Santiago (8 – 11 February)

Santiago initially felt daunting. We landed late at night and had to sleep over in airport til morning before heading to our Couchsurfing place. So we started moving between 7-8 in the morning, when all the shops and cafes were still closed and the city seemed pretty bleak. But this impression changed tremendously during the next four days we spent there.

First, Conzalo, our host, is just super hospitable and it was great to spend time with him. He gave us a lot of suggestions on where to go and what sights to visit, and also took the time to do some of the hikes with us.

As in other places in South America, you must visit Plaza de Armas. It was also our first tourist attraction. Fortunately, our apartment was in the city center and just a 20 minutes walk from the city’s central square. The square was surrounded by beautiful cathedrals and churches, and of course there was a rhythmic Latin music there. Kaija would probably have stayed there to watch the music and dance performance til the evening if the tight schedule hadn’t forced us to move on.

We were also advised to visit the Mercado Central, known for its fresh seafood. We soon walked away from the market, because for us the aggressive sales work of local restaurant operators were a bit too much and, like a typical Estonian, we felt like attacking us. The market also seemed a little too expensive. Conzalo advised us to eat in a market that is located across the road from Mercado Central, the Mercado de Abastos, because there are some more affordable prices. However, we also decided to skip it because we were overwhelmed by aggressive salesmen and our stomachs were not so empty.

We also visited the beautiful Santa Lucia park in the center. It’s just a beautiful place to walk around, spend time and eat ice cream.

Within those few days, we also visited the La Chascona Museum dedicated to the famous local poet. We were very pleased with the visit to the museum because in general, we like the house museums. It is exciting to see how the rich and famous have lived. In addition, the museum was very well structured and informative. We recommend it to anyone who visits Santiago. Another museum we went through was the Violeta Parra Museum dedicated to a local musician.

Our favorite place we visited is Baha ‘s temple. It is a bit outside of the city, but it is undoubtedly worth the effort to get there. We were lucky, because Conzalo’s friends joined us, so we didn’t have to take the metro or bus, and instead we got there by car. The temple itself is very impressive. It symbolizes the flower of hope and is a place open to all people not only to prayers. The temple is built on an ideal spot because on top of the hill you can observe the whole city of Santiago in its full glory.

Conzalo also introduced us to some local cuisine and took us to a restaurant where we could taste pastel de choclot. This is definitely one of the foods the recipe we will take home. In addition, Conzalo also introduced to us the culture of the empanadas. In Chile, it is almost compulsory to taste the “pina empanadas” which is a local traditional pie filled with beef, egg, and olives. If a Chileans go out to drink to a bar to have a beer or wine, then it is also almost obligatory to have French fries, which are overlaid with beef and cheese. It is a traditional shared snack plate just like a garlic bread in Estonia. In Chile, it’s easy with wine, just choose a bottle from the store and you can be sure it’s a quality wine. It is not necessary to spend too much choosing a good wine because almost all local wines are good.

During our stay in Santiago, we also managed to take one day for hiking. Since Conzalo is also a big fan of hiking, he invited us to explore the waterfalls near San Jose del Maipos together with a friend of his. First, there was quite a few hours’ drive with a car. There is nothing close in a big country like Chile. We drove almost to Argentina. But we didn’t complain, because the place we went to was really wonderful. Although, due to the low water in the summer, the water was a bit darker and maybe not as beautiful as it usually is, but still we were fascinating. We walked up along the waterfalls until we reached the highest of them. We had a little cold shower in the water and enjoyed quiet and peace because besides us there were no other people.

Next, we had a choice to either go see another major waterfall or take a short hike to the Mirador de Condores. The hike supposed to be simple on the relatively flat terrain (at least this is what we were told). So we decided to take a walk. Quite quickly, it turned out that the so-called “easy hike” means walking for 2 hours up the hill. We were not well prepared for this, because Jaanus was wearing his crocks and Kaija her simple sneakers. We were quite dispirited at first. But when we arrived, we immediately felt happy because the views that opened to us were just wonderful! We started to prepare dinner and enjoy wine and cheese. We were fortunate enough because there were a number of condors flying above our heads. The people who we saw returning said they couldn’t see any, but we saw many of them! Maybe because it was already late, almost sunset and the birds came out of their nests to look for food. So we admire the sunset while observing the condors. Although we had to return in complete darkness, down the hill, we were happy. This was our first experience in the darkness in the desert, surrounded by cactuses, on the unknown trail. Fortunately, the stars were shining so beautifully that we didn’t even bother the fact that we got lost a few times on the way back. In the end, we still made it back to our car alive and healthy.

To sum up, we were very pleased with 4 days spent in Santiago! We’ve realized that we should definitely use more Couchsurfing in the future because from the locals we get very different and better suggestions than those we usually find on the Internet. Conzalo made our time in Santiago really special and a thousand thanks to him for this!

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