Touring & Skiing Santiago

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Days 304-310 (May 28-June 3, 2017):

We departed our first South American country, bound for Chile.  The intense snowfall through the pass had subsided and the roads had been cleared enough for bus travel to finally be possible.  We boarded a bus that took us through the lower, sandy foothills of the Andes on the Argentinian side and up into the mountains.  We were amazed when we reached the border crossing, set high in the Andes at over 13,000 feet above see level.  The views of the snow covered peaks were fantastic and it was remarkable how much the temperature had dropped during our ascent.   We shivered as we waited in line to get our stamps.  We had our baggage searched by a very enthusiastic K-9 officer, who rooted out an old banana peel from one of the other passengers bags and walked away very pleased with himself, before we reboarded the bus for our decent to the countries capital of Santiago.

Arriving in Santiago, we quickly located our Airbnb and then set out into town to explore and get some grub.  We arrived on the day the city was alive with people out participating in a cultural and military fair.  We passed the Presidential Palace and happened upon various street performers, including a troupe of men and women in traditional dress performing choreographed heritage dances and three men decked out in drums doing a spirited danced and spinning routine while playing their instruments.  We passed loads of people waiting in line to check out the inside of different government buildings, museums, and military vehicles on our way to the Plaza de Armas (main square).  There, we found a restaurant serving up Chilean specialties for a good price and hunted ourselves down a table.  We pretty much all decided to try the churrasco completo, a well-known Chilean steak sandwich.  We quickly discovered that the Chilean people are OBSESSED with condiments.  Anything ordered “completeo” comes with mashed avocado, tomato, and mayo.  However, the amount of these three things they put on the sandwich (or hotdog) is literally insane.  While the meat and bread were delicious and well-seasoned, there was so much avocado and mayo on our sandwiches, it made me feel almost sick.  We were literally spooning gobs of topping off of our sandwiches in big piles and nearly all of us still had belly aches afterwards (I personally could not even think about mayonnaise for a couple days without my stomach churning).  But, now that we were aware, we were more prepared to navigate the cities culinary delights.

The next day, we set off again top explore more of the cities main sights and also to sample more of its famous cuisine.  We started by going back past the palace, where there were now significantly less people and provided for better pictures.  We stopped for our first Chilean hotdog at a famous chain called Domino.  There, we feasted on hotdogs topped with bacon, barbecue sauce, cheese, onion, avocado, tomato, mayo, or some combination of these ingredients, now knowing full well the Chilean love of condiments.  We then returned to the Plaza de Armas, this time ready to actually tour the surrounding buildings.  We went to the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral and the Central Post Office, both of which offered beautiful architecture and a rich history.  From there we wandered down the famous pedestrian street, Puente, stopping at a vendor to try another local specialty, mote con huesillo.  It is a sweet iced tea of sorts filled with half peaches and husked wheat.  Although you had to get used to chewing your beverage, I actually really enjoyed the taste of it and got another one later in our trip.  We continued on to the central market.  Just outside there was a place selling the famous Chilean empanadas, so we stopped in and tried a queso one before entering the market.  In the market, we wandered around the outside stalls selling fresh fish and other seafood, and also had a look at the large, open interior of the market, which housed several cute, although slightly overpriced restaurants.  We left the market and strolled along one of the main streets, stopping briefly once again to try another street food specialty of Chile, sopaipillas.  Sopaipillas are deep fried pieces of bread typically topped with a variety of spicy, citrus, or garlic flavored sauces and sold from vendor carts for less than 30 cents a piece.  These were one of my favorite discoveries.

Finally about full, we strolled into the famous Barrio Bellavista, the hip bohemian neighborhood of the city.  The area is very close to the university, is covered in interesting street art, and is full of unique bars and restaurants catering to the young and fabulous.  We enjoyed a look around some of the streets before making our way to a shop to arrange our ski trip for the following day.  After our tour was arranged we walked deeper into Bellavista headed for Cerro San Cristobal.  It is one of two famous hills in the city and is well known for the Sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception with its 30+ foot statue of the Virgin Mary on top.   The peak is supposed to provide unparalleled 360 views of Santiago and the surrounding mountains.  While there is a cable car that can take you to the top for a reasonable price, we opted instead to do the hike to the top.  It was a good hike, and the statue at the top was very nice.  However, our views of the mountains were extremely diminished by the amount of smog blanketing the city.  I absolutely loved Santiago as a city, but they are definitely dealing with a similar pollution issue due to rapid growth and population that cities like L.A. were dealing with in the 1970s and 1980s.  From what we heard, the city is taking steps to try and reduce their emissions and control their pollutant problem, but it is going to take some time to get those clear views back.  We descended the hill again, stopped for a quick beer, and returned to the apartment for the night.

We were awake super early the next morning to go skiing.  Our driver picked us up and took us to a shop where we got our rental gear and clothing (we all decided to rent ski pants and gloves for the outing).  Then, we headed up the mountain.  The drive was pretty neat, with lots of curves and stunning views of the mountains.  It was really bizarre to be driving up the road past slopes covered in cacti and then to suddenly be above the frost line, where the mountain was blanketed in snow.  We were headed for the ski resort called La Parva.  It was recommended to us by the tour company as one of the cheaper and less crowded resorts good for all experience levels.  And with the recent snowfall allowing the slopes to open for the first time this season, we were there at the perfect time.  So, we arrived, got all suited up, and headed up the mountain on our first run.  It was incredibly fun skiing down the slopes, feeling the clean cold air rush past you.  Katie was a novice skier, but we had a blast teaching her how to properly cut and stop.  She had some issues with one of the lifts that resulted in some entertaining situations in which her and Justin had to crawl through about three feet of fresh powder to reach a spit they could stand and continue skiing.  There were also a couple hilarious falls throughout the day.  It was great being out there on the near empty slopes.  I have never been skiing somewhere where I could be cutting through powder that nobody else had ever touched that day.  It was awesome!  We stopped and ate our packed lunch at the lodge around midday, allowing our legs to rest before heading out for a couple more runs.  We did one last long run down the mountain before hanging up our skis and climbing back in the van for the trip back to Santiago.

The next two days were not too exciting.  On Joey’s last day, Katie, Justin, and him went out in search of steak and eggs, which are another specialty in Chile, while Adam and I slept in a bit longer.  We finally made it out about lunch time, heading back to Domino for another delicious hotdog.  That morning there was quite an uproar in the city as a student and teachers union protest turned violent.  Protesters through rocks at police and the riot cops were brought in to shut it down.  Protests are fairly common throughout South America and the riot police are almost always present, but this was the first time we saw it become anything but marching, chanting, and sign-waving.  The streets affected were closed down and tear gas and hoses were used to subdue the protesters who turned violent.  The excitement ended fairly quickly however, and the city was back to normal after just a few hours.  The rest of the evening we just relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company.  Joey left for home early the next morning.  The four temporary nomads then packed their bags and headed for our new, smaller apartment a couple of blocks over.  We decided that we didn’t feel up to doing much again, so Katie and I went across the street, loaded up on cheap booze and junk food, and proceeded to have a house party.  We played power hour, reminisced about some of our favorite travel experiences so far, and planned our next moves.  Needless to say it turned into an early night.

Waking up, we were refreshed and ready to see just a little more of the city before we headed north to the desert.  We started by packing a lunch and heading into town towards Santiago’s other famous hill, Cerro Santa Lucia.  This hill and accompanying park contains several grand structures, fountains, and stairways, leading to a terrific view at the top.  There is even an old cannon fired daily at noon.  We hiked up to the very top of the hill, snapped some pictures, and then found a nice place in the grass to have a picnic.  We played euchre and ate our sandwiches, admiring the surrounding mountains (the smog was much less heavy today).  We also secretly drank wine after discovering it was not allowed in the park.  After we were done, we took a long ambling walk back to our apartment and got ready for the night’s festivities: a soccer match at the national stadium.  We boarded the subway that evening and after a minor mishap regarding what stop to get off we found the entrance.  We were watching Chile’s national team play Burkina Fasa, as part of the world cup qualifiers.  It was really awesome getting to see the team play, and especially seeing the section behind one of the goals that is always blocked off in memory of those killed in the stadium after in became a prison camp during the 1973 military coup.  We cheered the Chilean team on to a 3-0 victory over the small African nation and learned several new and easy to remember cheers (Chileeeeeeeeeee…………….chile chile chile!).  It was a great way to end our time in this awesome South American capital.

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