Santiago. It was interesting to arrive into a large bustling metropolis after a quaint colonial city like Valparaiso. It felt like we were in New York. Or Mexico City. Or Barcelona. It felt like everywhere, but different. It was night-time when we arrived. The metro was super clean and quiet and efficient. When we submerged from the underground, people were out and about on the streets everywhere. The streets seemed pretty clean and the buildings well-kept. There wasn’t dog poop everywhere, which was an improvement over Valparaiso. We got to our trendy, tiny apartment – though it was substantially more roomy than our hostel which had room for two bunks and a bean-bag chair, but that’s about it.
We walked around forever trying to find a restaurant, but nowhere seemed to be serving food. Chileans eat late, but it was already fairly late and still everywhere seemed to just be cafés. People drinking beer or coffee, but no food. Oh well. We found a cool little pizza place that knew what they were doing, bought a bottle of wine and chilled at the apartment for a while. Pizza always feels like such a cop-out. Sometimes, it’s just what you need.
The next morning we woke up decently early to walk around the city. The first thing we noticed was the smog. Mmmm… smokey. Alex felt like he was back in Beijing, but I was reminded of DF, Mexico. Santiago is located between the ocean and the gigantic Andes mountain range. Essentially, the moisture and warmth from the ocean traps a layer of smog in the valley, and it is disgusting. Anybody who doesn’t think that humans are capable of changing climate needs to spend a couple of weeks in a place like Santiago. When your snot turns black and you constantly feel like you have the flu from a sore throat, you realize just how much our polluting vehicles and factories really affects the environment we depend on.
There are mountains surrounding Santiago. You can’t see them, despite there being 10,000ft peaks just a few miles away. Part of this is because you’re nearly always surrounded by highrise or midrise buildings – similar to the claustrophobia feeling in New York City. If you do catch a space to peek through, though, it doesn’t matter. The smog blocks the rest of that view. Lovely.
Walking around, Alex was excited to try some good coffee from South America. It turns out that there is some phenomenon called “café con piernas” or “coffee with legs”. Basically, think of Hooters, but instead of serving food tha baristas wear somewhat scandalous outfits and serve coffee to lonely old business men. Its pretty disgusting, and horribly machismo, but we had to go. At first, like any such establishment, we felt dirty for even opening the door. But then, half the businessmen walked out and then some women came in with their kids. I guess café con piernas is a family destination as well.
We walked around some plazas. Plaza de Armas. It should really be called Plaza de Hotdogs. Santiago has some of the most disgusting food I’ve come across in all of my travels. Nearly everywhere seems to have signs to boast their sandwiches – be it hot dogs or hamburgers or sloppy meat sandwiches with who knows what kind of meat piled over the sides of boring bread that could put the most overdone Arby’s sandwich to shame. Oh, and the mayo. SO MUCH MAYO. On everything. Cups of mayo. Mayo could give the hotdog a run for the official food of Santiago.
Back to the plazas and city. Plaza de Armas has an entire side of a block dedicated to hotdog stands. Each hot dog stand seems to offer exactly the same things as the stand next to it. Some stands are clearly more popular than other stands. What sets them apart, we’ll never know.
Just a few blocks away exists a very similar phenomenon where on a single narrow street, there are around 20 or so very small small appliance repair shops. Each one displays its replacement blender pitcher arrangement proudly in a glass case, along with various other parts. It would seem as though all they could possibly repair were blenders, but some had other random appliance parts from can openers, coffee makers, hair dryers, and other small appliances that would never ever ever be worth your time and money to repair. But there they were, all doing exactly the same thing, competing with their immediate neighbors for the same business.
In the neighborhood which we stayed in, Bellas Artes, there seemed to be maybe one restaurant within blocks to eat at. Everything else was cafés. It was the Café quadrant. In Bella Vista, just across the highway, there were tons of restaurants and some bars, but not so many cafés. A few blocks from that were sketchy bars and nightclubs, but no restaurants.
The layout reminded me of how I’ve heard of Brasilia described. Restaurants in one quarter of the city, hotels in the opposite quarter, and shopping in some other quarter, with a taxi required to get in between them all. Santiago may not be quite as bad, but its not so great to just wander outside of your hotel and find great things.
We continue to walk around, exploring various pockets. At one point we see this amazingly different building with a grid-like rusty structure around it. It may have been a museum. Maybe it was a shopping mall. Or probably a college. We should go in, though, naturally. So we do. And we find a security guard. Alex asks “que es este edificio?” She gives us this look like we had just spoken blasphemy. In Spanish…
“This Building? This BUILDING is the Culture Center. You know, culture? Arts, theater, cinema, photography…”
and basically stopped mid-sentence and shook her head because she thought we weren’t worth the time and were clearly so uncultured that we wouldn’t know what culture was if it smacked us in the face. We learned a bit about Chilean security guard culture, and decided it was time to immediately leave.
We climbed a hill. Then we climbed a bigger hill and took a funicular down. You might think this was the wrong order, but if you saw the line to take the funicular up, you’d agree with our decision.
We walked around a lot, took silly photos of street art and funny street signs and stuff like this:
To the grocery store. I took a photo of the hot dog aisle.
My friend, Christine noticed this photo and said she took the same photo. She did. And she wrote a gerat article about hot dogs in Santiago here. We picked a bottle of delicious and inexpensive Chilean wine. Some cheese. Breakfast things – because we decided we could do a better job cooking eggs and placing them on bread than any non-existent non-hotdog-breakfast-stand could hope to. (which, it turns out, Alex did quite well at). We went through the checkout line, which was of course slow and obnoxious, and then required me to return to the back of the store to weigh the bread we had placed in a bag, despite there being a scale right on the checkout counter in front of the cashier. Slow.
But then, it was all made up for when the supermarket music switched to the next track – Careless Whisper by George Michael. The girl bagging our groceries started giggling, and told the cashier “la canción!”, pointing to the overhead speakers. Alex and I also began to laugh, knowing exactly what it was that was so entertaining. “Por el video Youtube?” Sí.
Some things are funny no matter what hemisphere you are in.