Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, I received my first dose of Chilean affection when my new friend Mono snuggled up to my shoulder and refused to wake up even after several attempts to wake him. Mono had quite effectively utilised our flight’s open bar to fall into a drunken slumber, a tactic I avoided to try and keep a clear head once arriving into the bustling city of Santiago. I suppose it worked too, yet the alcohol drought didn’t last much longer.
The ´Santiago bender’ began with a $1400 pesos beer once I arrived at my hostel. This beer was 1L, and cost the equivalent of NZ $3. Good start. Even better start was that La Cosa Roja, the magical place that has popped my hostel living cherry, turns out to be one of most party orientated hostels in the city. Did this mean I spent my initial days exploring Chile’s magnificent capital? No. But I did have a bloody good time.
On my first full day I went exploring on my own, being overly security conscious with my bag and trying to only consult my map with my back against a wall. In fairness I never felt in danger in Santiago. It is a city that on one block appears feels exactly like you’d expect a massive Latin American city to with traditional buskers, street vendors and old tanned men backslapping each other. Yet on the next it looks like Wall St with massive stone buildings and suits marching down the sidewalk, fast food on every street and giant department stores inviting you in to their familiar air conditioned confines. I suppose that made it a bit easier for a first time 21 year old solo traveler, but trying to communicate all day long in a foreign language that you barely have a grasp on is still exhausting. How nice then to be able to retreat to the pool and bar of the hostel and lounge about in the sun with an Escudo beer.
After that first day of exploring, the party vibe struck, snatching me in its grip and shaking me violently, only stopping to kick me in the groin or vomit on my shoes. Many a days were spent nursing a hangover from the previous night spent either socialising at the hostel or diving into the local nightlife, however on one of the days we managed to leave the hostel I spend the afternoon with a bunch of new mates on an excellent walking tour of the city. The tour guide was youngish and charismatic and we followed him around like wide eyed puppies. Without warning he would leap onto a bench and launch into a spiel about the city, it’s history, its inhabitants, causing even the locals to stop and stare. He appeared to be friends with every person in the meat and fish markets of Santiago, one of the biggest in the world, and introduced us to Cafe with Legs, where you are served coffee by strippers. It was pretty great.
I claimed that tour as my recommended dose of culture before I left for Valparaiso, an hour and a half west of Santiago on the coast, with a bunch of other travelers I’d met at La Cosa Roja. Clinging to the coastal hills in the style of the greek islands, but with odd coloured semi-ramshackle buildings adorned with street art instead of white villas, Valparaiso is remarkably unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
We were fortunate enough to get a rooftop apartment with an awesome terrace at our hostel, and instantly decided to stay longer than our planned two days so we could take heaps of shameless selfies. We did a graffiti walking tour the following day – amazing psychedelic murals and images adorn every single building, making a stroll through the winding streets more interesting that any art museum I’ve ever been to.
In the night one of our mates from La Cosa Roja mentioned there was a party happening at the place he was couchsurfing, so naturally, we were obliged to attend. After moving to a nightclub, downing some Pisco ginger ales and fist pumping our way through a surprising number of Western pop songs from the noughties, one of the more ridiculous things I’ve seen on my travels happened. A large group of us, maybe 12, were walking through the streets at night with about a dozen dogs circling and weaving in between us. It seems that whenever a big group walks together, it serves as magnetic field for dogs, like they wanted to join our wolf pack. That’s a thing worth mentioning – here, there are a lot of dogs wandering the streets, some are strays, some are not. They totally fit in even in the chaos of a big city like Santiago; I’ve seen dogs wait at intersections for the pedestrian traffic light to go green.
A couple days later and as per the norm nursing a hangover, I departed from my group of mates to catch the bus back to Santiago for the Lollapalooza music festival, which I was going to with some Australians I had met a week earlier. I can now proudly say I saw the Chillis in Chile. The festival was about what you´d expect with a headline act like that.
San Pedro de Atacama is where I am now, a 24 hour bus ride from Santiago, serving both as my rehab and a real attempt to actually see the natural beauty of this continent. It’s a small town in the middle of the Atacama desert, the driest in the world. The shit I’ve seen here I swear I was on another planet. Meeting back up with the group I left in Valparaiso, we’ve spent the last couple of days driving round the desert in a couple of four wheel drive trucks, which is precisely as awesome as it sounds. Yesterday would have to be the best day of my trip so far. We saw landscapes that looked like they were watercolour paintings, things you’d find as a desktop wallpaper; absolutely like nothing I have ever seen before.
Oh yeah and the earthquakes. I´d just popped a couple of painkillers for a head cold when the first one struck. I was sure I was about to collapse and faint the way I was swaying, until the lights went out. It only lasted for about 20 seconds but it was a totally bizarre feeling,. The second was last night and just felt like someone was shaking my bed. It was kinda cool actually.
Next stop Peru. Chile is amazing and I recognise there is a huge amount I haven´t seen, but it’s a real money burner, one of the most expensive countries in South America. So instead of paying $3 for a giant beer, $1 sounds a lot more tempting for the budget traveler. And no it’s not all about the beer.
Okay it’s all about the beer.