Hello from the other side (and an account of Santiago)

Hello from the other side (and an account of Santiago)

So I am currently sitting in Potosi, a full 3 entries further than my blog is at, but in my defence it’s been a crazy few weeks.
You may not be surprised, but I honestly thought I would have loads of downtime on this trip, not expecting to be entertained all of the time throughout 6 months. But man, it’s like one continuous wild ride, darting from one place to another and getting fully sucked into the traveller lifestyle. I barely have time to blog or speak to my family, I’ve read perhaps half a book and I haven’t watched any of the films I brought with me. Out during the day sight-seeing and socialising during the evening with the continuous stream of travellers leaves little time for life admin or writing. There is always something to do and my massive FOMO means I never say no. However, this also means that the little downtime I do schedule for myself I inevitably spend hungover and/or asleep. Or, you know, tempted into a 40km cycle through the desert because, porque no? Plenty of time to sleep when I’m dead right??
Anyway, I’m fully immersed in the traveller lifestyle now; I can start conversations with complete strangers, survive in most dorm rooms and spot fellow travellers from a mile off (and pounce on them if they are going in the same direction). I’ve got my elevator pitch down to a T (haha T, geddit?) and the good times keep a‘rolling.

Having a look it’s been a full 2 weeks since my last entry, though it feels like an age ago. I last left you in Pucón, headed for the bright lights of Santiago. Sometimes this trip feels like jumping from the frying pan into the fire, and this transition was no different, merely swapping the adrenaline thrills of Pucón for chaotic metropolis that is Santiago. It was just as crazy.
It was the first time back in a city for nearly 6 weeks, and I was craving a little bit of civilisation. Whether I am a city person at heart is yet to be decided; I mean I love living in London but I have thoroughly enjoyed being out in the wilderness for so long. Life is more basic out there, but also purer; you breathe the freshest air, encounter the most epic of sceneries and learn to take life at a slower pace, soaking in your surroundings. In the end I think I crave the variety that both scenes have to offer: the beauty and quiet of nature but equally the exciting hustle and bustle of a cosmopolitan city.

Where was I? ah yes Santiago, the European jewel of South America. I’ve heard countless of terrible things about Santiago and many travellers avoid it like the plague. I can’t say why but I loved it, maybe because it’s a busy but well-functioning city, maybe because it’s clean and rich in culture, or maybe it just because it reminds me of being in London and that, I know how to do. I arrived on October 31st (a.k.a Halloween) on an overnight bus and was due to a local’s house party that night. Yup, we’re continuing on my traveller’s checklist, entry #15: party with the locals. I was part terrified and part excited; I didn’t know anyone and had no idea if people would speak English or pay attention to an outsider. All my fears proved unfounded though as I spent the night dancing and drinking with mostly expats, and very friendly ones at that! Diego proved an excellent host, playing a continuous stream of cheesy music to dance to, a feast for the barbeque (which I ended up manning) and a chance for all the guys to display their inner queens (it was gender bender themed), which they did with some gusto. I left with plenty of new friends, sharpie tattoos all over my arms (these took almost 4 days to clean off!) and a great sense of contentment. Sometimes you just have to take risks and throw yourself into the deep end. Katy, Sam, Mariana if you are reading this then thank you for letting me tag along & entertaining a complete stranger!

All great things come at a cost however, and this was no exception. Someone once told me that getting drunk is just borrowing happiness from the next day, and this has become my firm motto. Said next day is a bleak blur, a hangover of epic proportions. I managed to get out of bed once at around 4pm to make some plain pasta and promptly returned to my bed. I’m not sure what my roommates were thinking but I can’t imagine they thought much of the shrivelled wreck of a human being curled up in the lower bunk bed. Luckily I didn’t see any of them again.

The next few days I managed to juggle drinking and sight-seeing much better, exploring the city through walking tours as well as venturing out with other travellers. I saw its main square, thronging with tourists, touts, street performers and locals playing chess or just trying to get through the crowd to work. I saw its rich areas (Los Condes & Providencia), its poor areas (La Chimba), it’s multicultural areas (around Centro and Bellavista) and everything in between (apart from the ‘slums’, as there are still parts of a city you just do not venture into). I saw Santiago’s glittering jewels; the old presidential palace, the colonial cathedral and the Supreme Court as well as its sparkly designer shopping centre (La Costanera).

I gazed over the city on its local mountain Cerro San Cristobel and went off the beaten path to experience its incredible markets (what a sight!), tried a few local delicacies; pumpkin bread (yum!) and the ‘completo’ (a glorified hot dog with onions, salsa, guacamole, mayo and tomatoes) and visited the gigantic cemetery at the edge of town.

 

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The latter deserves a special mention as its probably the most beautiful cemetery I have ever been too. It’s so big it’s practically a little village, with small shops and cobbled roads throughout. The multitude of trees, greenery and fresh flowers frame the graves beautifully and makes for a very peaceful place to wander around. You walk amongst old graves, new graves, rich graves and poor graves with all the greenery lending a sense of tranquillity throughout that I’ve not often encountered. It’s a very beautiful park and well worth a visit.

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But from the tranquillity of the Cemetery we travel to the seditious side of Santiago; coffee with legs. I know every city has its seedy underground scene; brothels, drugs and a multitude of illegal activities but there is something about being in dark coffee shop at 10am surrounded by girls in skimpy bikinis while a fat Chilean is dry humping one of them that is just plain wrong. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Strip clubs are one thing, but Santiago is actively marketing this phenomenon of using half naked girls just to sell coffee. And bad coffee at that. Then again I doubt some of those guys are there for the coffee. Actually none of them are there for the coffee. Guess I am just naïve.

Let’s move on to happier topics: food. Santiago has a superb international offering beyond the standard Chilean cuisine, which I was so excited about. The Chilean food is good but basic, and more than anything I miss the variety I have at home. I had proper eggs benedict in a café in the morning and even Indian food. I mean curry, I haven’t had curry in months!! Everyone should know that a well fed Thirza is a happy Thirza, and the food made me very happy indeed. I couldn’t go out as much as I liked as I was still on a Latin American budget in a European priced city, but what I had was muy muy buen.

That leaves my other favourite pastime: drinking. I did plenty of that in Santiago too, despite my earlier *ahem* …. indulgence. What’s a girl to do when there’s a free pisco sour night on at the hostel, there are cute guys at the bar and you’ve had a busy day sight-seeing? Pisco me up baby! I actually had a really fun night with the boys (a bar called barracuda anyone?) and woke up the next day sans hangover (great success), but also sans boys (not great success) – so I guess you can’t have everything…

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The last part of Santiago is a little sobering so I give you advance warning; Santiago’s memory and human rights museum. On the tour I had learnt about Chile’s history and its most recent military coup, from 1973 – 90. Given its recentness this coup is still an open wound which has only just begun to close with the Chilean people. A majority of the country has lived through all or some of this coup and has experienced the atrocities committed under Pinochet’s regime. The period is marred by thousands of disappearances, a systematic programme of torture and abuse, a great deal of suffering in the country due to starvation and poverty as well as widespread propaganda and strict censorship. It’s a pretty black mark on Chile’s history, and a recent one at that. While a difficult topic for Chileans, Santiago is leading the way in acknowledging the atrocities committed, working hard to uncover the widespread abuse that happened, publicising classified documents and establishing human rights programmes. Its actions are allowing citizens to properly mourn their sons and daughters, who were killed in their thousands. The memory and human rights museum is testament to this, not shying away from what happened but working to ensure it does not happen again. It’s collected documents, photos and testimonies of victims and tells the story of the coup from inception to its end. It also has a beautiful memorial picturing every single person who is still missing to this day. Haunting and sobering stuff. Of course these kind of events aren’t new to us, or to me even, and in fact it dwarfs in comparison to the Nazi regime as well as some of the regicides committed across the world. However, that doesn’t make it any less shocking or deeply infuriating, why are we seeing this time and time again all over the world? Come on people, wake up and stop killing people! Not that my opinion will change anything, and it’s deeply sad that human rights commissions all over the world are so necessary. In the meantime, all I can say is that we can all take a leaf from Santiago’s book in how hard it has worked to recover from these tragedies to become the city it is today.

Adios Santiago – I’m off to see your cool edgy sister: Valparaiso

Until next time

xxx

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