Thursday, 14 March 2013

Chile-Santiago; Poets, Pisco and Mountains

Craig Writes; Our bodies are all asking, "what the?" at the moment. We flew out of Auckland on Sunday at 10.30pm and landed eleven hours later in Chile, on Sunday, at 5.30pm. I get how it all works with the time zones etc but try explaining it to your body clock. It's as hard as it must have been for the Captain of our LAN flight when he got on the intercom to explain, in his best broken english, why our flight from NZ had been delayed six hours. Half way through a sentence, struggling to find the right word, he just stopped. Literally in mid sentence, just gave up even trying and lapsed into stone cold silence before the clicking off of the intercom. Puzzled face looked at puzzled face, then grins all round. I think we all thought as long as he knows how to fly the plane it doesn't really matter if he doesn't know how to finish his sentences.

Here's the thing about travel. Just when you think you've seen the best, the biggest, the brightest, something bigger, better or brighter will walk around the corner and surprise you.  The mountain ranges in the South of NZ were spectacular, and always will be to us, but the Andes. WOW ! The longest continental mountain range in the world, 7,000 kms long, up to 400kms wide and an AVERAGE height of 4,000 metres. When you first see them from the air you cant believe your eyes.  You feel like you've just landed in an episode of Land of The Giants. A stunning site, put it on your bucket list.

We were warned they don't talk a lot of english here in good old Chile. Once in the hotel we thought a nice cuppa would be good to help settle in.  There were lots of tea bags but only a coffee percolator. It took an hilarious 45 minutes and six different conversations to try and get a kettle for the room and a small jug of milk. Finally, room service knocks on the door and there stands a smiling fella with a tall glass of milk, a jug of hot water...and a bill for three dollars.   We'll just order tea from room service from now on.

Well not sleeping for 36 hours has seemed to have helped knock the jet lag on the head. Callum did likewise and he and I have definitely woken up  fresher than Christina and Charlie who decided to nap on the plane. In the hope of getting everyone back on track, we had a lazy first day, at least 'til 3pm. We had  heard about a free three hour walking tour around the city that sounded good, so, after most of the day inside we ventured out to get our first real look at a busy Chile.
This country has a population of 17 million people and 6 million of them live right here in the capital Santiago. The next largest is Valeperaiso with 1.5 million. One of the first things you notice is all the dogs.  Everywhere you go there are dogs of every variety walking the streets. I was amazed when told there are apparently four million street dogs in the whole of Chile.  Yes , four million. And not the skinny scared flea bitten variety like in Vietnam, actually well fed and healthy looking canines. They are revered here, fed and looked after by the population. There are even permanent dog houses erected in the local parks to offer some shelter. It's amazing. They're are so many of them, and although they are all friendly, they don't beg for scraps or cause any trouble. If they like you they'll follow you for a while out of interest then suddenly peel away and vanish.

We only went to see where the tour left from, thinking we may go tomorrow. The guide, Fillipe, seemed like a nice guy and he spoke good english, so we thought, why not, lets go now. He was terrific and these walking tours are a great idea. Although the "free" part is a bit misleading because he does say up front that it is customary to tip $10US to $15US per person at the end if you feel you have had good value.  No pressure though, he says it once then gets on with it.  One of the great things about this sort of experience is that when you're with a local you try things you might normally not try if you were by yourself. We stopped at a small street vendor for some honey roasted almonds and a traditional Chilean beverage. Mote con Huesillo. A heaped spoonful of wheat in a cup, a couple of juicy peach halves on top, some cinnamon and filled up with peach juice. Sweet and delicious.
Fillipe gets very passionate about his peaches
And I can see why....very tasty

 Half way through the tour we stopped at a cafe in the La Starria district for a 30 minute break and were introduced to another National favourite, The Pisco Sour. Pisco is a grape liquor, 35 percent proof. You add lemon juice, sugar and one egg white. Shake and serve cold.  Veerry nice but be warned, it has a velvet kick.  We had them with the best beef Empanadas and shrimp and cheese Empanadas I've ever had.

We started the tour in the Plaza De Armas and ended up three and a half hours later at one of the homes of Chiles Nobel prize winning poet, Pablo Neruda.
The Plaza de Armes
 In between we were shown National Galleries, Palaces, Museums, Cathedrals, Parks, the best eating districts, the party part of town and more. Fillipe was an absolute font of knowledge on everything from where to get the best and cheapest Pastel de Choclo, Corn pie, the best value Lapis Lazuli and plenty of stories on everything from the horrific demise of Pedro de Valdivia, the founder of Santiago in 1541, by the Maupuche natives, to what Chileans really think of General Augusto Pinochet. We bid our trusty guide Adios and gladly paid him his tip. Worth every Peso and probably a bit more.
The Plaza is surrounded by beautiful architecture
Strong French and Spanish influences
The old Supreme Court building
Chile is the most progressive country in South America and is doing so on the back of it's enormous copper deposits. But, like most developed or developing nations, the rich are the ones getting rich and the poor are getting poorer.  Six percent of the population here have 90% of the countries wealth. Five families basically run and control the country and if your not a member or associated with them your prospects are limited. Ten million of the total population of seventeen million survive on $800US per month or less.  Prices are going up but wages aren't. As our guide was saying, it all looks good on the surface, the tourist gets to see the shiny parts, but underneath, for the working class, things are grim. It's an all too familiar story.

Once again we find ourselves in a country of movers and shakers. Chile sits on the  precarious boundary of the Nazca and South American Tectonic plates and is the site of the largest quake ever measured. The 1960 Valdevia quake measured 9.5 on the Richter scale and produced a Tsunami 25 metres high. At the moment they get small quakes quite regularly, the ones that might knock some glassware over or skew your pictures, but, every few years they get the big ones. The ones that will knock your house over and repark your car.  The last serious one was in 2010 and measured 8.8 on the Richter Scale. The sixth biggest quake in the last 100 years.  It killed dozens of people and caused a destructive tsunami. They did have a 7.1 last year but that was an inconvenience more than anything.   Really interesting country this one. Pending catastrophic natural disaster aside, our first day in Chile gets a big tick from all of us.

That 36 hours I went without sleep for... what a waste of time that was. Ping, 2.15 am this morning I sit up like i've just come out of a three week coma. I'm up, bright as a sunrise and wondering what the hell's going on. I read, I e- mailed, I journaled and did some yoga. Not a thing worked. At least I was first in the gym at 7am. This may take a few more nights than I'd hoped.

Today we caught a cab to Mercado Central, the fish markets. This was recommended to us by Fillipe, our "free" tour guide, as the place to eat seafood. I had a Paella, which while very good, wasn't a patch on The Smedleys, very dear friends of ours and unbelievable cooks. Christina had a seafood broth which was delicious.
These guys here love their bread, and they want you to love it to. They are the second biggest consumers of bread products, per head of population, in the world. They'll keep throwing complimentary bread and salsa at you all day long. If you get down to your last Sopaipillas, a yummy flat piece of deep fried dough, you'll have another basket in front of you before you can say pass the con Pebre. We ordered way too much food and left the restaurant bursting,unable to fit another morsel in. So, what do you do when on holidays and you have just eaten the equivalent of three meals in one sitting? Why you go walking to find an ice cream parlour of course.  But not just any ice cream parlour. We went in search of, Emporio La Rosa. The most famous Ice Cream Parlour in all of Santiago. We figured with a 30 minute walk we could work up just a little room for a scoop of something. Well, amazing what feats of gluttony you can accomplish with the power of the mind and a total disregard for your cholesterol. Sure enough, 35 minutes later I had a scoop of Chocolate with Pepper and a scoop of Rose ice cream sitting seductively in front of me. Christina had a Rose and Callum had a Chocolate Hazelnut with Caramel. Must say, some of the damn best ice cream.. ever. That was about it for today, slow waddle back to the hotel and not much else.  Big tour on tomorrow.

Free bread, salsa and a serenade at the Fish Markets
How is it such a small cup can hold so much pleasure?

Got picked up at 9am by our tour guide, Juan, a lovely elderly gentleman very eager to please. If you have the numbers, i.e at least four people, it is so worth it to hire your own private mini bus, driver and tour guide. The price difference for us as a family of four between that and a big Greyhound type bus with forty other people is only $40US. The drive to Valparaiso is about ninety minutes. We had a short stop at a Llama farm and got to sample yet another National favourite wine. This time it was a low alcohol drink we think was called Chisco but I'm not exactly sure. It's no big loss because it tasted exactly like apple cider vinegar.  The stop was only about 20 minutes then on to visit one of the houses of Chiles most famous poet, Pablo Neruda.

We met some llama farmers
Naruda won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971 and was considered by some to be the greatest poet of the 20th century. He was also a diplomat and once served as a Senator for the Chilean Communist Party. He died in suspicious circumstances in 1973 three days after being hospitalised for prostate cancer. It is thought that General Pinochet, who had just come to power, had a hand in his death. His body is about to be exhumed in April this year for testing to finally prove one way or another the final cause of his death.  He owned three houses, each of them filled with the most amazing eclectic collection of object d art.

The one we visited he bought in 1959 and was called La Sebastiana. A full size old wooden carousel horse stood poised on a curved section of raised flooring in the small lounge, a large white porcelain punch cow used for mixing and serving his own home made concoctions sat on an elaborately inlayed table of Chinese origins. A set of embossed wine glasses used by Tsar Nicholas, stained glass windows in curved doors,  old ship portals for windows up the five floors of narrow stained pine staircases. The chair he called "The Cloud" in which he sat to gaze at the lovely Port of Valparaiso for inspiration, his old typewriter, his books, his bed with matching old sea chests placed on either side. All original, all amazing and so full of life. This act of discovery is one of the great gifts of travel.  I had never heard of this talented man before today. A man recognised and loved as a national treasure. A man worthy of the greatest prize for literature on the planet.  I had the opportunity of walking through his house, viewing his most personal and beloved possessions, seeing where he sat, contemplated and wrote. It is such a privilege.
The view from Pablo Naruda's balcony
From here we were taken to The Castle. A beautiful restaurant overlooking the Vina del Mar and Renaca beaches. A surly choppy day on the sea but the sun was warm, the sky was blue, the wine was cold and the seafood fresh and delicious. 

Lunch at The Castle
And look who we met there.
After lunch, a tour around the town which has been classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO. It is often referred to as the San Francisco of Latin America due to it's many steep and winding streets. I've been to San Fran and don't really get the reference but there you go. We stopped to see a herd of seals hanging out on a giant rock, not doing much, just hanging out.

A 180 view over Valparasio and Vina del Mar
The drive back was sleepy and uneventful apart from a stop at a home crafts store that sold some very nice Lapis Lazuli jewellery. Lapis is a blue semi precious stone that is only produced in Chile and Afghanistan but I believe the Americans have bombed the mine in Afghanistan so for the foreseeable future, Chile is it. It's nice but to me it's kind of like the Wedgwood of jewellery. Nice to look at in some ones house but not sure I would buy any for myself. Having said that, Christina bought a nice little pair of earrings that are cute.

We just had to make one final pilgrimage to Emporio La Rosa for one more hit of the best ice cream in Latin America so we asked to be dropped there instead of the hotel. Such a treat, ice cream in the park, just us, some locals and of course several dogs.
We nearly had a hero moment on the stroll back to the hotel. We were walking on a crowded San Antonio St, only a few blocks from our hotel, when this guy carrying a couple of large packages and a harried look on his face comes barging through the crowd towards us. He's shouting something in Spanish which of course we have no idea what it is. We assume he's running late for a bus so I move aside and make some room for him. The concerned look on his face as his pushes by is certainly the look of a guy in a hurry. He rushes by and the crowd on the path quickly closes back in on itself. All off a sudden another figure comes bursting through looking just as hurried but this one has a more determined look on his face and, happens to be wearing a uniform.  We turn to watch as he flies by us, he ducks and weaves like a rugby winger, quickly closing in on his quarry. All of a sudden the packages in question go flying through the air and land at his feet. Sensing imminent capture the crook has flung his booty back at his pursuer, who lucky for him, decides to stop and rescue the packages while he disappears into the crowd. All very exciting. If I had my wits about me I could have stood in this guys way and slowed him down while Callum jumped on him and put him in a sleeper hold. Maybe next time.


Metcalf RTW2013 said...

Very entertaining...good work! I like the sound of Chile.

Clare M said...

Craig, please dont even think about tackling anyone even if they are a crook- we may never see you again!