Monday, December 28, 2009

Chile, Day 1

As usual, I’m exhausted and don’t imagine I’ll write much in this entry. The reason I’m so tired is because my flight left Guayaquil at 11:30 p.m., and I wasn’t able to sleep at all for the 4 1/2 hour trip to Santiago. It didn’t help that LAN’s airline stewards didn’t turn off the cabin lights for most of the flight, which was apparently so they could try to sell duty-free items from their carts. It also didn’t help that one man two rows up snored insanely loudly the whole time, and that LAN’s seats tend to be ultra-small. Anyway, I arrived in Santiago at a little before 6 a.m., paid my $131 to enter the country (a punitive entry fee implemented after the US government decided to charge Chileans more for visa applications), then got a taxi for $26 into town – this was after paying $28 just to leave Ecuador. I knew traveling could be expensive, but this was a little more than I'd bargained for.

Going into town from the airport, the sky was colored in wild pinks and peaches. By the time I took this photo, the colors were more muted, but still it was pretty beautiful.

I checked in to my hotel before 7 a.m., but of course no room was available, so the desk staff suggested I just relax in the café and have breakfast. I didn’t want to hang out for five hours, but I was worthless by that point and was willing at least to eat a little. I ended up getting toast, coffee, yoghurt, a cup of canned fruit, a piece of coffeecake, and a slice of ham and cheese.

The $7 price tag was a little steep, but starting tomorrow, if I want it, the breakfast is free.

The tables are squeezed in before the elevators. Not your standard dining room layout...

Luckily, a room opened up and by 8:30 I was able to dump my stuff in my room and finally get to sleep. I took a 2 1/2 hour power nap and then decided to do the walking tour of Santiago that was in my guidebook.

At the very starting point of my walk, some really big, 50-something drunk guy with a limp decided he wanted to fight me, so he hurried over to me as I was taking photographs, moved his fists in front of him like a poorly trained boxer, and circled around me two or three times. He was starting to get really excited, yelling at me in Spanish I couldn’t understand, so I took a couple more photos and just walked the fifty feet I had left to enter the Estación Mapocho, an impressive looking cultural center (it was mostly filled with cafes, galleries, and what appeared to be a small reading room) that was once a railway center. Since he was drunk and limping I didn’t need to hurry, but his rather feeble parting swing at me made it clear that he wanted to rumble. It was all really bizarre, especially since this was my first interaction with anyone in Chile outside of my hotel. But it wasn’t a big deal; it’s just something to jot down in my blog, really.

In any case, from there I crossed the street and wandered around the Mercado Central.

There were touts all over the place trying to get me to eat at their restaurant, but before I decided on a place I wanted to check out the seafood selection there, as it’s said to be great. Personally, I thought it was only fair – it certainly doesn’t compare to seafood markets that I’ve seen in Asia – but maybe I chose a bad day or came at the right time.

After wandering around for a bit I settled on a place called Pailas Blanca, which specialized in a dish called – what else? – pailas blanca.

From what I could gather it was a stew consisting of mussels, scallops, octopus, and fish, and was topped with cheese. Aside from the occasional piece of shell I found when eating, it was pretty good – salty, but in an oceanic kind of way. It cost 5500 pesos, which is US$10.86 – a reasonable price, I guess.

From the central market I continued walking. I soon reached the Plaza de Armas, which was packed with people walking, shopping, watching “plaza theater,” and browsing paintings and crafts set up between the Catedral Metropolitana and the main post office, which is in a beautiful converted house built in 1882.

I dragged myself away from this great people-watching area and walked past the Ex-Congreso Nacional building, the Tribunales de Justicia, and then entered a nicely kept, small area called Plaza de la Constitución. Behind the plaza is the Palacio de la Moneda, and then further on, past several other sites, is the Cerro Santa Lucía, where I was accosted by one after another tout trying to get money from me “to help for their schooling.”

A statue of former President Allende being washed.

By the time I finished my walk I was tired and thirsty, so I headed home to relax at the upstairs pool of my hotel, which is actually in an apartment building next door. The views here are fantastic.

When I got my energy back I decided to walk to an area only a block away that’s well known for its cafes. I chose a good one – Café Mosqueto, the design of which is focused on writing and writers. I ordered a bottle water, a macchiato, and a “cheese cake de bizcocho de chocolate, ricotta y salsa de frambuesa.” Whatever that says, it’s pretty good. All of this ended up costing me about $7, which is fine – I went a little overboard, obviously, which is kind of my habit…

Outdoor seating area of Cafe Mosqueto.

After this I headed back home to rest. At around 7, with no sign of dusk, I tried to get a recommendation for a place to eat good Chilean food near the hotel, but the worker kept recommending places that were so far away they didn’t even appear on my various maps. I thanked him for nothing and then got a recommendation from another guest, who was immensely helpful. He basically told me to hit Barrio Bellavista and to take my pick from the many good restaurants there. Only 10-15 minutes away, it sounded good to me. And I’m glad I went – not because of the dinner I had, but because the neighborhood is so beautifully bohemian and interesting.

I ended up choosing a place that I’d seen listed in my guidebook – El Caramaño.

I was seated at a table squeezed between a large party and the door, and I couldn’t even fit into my chair because there simply was no room.

So I asked for another table, sat down, and ordered fried conger eel, a small salad, and a beer. The place itself was nice, the service was moderately friendly, and the food was all right. Definitely not worth the $20 tab, which included a fourth item that I couldn’t get an explanation for. I don’t know if they tacked something extra on, but they didn’t do much of a job of explaining it to me. I don’t think I’d recommend this place based on my experience, though lots of people apparently like it. I’m sure it helps if you can speak Spanish better than I do.

After dinner I continued to walk around the barrio, and came across a number of interesting restaurants, bars, cafes, outdoor shops, beautiful wall paintings, and gobs and gobs of people – and virtually no one by themselves.

Everyone here seems to be with other people. It’s kind of amazing, really. And the parks are filled with canoodling couples. There is serious canoodling going on in Santiago.

Actually, this wall painting was in a different part of town -- right where the guy tried to start a fight with me, in fact...

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  1. Lovely & somtimes strange pictures,...hahahaha!

    Thanks for sharing, my friend!

  2. Sophie: Thank you! Yes, there are all kinds of strange paintings on the walls in this neighborhood. It's very bohemian -- I could wander these streets for days and never get bored. Thanks for your comment, Sophie!