South America Part 2 – Santiago, Chile

After 14 hours of transit, the second leg of my South American adventure has begun. Don’t worry, I know I’m behind about a month on the past adventures, but I’ll have to come back to that at a later time! As I sit here in my hostel common area with no one around, I am overcome with loneliness, a feeling I am not accustomed to both while traveling and at home. For the first time in a very long time I am homesick. It could very well be because I’m exhausted from traveling and haven’t really had a conversation with anyone since I said goodbye to my mom and dad 24 hours earlier. Or it could be the fact that since going home 2 months earlier, I never really had a chance to get bored. I was either visiting with family or friends and didn’t really have a chance to get tiresome, therefore also making me not entirely ready to say goodbye again. I’ve always thought I could be a solo traveler, but after tonight I don’t think it’s something I’m cut out for.

The following morning I decided to join a free walking tour of Santiago in hopes of meeting fellow travelers. Santiago is home to almost half of Chile’s population, a testament to the pollution that surrounds the city. This particular tour wasn’t the usual major sights kind of tour, but more about the local markets. Our first stop was to the Mercado Central also known as Estacion Mapocho, a market strictly for selling seafood. The center of the market is lined with restaurants that draw crowds around lunchtime. Since none of us could stand the smell of fish anymore, we headed to La Vega Central Market, a massive roofed market selling all kinds of fresh produce. La Vega is where the locals near and far come to purchase their produce. On the way to our last stop of the tour, the cemetery, our guide bought us Sopaipillas, a Chilean fried pastry made of pumpkin, flour, and salt. I am typically sold on anything containing pumpkin so I was more than happy to try this delicious treat. The cemetery is big enough to fit 1,117 football fields and is where presidents and poets alike are buried. We stopped at one particular grave that our guide told us was home to that of a saint. In Chilean culture one becomes a saint if they are young and have died tragically. Once one is deemed a saint locals come to pray for miracles at the grave and when or if the miracle is granted that same person must return with a marble plaque of gratitude. The grave our tour guide brought us to was the burial site of a 9 year old little girl who was brutally raped and murdered. After walking a few hundred yards away from the grave we were told the real story. The girl was in fact 37 years old and had been a prostitute. She was loved by many that her friends spread a rumor about her grave to immortalize her. Although the grave does not belong to a 9 year old girl, locals still believe in the story and the powers of her saint. To end the tour, our guide bought us all a terremoto, which is a local drink commemorating the many earthquakes Chile has endured (including 5 of the largest in history). It is a mixture of white wine, grenadine, and pineapple ice cream…delicious but dangerous!

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After the tour, two other solo travelers, our tour guide and myself decided to grab some lunch back at La Vega market. Having not yet experienced Chilean wine, Ali and I headed to a wine bar (recommended by our tour guide) after lunch. I ordered the ocean to mountain flight of tastings, which included one white wine from the coast and two red wines from the mountains. I don’t normally enjoy red wines, but I liked both of these tastings very much, now if only I could remember the names! It was nice to have someone to share travel stories with and relax over a glass of wine (Ali has been traveling Latin America for 10 months).

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My hostel was hosting a free hotdog night, therefore I headed back to shower and clean up. I received a message from a friend I met in Peru and ran into again in Bolivia that he would be arriving in Santiago for the second leg of his adventures as well. You can imagine my excitement as I haven’t been feeling quite like myself and I was thrilled at the thought of seeing a familiar face… and he was just in time for hotdog night 😉

I don’t normally do much research on a place before I arrive, which can be both a blessing and a curse. A curse because I go into a new city completely blinded, but a blessing in the fact I have no preconceived notions or judgments. This is why I love the free walking tours, they are immensely beneficial for me and why in particular I decided to participate in two walking of Santiago. JC joined me on my 2nd walking tour of the city. It was approximately 4 hours and let’s just say this time around I lost interest rather quickly. One of the key highlights I do remember is the Palacio de la Moneda, where President Salvador Allende was killed (or committed suicide depending on who you speak with), which brought Pinochet to power on September 11, 1973, the start of the dictatorship. While on the tour, we witnessed an equal rights protest for gays/lesbians going on in the street, there had to have been at least 10,000 people marching. We ended the tour at the foot of the Cerro San Cristobal, where myself and a few others from the walking tour decided to head up the funicular. The tour happened to end around sunset and we were rewarded with spectacular views from the top, where the Virgin Mary statue stands. As we made our descent down the hill we quickly realized we were not on the correct path. By the time we made it all the way down it was time to go out, so we continued walking to Bellavista, an area full of bars and restaurants. We ended the night at a Spanish Karaoke bar, a perfect end to this already surprising day!

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The following day, none of us were feeling particularly adventurous so we headed to the biggest (and nicest) shopping mall in Santiago. After waking around for a few hours, we headed back to the hostel to cook dinner and have a relaxing night in. A few of us got to talking on the rooftop terrace about hiking in La Campana, a national park just outside of Santiago. We convinced a few people to change their plans and ended up with a group of 6 people on board for some outdoor adventure. Around 11 am the next day we were on our way to La Campana. We didn’t have enough time to hike to the summit, but it was nice to get away from the city for a bit and into nature.

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My hiking crew all left the next day to Valparaiso while I anxiously awaited the arrival of my travel partner, Farima! I enjoyed a relaxing day writing and wandering. Later on in the day I met up with a friend from my sorority for coffee who currently lives in Santiago and then enjoyed a BBQ back at the hostel. I finally started to feel comfortable traveling alone without the comfort of someone from home. I feel a little more confident in my ability to be a solo traveler after these 5 days, but I´m excited to have someone to travel with again!

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