Jul 6 11

Te Amo, Santiago!

by Emily Benjamin

I love Santiago. There, I’ve said it. The city, the people, the surroundings are all beautiful. The mix of foods, the options for sight seeing and the freezing cold air – I love it all. And this is after only one day!

Knowing we have only two full days in Santiago itself, with the rest of the time being spent in Valparaiso and Easter Island, we made the most of it with an early start on Saturday. Franco from Free Tours Santiago met us in the Plaza de Armes for a four hour walking tour of the city. The sky was blue, it was a crisp 5 degrees, and it was one of the very rare days that the mountains were visible. Not just any mountains – the Andes, surrounding the entire city. Together with about 10 others, Monkey and I got shown Santiago by the experts, and Franco was excellent. I could recite the entire tour here, and take up a few hours, but to be honest I probably missed a lot of the details about the history of Santiago. Check with Monkey’s post though, because he has a better memory for these things. As for me – I was distracted, as usual, by the colours and lines and sights to see. Beautiful streets lined with trees of golden brown leaves, old buildings, new buildings, parks and graffitied walls – it was all stunning. And even better with the backdrop of mountains, snow capped and clear, although a little hazier as the day went on.

Besides the beautiful sights of the city, here were the two big highlights from the tour:

- Dogs rule the city. Most Chileans, excluding the government, believe the city belongs to the dogs and the people just get to live there, too. And there are dogs everywhere. We saw some wearing clothes, so we figured they weren’t all strays, but apparently they are. Locals will dress the dogs, especially now in winter, with spare jumpers and jackets that they no longer wear. During the World Cup last year, Santiago’s dogs were dressed in Chilean jerseys and hats – how I would have loved to see that! And the dogs are all friendly. They will follow big groups, or sit with you in the park. They won’t pester you for food – because the locals will feed them. And dress them, and even vaccinate them. These dogs are well looked after!

- The coffee in Chile was always very bad. So in the 60′s, a Venezualan man introduced something else to entice the coffee drinks. Enter Coffee on Legs. Cafes where you can be served coffee (still poor quality, apparently) by scantilly dressed women. Tight dresses, short skirts, and a smile in exchange for an average coffee and a tip. A few of these popped up, but more recently business has been slow at these original coffee shops. Competition set in, and now you can get, er, less bang for your buck. Behind blacked out windows, female baristas now serve you still-average coffee in their underwear. Suspenders, g-strings and corsets – far more riske than a tight dress or short skirt! And to make the shop even more enticing, they offer a Happy Minute four times a day. For that minute, the ladies will take off their tops and dance on the bar. You don’t know what time these Happy Minutes are, though – so you can assume there are probably a few people in there, sipping on their 10th coffee, hoping for a topless performance. Sounds like a strip club, right? Exactly – it looks like a strip club and night club in one, but only serving coffee. Not that I went in there, or anything…

The tour finished at 2pm so we made our way back to the hostel for a rest. On the way back, we picked up a traditional Chilean hot dog, and a beanie. Random combination, right? Let me explain. Santiago has a high population of students, in particular in the Bella Vista area where our tour finished. Here you have heaps of hot dog stands, serving mostly the same thing. Not just sauce, onions and cheese – these bad boys are topped with diced tomato, thick guacamole and tahini, plus whichever sauces you wish to add. There isn’t room for much more though – the bun is already overflowing with toppings. Honestly, there was at least a whole avocado on my hot dog, which alone would cost $3 in Australia (or 2 for $5!). But these delicious snacks are only 800 Pesos – about $1.60. Delicious – next time I’m trying the ‘As’ which replaces the sausage with beef steak – om nom. Secondly (that’s right, there was a second point!) I found myself an alpaca beanie. My ears had been freezing all day, but now they are toasty warm. Hot dog and warm ears make Emily Benjamin a happy girl!

In the afternoon, still wanting to make the most of our time in the city, we took the funicular up Saint Theresa for a view of the city and mountains. It was stunning – see attached. We left just before sunset, as the mountains started to glow pink and gold from the sun. I was so happy to see the mountains, after reading numerous posts about the haze and pollution in Santiago. But luck was on our side, with 360 degree views of the Andes surrounding Santiago. Absolutely gorgeous.

Now we’re heading to Easter Island for Monkey’s birthday present. What does one get the man that has no home? A weekend away in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, that’s what! We’ve got two days here to enjoy hiking and volcanos and seafood before heading back to Santiago to visit the rest of the city. Phew, this whole post was just from one day?! I must be inspired!

Cheers, Em :)

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