Adventure Girl sets her sights on Santiago
I am sorry to be leaving Santiago after only a few days. The Chilean people are playful and irreverent. They seem proud of their city and want you to like it, too. Wherever you go, someone takes you under their wing, whether it’s to make a cup of tea (when you attempt to ask for bottled water), teach you a Chilean phrase (when you inadvertently tell them they’re fat and you’re pregnant), or let you into a private party uninvited (in our case, after we attempted some sight-seeing and found ourselves trespassing).
Narrowing down our choice of adventures has proved another challenge. My travel companion and I aren’t quite on the same page when it comes to priorities for activities and sight-seeing (my love of serenity conflicts with her love of bustle), but the net result is that I probably pushed her to do things she wouldn’t normally (like trekking up the side of a mountain, rather than taking the funicular at Cerro San Cristobal), while she has taken me to trendy nightspots and pushed for us to get let in uninvited where I’d ordinarily shrink away, defeated.
So far we’ve come to some pretty spectacular compromises. Like every self-respecting Australian tourist, we headed everywhere wearing our boots and backpacks, phrasebook and Lonely Planet in hand, and still managed to successfully gatecrash a promotional party at a converted convent, fire not-quite paintball rifles at an almost-gun club meet, and score free drinks while dragging a group of Chileans into a debate about where we ought to go next.
‘Valparaiso! You must go to Valparaiso!’
‘No, no, see Vina del mar.’
‘He only says that because he comes from there…’
Later we dined in the QV of Santiago and saw Chile’s answer to Mr Bungle-meets-Interpol at a student-ish nightspot. (Tip: when in Chile if you look like a lost tourist, stare blankly at people and smile, they will let you in places no matter what you wear).
The next day we climbed the mother of all creepy Jesus hills to see the Virgin at Cerro San Cristobal, before hopping across the less savoury part of town to the Cemeterio General, only to discover Chileans know how to do death in style. There’s nothing gaudy about these enormous art-deco inspired crypts. Most are labelled with simple inscriptions and subtly overgrown greenery, and with one exception (which I managed to track down and photograph), the cemetery is not at all creepy, but warm and serene, so that you forget about the proximity to so many bodies, except as people who were loved and remembered and who you’d quite like to spend an afternoon visiting (though I’m not sure I’m sold on the Coke vending machines and ice-cream vans parked inside).
Still, that saw us through a few jet-lagged days followed by late-night dinners with crisp Chilean vino and local musica before we parted ways early this morning.
I never made it to Valparaiso or Vina Del Mar; I didn’t want to risk getting stuck too far from the airport, considering I was flying out at 9.30am, and Latin Americans seem to go on strike fairly regularly, closing their doors and leaving you stranded. Besides, there’s plenty to do and see in Santiago…on this trip anyway.