Warming to Chile


We loved Santiago from the first night we were there and we didn’t even leave my mate Patrice’s apartment.

We had arrived at the city’s airport dirty and drained from our tiring travels. Bolivia is an amazing country to visit but it is no walk in the park (more like a jostle in the jungle), so on arrival in Chile we were delighted when our airport shuttle-bus took us straight to our new ‘home’ for the next five days in the leafy neighbourhood of Providencia.

Sunny Santiago

Patrice and his girlfriend Sarah gave us a warm welcome, guiding us around their spacious apartment in a robust building that had stood firm throughout the recent earthquakes. We were even presented with our own room for the duration.

Then Patrice announced that he planned to make a home-cooked meal and asked if that would be ok with us. The smiles on our faces said it all. This would be our first meal outside of a restaurant/hotel/hostel/tent/train/bus for two months.

But before the food he brought out a jug of home-made pisco sour and several bottles of delicious Chilean wine. After drinking the alcoholic grape juice that masquerades as vino in Peru and Bolivia we would have been happy with $2 plonk. But the fine Chilean Malbec was graciously received and ungraciously quaffed throughout a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

I first met Patrice exactly one year ago when I was in Buenos Aires for work and he was living there for six months. He’d decided that his web design business could be run from anywhere in the world and chose Buenos Aires as his latest destination. Then after a few months back in the US and Canada he settled on Santiago, where he and Sarah are now planning to stop for a couple of years.

After one day of walking around the city it is not hard to see why. Santiago offers the best of both worlds. It is the least South American of South American capitals in that it is clean, organised and quite western in places (literally in the case of the many German cafes and bars). Yet it still contains the colourful character, lively atmosphere and diverse food and entertainment that endears so many travellers to the continent.

The German-style sandwiches are big and beautiful

On our first day we wondered around the beautiful parks, ate in delicious cafes and enjoyed the convivial atmosphere. At night Patrice and Sarah took us to Liguria, a super cool bar/restaurant in Providencia, where we drank more good wine and enjoyed the bohemian atmosphere and plentiful plates of food.

At Liguria, the wine stretches from floor to very-high ceiling

The next day we visited Valpairaiso, a coastal town praised for its quaint beauty and artistic ambience. It was there we realised that not all of Chile is like the capital. The difference with Santiago was striking.

It was only one hour away by bus but it felt like travelling back in time by 20 years. The place is like some forgotten seaside town left behind by its modern neighbour. To make matters worse the temperature was at least 10 degrees lower than sunny Santiago. The first thing I did was buy a pair of socks for my sandled feet.

1980s shop window, Valpairaiso

The next thing we did was go for a four-course lunch. We didn’t plan to order four courses – we weren’t even that hungry – but they came as part of a lunchtime special at a restaurant recommended in our trusty guidebook. This special offer also kicked off with a complimentary and rather strong Pisco Sour. Downing this on our empty stomachs meant we were pretty drunk for the rest of the afternoon.

But the food was excellent and we stayed there for a good two hours. We then spent the next hour trying to shake off the booze and not fall into a food-coma.

When we did (shake off the booze) and didn’t (fall into comas), we were able to enjoy the artistic quarter of the town with its many murals and its various old-school ‘ascensores’, wooden elevators on pulleys which take you up and down the numerous steep hills throughout the place.

Awaiting an acensor

Enjoying the colourful artists' quarter

Parts of Valpairaiso are undoubtedly pretty but much of it is also run-down and in disrepair. Its old buildings had not handled the earthquake as well as its upmarket neighbour and some of the damage was clear to see. We enjoyed our day but we were glad to return to the warmth and glow of Santiago by early evening.

Our final day in this great city involved plenty more food and drink. We had an excellent lunch at Galindo in the Bellavista district, involving razor clams, humitas and fresh shrimp in pil pil sauce (a local spicy delicacy). We then spent an enjoyable afternoon visiting the local markets and shops.

Hungry for Humitas

At night we were joined by three of Patrice’s friends from Buenos Aires who would be spending the weekend with him. We immediately headed out to a dive bar called El Hoyo (The Hole), which is famous for its specialty cocktail, the ironically named Terremoto (earthquake). Its name makes sense after one taste of this drink, which sends shudders down your spine and makes your legs shake.

The ingredients? A type of sweet fermented wine called Pipeño and … pineapple ice cream (of course).  Apparently you haven’t been in Santiago until you’ve drunk the Terremoto (http://www.southamerica.cl/blog/2009/07/have-you-experienced-terremoto-in-chile.html). Well, we all drank it, none of us liked it but we certainly felt it for the rest of the fun, drunken night.

This didn’t do us any favours for our 4am wake-up call to catch a flight to Patagonia. But once again Santiago represented another South American city that we were sad to leave. In fact, of all the places we have been so far, Santiago is where we would choose to live. Patrice, give us a job please.

These terremotos will send tremors down your spine



2 Responses to “Warming to Chile”

  1. lyn Says:


  2. cynthia cutler Says:

    Very well written. Felt as though I was there myself. Well done xxxxx

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