Saturday, April 29, 2006

Santiago, Chile (2 days)

Santiago was a bit of a shock to the system after being in small towns for so long. Arrived into the bus station and bought several bus tickets that we would need for the next week. Long line at the ticket counter due to ´Semana Santa´ which is Easter weekend and a huge deal down here- many people head home for the weekend (the next day).

Taxi to Barrio BellaVista, check into Hostel BellaVista. Immediately set off to resolve Ali`s flea problem, but all of the lavanderia´s are completely full since everyone is getting their laundry done for the long weekend and they are shut the next day with Good Friday. Pass a pet store on the walk back to the hostel, and head in to ask their advice! Since our spanish sucks, owner puts me on the phone to his colleague who speaks french. In french I say ¨my friend has a flea problem¨ and he says, ¨is your friend a cat or a dog?¨ I say, ¨she´s a woman¨, and he says, ¨well, you´re in the wrong place, you have to go to a pharmacy!¨ It was extremely funny at the time...

So back at the hostel, I called the chilean guide from my hike at the Puyuhuapi Thermal Spa, Cristiàn, who I knew was in Santiago at the moment. He comes over and the three of us go for an Arabic dinner, with hummus and lots of yummy foods that we haven´t had in ages. Cristiàn is trying to network this evening in order to establish himself as a photographer. He has a ticket to a local event where a chilean `70`s band called Los Haivas is doing a special evening where the aged members of the band will play some music. All of their music albums had a distinct artwork on their covers by one man, and this artist will be at the event, talking about his art. We decide to take in some local culture, so join. Many dedicated fans are in the room. After answering questions, the band starts to play and the artist starts to paint on a large canvas at the front of the room, a picture of a native guy looming over some mountains and in front of the sun- think they must have done fair share of drugs in the `70`s! Was interesting. Afterwards, we head to a bar with some of his friends for some drinks.

Next morning in Good Friday. Wake up to a very clear blue sky day and a quiet city with the holiday- not at all what I expected in smoggy Santiago. Ali and I decide to spend the day separately, some needed time apart. I head up to Cerro San Cristobal, which is a large hill in Santiago with what looks like some of the only green space in the city. Take a funicular up to the top. Walk up to a massive statue of the Virgin Mary which is on the highest point of the hill. Is very busy with today being Good Friday and all. Go for walk on road that snakes up hill- is similar to Vancouver´s seawall in that this is where people that live in Santiago go for their bike riding and running exercise. Is busy. Take gondola across hill (much bigger hill than I had first thought) to the botanic garden, which totally sucked and was big disapointment.

Return to bottom of hill and call Cristiàn. We meet at Pablo Neruda´s house (one of three in Chile). For anyone who doesn´t know, Pablo Nerudo was a very famous chilean- an eccentric poet/politician. He had all of his houses designed to look like ships, and he collected everything from the wooden figures that used to adorn the front of tallships, to shoes and store signs and artwork of watermelons, all to be displayed in his cluttered houses. Got a great guided tour of his house. Cristiàn was interested since Pablo grew up in a town south of Santiago called Temuco, which is where he is from. Spend the afternoon walking around the barrio with Cristiàn and then dinner. Share a bottle of wine with Ali before heading to the bus station for our night bus back to Argentina (how many times have we crossed this border?!) to spend the weekend in the wine capital of Argentina, Mendoza.

After weekend in Mendoza, return to Santiago for one day. Decide to check out a different area of town, so stay at the Plaza de Armas Hostel, which is on the sixth floor of what feels like a very old office building, and looks out over the Plaza de Armas- the very heart of Santiago. Since we are downtown, find a sushi restaurant (how long has it been?) and devour some yummy sushi. Take the subte (subway) back to barrio BellaVista to try and sell our guidebooks to our previous hostel since we will soon be in Peru. Meet up with Cristiàn again and go to visit his grandmother briefly who lives in a different barrio, a more posche one. Have some drinks with Cristiàn this evening and try to psych myself up for what awaits the next morning- a 27hr. bus ride through the north half of Chile, from Santiago to Arica, which is at Peru´s border.

Since we had to book the Inca Trail for an earlier date than planned, we now have no time to explore the entire north half of Chile. There´s too much to see! Not enough time! Doesn´t bother me since we got to do so much hiking in the beautiful bottom half. On our bus journey north, we see some gorgeous beaches that we wished we could stop at, and much dry rock and sand dunes. The northern part of Chile is supposedly drier than the Sahara desert- there is no definitely no sign of plant life. The bus ride wasn´t too too bad- they serve you meals on board and play movies (in spanish of course) and the seats recline a long way. We are finally on one of the famed ´Cama´ buses, which we had heard so much about but not gotten to enjoy until now. Buses down here are definitely light years ahead of our smelly and slow Greyhound buses at home.


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