So, Chile is far away from LA. Like, real far. I hadn’t quite grasped this in my mind (the whole, Earth being round and big thing, not just east to west, but north to south), but it took us two six-hour flights, a four-hour layover and a five-hour time change to get down here (not to mention Patagonia, which is another 3 hour flight from Santiago and then a 4 hour drive from the airport!).
Partly to remember this myself, partly in case can we one day choose flights for reasons other than price, I think I’ll mention my (decidedly unexciting) thoughts on airlines as I fly them (so feel free to skip to the next paragraph should you care, as you might, less than two shits about my thoughts on Copa Air). We took Copa Air on both legs down to Santiago. Fine airplane, the one from LA to Panama was nice, with personal TVs for each seat, and plenty of space, they also give you free wine, lots of food, and they carry guyaba juice (guava) – my fave! The flight to Santiago was on a smaller, less luxurious plane (no personal TVs), but fine nonetheless. They let us carry on my backpacking backpack as a carry-on (which we were not able to do with LAN). LAN kinda sucks.
After making our way through immigration and customs, and paying our reciprocity fee of $160 PER PERSON (ouch! – though it is valid for entry to Chile for the life of your passport, so make sure you get a new passport before you go to Chile if you ever intend to come back. Or just be a non-American/Albanian/Mexican/British person), we grabbed a cab to our lovely hotel – L’astarria Boutique Hotel. Oh, the joy of a hotel paid for back when we were all fancy and employed. The place is super nice – in a great part of town, quick walk to a number of great options for food and nightlife, beautiful room (with a massive porch!), a lovely garden/pool area out back where you can enjoy your huevos in the mornings, and a fresh chocolate on your pillow every night. Also, they give you a little scroll with a quotation on it when you check in. Mine read, “Como todas las drogas, viajar requiere un aumento constante de las dosis.” Loosely translated this means: “Like all drugs, travel requires constant increasing doses.” Very apropos, L’astarria! As Alan and I realized during a minor splurge on our U.S. road trip, we do like the finer things in life (at least on occasion). This was no exception.
To kick off our trip, we walked over to Bocanariz for a late dinner and some Chilean wine tasting. They have an extensive wine list, I believe entirely composed of vinos Chilenos. They have suggested flights with a tasting of three wines, or you can create your own (as we did) by choosing from glass or tasting pours of 35 wines. All together I think we tried 8 wines. Wines were superb, food was good but not amazing. We really enjoyed The Casas Del Bosque Reserva Sauvignon Blanc (2012) from Casablanca, the Montescano Refugio Pinot Noir (2012) from Casablanca, and the Apaltagua Enero Carménère (2011) from Colchagua. Carménère is one of Chile’s signature wines and we have been ordering lots of Carménères since. Someone told us that the Chilean winemakers are fighting with France over labeling their wines as Carménère (how do like them apples Champagne?). Oh, and our waiter’s name was Juan Pablo. For all my Bachelor/Bachelorette watching ladies out there, can I get a “JUAN PABLO”!? Ah, Juan Pablo.
While in Santiago, I impressed Alan with my sprench (franish?), which is my ability to understand and speak (limited) Spanish based solely on my knowledge of French (and years spent living in LA?). I keep getting mistaken for someone who speaks Spanish/a local? This makes me happy, and I can pass it off much of the time, but I really hate that moment where they start speaking Spanish really fast and I have to sadly say “no hablo espagnol.” I even made Alan speak to me only in Spanish at times, and challenged myself to translate song lyrics I’ve sung along with forever, but never understood. Conquered: Levanta Levanta, tienes que bailar. Makes me wish we were practicing our language skills a bit more on this trip. Certainly won’t be doing much of that in Asia, unless I can quickly pick up Sinhalese or something. Odds are not looking good.
I’m pleased with how safe I feel in Santiago. Walking home at 1am, the streets were full of non-threatening, happy young people. In fact, we heard later that Chile has the lowest crime rate of South America. The city felt surprisingly similar to LA in ways, but for the cab drivers peeing on the streets and the homeless guys passed out on the riverside with a full size television at their feet.
The next morning we enjoyed the complimentary breakfast on the lovely terrace to the restaurant, which has a little pool and a garden. There’s almost a jungle-esque feel to it, all tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the streets. I was also reminded of how much I like the random fruit juices you get served at breakfasts internationally – mango, raspberry, mmm. What’s up with the lack of fruit juices in America. Who decided we must stop at orange?!
We decided to spend our day in Santiago doing our own little walking tour. We passed the River Mapacho, which looks like something out of Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (so brown!). We wandered all around town, stopping to ask locals on occasion where to find certain things, all of whom were super friendly and eager to assist. Hit up the Mercado Central (lots of fish), a market with lots of meat, then Mercado Vega (vegetables and other things). Went to the Plaza de Armas square, which is surrounded by a church and other beautiful buildings. There was a large fountain in the middle in which a handful of children were happily playing. On our way out of the park we heard music coming down the street and stopped to watch a rather impressive parade that we gathered was for premie babies. Batukada played drums impressively in the lead, and a lot of really cute kids came following by with shirts and posters reading, “Yo So Prematura.” On Matt’s suggestion, we popped back over to the Mercado for some bebidas fruitas. I ordered a passion fruit and mango smoothie, Alan smartly ordered the same with the addition of banana.
Then headed over towards San Cristobal where we hiked the short walk to the top. On the way we passed through Bella Vista area that was colorful and happening. Maybe it was the jet lag and/or dehydration and sunburn (what a tourist rookie move), but the climb was more strenuous than I’d anticipated. Actually, I later found out that the smog is so thick in the city that people occasionally have difficulty breathing here (coming from LA I find it difficult to imagine I’d notice much difference, but who knows. We’ll see what happens in China). The views from the top are lovely (albeit smoggy, but we Los Angelenos are not surprised by this). It looks like they host concerts up there sometimes. Going down, we took the funicular. Chile has a lot of funiculars. I don’t think I had ever heard that word before this week.
We walked back on Constitucion, which had a lot of nice restaurants with outdoor seating where people were enjoying pisco sours and vino to their heart’s delight. We couldn’t pull the trigger on any one place and so walked back over near our hotel to grab snacks. We ended up at a mediocre spot and shared some food (massive portions so we wound up taking the leftovers and giving them to a homeless man) and two pisco sours – one pica and one normal. I still don’t really understand the difference, but I did enjoy the piscos.
We chose the Clinic for dinner after fighting some serious jet lag. We ordered a bottle of Carménère that we’d tried the night before at Bocanáriz. It was a different vintage, and less delicioso, but still bueno. Unsure what to order food-wise, we asked the waitress if there was anything typical/traditional of Chileno cuisine and she recommended the house specialty – costillar ahumando – which consisted of ribs (of which animal she wasn’t sure, though it turned out to be pork), and papas which we chose to order spicy (piquante). I’m not certain what exactly was in those potatoes, but I’m fairly certain it was a mashed sweet potato with paprika and pepper and it was mui delicioso. The ribs were so-so, but the whole meal went very well with our Carménère.
Jenni’s Random Thoughts on Chile
Like many non-American countries, one cultural difference here is the pace. Much much slower. Slower walking, slower eating, though to be fair I think one restaurant we went to the waiter went home and forgot to tell someone else to cover our table (seriously), so perhaps our view is skewed by this.
I do get the sense that they take the time to love here. Maybe it’s the romantic nature of Latin culture, maybe it’s the perfect spring weather (remember, seasons are reversed down here), maybe it’s all the wine and pisco, but I saw a lotta people making out in Santiago. You don’t really see that anywhere in America, other than bars and clubs late night. And it ain’t quite so pretty. I saw people making out in parks, at a table at a restaurant mid-day… I saw lots of people holding hands, and I saw lots of people gently guiding their mothers and grandmothers through the bustling streets.
Every time it would get a bit cold, I’d habitually say, “it’s a bit chilly.” Alan thought this pun was amusing, and I thought it amusing that it amused him.
Dogs are everywhere and they are quite large for homeless dogs (Jenni speak for strays, but that sounds so inhumane). They (generally) look and are quite friendly. Except for one that snarled at a market-goer for coming too close to his bone. Also, there is no dog poo to be found in the streets. I don’t understand how it’s possible that in New York City I have to watch my step to avoid stepping in dog shit of pet owner’s pups, yet these homeless little hounds know how to hide their business. Also, I found Ryder’s long-lost Chilean cousin.
We didn’t see many Americans in or around Santiago, which was somewhat surprising. Nobody was in the line for the reciprocity fee (required for Americans, British, Albanians, and Mexicans) at the airport with us, there were no other Americans on our tour to Paraiso Del Mar, and we didn’t really notice any while wandering around town.
The next day we took a tour (through the company Enotour) up to Paraiso Del Mar, Vina del Mar, and a vineyard in Casablanca. We were picked up in a van at 9am, stopping to pick up a handful of others before we drove a few hours or so out of Santiago. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the group, which was eclectic. We were the solamente Americanos, together with a Mexican pilot, a Mexican-American woman now living in Idaho (near where we camped in Coeur D’Alene!), a family from Spain, an Israeli who works for Birthright, and her colleague from Argentina. The non-Americanos were proud of us for traveling the world and knowing our own country, unlike many Americans they’d met on their trip. We did, however, get a few awesome travel tips for spots in the U.S. we’ve yet to hit. My Spanish did not impress our tour guide, though I’m still proud to understand the amount I did having had no lessons or even spending much time in Spanish speaking countries in my life. However, due to the fact that I was the only non-Spanish speaking guest, Alan and I were shunned from the group wine tasting and received a private English version on the porch.
We made a quick first stop at a restaurant on the way to try some “chica” made from grapes. It tasted like apple cider to me. Here, we also learned that pisco is made from grapes and diluted with water. There is a debate as to whether pisco is really from Chile or Peru, our guide was adamant that it is Chile. Juries still out on that one, though we did learn that the difference between a Peruvian pisco sour and a Chilean pisco sour is caused by the lemons – which are big and sweeter in Chile and small and sour in Peru.
Next stop was Paraiso Del Mar. Paraiso es mui bella. Me gusta mucho. Winding narrow streets up the hillsides with the most colorful houses. There is amazing street art on the walls and alleys and staircases, and the buildings themselves are a bouquet of brilliance. Our guide informed us that one cannot change the color of the homes here. Again there were lots of stray dogs, but also cats now. Vina Del Mar was a bit more modern of a city, and I was less impressed with this one, though it was still charming. There is a working clock made of flowers (a gift from Germany), and there are horse drawn carriages taking tourists around.
For our wine fix we went to the Indomita vineyard in the Casablanca Valley, which is known primarily for its white wines, and also pinot noir. Perhaps the best thing I learned in this tasting is that they call Pinot Noir the Michael Jackson of wines, because it’s kind of white, but kind of red. We also tried their late harvest half Gewurtztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc, and a Cab (mui leathery). We enjoyed the nice lunch here with our group while listening to some live sax (before being sent outside for our private English tasting).
Back in Santiago we met up with Matt for drinks at Nolita. Such a funny, small-world connection. Matt’s girlfriend, Liz, used to work for my dad, and Matt is from Alan’s hometown, went to school with Alan’s brother, and knows their mother. Matt is living in Chile for a year, and he gave us lots of great tips on the area.