We left Lima Peru early in the morning and caught a 3 hour flight south to Santiago Chile to meet up with our good friends Andrew and Nicola. They had arrived quite a bit earlier but elected to tough it out and wait for us to arrive at the airport. We spent the majority of our four days in Santiago walking around the city, taking in the sights and sipping on litre bottles of cerveza on streetside patios.
We stayed in Bario Bellavista and our hostel was a short two blocks from the nightlife strip, consisting of several blocks of patios jammed with people, a very fun and entertaining environment. One of the first things that we noticed about Santiago was that the peso was completely out of whack (440 pesos equals $1CDN) but the city was extremely expensive, the most expensive city we visited in South America.
Santiago is a very large, modern city that could rival that of any major North American city. The mountain backdrop in the city reminded us of Vancouver but much bigger. It too has been raided by the typical North American business such as Subway, McDonalds, Holiday Inn, Blockbuster, Pizza Hut, etc but, much like Buenos Aires, it has a mixture of European and South American influences in its architechure and layout. We arrived on a Friday afternoon which meant that most businesses were closed on the Saturday and Sunday, so the city felt somewhat deserted. We hiked up a hill in Bellavista that looks over the entire city and got the true scale of this booming metropolis, along with its blanket of haze and pollution. It is an impressive and very liveable city that really does not feel like a South American city at all. I´m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing though!
When in Buenos Aires the month before we were set on watching a soccer match but unfortunately missed our opportunity before moving on. We set the same goal for Santiago and were determined to make it out to a soccer game and witness the fanatic atmosphere that South American fans are known for. Goal achieved! (okay maybe a little pun intended). We met three British travelers at our hostel and our eager team set off for a Sunday evening match - Universidad de Chile vs O´Higgins!
This was not to be a big rivalry match so we limited our expectations as far as attendance and overall mayhem. We entered the National Stadium and were greeted by a booming chant and loud rhythmic drums, along with thousands of bouncing fans sporting the blue and red colors of Universidad de Chile. It was hard to pay attention to the game because the real show was watching the sea of home fans behind their goal singing non stop for the ENTIRE game! We didn´t even know that the game had started because we were so distracted.
The stadium was only half full but all of the fans were sectioned in the same area, except for the 500 visiting fans on the opposite side of the stadium. The visiting fans were grouped together and surrounded by security guards with empty seats separating them from the ´energetic´ home fans. Even when the visiting O´Higgins team scored the home fans did not stop singing and chanting their chorus... in fact, they actually got louder so that they drowned out the cheers of the visiting fans! It was definitely one of those events that we´ll never forget. Dare I say that even Canadian hockey fans would not compare to this kind of loyalty and enthusiasm...?!
After spending a few days in the big smoke we decided it was time to head to the coastal city of Valparaiso. We had heard mixed reviews about the old port city from other travellers at our hostel and figured we had better develop our own opinion. The bus ride was short but expensive; actually everything in Chile seemed to be expensive, at least when compared to other South American countries. The city has some great character with its colorful houses and buildings built into the rocky mountain side. It has a very bohemian feel about it with grafiti art and political statements spray painted on the sides of many buildings and street carved walls. It is quite the challenge walking from the upper sections to the sea level downtown area because the streets wind and twist around sharp cliffs and valleys. In many places people are required to take old wooden lifts up the steep sections because stairs just can´t cut it!
We arrived around mid-day and began the hunt for a hostel, which seems like quite a simple task but not when you´re required to hike up steep windy roads and alleyways to find these poorly marked hospedajes. The sun was beating hard and we were all sweating and cursing the weight of our backpacks. After several price comparisons and ready to raise the white flag in defeat, we finally found a great heritage building with 20 foot ceilings, private rooms and virtually the whole hostel to ourselves. We cooked a great pasta meal at the hostel and endulged in $3 six packs of cerveza while trash talking each other playing card games... a great time!
We later picked up some litre bottles of beer and were required to pay 300 pesos as a deposit on some of the bottles. This was actually encouraging news because it showed that the city was thinking about recycling. That said, when returning 3 different litre bottles to the local store owner we were only refunded for one bottle. Confused, I asked why the other two were not worthy of the refund. After some dialogue exchanged, and the owner getting frustrated by my line of questioning, I found out that because the other bottles did not have a crested logo imbedded in the bottle neck they were 'garbage'. Still confused, I was told that these bottles, whch still need to be recycled, would end up in the landfill simply because it did not have this logo! I still don't fully understand why, but thought this was a typical example of a South American policy that makes absolutely no sense at all.
Valparaiso is attached to the more swanky, high class city of Vina del Mar. The two cities are linked by a recently built, very advanced rail system that takes about 10 minutes from downtown to downtown. Wandering through the streets of Vina del Mar on this cloudy day was a good way to get outdoors but the city itself lacked true character. Don´t get me wrong, this is a very clean and newly developed city that could be compared to Coal Harbour or Yaletown in Vancouver, but it was very vanilla and didn´t offer much to the budget traveller looking for excitement. Although I imagine it has a different feel in the summer months in peak season. We did manage to spend some quality time in the casino, which was great with such a devalued currency... betting on roulette only cost us about $0.20 per play!
Our group of four decided that it was again time to move on so we set our sights on the infamous wine region of Mendoza Argentina, only a short 6 hour bus ride directly through the mighty Andes.