Gotta Love Santiago !
04.02.2012 - 15.02.2012 31 °C
It would be difficult to imagine a more picture perfect metropolis than Santiago...framed as it is on three sides by the majestic snow capped peaks of the Andes and nestling confidently and cleanly into an accommodating geological basin On the banks of the Mapoche River, minding its own business since 1541.
The people of Santiago share the same photogenicity....handsome Caballeros and exotic Senoritas being the result of a gradual intermingling of the Spanish Conquistadore blood and the Incas for whom Santiago was a hub for an empire which stretched over half of the South American land mass.
This city is good looking...and it knows it !
I´m not suggesting that Santiago carries a swagger...Ón the contrary Santaguinos are largely descendants of a strongly agrarian society and despite the presence of over 7 million inhabitants the feel here is of a big country town...in much the same way as my home for many years ...Adelaide. The similarities continue with the structured ...grid like layout of the streets ( its very easy to navigate) and the wine growing regions within a couple of hours of the capital.But I digress!
Along with this there is the disarming ability on the part of most of the Chileans I met to combine a natural elegance and undercurrent confidence with a refreshing Laissez Faire attitude that is very attractive.
My very first contact with this was the taxi driver who ferried me from the airport to the Happy House hostel in Barrio Brazil where I was staying. A delightful man who not only filled me in on the must see,must do attractions of the city but with a fierce pride was able to promote not only the city but the women...the wine and the music....I guess that covers the important subjects !
In all the excitement of drinking this in...and with the weariness of an overnight flight from Mexico and the dissolution of the stressful apprehension and watchfulness carried through my stay in the land of Tequila , I conspired to unwittingly leave my travel document wallet..including my passport ,on the back seat of the cab..doh !! But my driver chased me down the street with an `Hola Senor`to save the day...bowing deeply he informed me in his broken English `Sir I am a professional and this isnt Mexico`. Guess who got the business on my return trip to the airport !!
Santiago sparkles and shines like a shiny new pin and thereby is completely at odds with the rest of the large South American cities I have visited..... It doesnt have the swagger´and dirty- sweet arrogance of a Buenos Aires, nor does it have have the mentality that its ok to litter or to allow your dog to freely defecate in the street that seems to be the case in the Argentinian capital . It doesnt have the stratospheric craziness and energy of Rio De Janeiro at Carnavale time ,but nor does it have the abject poverty or the all pervasive odour of urine born from the lack of amenities and the seemingly god given right of the Brazilian male...to piss where he damn well chooses!
What it does have is a strong sense of civic pride as evidenced by a wonderful and inexpensive public transport system and the amount of architecturally sweet urban developments, combined with an ability to embrace change , along with the world beyond its borders .
I was not surprised to learn that many multinational corporations have chosen to utilise Santiago as a business hub for Latin America further feathering the nest of Chiles largest city.....already thriving with its Fishing forestry, mining and tourism industries.
Lonely planet had already moistened my appetite for my visit when it selected Santiago as one of the top ten hottest travel destinations in the world for 2012. It also suggested for me to beware of the smog here (apparently it is something of a lottery in terms of visibility)....However it seems that fortune favours the brave traveller and for the nine day duration of my stay the air was hot ,but dry and diamond clear....as if the city had chosen to wear its best clothes to impress me....vivid and colourful like a freshly minted postage stamp .
I guess all these things combine to single out Santiago as probably the most accessible South American city to the Australian or UK visitor in terms of staying within ones comfort zone....Not sure if this is such a good thing in terms of the travel experience...but hey it was a welcome respite from the apprehension I felt during my Mexican sojourn and enabled me to gather my strength to fully appreciate my impending visitsto Buenos Aires and Crazytown Brasil !
The foods good too !
Despite being 200 kilometres from the port of Valparaiso (also incidentally the administrative capital for the nation) the seafood is mouth watering, fresh, abundant and inexpensive . Chileans often serve their seafood raw ...but its dissimilar to the Japanese inspired cuisine of Rios sushi bars in that the presentation isn´t as orderly and much of the fish is served having effectively been ``cooked ``by the generous additon of Lemon juice......and if you get the chance to sample a seafood ``Galeon``...which is a cold soup made from selection of different seafood delicacies; oysters ,scallops, mussels, fresh tuna , prawns ,crab etc and served with red onions and a bread roll...bloody well go for it.
They also make the best thin crust, tasty, healthy Pizza in which it has ever been my privilege to indulge....and you can customise your pizza! Finish this off with gorgeously fresh salads , accentuated with the judicious and delicious use of herbs such as sage and thyme, and a glass of Torontel from one of the local vineyards and Santiago caters for the most discerning palate
Only problem is that like everywhere else in South America dinner comes late (or extremely early the next day!)....Luckily by this stage I had begun to assimilate this trait and have had several memorable meals still continuing as the clock ticked over .
After my first days exploration of the city...again on foot... I decided to stop in to a hostelry with the locals to wash away the trail dust with a cold one....for the equivalent of $3 Australian I was expecting the Chilean equivalent of a Carlton Cold ! what I got was a litre of the local brew, Escudo....cold , crisp ,eminently palatable and quite potent and I found myself staggering a little en route to the hostel. I guess in the convivial Chilean spirit , the bottle is intended for sharing...hic.
Finally ,I mentioned earlier that the Chileans are a pretty laid back race of people...generally happy , friendly and peace loving..These traits seem to have been somehow superimposed on the large canine population of stray dogs.....extremely good natured creatures too......even encountering a group of the beasts on a street corner is somehow non threatening, because the dogs are as chill as the people...almost as if they had shared a joint earlier in the evening and were kicking back with a coupla cans of chum!!
Hey...I could go on but I have a plane to catch!!!
If only they didnt have earthquakes here !!! I could get used to the Chilean way of life !!