Santiago is huge city. How can you start with it?
Incidentally I discover that Maja, a friend from collage has lived here for several months already. This is an ideal opportunity to meet her and hear some stories about realities of living in Chile.
I think in every capital it is tricky to enjoy the peace and tranquility which are more typical to the countryside. Santiago is no exception. The skyline is dominated by high-rise buildings. Modern subway operates for the benefit of residents, there is well developed urban infrastructure and – notably cleaner and safer streets that those found in other capitals of Latin America.
Social status remains of great importance for everyday life. Foreigners often are privileged in the job market, often for being better qualified, or at least perceived that way by employers. Having a nice job means you can easily afford a lavish lifestyle. Nowadays, a rooftop pool, house cleaner, doorman and a private underground parking became a standard that clearly make social inequality even more visible.
In the course of a few days Majka and her boyfriend Jose show us the city. A common way to spend weekend evening is a house party with friends (this time among several astronomers!). It is often combined with barbecue (parilla) that starts as late as two at night when everyone is already starving.
During the day we visit some interesting places such as lavish, full of historic buildings and monuments promenade Barrio Bellas Artes. Then we come to the backpackers district Baquedano. It is a paradise for hunters of sensationally cheap (or at least good-value) bars, cafes and restaurants. From here we ascend to the viewpoint of Cerro San Cristobal (869m above sea level) that sports perfect view of the diverse architecture of the city and surrounding mountains.
During the break, apart from usual beer, one can try products from local microbreweries, so-called. cerveza artesanal. Another interesting drink is called ‘michelada’. It is a drink made of beer mixed with sour juice served in glass frosted with salt. Maja, Jose and probably many other Santiaguinos love it, but in my case I might use a few (dozens) months for get used to that salty taste. There is nothing like a standard, one-liter Escudo or Cristal.
Around the capital
Over the course of one month travel to Chile with Dorota and Światek, we managed to visit the far north and the middle south of the country, as well as some surroundings of Santiago.
We spent some hours in La Serena, a very neat and developing coastal town. It is also a starting base for pisco producing regions. Pisco is an alcohol similar to cognac, the quality of which is at least at par with the French produce.
We stroll through the historic alleys and colorful restored streets of the city, once plagued by pirate attacks and completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1730.
Viña del Mar and Valparaiso are two other coastal towns in Santiago. Wandering around the narrow, winding streets filled with colorful houses is pure fun. We start from the uphill trip with one of the historic, dating to a hundred years ago, elevators (ascensores) that resemble a cross between a tram and a gondola. The ride costs 100 Chilean pesos, which is only several cents.
As we climb the hills of the city, the panoramic view gets wider. It reaches the surrounding hills, irregular buildings of Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Alegre districts up the bay with several warships in harbor.
A few hours to the south there is a town of Talca. I get here and stay with Nadia who I met on Couch Surfing.
She shows me around the city, which has partially been destroyed by the earthquake in 2010. She is very hospitable girl, studying theater play and interested in traveling. From the local delicacies it is interesting to try a cereal drink with peach inside – mote con huesillo, as well as eat Chilean version of a hot dog. The one made with tomatoes, sauerkraut and mayonnaise is called completo, and the other with avocado, tomato and lots of mayonnaise is called italiano – not for the origin of recipe but for its resemblance to the colors of the Italian flag.
Talca is a starting point for exploring Reserva Nacional Altos de Lircay. To get there, you first take a bus to Vilches Alto. Unfortunately I missed the only morning bus, luckily I managed to get there with a few hitch-hike rides.
Most people stay in the park for some days walking with a backpack and camping. I decide to make it more intense. As part of the warm-up I run a couple shorter routes and then hike Enladrillado, a trip scheduled for two easy or one intense day. It takes me about 5 hours to finish the route of 28km / 1900m D + (positive elevation).
This is a mountain trail leading to the frying-pan flat top, a place perceived by conspiracy theorists as UFO landing strip. Being under time pressure, it turns out that after returning back I manage to be in good time to enjoy a one liter bottle of Cristal waiting for the last bus :-)