It was a beautiful sunny start to the morning in Mendoza, – our last in Argentina. We walked through town, and ate at Mr. Dog. We ate many a pancho here during our time in Mendoza. We were going to miss Mr Dog. We walked to the bus station and managed to get a refund on our trip to Santiago, though it was a painstaking task, and they definitely didn’t want to give us anything. For 40 quid though, we were willing to fight for it!
Alex then headed to a travel company to pick up our flight tickets to Santiago. The woman he dealt with, Alex claimed, was the world’s slowest, chatting to colleagues, shuffling from her desk to the photocopier, again and again and again. Eventually he got them. We were lucky. There was a huge queue of people, including a lot of travellers, who were desperate to secure passage to Chile. Not all would be successful today. Even if there were tickets, it would be closing time before some of them managed to get served, so slow was the ‘service’. One must remind oneself at times like this that we are on hora latina – and things happen at a much slower pace. That’s why everybody smiles. Life is a bit more chilled and not taken quite as seriously. It’s a a mark of a stressful lifestyle getting pissed off because someone is so slow. We should learn to chill out Latin style!
We grabbed our bags from the Hotel Argentino – not a bad place, all in all, Apart from the breakfast, of course. We got to the small airport and boarded our flight to Chile. I hadn’t thought about what the flight would be like much. I’d forgotten that it must fly straight over the Andes. Alex, the wily traveller that he is, was much more on the ball than me. He requested a window seats at the back of the plane, that way the plane’s wing wouldn’t be in the way of the view. What a good idea!
The views of the Andes were absolutely incredible. Beyond amazing. I’d seen such scenes before on BBC’s Planet Earth. Now I was flying above them myself, above the intimidating peaks, the frozen rivers. I saw a tiny road snaking through that must be the one the bus uses when it runs. I thought how terrible it would be to crash right now. It would be like that movie, Alive, where the Uruguayan rugby team have to eat dead members of their team after their plane crashes in the Andes. I didn’t fancy tucking into my mate, so I thought about something pleasant instead. A night out in Santiago, capital of Chile. Another place that has previously seemed too far away and exotic to even dream about. Here I was heading there now. I couldn’t wait.
We landed and took a taxi to the Foresta Hotel – a relic of a place full of charm and character, complete with a moustachioed old concierge who’d been there forever. A knight in shining army stood in the corner. It was a little stuffy in the lobby, but the man at reception put us at ease, drawing us useful maps to various places of interest. We checked in and went up the ancient elevator with the concierge to our room. Huge place, with a living room and 2 big beds, and an old telephone in the middle, walk-in closets and a spacious bathroom. It was getting dark, so we headed out quickly and straight across the road to Cerro Santa Lucia – a lovely park with a winding route to the summit which offers spectacular views of the Andes.
What a setting Santiago is for a city. One of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. The city looks modern with skyscrapers jutting up everywhere, yet ancient with old-world style cafes and neoclassical architecture, and polished with lovely suburbs – all under the commanding Andean peaks. Alex and I lingered until sunset, which lit the peaks like the end of incense sticks, and they smouldered for a while until the sun disappeared and the flame went out, leaving a mist shrouding the peaks. We were lucky to even see the mountains. Often, the smog is so bad in Santiago you can’t see them. We wandered back down feeling elated, and headed into downtown to get our bearings. The pedestrian streets and shopping arcades were thronged with life in the darkening evening, people everywhere, chatting, laughing – work had just finished. Market stalls were doing brisk business. A thronging, bustling capital. We bought some alcohol and crisps to have the ‘winning formula’ later before we headed out. Then we popped into a cafe for a coffee (hot chocolate for Alex). Like San Telmo in Buenos Aires, Santiago seems to be full of students, which gives it a certain creative flair and a youthful edge. Alex and I wanted to go to the bars where they hang out. Talk to them, get to know them. We asked the woman working in the coffee shop, who was also a student, for advice on where to go in the evening. Soon, in true South American style, all the other students in the coffee shop were gathered around giving us ideas, being really helpful and friendly, offering to show us around. People in South America are so hospitable. We now had plenty of ideas, said thankyou and left to go back to Hotel Foresta.
We had a big bottle of Cristal beer each – a crisp pale lager from Chile. With the crisps, it was the perfect start to the evening. Then we headed out into the cold night and got a cab to Constitution Street, and from here wandered into a Chilean restaurant to sample some of the local fare. I ordered a Chilean speciality – a corn bowl. It came as a liquidy, watery sugary dish. Peasant food – as Alex called it. Chile isn’t renowned for its cuisine in South America. I could see why. Still, it’s probably tastier to South Americans than English food would be. We had a bottle of Chilean red (of course) to wash it down. Not substantial by any means.
We popped around to the busier street running parallel, and there were lots of bars here full of Che Guevara look-a-like students, who were engaged in excited conversation over bottles of Cristal. We got talking to a friendly local couple, who told us that the next day there were going to be huge protests in Santiago (i.e – riots) by students demanding a new framework in the education system – the end to for-profit education. The students wanted us to stick around and join in the next day, but we weren’t sure – we only had limited time in Chile – one full day tomorrow – and then we had to fly to Paraguay. But then, sightseeing in Santiago was clearly going to be difficult tomorrow. We had to think of something else to do. Or just join in the fun tomorrow.
We ordered our first pisco sour – a drink famous in Chile containing pisco, lime juice, syrup, egg white and bitters. It wasn’t great, but I was sure after a few more bottles of Cristal it would be fine. And so we headed to a club, full of locals, and we even danced. The pisco sour rounds were certainly helping. We forgot we had to get up nice and early tomorrow. We’d done it again – alcohol+lack of sleep = panic attacks and a feeling of not being quite there. The next day was one of the best of the trip, but was probably the worst I’d felt. Still, it had been quite a day – a morning in Mendoza, a flight over the Andes, and an evening in Santiago. Not bad, all in all.