Quite a few people told us that we would not like Santiago, telling us stories of being ripped off, or that it was unfriendly, but it turned out to be exactly what we needed. We stayed in the Providencia area, which is very well developed and very safe, but visited lots of the other areas. The highlight was a day at the races. We found the track after wandering through some of the less well off areas, but this had the added benefit of being able to have lunch and a drink for £2.50. The track itself is impressive, and would have been more so before it was allowed to run down a little. The stand was like a huge old stately home, with a well built façade, huge rooms and lots of dark wood panels. It was all very quiet when we arrived and we were sure that the lady on the gate had told us that the racing had been cancelled, but we were allowed in to have a look around for 50p. Once inside, the presence of large amounts of horses and jockeys was all the evidence we needed that after 3 months in South America our Spanish still sucked.
The meet was very low key and the stadium full to no more than 20% capacity, but we had a pleasant afternoon sitting in the sunshine, dinking beer, placing 50p bets and being befriended by various locals. One local, who took a shine to Jodie, was in the know enough to give us some useful advice, after which Jodie went on a bit of a winning streak. By the time we left we had brought our entry ticket, bet on about 8 races, drunk 8 beers and had the odd snack all for about £2. We then celebrated in Santiago's only Indian restaurant and Jodie had her best meal in 3 months!
On our last day Jodie kindly came with me for lunch at the fish market. We found a very lively place for me to eat and Jodie to watch, and for both of us to get giggly on wine. I ate a huge plate of scallops in garlic and a lump of sole so huge I did not finish it - which is a rare occurrence for a fat lad like me. We then visited a couple more sights, including a huge 'art space', which was once a station, where we rather drunkenly danced. We continued the motion in the airport lounge where the free Champagne, sushi and great showers reminded us of a life pre-backpacking, and we left South America in high spirits.
We both thoroughly enjoyed our three months in South America. There is much that I will miss and some that I will not. I will miss:
The challenge of trying to communicate in Spanish; it keeps the mind sharp.
The vibrancy of the Latin American way of life; there is noise from dawn till well after dusk and no hint of reserve.
Good cheap wine.
The buses! They represent one of the best way to travel if you have the time.
Big lumps of amazing beef.
The old cars - Renault 6s & 12s, Peugeot 504s & 404s and VW Beatles everywhere.
The warmth of the people. We were looked after so well so often. We must remember to 'pass it on' when back in UK.
Being able to get what ever you want, whenever you want (pretty much).
The feeling of getting value for money. It will be so hard to return to UK prices.
The lack of regulation. To a Brit, there is a slight air of anarchy to South America, and talk of health and safety is rare. A by-product of this is a healthy requirement to take responsibility for your own actions and a slight feeling of liberation. Reflecting on the order, rules and regulations we live under in the UK I really do think that we are more than a little repressed. Come the revolution………………
I will not miss:
The challenge of trying to communicate in Spanish; it can be a right pain. I discovered all too late that Anos (years) is pronounced an-yos. Up until then, if asked how old I was, I had been telling people that I had 38 anuses.
The stray dogs. It is recognised that people buy puppies and leave them on the street when they are no longer cute, so there are hundreds of dogs, many pedigree, roaming the street. Even when in packs they are friendly and docile and it is heartbreaking to see them homeless.
The extreme contrast between the haves and have-nots, especially as taxes are high but corruption stops money getting to those that need it.
The lack of food choice - if it's not beef, forget it (though the fish in Chile is good).
Having to put your loo paper in a (often open) bin. It just feels wrong.
In the cities, not having to split attention between the sights, the dog poo on the pavement and identifying if anyone is about to try to rob you. Having said that, despite all the warnings, we only experienced one crap youth failing miserably to intimidate money from us.
For those considering travelling to South America, I would say go for it. It is a great compromise between the normality of Europe and the difficulty and exoticness of a truly different place. Learn a little Spanish, embrace the unusual and it is a great place visit.