The final bus ride of the trip, and she's a doozy! 24 hours from San Pedro in the northern desert to Santiago in the country's central region matching the longest ride we've taken. Anyone who has followed this blog, even slightly, will have read an account (or many) by now of some long, often hellish journey by bus...it's almost always how the blog posts begin. I hope we didn't come off as whiny; for us writing about them made them more bearable, plus it's important to note for when we look back fondly on the trip that it's wasn't all roses on the road.
That said, I guess we're getting used to it by now, because even though it wasn't by any means fun; this one wasn't too bad at all. We've got our system down by now:
For starters, comfort matters- buy the more expensive, comfortable tickets if available (the difference for this ride was ~$1/person/hour- hella worth it!!).
Next, take care of your body- bring plenty of reasonably healthy food, snacks and water.
Mind follows body- keep it occupied: charge all devices and download podcasts or movies and be sure you've got fresh reading material.
Fourth: medicate. A few OTC sleeping pills can be a God send. In a pinch, a bottle of wine will take the edge off.
Following these simple steps, we arrived in Santiago feeling reasonable and made quick time across town to the other thing we have blogged ad nauseum about; accommodation. Thankfully the weekend was to be spent in our last little AirBnB apartment. It was smaller then some, certainly not our best find...but, it had any hostel in town beat on comfort and any decent hotel beat on price. We made for the grocery store to stock up on supplies for our long weekend in town then returned to cook some dinner and take it easy that evening.
Day 2 in Santiago started with the 3rd recurring theme of our little blog: exercise and coffee. We headed out for a long-ish run along the river and through the closest green part of the city map and ended with a swing through town to pick up the most consistently mediocre cup of coffee anywhere in the world; Starbucks. The lesson we've learned here is three fold: 1) you will feel exponentially better after a travel bender if you get in some exercise...even if it is jogging through one of the continent's smoggiest cities; something Santiago is certainly notorious for. 2) A jog through town is a great way to orientate yourself in a new city and to check it all out and scope the scene. And 3) Mediocre is way, way better then awful. When you're in a region known for a certain specialty, then definitely, 100% seek out the local shops- case in point, Coffee in Colombia; but when you're in a region whose idea of a cup of coffee is Nescafé instant that tastes like black death; avoid it like the plague. Which brings me to point 3a): there is a lot to be said for consistency, particularly when it comes to something as vitally important to us as coffee.
That afternoon we spent, as we most always spend our first day in a big city: clocking up the miles by foot. We trucked across town in one direction and back in another...we found a few different markets and enjoyed a picnic lunch in the park: bread, cheese, tomato and avocado (called "palta" in this part of the world) before we found ourselves tired and retreated to the apartment for a little dinner and R&R.
Day 3 began with a quick gym session at a decent spot we found during our jog the first morning before we headed out to figure out and navigate the city's subway system to the big mall across town; we were on the hunt for a few particular items we'd not found at the markets the previous day and our research pointed to this as the best bet in the city.
A side note, and secondary reason for heading out that way was it's proximity to the restaurant we'd selected to be our final celebratory dinner of the trip: La Mar; an experience which lends itself excellently to the 4th recurring theme of the trip and definitely one of our favorites: FOOD!!
It's come in all shapes and forms and flavors and levels of exoticness and price, but by in large it has been awesome! One of our favorite dishes during the travels has been Ceviche in Perú and during our first spin through Chile earlier in the trip so it was a no brainer for us as to where (and what) we'd be eating Peruvian cuisine...and La Mar didn't disappoint...
We were early; nobody sits down to eat dinner before 8 in Santiago, so we were definitely the first customers at the restaurant when we showed up at quarter-to for our reservation. This gave us ample time to enjoy a Pisco Sour cocktail at the bar before we were seated. Imagine a margarita, but foamier and sweeter. (Pisco is a brandy made from grapes and is the national liquor of both Perú and Chile (but don't mistake Pisco Sours as Chilean, especially if speaking to a Peruvian - the rivalry between the two countries extends far past the soccer field).
Once seated, the meal began with a bowl of these amazing fried corn-nut type things which I can't remember the name of for the life of me; they were still warm and perfectly salty. If I could eat them everyday, I would.
Next, we had a variety of potato chips accompanied by 3 salsas...Perú has over 3000 varieties of potato that come in all shape and size...these chips were colorful and varied in their size and shape which lent to a nice variety of texture. The salsa ranged from spicy to sweet. La Mar was batting 3 for 3 going into the main course portion of the event.
The Ceviche arrived as if delivered by an angel- I swear I saw a ray of light shine upon it and heard a few strums of a harp come down from heaven as it hit the table. The fish was piled high and cut in large, uneven slabs and was accompanied by a slice of raging hot chili pepper (so the customer could adjust the heat themselves by adding as much or little as desired) and a pile of boiled corn. Get that image of canned "Green Giant", sickly yellow, genetically modified corn out of your head right now! Each of these corn cornels was the size of a US nickel, blanched, then seasoned lightly and with a texture more similar to potato then any corn you'd find in a "western" country. The fish was firm, well cooked from the lime bath it had been soaking in and topped with a few sprigs of cilantro for good measure (coriander for any Aussies or Brits out there). Lastly, the meal was washed down by a nice bottle of chilled local Sauvignon Blanc. The result: perfection on a plate. G and I are convinced Ceviche, when done exquisitely, is one of the world's most perfect meals.
Unfortunately, we went against our better judgment (meaning Gina's) and instead of doubling down on the Ceviche when we ordered mains, we went for the diversification move: a Peruvian inspired sushi roll- an error in judgment I place squarely on my own shoulders. Look, it was good and it most certainly did NOT go un-eaten...but it never really stood a chance against the Zeus of dishes.
Day 4: Sunday and the day of rest. A sleep in and a lazy morning helped with the dustiness from the night's celebration which did not stop with just the 1 bottle of Sauv Blanc...but, by mid day we were headed out to get a bit of culture: recurring theme numero cinco of our attempt at blogging. We headed for the Museum of Memory and Human Rights to get our learn on.
This museum focused on the years of dictatorship during the military regime of Pinochet between 1973 and 1990, and although the museum is 90% in Spanish...we picked up enough to send shivers down our spines. Tales of torture, oppression and disappearances were outlined in detail by the many, amazing multi-media exhibits. It's a story you don't hear much about during a typical [American] education and it took place, by and large, during our lifetime which is always mind blowing to try to comprehend. We've had a number of visits to places like this that tell the story of human cruelty, greed and savagery (Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Dachau in Munich, Killing Fields in Cambodia- to name a few) and although they're not the most "fun" days along the road they're definitely some of the most memorable and powerful...and, in my humble opinion, should be required visits for anyone lucky enough to visit a place where such horrific events have occurred. If nothing else it's humbling to realize how lucky we were to be born where and when we were.
Dinner at the apartment, the last of South America and what else besides our favorite self catered travel dinner: black bean burritos. It really is sick to note that we couldn't even field a guess as to how many times we ate this on the trip...and reviewing the entirety of the blog would not provide the answer since we either purposely omitted several times or, once or twice, blatantly lied about what we ate for fear of people thinking we were going insane.
That night: the all-to-familiar pack up. Every piece of travel kit has it's place by now, and even carrying a few extras at this point, this is a piece of cake. The golden rule here being the per always right 80/20 rule: have 80% ready to go the night before, leaving only 20% for the day of departure for a stress free and on time exit from the place of residence.
Up and at 'em early and out for a final gym session and coffee. We've learned that just like exercise after a travel bender is a life saver, a bit of exercise before a 14 hour plane flight can be invaluable. A shower, final tidy up and out the door to flag a taxi for the short ride to Santiago International where a Qantas plane awaited to whisk us, yet again, across the Pacific for the final "Exclamation Point" of the trip and the last vacation from vacation: 2 weeks in Australia and New Zealand before tucking tail and making a break back to the good ol' US of A.
It was bittersweet getting on that plane. On the one hand we were beyond excited to get back "down unda" to see our friends. On the other we were capping off quite a bit; 18 months of travel and 7 months in Latin America.
What to say? It's been a hell of a ride- Mexico to Patagonia is a long ways after all, and although initially unplanned, Latin America has proven to be one of the highlights of the trip and I'm already looking forward to another visit!
¡Hasta la vista!