South America | Chile | Santiago de Chile – Strolling the streets of Santiago
I noticed that as I travelled from Peru to Bolivia and then Chile, the inhabitants seem to speak more rapidly. I could understand them in Peru, despite not learning Spanish at that stage. In Bolivia, I could just make out what they were trying to convey, but in Chile they speak in a much more rapid pace. The Chileans also like to conveniently string words together and drop off the last letter of certain words, sorta if I’m gonna start talkin’ like this.
From La Serena I decided to catch a night bus that departed late in the night for the capital of Chile, Santiago. Only, I decided to go all out this time and went for the full sleeper. On the bus, I got a plush executive style seat that reclined almost horizontally, plus a blanket and pillow. For once I managed to sleep for most of the journey, which took a swift six and a half hours. In the morning we were given a packet of food and drink for breakfast. Almost like first class on an airplane, but at a fraction of the cost.
Seems like New York
After finding a hotel, I ventured out to the streets of Santiago to explore. After a few minutes I had this sense of deja vu that I was walking the streets of Manhattan in New York City. There was something rather familiar about Santiago. The grid-like street arrangement in the city centre, the wide pavements, the ubiquitous taxis (only they were black rather than yellow), the tall buildings, the well-dressed businessmen scurrying around talking into their cell phones. And just like New York there was the odd historical building amongst modern buildings.
One thing Santiago has is a long pedestrian mall stretching for a few blocks, lined with shops and filled with crowds of people. Here, I encountered more familiar sights of what you would find in most large cities in the world: the same peanut vendors, the same people selling fake DVDs, the same painted people posing as statues for money, the same people wanting to write my name on a grain of rice.
Snow fields and giant buildings
Of course, that is not to say if you’ve been to New York you don’t need to go to Santiago. After venturing further I discovered that it has its own unique attributes. For instance, looking towards the east between the buildings, I could see the snow-capped mountains towering above nearby, dwarfing the buildings of the city. The snow fields are very close to Santiago, less than an hour away, and it is here that many locals and visitors find the opportunity for some skiing.
The people of Santiago also seem to have a penchant for giant buildings. Actually, it was the Spaniards who built them a while ago. Walking around, I came across many large administrative buildings, mostly in the style of stone edifices with those massive columns over their doorways. Most of them, such as the presidential palace, can be described as large square blocks of stone occupying entire city blocks.
The presidential palace overlooks a vast square where I saw guards stationed at every corner. On the day I got here, there also happened to be a protest as large groups of people marched into the square waving banners and flags. I never knew what they were protesting about, but in a window high up in the middle of the palace, I could see someone in the shadows of the curtains discreetly observing the proceedings. It could have been the president of Chile for all I know.
I encountered the Mercado Central, or Central Market one lunch time. Walking in, I was amazed at all the fresh seafood on display in ice troughs throughout the cavernous hall. Giant fish were on ice, along with shellfish and king crabs. These alien crustaceans were the size of soccer balls, and easily found their way on to patrons’ dinner plates. Set around the hall were many seafood restaurants cooking up the delicacies for customers dining at tables set around the floor. I could see that the king crab was a popular, if not expensive choice, usually shared among a table of four to six diners.
What is Chilean food?
I’m still not sure what exactly is a typical Chilean dish, for I haven’t tried one yet. What I found interesting was how the Chileans turn ordinary food into cholesterol-rich culinary creations. The “completo”, for instance, is a hot dog usually covered in avocado, chopped tomato, and drowned in mayonnaise. A hamburger is a large slab of steak with other condiments in a huge bun.
And they do steak and fries as if the goal is to achieve the highest cholesterol count. A churrasco or lomo is a plate with slices of beef or pork, a mountain of fries, usually accompanied by two fried eggs, onions, and assorted bits of salad. And yet, it makes me wonder how they still don’t beat the Americans for the highest rate of obesity in the world.
A bit of everything
Santiago was quite a nice city to spend some time in; I felt quite at ease wandering around its wide pedestrian malls and avenues. There is lovely architecture to look at and an impressive array of churches and museums. There are also a few parks, including one which rises up in the middle to provide a great view of the city and mountains. Actually, Santiago felt like a city with bits of New York, London, and Europe thrown in the mix. But Santiago definitely also has its own eclectic charms to give it its own identity.