Vern: Back in London, in preparation for our trip, we signed up for Couchsurfing.com, a social network through which open-minded hosts open up their homes to travellers passing through. In order to get some site members to vouch for us, which is necessary appear trustworthy, we hosted a pair of smelly German girls with funny haircuts and a few weeks later, we hosted a lovely Chilean couple: Gustavo and Estefania. Gustavo spoke impressive English and Andrea practised her Spanish with Estefania who understands more English than she speaks. We cooked up a storm, opened up a bottle of wine and enjoyed a long dinner. When they left, they insisted that we must come and stay with them when we're in Santiago.
So in the days prior to arriving in Santiago, Andrea emailed Gustavo a few times and he said Estefania would be happy to host us. We arrived late to Santiago and spent our first night there in a hostel. Andrea called Estefania and in her best Spanish arranged for her to pick us up from the metro station closest to her house.
Or so we thought. After two hours waiting at the metro station, Andrea began to doubt her best Spanish. Estefania's phone went unanswered, but we were able to dig up an old email with her address in it, so we found a bus and made our way there. We were dropped off well into the suburbs, and Andrea did well to talk us past a guard and into a gated development comprising double story homes with private gardens. This is quite a neighbourhood for a college student, we thought.
A woman spotted two gringos with huge backpacks wandering down her street and asked what we were up to. We explained that we were looking for Estefania's house and she disappeared inside to make a phone call. Minutes later, at the house opposite the woman, the gate clicked open and a seventeen year old man came outside and ushered us in. He introduced himself as Estefania's brother, Pablo and spoke Chilean Spanish quickly but Andrea made out: Estefania wasn't in. Would we like some coke? We'd be sleeping in the study. It quickly dawned on us that it was the family home, and we wondered how Estefania had convinced her family to let two English foreigners, whom she hardly knew, bunk down with them.
Gustavo called to say that he'd be round in an hour or so, and a short while later Estefania arrived home. She explained why she hadn't been able to pick us up, and we nodded our heads in comprehension but actually understood nothing. Estefania suggested that we go to the store to pick up some supplies. We bought Pisco, beer and some other groceries and headed back. Andrea asked after Gustavo, at which point Estefania dropped a bombshell: the couple had broken up a few months ago, after three years together. She hadn't seen him since, and now he was coming round because of us. Gulp!
Soon after we arrived back at Estefania's parents' house, Gustavo and his brother arrived. He greeted us warmly and said hello to Estefania and her family, who were polite but cool toward him. We all piled into Gustavo's car and headed out to the wine region surrounding the city. He noticed her perfume and asked if he'd given it to her. She said he hadn't. He said her cheeks looked a little rounder and she replied with something we couldn't understand. Tension was splattered all over the interior of the car, and although everyone played it cool, it was distracting enough to cause Gustavo to rear-end a parked car at a gas station. Luckily there wasn't any damage.
It was a lovely autumn Saturday, blue skies painted over yellow fields, and the perfect day for a wedding. Lucky for the couples getting married at all of the vineyards in the wine region. Unlucky for us - we were turned away from every one. Plan E was a little café on a boulevard in a two street town wedged between the wine farms. Our hosts insisted that we try a "terremoto" and soon a waitress set down five huge 0.5l wine glasses, each with an ice-cream glacier bobbing around in red syrup. The concoction of pisco; late-harvest wine; grenadine and pineapple sorbet was eye-poppingly sweet. Apparently it's a peasant's drink, the suger overload makes the bottom of the barrel wine drinkable I suppose. They were surprised that we turned down a second round, but the booze had done wonders to warm up our hosts and the drive back to Estefania's was a lot more relaxed than a few hours previously. We thanked Gustavo for the excursion and said our goodbyes.
Estefania's parents, Juan and Lydia, were home and entertaining guests, but endearingly unconfident with English, they avoided us that first day. We felt rather guilty for taking over the dining room table with Estefaia and Pablo, while her parents ate in the kitchen but everyone else acted like this was the most normal arrangement in the world. We barbecued and after Pablo setup a YouTube music playlist, we opened the bottle of Pisco and a few beers and spent a long evening chatting in Spanglish to Estefania and Pablo, and later Estefania's English-speaking friend. Pablo introduced us to beer-and-Fanta, an alternative to a shandy for those who haven't quite got a taste for beer, and at about 3am the trio left for a party but Andrea and I opted to stay behind.
The following day, after a few Asprin, we headed into Santiago downtown and tried to do some sighteeing but to be honest there isn't all that much to see other than the Presidential Palace and some museums. Estefania joined us for lunch, wearing the same clothes as the night before, and we laughed about the parts of the previous evening that the bottle of Pisco would let us remember.
When we returned to her house, Lydia laid out snacks and later cooked up a big pasta dinner. The whole family ate at the table and we did our best to answer their questions about our trip. Juan didn't think much of our plans to see northern Argentina (Chileans and Argentinians don't get on particularly well) and gave us some alternatives in northern Chile. They were almost happy to admit that the Argentinian wine, Malbec, was rather good but assured us that in general Chilean wine was superior. They were so welcoming and it was rather wonderful to sit down to a family meal. Juan insisted that we come and stay with them again when we returned to Santiago and we promised that we would.
The next day Lydia and Estefania drove us to the airport. We thanked them profusely for their kindness and generosity and after they drove off, we checked in to our flight to Quito, Ecuador.