At last, I have found my Chilean family.
When my father was a youngin’ in high school, he did an exchange year in Curico, Chile. Recently, he reconnected with his old “family” via social media and introduced me to his “younger brother,” who now lives in Santiago de Chile with his wife and four kids. He graciously hosted me while I was in the capital, even offered his parents’ spare apartment in Las Condes, a ritzy (really though – the Ritz was down the street) area with subway access at the end of the street and walking distance to a few museums. For almost a week I was la sobrina gringa staying in the spare apartment but sadly, I didn’t get to meet my father’s Chilean parents who still live in Curico.
Mario’s family was full of energy and warmth. My first night I went to dinner with him and his wife Isabel to their favorite place and drank a Chilean specialty, the pisco sour (which both Peru and Chile claim as their own). Another night, I dined in at their apartment and met their son Nicolas, an aspiring fashion photographer, and Isabel’s daughter Sofia, a stylist and makeup artist. I was inspired by their creative minds and aesthetic vision. You can view Nicolas’ portfolio here: http://www.nicolasboada.cl/
During my Santiago stay, I made a 2 hour side trip to Valparaiso, the famed Chilean port town. Although it was winter and I was stuck in a few flash floods and hail storms, the town’s color still absolutely shone through the gloomy skies. Walking along Avenida Alemania one morning, I crossed several different hills and stopped about every two minutes to take pictures of the beautiful streets and homes, in various disarray. Older residents were seen in their picturesque sitting rooms with giant windows and would wave to me as I passed by. At the culmination of one hillside neighborhood, you could see the effects of the April fire that ravaged the hillside. My morning stroll was surprisingly dry and the showers did not start again until I arrived at my destination, Pablo Neruda’s La Sebastiana, one of his three Chilean houses. Neruda loved to look out at the sea and his house reflected a ship-like style.
That day I also wandered through downtown, the marketplace, the port area and then back up to Pata Pata hostel, which had by then filled up with French people. I found hostelmates Chris and Natalie, two Aussies fresh from the airport and went to an early dinner with them and learned that they spoke almost no Spanish. They were two best friends who had traveled a lot of the world together and usually learn bits of the local language to get by but this time didn’t get a chance to learn any Spanish. At first I was shocked and thought it was a bit inconsiderate that they didn’t learn anything beyond hola but then I saw them interact with locals and they were surprisingly clear. Chris was just off a cleansing diet and wanted something greasy. I think that completely counteracts the cleanse but I went with it. We ended up at a typical restaurant that I probably would have skipped but Chris saw a picture of, I kid you not, a mound of french fries topped with onion, spices, hot dogs, beef, and fried eggs. It was a typical Chilean special that he read about. We tried it, it was a grease fest, we ate about half of the giant mound they gave us, and left full. Thankfully we got lost in Valpo’s giant hill neighborhoods on the walk back to the hostel and were able to work some of that off! Because of the rain on my final night, everyone at the hostel decided to stay in and cozy up with Chilean wine, a few drums and guitars and wayyy too many French songs.
Back in Santiago, I took a day to walk around and explore the newly opened Museo de la Memeoria y de los Derechos Humanos, a breath-taking portrayal of the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s presidency and Pinochet’s awful regime in the 70s and 80s. I also had a vegetarian Peruvian lunch, some sort of quiche and later a Chilean alfajor (not as good as the Argentinean ones). I passed the old Mapocho train station, which is now a beautifully restored convention center, el mercado central which mostly sells seafood, la vega central for fresh fruits and despite the winter temperatures I treated myself to lucuma (eggfruit?) ice cream because, When in Rome. I ended up at La Chascona, Pablo Neruda’s house in Santiago that he built for his then lover, Matilde. This house was equally ocean inspired and fascinating. My favorite part was a secret door from the dining room to his bedroom because Neruda loved taking cat naps, even when guests were over.
(Estacion del Tren Mapocho)
(Inside Mapocho) (La Chascona)
On my final day in Santiago, I met up with Pipe (Felipe), a friend of a friend from Colorado who I met when he was visiting in Boulder in 2011. He took me to lunch at La Piojera near el mercado central. La Piojera (http://www.lapiojera.cl/) is a Santiago institution and means “person with lice” in Spanish (referring to the type of people who frequented the place in old times, I suppose). We ate pernil which I’m pretty sure is pork and drank terremotos, both of which are house specialties. Terremoto is Spanish for earthquake the drink consists of fernet, mint, grenadine, a dollop of pineapple ice cream and a guarantee to be sufficiently drunk by the time you finish it. It made for an excellent pre-airport meal. I returned to the apartment to gather my bags and say goodbye to Mario and thank him for his gracious hospitality before taking the subway and quick connection bus to the airport.
Overall, I was very impressed by transportation in Chile (and Argentina too, really). Chile was notably more expensive than Argentina but you could also feel their sense of strong work ethic and determination to make Chile into top economy. Both countries were clearly much more developed than some of the others I’ve been in the past year (cough, cough, Venezeula) and yet while they try to become like a European prototype in South America, they have thankfully not lost their sense of national pride. I hope to live in Argentina or Chile (or maybe Brasil, I have yet to go there) at some point in my twenties.