One of the oddest things about going East to West is dealing with the time difference. My flight to South America left Auckland at 16.40 on 25/11 and landed at 12.10 on 25/11- so I effectively arrived before I took off. In New Zealand I had been 13 hours ahead of the UK now I found I was 3 hours behind. Impressive saying time zones were only created in the 1845 by the British rail companies! What happened before that?
So dealing with this, I decided the only way to my body could combat the difference was to try and have a normal day as possible. I also wanted to be able to submerge myself in a culture very different to the one I had spent the last 5 months in. I had forgotten how much more fun being in a country where you can't speak the same language can be. Ironically, you seem to connect more with the people and see a more generous side of the place.
This was certainly the case with Santiago. The passport control people were lovely (they actually could smile) and the hostel manager was even nicer. He spoke excellent English which helped me tremendously due to my extreme lack of Spanish. The hostel was only 3 months old and provided the best accommodation I have stayed in during my entire time travelling. It was based in a relatively old building (i.e. 100 years old), with high ceilings, plenty of light giving it a wonderful feeling. The beds were brand new and super comfy. To cap it off there was a roof top terrace overlooking the beauty of Santiago - a real find.
Fighting the jet lag, I headed straight out to wander around the city and soon found myself in the middle of the city centre attracted towards a hill with a beautiful old castle at the summit, the Cerro Santa Lucia. But trying to find the entrance was a small challenge in itself. I found several paths but they all came to dead ends. The view across Santiago, however, was well worth the old historical buildings contrasting nicely with the new skyscrapers.
Santiago was a surprise to me. I expected it to be slightly backwards but it is certainly as developed as most European cities. Old architecture meets with new, public transport runs throughout, and there are many bars, cafes and eateries. May not sound much but certainly it gave an impression of modern Chile. Several observations though. One: this must be the city of romance. Everywhere I went there were couples kissing on corners, on benches and in the streets. Secondly: pharmacies account for every one in four shops with, bizarrely, betting coin machines in between. Finally if this is not enough to tempt sin in a Catholic city, cake shops line every street!
So you can easily be lured into getting fat, gambling, or even whoring in this city but with no fear as there are pharmacies to help you out! This makes Santiago sound terrible, but only teasing, this is certainly not the case. It is a beautiful city, full of spirit and generosity. I certainly felt most welcome there and completely at my ease.
The next day I went on my 3rd wine tour - to the Concha y Toro, probably most well known in the UK for producing the Casillero del Diablo. I went with a girl from my hostel and using public transport to get there was a bit of an eye opener. Here you only pay one set cost for the metro (like the tube) and not the distance you go. Arriving we had to wait a while for the tour to start and so enjoyed a very cheap but lovely glass of wine. It turned out we were the only 2 on the tour so we had the guide all to ourselves. She showed us the area and where the wine was stored including the cellar which promoted the devil story that the Casillero del Diablo is famous for. We were able to taste 4 of the best wines. I must admit I had problems telling some of the differences. However, the Merlot was lighter and sweeter than the Sav Cab, which I found rather odd. We were given a cheese board to wash our palette and were offered one of the tasting glasses to keep. Unfortunately the stem was so thin there was no way I could travel with it. The tour was interesting and my knowledge of wine is certainly growing.
We ended the day with dinner and drinks. The vibrancy of Santiago is unmistakable. As the evening unfolded performers appeared in the street including accordion players, a guy who had a drum strapped to his back and legs so that when he walked he beat out a tune, plus umpteen artists. This was typical of Santiago. Later on I was wandering and stumbled across a puppet show and then, round another corner, a live band. My first impressions of Chile were certainly wonderful.
Day 3 involved visiting the local fish markets. The fish here was stunning and so fresh. Yum! I also visited the Musuem Chileno De Arte Precolobino to see a special exhibition on the Incas. The museum was great and had many interesting artifacts and pieces that I have never seen the likes of before. It certainly added excitement to my upcoming tour. I coupled this with a day at the Museum of Modern Art. With a certain knowledge of Christian history, it surprised me that a Catholic country would put on such a modern display. Religious themes merged with political protests and social outrage. I guess it shows how times have changed and how acceptable it now is to openly display modern thought. I am not a fan of modern art but this was certainly an eye opener.
For my final day alone in Santiago I decided to white water raft again, but this time down the Andes. I had somewhat of a shock in the morning by a flasher who was little too persistent but fortunately this was soon forgotten in the excitement that followed. Having arranged to be picked up just outside of Santiago I was pleasantly surprised to discover the guy was a typical stunning South American male. Yum! The rafting was pretty fun too! It was graded 3 to 4 and while the rapids seemed smaller than the others I have been on, we were still splashed. The water roared more white that what I had been used to but was less fierce and it being about 7 degrees I am glad our guide did not try to tip us out of the boat as happened in Thailand. It was a fun experience, though made strangely odd by me not being able to communicate so easily.
Finally, the time came start my travels though South America. I had ummed and arhed over booking a trip. I felt I should do it alone, but wanted some set company for a while and to have the security of a group, South America having such a different culture. So I had booked a 55 day excursion with Gap Adventures. When I arrived at the meeting place most of the group had gone to a football match so there were few people I could get to know straight away. The next day was different and you could feel the norming and storming of any new group.
I went with my new room mate to the Parque Metropolitano, where we climbed up to the summit to see the Cerro San Cristobal at 485 metres high. In the heat, the climb was intense but the view was worth it. There was Santiago laid out before us. We could now see how extremely flat the valley floor was contrasting sharply with the mountains. It was an interesting sight and worth the climb.
The rest of my time in Santiago was spent bonding with the group. Santiago was an amazing city. Modern but with a sense of culture and bohemian style I would like to return just for the atmosphere alone. Sundays were reserved for Sundays and I felt it was about people making an honest living however they could. It had a very peaceful but fun feel about it. A great start to my visit of South America.