My Return to City Living in Santiago

After spending weeks in small towns and natural wonderlands, I was a bit weary of heading to the metropolis of Santiago de Chile. I was loving these out of the way destinations; on my 24 hour bus ride between San Pedro and Santiago I had a lot of time to think, and I had come to the conclusion that maybe those types of places were where I should be in life. I’ve been living in big cities for the past five years, maybe I’m done with cities now, maybe my future will be more rural. So with these thoughts running through my head I got off the bus and onto the subway.

And to my surprise, I felt like I was home. I breathed a sigh of relief to be back in a functional city, on efficient public transportation that would drop me off a mere block from my hostel. In what world is a subway comforting? Whatever world that is, that’s where I felt I was that day. This feeling continued as I got out of the subway and walked the busy streets.

I liked Santiago. This may not be a popular opinion, but the parts that I saw were all positive (except for the abundance of pollution, that part I hated). The first thing I did was hike up Cerro San Cristóbal. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself – here I was thinking that I was happy to be back in a big city and the first thing I did was go for a hike on the biggest mountain in town. The hike was fairly vertical but not bad; it took about 30 minutes to get up the path and another 10 or so up to the statue of the Virgin Mary at the top. The view was spectacular. The whitewashed city is surrounded by snow-capped Andes mountains. To add to the visual contrast between nature and concrete, there were palm trees at the top. So you’re looking at snowy mountains, big city, and tropical foliage. It’s crazy in a great way.

I spent the afternoon wandering around the city. The pedestrian park and paths by the river struck me as feeling very Parisian. I stopped for lunch at the Mercado Central, home to tons of seafood stalls, where I had a delicious seafood stew and local Chilean beer for very cheap. The people who worked at the stall were so incredibly friendly. We had a broken Spanglish conversation about where I was from and if I liked Chile, and they even gave me little gifts of a tiny mug depicting San Pedro and a Valparaiso magnet. Such friendly people.

That afternoon I did the Tours for Tips walking tour. This is just what it sounds like: the tour itself is free, but you tip your guide at the end based on enjoyment, budget, or whatever other reason you have. It’s entirely up to you. This afternoon tour was a general overview of history of the city and I thought it was fantastic. Our tour guide Antonia was so knowledgeable and another example of the friendliness I’d come to experience in Chile. I have recommended this tour to everyone who’s going to Santiago. I learned a lot about the culture and history of the city and country, from the military coup in 1973 to what on earth Coffee with Legs is. It even ended with a local sangria-like beverage.

I’d met a few cool people on the walking tour, so we decided to check out the nightlife of Bella Vista, supposedly the hip fun neighborhood. What we learned was that there is no nightlife on a Tuesday. It was still cool to get to know Julia and Andrew over a few beers and dulce de leche-filled churros, and we made a plan to meet the next day for the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights).

It was good we decided to do this together. It’s a fascinating museum that focuses on human rights violations during the military regime from 1973-1990. It tells about prisoners, torture, disappearances, protests, and ultimately the end of the dictatorship. It is a lot to handle; I don’t recommend going if you’re hungry or tired. It’s a bit mentally and emotionally draining, but it is entirely worth going to.

We rewarded ourselves with a local lunch of a hot dog covered with avocado and tomatoes, and some market shopping. We said our goodbyes and I made my way to a late afternoon bus to Valparaiso.

I left Santiago with a very positive feeling. I had a good mixture of cultural, historic and social activities, with a healthy dose of wandering around. I ate some good local lunches and some decent included meals as well; my hostel Chilli Hostel Santiago had both breakfast and dinner included! It will make for an interesting entry into the “meals included” photo project I’ve been doing. Not only was there finally fruit again with breakfast, but I had a dinner of spaghetti one night and quiche and rice the next. Not a bad deal!

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