Monday 18th April 2016 –
It’s a city of smog. Santiago, that is. Smog here, smog there, smog everywhere. It’s a victim of its own existence, the pollution so present due to a combination of the Andean hills that provide the valley of residence, the high rises that form much of the central city (and seemingly everywhere beyond) and the cars that flood the city at all hours of the day. The coastal breeze only serves as a blockade for any potential exit.
Past this though, Santiago does get more interesting. Don’t get me wrong, it took me a while to find the more likeable parts, but they do exist. After much wandering on my first day, I came across the park next to the Museo Nacional Bellas Artes, and despite it being sandwiched between two busy roads, it was like a little oasis. A dance troupe were practising some moves, while a quintet of choral singers softly sang a few Chilean numbers. It was the first sign of brighter life I had seen in the city.
Continuing my aimless stroll, I came across Cerro Santa Lucia, a little hill with a fort on top. It’s probably the most picturesque spot in the city, and is suitably filled with very public young Chilean couples (as always). The gardens and terraces are immaculate, and once I reached the top, I was offered a panoramic view of the city. It was stunning, but more than anything, it really highlighted the pollution. It wasn’t for before the concrete pillars faded into the grey, and the surrounding hills barely formed a line on the horizon.
Despite a lack of sleep for two days (first the bus, then the group in my dorm room who seemed to be in such a comatose state that they were unable to switch off a repeating alarm at 6AM) I made my way to a tourist tour the following morning. Through about six market we walked, full of tasty fresh produce, (even the fish didn’t smell too bad) where we located most of Santiago’s residents. It must have been where they all were when I walked down empty streets the day before. Then, as every city tour seems to, we went to the cemetery, and found the rest of the residents. It was an interesting tour, but rather predictable, mostly venturing where I’d wandered before.
I met up with Halabi in the evening – the sixth destination we’d met altogether. This time it wasn’t a coincidental run in – we’d realised we’d be here at the same time, so decided to get another of my (incredibly important, of course) tick boxes done and see a movie. Specifically, Batman v Superman. I was excited, well, because it’s a superhero movie, and now the fifth South American country I’d been to the cinema. Halabi was excited because Gal Gadot is Israeli. After all the hate it’s gotten, I thought it was pretty decent, if slightly convoluted. If they’re looking for a new Clarke Kent at any point though…
I bussed to Valparaiso the next day, and met back up with Pamela, who I’d originally met in Puerto Natales. This came with the intrinsic benefit of a free place to stay – score! No, I’m not that kind of person really, honest! It did mean I had someone who would give me a personal tour of the city though, and I probably needed it.
Pamela insisted Valparaiso wasn’t dangerous – something I had only asked as others had suggested it might be – but frequently pointed out places not to go. Places I would have gone otherwise – like further up the hills, or deeper into the districts on the far side of plaza Sotomayor. What was nice though, was to go further than a few touristy areas, and get some more Chilean views on places. Much of the graffiti around, for example, had been done by people Pamela knew of, or on occasion, knew. I suspect that is rather common in Valparaiso – the heavy student influence is evident along with the politics eveywhere here. If I knew of such an artsy place in the UK, surely I would use it as a comparison. It’s probably near London.
The culture tour didn’t stop there though. I finally are some Chilean food other than a completo or chacarero – pastel jaiba being some sort of breadcrumbed crab pie, I think – and tasted pisco for the first time. Both pisco sour, and the ever tasty sounding piscola. Famed Chilean stubbornness reared its head here, in a debate about the best pisco – Chilean or Peruvian. Apparently not emphatically declaring Chilean on the basis that I still hadn’t tasted Peruvian pisco is not a valid argument. To be fair, it’s not bad, but I’ll have to taste some more before I decide whether it’s remotely as good as a Caipirinha.
All this culture was very well and good, but actually the most significant part of my stay was the realisation of just how poor my Spanish learning had become. I’d hoped that it would improve after I left Brazil but the amount of English spoken in hostels in Patagonia and the Lakes District had left it to stagnate. It was brought to the fore particularly when noting how much better Pamela’s German housemate’s Spanish was than mine, despite being in South America a much shorter time. Armed with this embarrassment though, i did my best to improve it before I left, and probably learnt more in 4 days than the previous two months. Some of it may only be applicable in Chile, but what does that matter? I practised some of this new vocab at a party we went to in Viña del Mar, as just about all of the at least 100 people hanging around this house were Chilean. Obviously, I was now word perfect.
There was only one important thing left to do in Valparaiso. With the day to organise for myself, I spent some time cooped up in a cafe, and was able to wish my brother a happy birthday. I even bought cake for him!