The only must-do thing on today’s agenda was to do our walking tour and get a feel for the city. The highlights tour wouldn’t start until 3 p.m. so we took our time getting up and ready for the day. At 10:30 a.m. we left the hostel and took off on foot to the nearby Cerro San Cristobal, a giant hill that overlooks downtown Santiago and contains a park for walking, biking, swimming, and even church attending. Yes, that is right. We didn’t know it when we started the very steep inclined path we chose to ascend, but the large statue as the top of the hill we incorrectly presumed from afar was Jesus was instead the Virgin Mary and accompanying her is a stone Virgen del Cerro San Cristobal church and outside amphitheater overlooking all of Santiago. On the way up we took in views of both sides of the hill while commenting on how you really couldn’t see a whole lot of the surrounding mountains because of the smog. That’s unfortunate. But, we did enjoy getting our walking legs back in shape after a week of being driven around in buses even if we were huffing and puffing on the incline.
At the top we caught our breath under a palm tree in the amphitheater while laughing once again at the swarms of school children and groups of tourists not following the “Silencio” signs plastered everywhere. Admittedly, we broke the rule a few times ourselves. Doug suggested that we take the long windy road down to get some more steps so that is exactly what we did. The road snaked around the hill we had climbed up with a few pull offs for views and a handful of friendly well-fed street dogs wanting to escort you part of the way and/or take a bath in the drainage ditches that ran alongside it.
At 1 p.m. we were back at the base walking towards Mercado Central where we had heard we could find some delicious fish for lunch. To get there we walked through Forestal Park, picking up a cup of cut watermelon, enjoying the shade and the quaintness of the Santiago we had seen thus far. It was here we also found some dog houses nearby all the large art which made us question if they were suppose to be art themselves or were actually for housing the street dogs.
Before heading into the market, we stopped in a grocery store for some supplies we desperately needed but were too cheap to pay for in San Pedro de Atacama. The process was a bit painful because for some reason this store chose to put their lotion and shampoo behind a counter that no one was manning. So, the process of paying for our things held up the line a good 5 minutes longer than it needed to.
When that was taken care of we proceeded to the market. We had read that it’s better to eat at the food stands along the outside of the market rather than at the restaurants on the inside and by this time we were quite starving. So, we went inside to find some lunch, quickly admired three fishmonger displays, then got a table at one of the stalls. Lynn had been excited to see shellfish and sea urchin in the displays and immediately figured she’d be getting that for lunch, but that proved to be a bit more difficult than expected since we didn’t know the translations for anything! We used Google Translate the best we could to figure out what was what, but this also led to a lot of confusion. For example “Erizo” was on the menu. When translated as such this is “Hedgehog.” We didn’t think anyone wants to eat hedgehog at a fish market so Doug recommended translating the reverse and lo and behold “Erizo del mar” is sea urchin. All that hard work was for naught though when we learned through broken Spanish that they didn’t have any shellfish on offer today. Instead, Doug ordered some fried conger while Lynn got some pan-fried salmon. Both included two sides which again led to some confusion, but that was OK, because when the food came the fish servings were easily 3x the size we would have normally portioned ourselves back home and we basically ignored the sides. And, better than that, it was wonderfully cooked. It looks like we’ll need to eat more seafood in Chile.
We had 40 minutes to kill now before our tour so we did a brief walk of the rest of the Mercado Central, expecting to find more fish stands throughout, but instead learned that the stands are only around a ring on the outside and the inside is packed full of restaurants, jewelry kiosks, and souvenir stands. So, the market, it seems, is more of a tourist trap than a local market, but that’s OK because the food was good. We then killed some time walking the nearby streets and picking up way too much ice cream (Yes, we ate ice cream after consuming a huge amount of fish. It was a poor decision.) before pulling up a step at the Museo de Bella Artes to await our tour.
When it started the large group was broken into 3 – 1 Spanish-speaking and 2 English-speaking. We were paired with Bernie, a idyllic 19 year old college student who was born in Chile, but lived in Mexico for 13 years before returning once again to Santiago. For the next 3 hours she led us through the streets of Santiago addressing the history and culture of Chile. She explained the presence of the quiltros, the name for Chile’s street dogs, who were brought here by families migrating from the countryside. We even got an in-depth overview of the term of Salvador Allende and his ousting by Augusto Pinochet, once again saddened by the involvement of the U.S. At one point we were joined by a black quiltro (Who we never named!!! For shame!!!) who chose to lie down among us while Bernie was explaining something. Lynn was (understandably) distracted so she chose to rub his belly while Bernie spoke. This act may have been too much appreciated because he then continued to follow us on our tour all the way into the subway where he was prevented from boarding the train. Poor quiltro! The tour ended in a bar where we sampled Chile’s drink, a borgona, cold red wine combined with chopped strawberries and sugar – wayyy too sweet for the two of us.
By this point it was 6 p.m. and we weren’t yet hungry for dinner so we returned to the hostel only to realize an hour later that we weren’t going to be hungry enough to warrant a restaurant meal (So much fish and ice cream!). Instead we went out to grab some light things from a nearby grocery store while also hoping to check out sunglasses for Doug at a mall. Doug has now broken or scratched 3 pairs of sunglasses on this trip, but unfortunately “mall” in Google Maps does not equal shopping mall so that was a bust. Instead we roamed a random street market we had come across, amused by the number of people selling pot-filled sweets before finally making our way to the grocery store and picking up some cheese, chorizo, and crackers for Doug (a very Doug meal) and tomatoes and mango for Lynn (a very Lynn meal).
We went back to the hostel and enjoyed our snacks while watching more of The Americans before calling it a night.
Daily Walking Mileage: 13.5
- Chile once tried to clean the streets of their quiltros by “sacrificing them,” but were unsuccessful when the locals pulled all the dogs into their home when they saw the trucks coming. So, instead everyone works together to take care of the dogs by providing food and water, clothes in the winters, dog houses throughout the city, and spaying and neutering. Yay puppies!
- Chile doesn’t have a coffee culture like you’d expect. They tend to drink more tea because of the British influence they have and even take onces, a period from 7-8 p.m. where they share tea with their families. Some pioneering businessmen decided that they wanted to try to invest in the coffee culture for Chile, but initially found it too difficult to compete with onces. So, they did what you would expect and used sex appeal to bring in the businessmen passing-by. So, now you can find scantily-clad, nearly-nude, or just plain nude coffee shops throughout Santiago. Even with this additional appeal, if you want good coffee you just head to Starbucks.
- We visited GAM, Centro Cultural Gabriel Mistral, a culture center originally built during Salvador Allende’s term. After Pinochet took over, he turned this site into his offices to show his power over the people of Chile. When he left office, a first ruined half the building and its questionable contents. The building was once again given to the people and now hosts a amateur dance troupes using the windows as mirrors.