We left Auckland, New Zealand and flew direct to Santiago, Chile on an 11 hour flight. New Zealand is 15 hours ahead so with the time difference, we arrived before we had even set off. It was a little bit of a struggle working out how to get to our hostel. We thought we could get the metro direct from the airport, but turns out you have to get a bus to the metro first and it was all in very fast, overwhelming Spanish, but we got there in the end. Whoever says jet lag isn’t real is unequivocally, lying. Neither of us had experienced jet lag anywhere close to this before. We were nocturnal and completely useless for about 3 days! Our first two nights were staying in a hostel near Parque Forrestal. Santiago is a huge city with very little green spaces so this park is always packed with people and pets alike. Our few excursions during the jet lag days were to the park. We then moved hostel to a slightly different area. Our room was on the first floor with a balcony and at 3am, whilst we couldn’t sleep with jet lag, Dave heard something, got up and pulled back the curtain to see a man about to attempt a break in! He put his leg over and jumped off the balcony when he saw Dave. A bit of an uneasy start to South America!
Our first proper outing led us to Castillo Hidalgo, an old castle on a hill in the city centre. There are a quite a few steps to get up to the top but it did give an impressive view of the city surrounded by the Andes mountain range in the distance. Santiago has so much pollution that the mountains are obscured in a sort of haze. The real highlight of the castle for me was catching sight of Hummingbirds! I have only ever caught a brief glimpse of one in Barbados but here, in the middle of a concrete jungle, there were about 5 feeding on the nectar from a red cactus – see photos below! Google tells me that they are green-backed Firecrown Hummingbirds. In the evening, we stumbled upon an amazing restaurant in the Listeria area called Bocanariz, well, its predominantly a wine bar with over 300 types of wine. Dave said the Red Carignan he chose was the best wine he’d ever tried, but it also had delicious food including the best empanadas ever – a staple here in Chile.
I took Spanish for 2 years when I was 15/16 (8 years ago now!) and I was quite good at the time though now it is very rusty! Dave could only say hello and our first few days in Santiago made us realise by far, this country spoke the least English we’d encountered yet. This isn’t me saying I expect all countries to speak English (why should they?), it was just quite the shock. Especially considering Dave usually does 100% of talking to strangers, checking in, getting directions, recommendations etc. I’m very shy and prefer to just loiter usually with my camera around my neck. But here, roles are reversed and it’s bad enough I have to converse with strangers, but now I have to converse in Spanish! Anyway, point being, we decided we needed to take some Spanish lessons ASAP; Dave to learn the basics and me to brush up and get some confidence. We did a bit of research and enquired whether there were 2 places available to start the following Monday (in 2 days time). They replied promptly and so we enrolled for a week course with Escuela Bellavista.
You can book accommodation through them, either a hostel or a Chilean family exchange but we decided to just book our own apartment for the week in Santa Rosa where we were up on the 11th floor (fortunately no more break ins) and with a perfect view of the skyline and the spectacular Santiago sunsets – see below! There are 5 levels in Escuela Bellavista; complete beginner (Dave’s class), Basic 1, Basic 2 (my class), Intermediate and Advanced. We completed a quick online test before starting and had a meeting with a Spanish teacher before being sorted in to our groups; I think we were both put in the perfect levels. There were 7 people in Dave’s class and 8 in mine, so fairly small groups. Though we could definitely have done with at least 2 or 3 weeks of classes, I do think it was really good for basic practice for me and basic words for Dave. We did a few activities with the school after classes too which gave the opportunity to practice a bit more Spanish. We went to a traditional Chilean restaurant as a big group where Dave tried a ‘Teremoto’ which is a local drink translated to ‘Earthquake’ which is apparently the effect it has on your head once you’ve had too many. It’s essentially cheap, sweet, fermented wine with pineapple ice cream to be consumed in large quantities. We then did a city walking tour with one of the teachers; perhaps not the greatest walking tour we’ve done but interesting nonetheless and we walked round places we had not yet been such as the Palace Moneda which has been restored after it was bombed during the military coup and Plaza de Armas. On the last day of our classes, we joined a Pisco Sour making class. It was more about being handed multiple glasses of Pisco sour and chatting than actually making it. Funnily enough, after not really drinking alcohol for 6 months and having 6 cocktails, my Spanish was the best yet!
In our own time, we climbed Cerro San Cristobal. You can get a funicular up but we decided to walk. At the top of the hill, there’s a 14m statue of the Virgin Mary. Some people go up for the religious element, but for us, it was more about going to see the views of the city. Unfortunately, the pollution haze made the visibility quite poor but nonetheless a spectacular site seeing the juxtaposition of snowy mountains and a hugely built up city.
Our final stop in Santiago was the Museum of memory and human rights. The museum is free but we decided to pay the $2000 pesos (£2.50) for an English audio guide. It’s very heavy with 70 ‘chapters’ to listen to throughout the museum but it was really educational. Neither of us were particularly knowledgable about Chile’s history of dictatorship under Pinochet from 1973-1990. It was very moving and interesting to learn more about the initial military coup, hear from survivors, understand the role of the media, see the impact of cultural censorship and the condemnation from other countries. I think the most interesting part for us was listening to the former president Salvador Allende’s final speech broadcast to the nation on the radio before he killed himself on the day of the coup after the parliament had been bombed. We were reading the translated subtitles, but I imagine listening in Spanish would have been all the more powerful. It’s absolute madness that he remained so composed and delivered such an inspirational speech to the Chilean people moments before his death.
Join us next time when we go to Valparaiso, the street art capital!
Thanks for reading,
Sophie & Dave