Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Santiago Continued - Chile

We spent the next day climbing and hanging out amongst the beautiful gardens and statues of the Cerro Santa Lucia which is a hill that has been developed into a pleasant public city park.  It also appeared to be a totally acceptable place for all ages of lovers to canoodle endlessly on walls and park benches but wait… this seemed to be the case all over the city!  Having been in Asia where you barely saw couples holding hands in public we were both quite amused and taken aback by the shows of public affection here.  I can’t think of anything wrong with it, but I think it is the dormant Brit in me which can’t totally stomach seeing dry humping in public without finding it a bit strange.  There’s nothing wrong with being passionate but these South Americans seem to be passionate about everything they do from religion to serving you a hotdog.

Cerro Santa Lucia

Some of the crazy steps at Santa Lucia

The view of Santiago from the top

We had heard that the central market was a nice place to eat so we decided to head there.  On the way we came across the main square of ‘Plaza de Armas’ where there were buskers strumming and playing blow-powered keyboards who we had a quick dance with.  There were also friends and strangers playing chess which was nice to see.  We saw a large group of people surrounding what turned out to be amateur comedians who take a stab at performing in public.  The ones who we saw appeared to be doing extremely well as the crowd roared with laughter.  Either it was the overfriendly Chilean practicing his English with us or the fact I took a couple of shots with the camera that gave us away but we were soon called to the center and certainly given a ribbing in Spanish that I couldn’t understand!  We put brave smiles on our faces and finally made it out of this surreal situation and headed towards the central market. 

By the time we arrived it had unfortunately closed but the surrounding shops were still open.  We decided to get something for dinner and headed to one of the many butchers.  After staring at the various wonderful meats on offer we opted for sirloin and got half a kilo’s worth in the form of two extremely fat steaks for less than four quid in total, not bad eh!  The stuff is as cheap as chicken here so we shall no doubt be eating a lot more.  After trying our hand at our best conversational Spanish one of the salesmen gave us a bit of a warning to watch out for robbers and wished us well.  We cooked back at the guesthouse and it was great to have a big fat juicy steak again. 

Chess in the Plaza des Armas

Dancing along with the buskers

Comedy in the square

The moment we get singled out!

On the 24th of May after a lazy morning breakfast at the guesthouse and a lack of success trying to find the elusive tourist information office we decided to head for the central market for lunch.  We had just entered it when a restaurant owner grabbed our business and having seen that his restaurant was jam packed with locals already we were happy to take a look at the menu and what a menu it was!  We had been recommended to try some native Chilean dishes so Kate had a chicken cazuela which consisted of a massive chicken thigh sharing the bowl of broth with a potato and a slice of squash.  The dish was huge and required us to learn the Spanish for ‘take away’.  My choice was a delicious seafood stew containing a mixture of mussels (large and small), clams, squid and white fish all for less than a fiver. 

My shellfish stew with the Cazuela in foreground
Some of the shellfish on offer in the central market

Some serenading guitarrists in the central market

After lunch we chatted to a security guard in the market in order for tips on where to go next.  He mentioned that there are lots of Chileans who visit a place further south called ‘Puerto Varas’, a scenic little town but an overnight bus ride.  As we didn’t have our hearts set on anything else we thought it would be a good decision for a trip.  He also recommended that we get our lips around a terremoto (literally translated as ‘earthquake’) cocktail in a traditional bar just across the road.  Having thrown a coin to the busker spinning wildly with a gigantic drum on his back and his keyboard blowing friend we strolled past a tramp relieving himself whilst lying down on a park bench to get our bus ticket and cocktails.  Deciding to take care of business later, we found the bar serving its infamous Chilean cocktail.  

Busker spinning with his drum

The bar had bouncers on during the day and we went down a narrow archway to a dimly lit and busy bar which had scrawling all over the walls.   As instructed we ordered the earthquake drink, one between us thankfully as it tasted mostly of alcohol and only slightly of pineapple.  There was a generous dose of ice cream on the top of it which turned it into a bit of a milkshake when mixed up which made it a lot more appetising.  Having shared the drink we squinted our way back into the daylight in order to get those bus tickets for the next day.   We decided to walk to the bus station which was the best part of two hours away by foot but we got to see lots of cool shops and buskers on the way.  Upon arrival at the station we secured our seats to Puerto Varas which would be an overnight 9pm until 9am twelve hour extravaganza although we had heard that the quality of buses in South America was good.  After we were all booked up we got the subway back again to spare the legs. 


Drinking the 'earthquake'

The wall in the Terremoto bar

On our last day in Santiago, the guesthouse let us hold the room (it really wasn’t busy) and after a quick visit to the cathedral, we headed straight back to the market for lunch again to try some of our new favourite dishes.  Afterwards we ended up chatting to a really friendly local who was initially trying to get us into his restaurant and although we had already eaten by this point, he didn’t mind helping us out with a bit of Spanish and explaining the Chilean dialect.  He mentioned that Chileans speak quickly and don’t even speak properly unlike Mexicans for example who he mentioned cause them to fall asleep whilst listening they took that long to say something.  It made us feel better as we were finding the Chilean dialect difficult to understand.

The Carabineros de Chile, national police and gendarmerie

Chatty restauarant worker

Our next tourist point of interest (on the advice of the same security guard/ one man information point) was the Virgin Mary Statue positioned prominently atop the San Crist√≥bal hill.  We saw lot of homeless on the way to the base of the hill asking cars at red lights for money, some of whom were fighting amongst themselves which was a little unnerving.  You could see lots of the homeless camped out under the bridges too.  Upon arrival we had the option to take the cable tram up the hill which we did as we had already spent enough time walking and didn’t fancy being hot and bothered by the time we reached the top.  The tram ride was cool and in true Chilean fashion it had buskers at the top and the bottom playing local songs and the odd Beatles classic.  The statue itself was nice to see up close.  You could go below the statue into a small decorated room and outside the view was quite spectacular.  The late afternoon sun was lighting up the west side of the statue and also brought out some great colours in the mountains too.  We stayed for the sun to dip behind the mountains and took a few shots with the camera.  On the way back down in the car we could the lights of Santiago being turned on which was quite spectacular.  

Inside the cathedral

Student dance group cleaning up the city

San Cristobal Hill

Kate from the top of the hill with Santiago in the background

Virgin Mary Statue

View from the statue at Sunset

View of the mountains at sunset

Cable car coming to drop off passengers

Back at street level we shared the pavements with the masses who were still finishing work long after 6pm and stopped at a bar for a drink on the way back along a busy street.  This street took us practically back to the guesthouse but before returning we bought and ate a couple of empenadas which are another local food a lot like pasties.  I chose one with meat and cheese and Kate had a chicken one.  They were so tasty that we bought a couple more different ones with tomatoes and olives to see us through the bus journey that evening.  Having collected our bags we made our way to the subway to reach to bus station.  We found our bus easily enough and as expected the seats were of a high standard although as we had gone budget they still weren’t especially comfortable to sleep in.  The assistant on the coach handed out a drink and a small biscuit to everyone and we tried to get some sleep after Narnia had finished on the pull down TV screens.

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