My favourite thing about my time in Santiago was the fact that it was spent with my brother Ettienne. We share a dry sense of humour and although we're not knocking each other's doors down (bar the annual get-together at Christmas or Easter) I looked forward to sharing this experience with him a lot. In a family with four siblings born years apart one-on-one time is a gift.
I was three thousand kilometers away from Santiago minding my own business at a spiritual healing center in the Peruvian Amazon when my brother – travelling for work near Calama in the north of Chile – suggested a quick rendezvous during a work assignment for which he had travelled all the way from Australia.
Two flights (Iquitos-Lima, Lima-Santiago) with Peruvian Air and Avianca respectively and a couple of days later we met up having done zero research on what to actually get up to once we were there. It seemed we had a few things in common, we wanted to spend as little as possible seeing as much as possible, so we got on with a bit of late night research after the customary “Hi, how are you’s”. Having pinpointed several items of interest we ventured out into the icy night in search of an authentic looking restaurant and before long settled on an obscure pub. It ticked two boxes: it served Pisco Sours and the food seemed appropriately Chilean (not that we would actually know, the fact that we had to use Google Translate somehow convinced us that this was the real deal).
The next day we set out to explore the city by foot, walking tours after all are free in most cities and it has never been in our nature to spend unnecessarily. The night before we had a look at all the things we could get up to without losing valuable time travelling and decided on splurging only on the thing most foreign to us both: snow. Growing up in Namaqualand, South Africa it was not something we were used to. On the morning of the walking tour I was grateful we had a travel veteran in our midst, we were joined by a colleague of Ettienne’s who helped us navigate Santiago’s subway system to our walking tour meeting point at the Plaza de Armas. It was very early. It was very cold. The scheduled meeting time came and went, no guide in sight. There comes a point when you realize you don’t in fact need to be led anywhere and for us that happened relatively quickly, the beautiful architecture beckoned and so our day started.
We lingered for some time in the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago to witness a long and drawn out procession. I’ve always been attracted to the architectural characteristics of historic churches, the colour and detail especially of the adornments inside capturing my attention every time. How skilled these artists were. Much later back in Peru, a friend of mine raising his eyebrows at this statement made me wonder whether these depictions of angels, innocence and love weren’t perhaps the nineteenth century version of today’s Photoshop’ed print & digital media. The colours unnaturally vivid on the stain glass windows, the marbled skin of the floating cherub flawless. A promise on a pedestal of hope too high for the any commoner to reach in their lifetime. I settled for the thought that this was just the world through the eyes of the artist, however fantastical it seemed.
We happened across a hop-on hop-off coach tour company later that day and after grabbing a couple of sugar-free rhubarb ice cream lollies we ‘hopped’ on. I do enjoy these types of tours, but for the practical side of people watching from the upper deck as well as the superior angle from which to photograph the sites with. As with Brazil, Colombia and Peru where I had travelled to in recent months, there was a strong military presence in the city, whether it be soldiers on patrol, guard or in transit (I’m such a sucker for a man in uniform).
Santiago impressed and surprised. I didn’t expect it’s sophistication (more due to lack of expectation setting as a whole than anything else), nor the wide spectrum of architectural styles. English is widely understood as a second language and my broken Spanish was patiently tolerated by the warm locals. The city has the kind of versatility that would satisfy any kind of traveller. Uber works well here, strong Wi-Fi was available in our hotel and the Costanera Shopping Center and the public transport is effective, affordable and maps easy to understand. The amenities are modern, however accommodation is expensive.
During my in-bound flight to Chile I had the pleasure of hearing stories of scrumptious Chilean cooking at family get togethers in the lush countryside of the south of the country from a local man travelling back home after a family member’s funeral in the north. He illustrated so beautifully what Chile had to offer off the beaten track and I know in my heart of hearts I will go back to this country one day. For now, I would make the most of the few days I had left.