn!), that it prompted Max to scold me with, “Act like you’ve been here before!” which generally became a mantra for our whole trip.
After 36 hours of traveling from Nashville to our first real destination in Santiago, Chile, we were plum tuckered out. We left for the airport at 5am Nashville time, landed in Miami and spent the day in Miami Beach. We caught a flight to Lima at 11:45 pm and landed in Lima at 5 am. At 7:30 we caught another flight to Santiago, Chile, and landed around noon (for those of you keeping track, Lima is on Central Standard Time, and Santiago is on Eastern Standard Time). From there we were able to take a bus to the Metro station, and the Metro to the neighborhood of our hostess, Belinda.
Some of the most amazing things about South America are the traffic and transportation systems. There are buses in every town, subways in most of the large cities, and taxis galore. Also, in Argentina and Chile, traffic lanes mean nothing. They are suggestions. Belinda took us on a tour of Santiago and the surrounding areas in her car, and we were weaving in and out of lanes the whole time. And it wasn’t just us; everyone was doing it! Taxis also get special privileges when they are driving a fare in Santiago, and can drive in fast lanes. In Argentina, although there were 3 lanes marked, the cars often drove 4 across with a motorcycle tearing by somewhere in between. In Mendoza, which was early in our trip and before Max and I had taken a taxi on the highway, I asked if Max and I should rent a car to get out to one of the wineries, and the gentleman laughed at me. A few days later, as we were being thrown around the back seat of the taxi, straddling two lanes of traffic and I silently thanked that man.
I am not entirely sure how indicative of South American culture Santiago is since we didn’t have long to stay in the city or on the continent in general, but it was, like all the cities we visited, at times beautiful and at other times off-putting. There are stunning modern and colonial buildings that are combined in a way rarely seen outside of Europe. At the same time, there are also slums of the type you see in National Geographic magazine and on Save the Children commercials.
One way to see the city of Santiago is to visit San Cristobal hill. You can click on one of the two links at left (the first will take you to the wikipedia page, buyer beware, and the second to the tripadvisor page) to get more information, but I’ll give you a brief overview. As with most major hills/mountains in South America, San Cristobal is topped with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Max and I hiked 6km to the top of this hill (the funicular–a vertical railway–was closed because of the rain, until we had hiked all the way back to the bottom) to visit this particular virgin. Belinda’s apartment was located on the west side of town, and we were finally able to see the east section of town, including the colorful shacks built into the hillside and that were built around perfectly maintained soccer pitches.
All along the road leading up San Cristobal hill were small packs of semi-tame dogs. One such mutt followed us almost all the way up the hill and nearly all the way down. She was a short black dog with long spaniel ears and tail. Whenever a group of dogs would meet up with us along the way she would walk up to them, silently negotiate, and we would all continue on our way, sometimes picking up a new traveling companion, sometimes not. These dogs seemed to work in shifts as well, because the black dog was not with us the entire way, and a dog was not always with us. There was something comforting about walking with these animals. It reminded me that man had had dogs around as traveling companions for much longer than we can imagine. These beasts seemed happy to just trot along beside us because we were walking. Sure they would have been happier if I had been carrying some food in my bag, but they also seemed to enjoy being out for a walk.
The Food and Drink
Ah, the food. While I was completely surprised to find that Applebees and Ruby Tuesday’s had found their way to Santiago, there were some great little places that we were able to eat at, and not kill the budget. Of course we partook in some great wine. We were surprised that at the corner store the storekeeper locked himself up with the wine and asked us what we wanted. At a loss, and having been in the country for about 48 hours, Max replied, “The cheapest.” Even that was good, though. As it is in a country that prides itself on making good wine and keeping a lot of it in the country.
Down the hill from La Chascona (Pablo Neruda’s house), Max and I ate at a wonderful little bistro with poetry on the wall (fitting). There, I had my very first avocado-sauce pizza. Yes ma’am, instead of tomato sauce, there were pureed avocados under the cheese. heaven. The Chileans love pizza, quiche, tapas, and sushi, from what I could tell. It was difficult from the restaurant fare to tell what the typical “Chilean” food was, but again, we were in the city.
Overall, we ate and drank well in Chile. So well, in fact, that I forgot to take pictures most of the time. Max has many of the pictures. I will update this post when I can gain access to his dropbox account (and then, the world, mwa-haha!) and post more pictures. For now, here is a picture of the tapas that Max and I enjoyed on our last night in Santiago. I promise, there will be more stories about South America soon.