Santiago, Chile 2010

Friday 2/19/10

We land in (SCL) Santiago, Chile at 6:00pm and have no arrangement to get from the airport to the hotel. Upon arrival in the country, and before we go through immigration, we, as Americans have to pay a "reciprocity fee" (this only affects citizens of the USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Albania). Basically, there is a fee that Chilean citizens are charged when entering the USA, so Chile has decided to charge US citizens the same fee when they enter Chile. It is different than a departure tax like we paid in Lima, and the fee changes based on currency exchange rates. Today the fee is US$131 each to enter the country- and they don’t take faded, ripped, folded, or any otherwise used-looking bills. I learned this as two of my bills were rejected for having a ¼” tear in the top center of the bills. I understand they don’t want bills missing parts and whatnot, but this was really ridiculous and would have been more so if I didn’t have two replacement bills! The ONLY saving grace is that the payment is good for the life of the passports (which were just renewed last year). As we exit the customs area, we are, like in Lima, swamped by taxi drivers and bus companies looking to get your business. It gets to the point, where I begin to feel a bit of sensory overload and just need some calm to sort out our options and decide what we are going to do. The guidebook recommended a p/4000 (4000 Chilean pesos) bus to the city center which sounds good to me, but I have decided that as much as we are capable of taking public transport to a hotel, there is something to be said for door to door service when you are lugging your baggage behind you and on your shoulders. El and I get ourselves away from the crush of drivers and set our bags down. Leaving El to keep an eye on the bags, I take on the challenge of figuring out what our best method to get to the hotel from the airport is. I go down and get a quote from a taxi for p/15000, the bus company comes in with p/11000 for the same ride. I decide to go the bus route and leave to get El. While walking back to the bus counter, a taxi driver stops me. I ask him how much to Providencia (where our hotel is)? He says p/12000. I counter with p/10000 (US$19) and hold firm. I know I have a bus for p/11000 so anything equal or more is a failure. Eventually, the taxi driver sees I am not interested in haggling. Overpriced or not, he knows he can take it or leave it. He takes it and I have my cheapest trip from the airport to hotel. It is a door to door for p/5000 each (then again my guidebook is a few years old, damn Ebay). On the drive from the airport to the hotel, I can already tell that the driving in this city is much more civilized than the driving in Lima where I was just happy to get out of some situations alive!! We check in and ask the desk clerk to call in a dinner reservation for us at a parrillada, or steakhouse. El made the choice based on the location. We walk to the closest metro stop and try to figure out the station's Tarjeta Bip kiosk, an automated fare card dispenser. To no avail. There is no English option on the touchscreen and we do not understand enough of the choices to make an educated decision. We head to the customer service window and ask “¿Habla Inglés?”, but none of the four workers in the booth do. El speaks enough Spanish to understand that there is no weekly unlimited fare card and that what they do offer is the Tarjeta Bip. A card like a NYC Metrocard- you put money on the card, you swipe the card on a metro or city bus to draw down the money, and then you can refill the card at any time. We buy one card for the two of us and head to the dinner spot called Parrillada la Uruguaya. Our reservations are for 9:00pm and we arrive around 8:50. They seat us with menus and after some brief negotiation, we order the house mixed grill for one (for two) which consists of a lomo, which is a regular steak that tastes good, but has a little too much gristle for my liking; morcilla or Spanish blood sausage which is a casing stuffed with an attractive mixture of pig’s blood, rice, onions, spices, and crushed walnuts, which turns out to be better than we thought it would be (we both actually ate all of it!); a pamplona chicken which is chicken breast stuffed with ham and provolone, and then marinated in chimichurri and grilled, it is good, but pretty salty; a salty chorizo link each and an assado tiro which is a cut of beef with several pieces of rib bones visible in the cross section that is much tougher than we expected. We meant to order french fries with mayo, but instead are served potatoes with mayo sauce (like potato salad without the onions). We also get a tomato and lettuce salad, and the table’s bowl of chimichurri is as excellent as I remembered it. Castillero Del Diablo is the wine that we drink with it. From the description in the dining guide, El picked well. In actuality, this place is nowhere near the quality of Parilla Peña in Buenos Aires (where we first ate chimichurri and assado tiro). During dinner we plan our next stop for the night. We know the metro stops running around 10:30-11:00, so we take it back towards the hotel to avoid getting stranded in this as yet unfamiliar city. Again referring to the dining guide (Liz Caskey’s eat wine guides: Santiago) we choose to start out at a bar called Santo Remedio. We do our best to navigate the maps, but need to ask for help from a street vendor. Even if I don’t speak the language, I find it much easier to ask anyone on the street if I am heading in the right direction than to waste my time going out of my way and having to be turned around later. The vendor confirms that we are indeed heading in the right direction and we press on another block or two and make our turn onto Ca. Roman Diaz. We got down to 152 and turn into the bar. The dinner depleted most of the cash that we brought out with us tonight, so we need to be diligent not to overspend. I keep my eyes peeled for an ATM but we are in more of a residential neighborhood than a commercial one, so for now we deal with what we have. Still very full from dinner, we are looking to drink a little before calling it a night. This being a wine country, I refer to my “Edict of Spain 2005”, that states, “when in a country known for their beer, drink the beer. And when in a wine country, drink the wine. The beer will probably suck in a wine country and the wine will probably suck in a beer country. Very few countries do both well”. Chile makes wine. Show me some! The waitress brings us food and drink menus and even though I am not usually a wine drinker, I am about to order wine. Having no idea what we are ordering, we get a bottle of Cefira Chardonay. It is not as dry and crisp as I like my whites, but I'll deal with it. We use the time to journal and check email. Enjoying the music, wine...and company. We are both affected by the wine. We expect that the metro is closed by now, so we walk back to the hotel to walk off the buzz. It is a bit of a hike, but the clear summer night made for a nice stroll. We fall into bed and are out for the night.

Saturday 2/20/10

We wake up late and take the metro to Plaza de Armas which is the central square in the city. From here we walk to Mercado Centrale.

This is a place we have seen and read much about. It is a “central market” that is mostly eateries ranging from luncheonettes serving fish sandwiches to nicer, more upscale dining places with higher caliber offerings. The other portion of the mercado is vendor stands. As you walk through the market there are many people calling you into their restaurant or stand. Looking as much like tourists as we do (with our cameras and day bags) I can see the restaurants trying to get our business, but I would have thought it couldn’t be more obvious that we were not in the market for a sack of fresh squid. But, to their credit, they tried, some more mightily than others, to sell us their goods. Having been to the Bouqueria in Barcelona, this place is not as impressive as I would have thought it would be. In fact, it seems to pale in comparison. I can see that the sizable fish market serves an important purpose for this city as all of the freshest fish in the city comes through here and restaurants from all over come here to get the day’s menu offerings. However, the few fruit and vegetable stands looked little better than a run-of-the-mill farmers market. The building itself was sort of interesting as it was designed to look like a train station and built of wrought iron in England and then shipped piece by piece to Santiago and reconstructed on site. This was something that was pointed out in the guide books and could have easily been missed if we weren’t looking for it. With so much audio and visual commotion in this place, it would have been easy to miss that aspect of the building. In the summer heat, it was no surprise that there are porters whose job it is to deliver 100lb. bags of ice throughout the market. They pick up carts full of bags from the ice trucks that pull up around the perimeter of the market and they navigate a path through crowd to get each vendor the only thing that stands between the freshest and the spoiled bounty. During research, we got three separate recommendations for a restaurant called Richards El Rey del Mariscal.

We searched it out and were told that one of their specialties was picoroco, which is a giant sea barnacle. The waiter and host here were very helpful and patient with us. I order a mixed seafood plate that includes the picoroco. I also get a glass of Undurraga Sauvignon Blanc-Riesling 2008 since this is the winery we are booked to tour on Tuesday. The platter has mix of hot and cold preparations. There is no ceviche, but then again this is not Peru. There are some cold salads, spicy calamari/scallop mix, hot mussels, clams, shrimp, a few crab claws, four of the barnacles and a fillet of grilled fish in the center of the plate. Some of it is a little fishy tasting, but some of the preparations are really nice. I especially liked the spicy broth that the barnacle was cooked in and a cold seafood salad served in a mussel shell (to keep it away from the temperature hot food). El got a scallop Parmesan dish that was also pretty good. The mountain of food on the plate was too much for me to finish and by the end I was just picking out my favorite parts and leaving the rest. Besides a cup of salsa to share, the meal had no vegetables, only fresh sea bounty. The whole market dining culture seems a bit contrived- in addition to the solicitors, some places have flashy dancers. There are strolling mariachi trios at others, and through our dining room, a boombox karaoke performance accompanied by a live bongo player- complete with a passing of the hat at the end. All a little (or a lot) cheesy, but when you have so many eateries vying for your money, they all need a gimmick I guess. The lunch bill comes out to p/31500 (60$US). Overall, we agree it was a good pick and are sure that from the looks (and smells) of things, we could have done a lot worse. After lunch we stroll through the fish section again to get a few photos then we will find a tourist info center to see about walking tours of the city. The vendors are happy to let us take pictures and we see all sorts of preparations going on from cleaning squid to shucking fresh scallops. Afterwards we walk back to Plaza de Armas and it is filled with strolling families, artisans, and people selling anything that is portable. Our map indicates a tourist info center on the far side of the plaza so we start to walk through. As we walk, our path is traversed by a mobile tourist info center! It is a guy on a Segue with a booth constructed around it! He gives us maps and he tells us that on Sunday mornings at 9:30 there are a group of guides that gather in the Plaza de Armas to give free walking tours. They get paid in tips. This sounds exactly like what we would like to do tomorrow. Before we leave, he comments on the Kiss Army shirt that I am wearing. We take this opportunity to ask where we can find some heavy metal bars in this city. We tell him we are looking for Motorhead and The Ramones as his eyes light up and he starts writing on the map telling us about the places he knows of that might fit our bill. He has never heard of Clandestino Bar, so that we will have to find on our own. El takes the time now to go to the Catedrale Metropolitana de Santiago. I journal outside in the sun, and fear I should have found a shadier bench to wait on. We then walk to the Museo De Arte Precolombino (Pre-Columbian Art Museum) and learn that there is free admission on Sundays. Today being Saturday, we opt to return tomorrow to take advantage of that offer! We walk down to Avienda Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins (also called Alameda) to stroll one of the main arteries in the city stopping at a cart to buy a mote con huesillo. This is a popular drink (Chile’s version of iced tea) and there are carts at many corners serving the same drink. They start with an empty plastic cup, add a scoop of dry mote (husked wheat), then they pour a ladle of peach flavored juice, topping off with pieces of rehydrated, sundried peaches. Our cupful could stand to be a little colder, but it tastes good and is refreshing nonetheless. On the advice of the tourist info guy, we walk up to Cerro Santa Lucia and walk up to the top. This is a municipal park and there is no admission fee. It is a hill in the center of the city that offers great views of Santiago and the surrounding mountains. We get to the top, stopping along the way to rest, rehydrate, journal, and nurse sore feet. The overlook at the top is actually not that big, so it doesn’t take many people to fill it. With everyone trying to secure a vista background and shooting distance between photographer and subject, it proves to be a bit of a challenge to please everyone. We did it too, and got what we made it up to the top to do. They say the best views of the mountains are just after a winter rainstorm. It is neither winter nor rainy, so we have to deal with what we got. Could be worse and could be better. Once you have your pictures, there is not much need to stay at the top, so we started down and at the first landing we were able to get someone to take an unobstructed picture of the two of us.

Even though it was about ten steps from the top, it was essentially the same view, but with no one else jostling for the same footing. We head down one level to a terraza (terrace) to find a shady bench to journal, rest (this sun is really exhausting), and plan our next stop. Both still full from lunch, we do not need food, so we will see if there are any other attractions in the area to see.

Observation: The metro system in Santiago is called the Metrored. The subway cars and stations are very clean and the schedules seem fast and efficient. There were times when we got into a station as a train was pulling away, just to have another arrive mere seconds later to take us on our way. Unfortunately, there is no air conditioning in the stations or on the trains. All of the windows are open and a nice breeze can be created inside the speeding train, but when the car is filled with passengers, the shorter the trip, the better! It is an odd sensation when the summer heat of an underground subway station feels refreshing by comparison as you exit the train. The other significant downsides of the system are the time it stops running at night- especially Friday and Saturdays when the bars and night spots are just getting started around that time and also the areas of the city that are not conveniently serviced by the system. We noticed when spending time in Barrio Bellavista that the nearest stations were in neighboring barrios. I guess we didn’t mind so much being tourists looking to see the city, but I’d be a little disappointed if I lived here. There are three different fares for rides: peak, off peak, and holiday, with the most expensive being p/400 ($.80). The card is Tarjeta Bip or Bipcard. Wondering where they got the name from, after a few trips we figured out that the “bip” is actually the onomatopoeia for the “beep” sound you hear when you swipe the card at the station turnstiles. So, for us it was really the “beep card”.

We head back to the room to nap for a few hours and get up at 9:00pm to head out for the night. First stop is a bar called Blondie which proves much more difficult to find than we expect. We take the metro to Los Heroes and head up and down Bernardo O’Higgins (we have no number, just a street name and the closest metro stop). The area is a little dark with most businesses closed for the night. I ask a few passersby for the direction and get several answers, all different. I appreciate their willingness to help, but would have preferred to be told they really don't know than sent in the wrong direction. We pass a bar called Burdeos that is playing loud music and seems to have a lot of people in it. They have a wi-fi connection and we stop in to get a beer, and check the internet for more information on Blondie. I am able to find one of the bartenders speaks English and seems to know where Blondie is. El is not feeling all that well, so I am not sure if we will be out late or get food or what. The other thing is that bars are just starting to open around 10:00, but the metro stops running at 10:30. We will have to walk or taxi the rest of the night. This place is plays pretty good music with Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and Aerosmith on the video screens. They serve no wine, so I am starting the night with a Heineken and some free popcorn. It is now 11:00 and I am ready to hit our next stop. Well, Blondie turns out to be a bust. We do find it and it is located in the basement of a shopping center (explaining why we were not given a specific address). When we get to the door there is a woman sitting behind a velvet rope with a clipboard (Studio 54 style). We ask to go in, but she says they do not open for at least another half hour and says that there will be different cover charges when they do open (I presume cheaper for ladies) but she does not know how much yet. We decide not to waste time waiting and make the decision to head to Barrio Bellavista to check some of the metal bars the tourism guy told me about today. As we walk down Av. O'Higgins I stop for a cheese empanada from a street vendor for p/500. A few feet later, we buy a bottle of water from another vendor and head to a bus stop to try to figure out a bus to get us there (as the metro has stopped running). We pull out our maps and are confident that given the necessity, we could figure out the bus system to get us where we need to go. But after a half hour, we just take a metered taxi. We again, have no address, only a map with a star where the bars are. The taxi is quick and costs around p/4400. We start walking towards the first bar called Oxide. I stop some pedestrians and ask if they know where it is. They do not. I then ask about the other bar and one seems to know the name as he points is in the direction. As we part, one of the girls turns to El and tells her to keep her eye on her bags and belongings in the bar. We turn down the street and head to where my map shows me. We get about 100 yards down the block and I hear some loud music coming out of a bar. I stop and look in, and sure enough this is the place we are looking for...

Necrobar located at Dardiniac 63 between Purisima and Ernesto Pinto Lagarrigue. We peek into the full and dark room and do not see any empty tables. The bartender motions us to the back to the last table for two tucked away in the corner. The place is filled with bones. Skulls and femurs everywhere. They do not sell wine (I guess wine is not metal enough) so I get a 1.1 liter of Heineken p/2000 and El gets a Coke. They bring over a bowl of spicy peanuts and Exodus: Live at Eindhoven 1997 DVD is on the video screen. We journal and I enjoy the music. There is one other bar in this area that I wanted to go to called Clandestino Bar. I have the address, but they say it does not open until 1:00am. It is 12:30 now and we do have to get up for the walking tour in the morning. My beer is almost done, so we will head out shortly. On the way here in the taxi we passed a bunch of vendors with food that I wouldn’t mind hitting up, since we haven’t eaten since our lunch at the market. After the beer is done we head for Av. Benito Nuñez to go to Clandestino Bar, a place with no sign that you have to know where it is to get there and if you do go there, it shows that you are "in the know" solidifying our "intrepid traveler status". We walk up the street passing many different bars and dance clubs. Not many eateries, mostly night spots. We do finally make it to Clandestino Bar and the thumping beat coming from behind the closed door (you have to ring the bell to get in) is awful. Further, we understand, there is a cover charge of about US$12. Even though we've come all this way, we decide to forgo the Clandestino Bar and just go to the bar next door called Opium. It too has shitty music, but the staff is at least welcoming, there is no cover charge and once we get to the back of the place the music is actually not that loud. We each get a glass of house red wine (they serve no white) and journal. I expect this will be our last stop of the night. The back room is full, but we are able to get a bench chair and a floor chair to sit at. I figure we will taxi back to the hotel after this. I am curious to see where we are in relation to the hotel. We leave Opium and start walking towards the food vendors that we drove passed earlier. On the way I see a sandwich shop with three men sitting at a table on the sidewalk. The vendor food is turning out to be a farther walk than I expected and in the interest of time, I decide to get a quick bite here. El orders for me as the three at the table spring into to take orders, one to collect money, one to clear tables (and translate), and the cook who remains behind the counter at all times. Minutes later I am served a "completo" version of a churrascos sandwich and a bottle of water. The translator asks if I will eat here or take the food to go. I said eat here, unless he was looking to close to which he replied "close?? we are open until 6:00am!" I eat the sliced beef sandwich that comes with sauerkraut, cheese, mashed avocado, relish, tomatoes, and a significant amount of mayonnaise on a bun.

It is enough to challenge the most iron of stomachs...and it will! After the food, we grab a taxi and get to the hotel. It is just past 2:00am and we need to get up at 8:00 for our walking tour.

Sunday 2/21/10

We eat a quick breakfast at the hotel and take the metro back to Plaza de Armas. The tourist info guy told us to wait in front of the cathedral and look for people in red shirts with signs that say "free tour". We find a bench and wait. We wait for about a half hour with no one showing to either give tours or take tours. As it gets closer to 10:00am, we scrap the hope that anyone will show and we decide to go to the tourist information office to learn more, but they are still closed and have no hours posted. We then just start doing our own thing and go back to the Museo De Arte Precolombino that is said to be one of the better museums in the city. We arrive around 9:50 and they open at 10:00. As we stand outside the locked gate waiting for them to open, a woman arrives for work and when the gate opens to let her in, she waves all of us who are waiting, inside. Everyone files behind her as she walks through a small courtyard and into the admissions desk area where the staff halts us in Spanish. The woman, not realizing we were still following her, sternly tells the group that the museum doesn’t open until 10:00! Without saying anything I guess we should have known that she meant for us to be let into the courtyard and not into the museum itself. For all of the commotion, I would have rather just waited outside where I was. At 10:00 the admissions people tell us the museum has opened and we go in. We go through the rather small museum. It does happen to be one of the only museums that allowed photography- although without flash. In addition, it was the one museum we saw that did have English exhibit cards on the displays. No other languages (besides Spanish), but at least I was able to appreciate the exhibit without a guide or interpreter. We did see that free English tours are available, but they must be set up at least 24 hours in advance. However, the size of this museum coupled with my level of enthusiasm for the material, I was OK with the self-guided tour. We are through the permanent and temporary exhibits rather quickly and headed back to Av. O’Higgins where we stop at one of the many Café Caribe’s to experience “coffee with legs”. Think of it as Hooters…but with coffee. Basically, the café is a room with a single counter winding through. You go to the cashier and place your order and pay, receiving a coupon for your drinks. Then you take the receipt to the counter and wait for one of the young ladies to come and take it. In the back of the room there is a counter with a sizable coffee machine setup with one or two male baristas behind it. As the men make your coffee, the girls, all in matching, blue, one-piece, long shirts (short enough to show a maximum of leg!), prepare everything else for your order. They get things like sugar, creamers, saucers, and spoons, while standing and facing the baristas in the back, allowing them to show off their back sides to the customers. I do believe El was the only woman on this side of the counter and I was easily the youngest customer by many, many years. The old guys go in to get a thrill while the hot young ladies stir the sugar into their coffee for them. A cute gimmick, but of the two drinks we ordered (one hot chocolate and one cappuccino), they were both wrong (one chocolate milk with whipped cream and one regular coffee were delivered). We just drank them and moved on, because you don’t come here for the drinks! (We also felt creepy asking to take a picture inside- so we only got a shot of the outside). I read a travel blog that suggested that the museum at the Iglesia San Francisco has one of the Moai heads that are so symbolic of Easter Island. We walk to the church and do a cursory walk around the building, expecting that a building that has one would display it prominently. Not seeing it, we head into the museum portion and pay the p/1000 each. This is a completely self-guided tour and there are no English brochures or signs. We walk through the rooms with a lot of artifacts and art work in them. Like most other places, there is no photography allowed at all. The courtyard looks more like a forest than the “gardens” that we see in a lot of church courtyards. We get to the end of our tour without seeing a Moai head.

We ask at the ticket counter as we pick up our checked bags if there is a head in the vicinity and she has no idea what I am talking about. Then, El takes over and when she understands that we heard there was a statue here. She laughs out loud at the preposterous notion. A little disappointed, we get our bags and leave. El goes into the cathedral portion while I journal outside. [Note: later, as we walked down the Alameda, we stopped in front of the building next door to the Igelsia San Francisco which is a hotel. Actually, it was called the Hotel San Francisco. And like stumbling upon El Dorado, we look up to see a large Moai head! It is a replica (and we actually see more of these replicas around the city on our trip), but, we figure this is what the travel blog was referring to. Sadly, we are unsure if the writer really thought this was an authentic statue or not. I hope for not.] We are both a bit hungry, so we take the metro from Santa Lucia towards the Bellavista Barrio (where we were last night) in hopes that we will go to La Chascona which was one of the homes of the eccentric Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. We figure we will take the metro to the Cerro Blanco just north of Bellavista and then stop at the first lunch place we see that is open and selling food. It turns out to be a very small room with a very limited menu. I get a 1/4 chicken with papas fritas and a "completo" hot dog. They call it "completo Italiano" but there is truly nothing Italian about it. It is served as a regular Oscar Meyer hot dog on a toasted bun, with chopped tomatoes, mashed avocados, and mayonnaise on top. There was really nothing special about the "completo". The 1/4 chicken comes "assados" which just means it is barbecued using mesquite wood. The chicken tastes very good, a little salty (like I have come to expect), and a little dry. The fritas are fried potatoes/greasy fries with nothing else on top. All in all, a decent meal. The chicken had been stuffed with spices making some bites more flavorful than others. Our next stop is La Chascona and to get to it we walk through the Patronato and Bellavista Barrios. Mostly everything not near a tourist attraction is closed on Sunday.

Pablo's house turns out to be a bit tricky to find, but we did it. It is now 3:00pm and the next tour in English is at 4:30. This will give us a chance to find an open bar and sit with a glass of wine until the tour. El buys some postcards for while we are waiting. We settle on a bar/restaurant called La Boheme. If we had the choice, I would prefer not to eat or drink at a place that has people standing outside trying to drum business from passersby, but we know that right now, this is the closest place that is open and we only have an hour to kill, so we go in and we each get a house white wine and they serve a basket of warm bread, butter and spicy salsa. Nothing is particularly good or bad, but when the bread arrives, we expect we will see a plate charge on the bill. We use the time in the shade to journal and plan the rest of our night. It turns out the waiter did not realize we would not be ordering lunch, so when the bill came, there was no cover charge.

Observation: there are a couple of things to look for on a restaurant bill. First, the waiter never brings the check until you ask for it. I was curious to test this theory and see if they would after it was clear that we were well past done, but I did not have the patience and we did wind up asking for the “la cuenta por favor” at every place we ate at. Second, tipping in restaurants is flat 10%. Some places add the tip (or “propina”) to the bill and some do not. We always check the bill and ask what the charges are if we don’t recognize them. My rule of thumb is that if they added 10%, that’s what they got. If they did not add it, they got 15%. I think it is pretty lousy to add a tip to the bill and not itemize it, possibly tricking me into double tipping. We were told they only added tips to parties of six or more, but found most places added it to our bill for two. This is not to be confused with a silverware charge called a "cobierto" which we saw more in Lima, but not so much in Santiago. [Ironically, you are not expected to tip taxi drivers. In fact, they will have your change out so fast and wish you a good day before you can even calculate a tip amount!]

After drinks, we head back to La Chascona and wait for our tour to begin. The woman who sold me the tickets smiles when I enter and affirms when I point upstairs to the tour. It is now 4:25 as we sit in the cafe and wait for the tour. At 4:30 a guide comes through and announces, in French, “4:30 tour en Francais”. The Francophones leave with the guide. Then, we waited and waited until around 4:40 when I went back to the ticket desk to see if we were waiting in the right place. Well, without going into so much detail, the ticket seller thought she sold us a French tour and that no English tour would go until 5:30! They refused to do anything for us until then. They they gave us the choice of a refund, a spot on the 5:30 tour or we could come back on Tuesday. As a last ditch effort I pointed again to our ticket that read 16:30 tour en Inglés. The ticket office chalked it up to a “misunderstanding”, I chalked it up to poor customer service, took my refund, and do not plan to return (although if El wants to go back, I won't resist). We walk back to the metro and come back to the hotel to sleep before going out tonight for dinner and bars. We start off the night by going back to the same bar from our first night here called Santo Remedio, unfortunately they are closed, so we have to come up with a plan B. We had passed a place with a lot of neon lighting on the way to the bar, and El says she wants to go back to the “place with all the lights" which is called Bavaria. Hmmm, coming to Chile to eat at a German restaurant is odd, but we go for it. It turns out to be the Chilean German equivalent of Denny’s! We get the "dinner for 2" which starts with a pisco sour...made with either really bad pisco or really bad sour mix. Either way, not the the best pisco sour I've ever had. The dinner for two includes a mixed grill, like the one from the other night. Two each of steaks, pork chops, boiled potatoes, chorizos, and blood sausages. So my question to you, would you eat a blood sausage at Denny's?? At one point I did cut into the link and the piercing started to ooze! It wasn't blood, but it was enough to make me put the piece back on the grill. We got a plate of raw tomato and onion as a salad. A plate of papas fritas rounds out the food. Included was also a 1/2 bottle of Vino Santa Emiliana, the house wine. Over dinner El and I discuss the incident at La Chascona. We summarily rehashed the events and I made it clear that I understand mistakes happen and that the thing I objected to most was the ticket seller putting partial blame on me by calling it a "misunderstanding" and accusing me of buying a tour in French regardless of the fact that the ticket had “Inglés” printed on it! The most frustrating thing was that when she sold me the tickets she spoke excellent English, but when this all went down she conveniently couldn't understand what the issue was and had another young lady do the speaking for her. Anyway, I told El that if she wanted to go back, I would and if we did not go back I would be OK with that too. The dinner comes with ice cream and the choices are vanilla, chocolate, berry, and chirimoya. Having never heard of chirimoya, we get that and the ice cream tastes like pineapple life savers. A cherimoya is a “custard apple” that has a flavor of a cross between pear and pineapple. Later in the trip, we pass a fruit market that has a cherimoya display so we see what it looks like, but we didn’t buy one.

Observation: This city has a lot of stray dogs everywhere. They can be seen in parks, roaming the streets, resting in doorways, or foraging for scraps in the public squares. Sometimes they are alone, but mostly you see two at a time. Although once at night we saw a few walking down the middle of a street together. A tad scary for a few seconds until you realized they were not going to bother you. They must be used to people because none of them bother or confront you in any way. In this heat, I was thankful to not have gotten close enough to smell them. They are just something that you see everywhere.

We decide to walk back to the hotel and we see that everything that isn’t already closed is closing. We are having no luck finding an afterhours place to get a bottle of wine and journal as we wind down the night. We get within a block or two of the hotel and there is a guy standing on the corner holding a menu and trying to get us to come to his restaurant. It is a Brazilian karaoke bar complete with resident singer and a room full of people dancing and enjoying their night. The place is called Louisiana and the staff is very friendly and smile when I pull out the only Portuguese word I know (obrigato=thank you). The menu is mostly grilled meats and alcohol. We are full from dinner, and this is the only game in town, so we pick up our Scrabble game, order a bottle of wine and toast our anniversary. After an hour we realize that this place is more crowded now than when we first got here. I guess there is a market for Brazilian karaoke in Santiago tonight. It is now 1:00am on a Sunday night and this bar is still hopping. When the waiter brought the bottle to the table, before he opened it, we specifically asked "how much is the bottle?" El translated p/7000 ($14US). At this point they have stopped serving desserts and coffees (if I want more drinks though, I am covered). We will finish up the wine and head to the hotel and call it a night. We drank our wine and asked for the bill, and when it arrived, the bill was p/15000 (US$30). Figuring there was not much we could do to renegotiate, we paid and left. On the way out I saw one of the waiters who had come to our table over the course of the night. He smiled and wished me a good night, so I asked if he was the one that told us the price of the wine. He said “no”, but asked what the problem was. I said we were told it would be p/7000 but were charged p/15000. He sprang up and went in to confront the waiter who did bring the wine. El and the two waiters discussed the situation, and El admitted that she may have misunderstood the original quote. I agreed if it was our fault, we were good, but if he misquoted us and overcharged, we were not good. El reaffirmed that it was she that misunderstood. I smiled and shook everyone’s hand to let them know that I was taking the blame for the issue...although we didn't have much choice. Tomorrow’s agenda, Cerro San Cristobal funicular, plan trip to vineyard on Tuesday, possible anniversary dinner. Even though there were many speed bumps today (free walking tour fail, Moai head bust (no pun intended), Neruda house tour fail, most restaurants and bars closed on Sunday definite bummer!, and ending the night with yet another “misunderstanding”) El says it is days like these that test our abilities to be intrepid travelers. She is right!

Monday 2/22/10

No solid plans today. We get up late, around 9:30, and stop at Starbucks to check email then to Fuente Alemana for lomitos (pork sandwiches) for breakfast.

Like the hot dog and churrascos, this is a sandwich of sliced pork loin, tomato, mashed avocado, loads of mayo, cheese, and sauerkraut on an oversized hamburger bun. This place is supposed to serve the best in the city. We each order the “Completo Lomito” and it arrives pretty quickly. It is really impractical, due to its overstuffedness, to pick up and eat like a burger. This definitely requires a knife and fork. The sandwich is decent and very reminiscent of the other nights’ post-Necrobar snack. My verdict is that the sandwich is like a pork Steak-um and it is good, but I think it hits the spot more as a late night snack after a pub crawl, than lunch (or a breakfast as is our case). The two sandwiches and two sodas plus tip runs p/15000 (or $30). I think this is a bit steep, but the meal is big enough that we don't have to eat again until dinner. Glad I tried the best in the city, but if this is the best the city offers, it speaks volumes about the cuisine here.Observation: it is odd that some things are considerably cheaper than at home, while some other things are way more expensive than we expect. For example, taxis seem to be relatively cheap and travel by public transport is about 1/3 what we pay at home. However, some of the restaurants we ate at we felt were more than we would have paid at home. US$30 for the lomito lunch was a bit steep, even if they are known to be the best in the city! Beers in bars were cheap at $4/liter, but $14 each for a tour of the winery was a bit more than it should have been.Today is overcast and a bit cooler than we have seen in this city, which means 60's, and that is still OK by us. We will wait to see if it clears up a little before going up San Cristobal. Our next stop is the Estacion Centrale to do a dry run to figure out the transport to the south tomorrow for our wine tour (and hopefully there will be no "misunderstandings")! We know that we have to get a bus from the San Borja bus station near Estacion Centrale, but we do not know how much the ride is or how long it takes. Our tour reservation for the winery tour is for noon tomorrow, so we will plan it out today so we don't mess it up. We opt to walk to the Estacion Centrale to digest the giant sandwich we just had. It is a bit of a hike, but it is good walking weather. El spots a post office and asks about buying stamps. Some of the countries we have gone to require you to bring your written postcards to the post office and they will stamp and mail them from there. Others sell you the stamps and you can drop them at you hotel desk. It sounds like you can buy the stamps here (p/500), but there is only one counter that sells them and she is busy with other customers. I suggest we press on and write our cards and then return to the P.O. to mail them. El spots a little shopping area that she stops into while I journal outside. She is able to get some post cards and some clothing she has been looking for. The sky is starting to clear a little and it is already getting a little warmer. We found a couple of places near the hotel that we wanted to eat at today or tomorrow. One is a dessert place called Bravissimo Gelateria that serves lucuma gelato that has been recommended. (More on that when I actually eat it). Today is our anniversary, so we may opt for a finer dining experience tonight and do the local thing tomorrow. Not sure yet.Observation: I am a bit surprised about the lack of English used around here. Of course, I don't expect it, but it just happens that in many non-English speaking countries, menus and transit directions are written in English in addition to the local language. I guess I have taken for granted how helpful that is in helping you get what you want. I may want a chicken stew, but won't know the word for it, so I settle for a ham sandwich because that is something safe I recognize. Obviously, El speaks a bit of Spanish and I do recognize a small portion of what I see on menus, but the ATM's and the transit cards have proven a little difficult for me. All an ATM has to do is say "press here to continue transaction" (in Spanish) and I am stuck for a minute. Once I get through it the first time I am usually OK afterwards, but that first time can be a real challenge. This is just one other thing that tests our abilities to be intrepid travelers. As we walk down Bernardo O'Higgins we stop at a cafe for coffee and a bathroom stop. We each get a cafe con leche and I try a flan. We take the time to write most of our postcards and catch up on journals. We still have to get to the Estacion Centrale and it is getting close to 3:00pm, so we need to get going as we have been here for more than an hour- with just the one coffee. We walk on to the Estacion Centrale with the directions for getting transport to the Undurraga Winery in hand. We find San Borja bus station, we get to the bus platform and confirm with the conductor that this is the bus we want the next day. He gives El the whole scoop (leaves every 20 minutes from platform 77 towards Talagate. Pay p/900 on the bus, ask driver to stop at winery, 35 minutes ride) The directions I have are pretty good, but I am very glad that we made this dry run to find the exact bus platform that we need to get to tomorrow. By now my stomach is feeling a little queasy, either from the lomito or the flan (and I'm guessing it's the lomito!). I am carrying El purchases in my pack which are a heavy addition, my feet are aching, and I am feeling cranky. El and I discuss the plans for the rest of our day and since the sky has cleared a bit decide to go now back to Bellavista Barrio to take the funicular up San Cristobal Hill to the statue of the Virgen de la Inmaculada (p/1600 2 ways per person).

Afterwards, we will head to the hotel to drop baggage and get ready for dinner at Liguria Restaurant, then dessert at Bravissimo Gelateria, then wine at Santo Remedio again. We take the metro from Estacion Centrale to Patronato station and walk to Cerro San Cristobal. There is no line and we take the funicular to the top. Unfortunately, it is very smoggy today and the views, although spectacular, are a bit muffled by the cloud in the valley. One disappointment at the top of the hill was the prominence of a giant radio tower next to the statue. After we get our pictures, we head down and in the interest of time and comfort, we grab a taxi back to the hotel. It runs p/3000, and worth every peso. We get back and drop our purchases and excess baggage. We decide not to nap today, instead making it an early night (before midnight) as we have to get to the bus station in the morning to get to the winery. Without napping, we rest in the room until 8:00pm and then head off the first stop of the night at Restaurant Liguria. All three places (dinner, dessert, drinks) are in the vicinity of Manuel Montt metro stop so we will start with a ride there first. Liguria is a place that as recommended online and this turns out to be one of the best meals we had in Chile. Our waiter used to live in Sydney, Australia and is able to steer us around the menu with ease. For my dinner, I get a “Chilean salad”: tomato, onion, cilantro, chili peppers. For entrée, Pollo al Pil Pil which is a garlic chicken stirfry with tomatoes and spices- served with a side of rice. It is very good. El gets a Plateada Asada al Horno which is a beef brisket slowly oven roasted with salt (surprise!), a tomato based gravy, and did I mention salt?? Because of the saltiness, I am glad I didn't have to eat more than the taste El gave me. We get a 1/2 bottle of Santa Ema Sauvignon Blanc. The dinner comes to p/22000 (US$44). We agree that it really was tasty and we both enjoyed what we ordered, and think it was good pick for dinner at a great value.Observation: We are both a bit surprised by how much of the food in this country is served oversalted. The amount of salt they use here is staggering. Everything seems to just have way too much for our palates. If the dish was served with sauces we could scrape most of it off and use either rice, potatoes or bread to cut it down a little, but sometimes, like with the plateada, the dish is baked with salt and it permeates the meat. Shockingly, we witnessed customers in some places (Liguria specifically) actually adding salt from a shaker on the table! I have heard of hiding bad meat with powerful spices, but salt? Unless they were curing it, I just don’t know why they do that. It is no wonder in my mind that Chilean cuisine has not become an international staple- like Chinese or Mexican.

After dinner, we are both full, but I decide I want to walk across the street to Bravissimo Gelateria to try the flavor called lucuma-maranga, which is supposed to taste like a chestnut flavored ice cream. Like many of the places here, you go to the cashier and order and pay. Then you take your receipt to the counter and they give you your order. In this case, I had to tell the server (not the cashier) what flavor I wanted, but in many cases every detail is written on the receipt. I get the small cup of gelato to go and walk with it to the next stop of the evening which is the same place we tried last night (but was closed), and the same place we tried Friday (when it was open). We get to the doors, and once again, closed! Not sure if they will open later (since it is only 10:00pm), but we will not stick around to find out. We have to be up at 9:00am to go to our wine tour and wanted to make it local and not late tonight. I remember seeing another pub between here and the hotel called The Phone Box- which is a British Pub. Of course the staff is Chilean, the menu is Chilean, the wine selection...Chilean. The decor, however, well, also Chilean. I guess the name "phone box" is British and the entrance looks like a British phone booth. We sit down and order some Chilean wine from a Chilean waitress and journal. El gets a wi-fi key to check emails. The music is not too loud and is decent enough. We will surely make this the last stop of the night. I remark to El how surprised I am by how many stomach issues we are having on this trip and we joke of having to go to a Cruz Verde and ¿Cómo se dice “anti-diarrheal”? [a quick note about Cruz Verde. It is a chain of drugstores that seem to be on every corner...literally. Sometimes you can see one Cruz Verde from another one and we did get a photo of a four way intersection with three of the four corners having Cruz Verdes!] Nothing to keep us off our feet, but enough to make us question just what the quality of the food or drink we are consuming is. My issues today seem to have passed, while El has had to go to the pharmacy to fix her ails. I hope we are both recovered by the time we leave on Wednesday, if not earlier. We spend an hour or two at The Phone Box and it is getting on midnight. With our 9:00am wake up, we will call for check and call it a night. As I go to the bar to settle the bill, I ask the bartender if his English is such that he can translate "chirimoya" for me. The bartender speaks a little English, but the waiter (who grew up in Canada) jumps in, and I wind up having a very pleasant 15 minute conversation with the two of them. I learn that chirimoya is a fruit that is not exported to the US which is why we have never heard of it. There is no translation (as in the word chirimoya is not just the Spanish word for a common fruit), it is a chirimoya. As for lucuma (I thought might have been Spanish for chestnuts based on the flavor), but it turns out to be a different kind of fruit related to the avocado (again, not a word in need of a translation). The guys also tell us that the city is pretty empty right now due to summer holidays and everyone is at the beach. I pay for the wine and we walk back to the hotel. We are in bed around 1:00am.

Tuesday 2/23/10

Today is our vineyard tour at the Undurraga Winery in the Maipo Valley just south of Santiago. We wake at 9:00am and eat breakfast in the hotel. It is included in the price of the room, but this is only the second time we have eaten here. Our first stop today is to take the metro to Estacion Centrale then upstairs to the San Borja bus station to get a bus towards Talagate to Unduragga Winery. We follow all signs in the Estacion Centrale towards San Borja which is all the way in the back and upstairs. Having made the dry run yesterday, we know exactly where we need to go. The station serves also as a train depot and interregional bus terminal. We head to the San Borja blue side for intercommunale buses. We get to bus platform #77, but the bus is empty with no driver. We ask at the next platform at the bus also labeled Talagante if we can take this bus to Undurraga? The conductor affirms and we get on the bus. The cost is p/900 each (US$1.80) and we have to tell the bus driver to stop at Undurraga. We get the last seats in the back off the small bus as these are the only two together. The ride is about 35-40 minutes and I hear the driver mumble something. El was able to make out "Undurraga Viña" and gets out of her seat. I see a sign on the right hand side cueing me to follow her. For others like me, I would suggest sitting towards the front of the bus or bringing your “superhearing”. As we get off the bus El asks the driver about the return trip and he points to the other side of the road. On our way here we saw a woman on the other side of the road actually hail a bus, so we expect to have to do the same. We have no idea how long the tour will last, so we will just play it by ear for now. Our tour is scheduled for noon and we arrive at 11:15 (better to be 3/4 hour early than 1 minute late). We are greeted at the gate by a security guard who lets us in and points us to the tour office/gift shop. We check in and pay for the tour p/7000 (US$14) each, and sit down to wait for the tour to begin. We confirm that the tour will be in English. With very little exception, El and I do not know much about wine- either making it or drinking it. I have had many glasses where someone will say "oh, this wine is sooo good" and then I try it and think it is OK at best, but I cannot appreciate the qualities that oenophiles look for. Conversely, there are some cheap wines that we really enjoy and others will say "oh, that wine is no good". I know what I like when I taste it, although I am open to finding other brands and kinds of wine that I may like. It is almost tour time. During the research for this trip many people recommended doing a winery tour. I suppose it could be like going to Napa or New York’s Finger Lakes region. There are several wineries in the area and understand that Concha y Toro is the biggest and

most industrialized one. Taking their tour is analogous to touring the Anheuser-Busch brewery with a well polished tour guide. However, I read about this winery Undurraga as a small (not quite true), family owned (if you consider being owned by a rich Colombian family who own a controlling number of shares and a bunch of investors being “family owned”) vineyard, where you are given a tour by a wine maker (or a 20 year old college student), who may not be as polished (but still respectably dressed), but knows his wine- like touring a micro brewery. With no vineyard touring experience, we have nothing to compare it to. I am sure it will be fine. [and it was, however, this winery is not exactly micro. They have vineyards all over the country and actually part of their business is doing the wine making for smaller vineyards who only grow the grapes. I highly recommend this place as we had a great experience on this day]. Because of a large tour group in front of us and the fact that there is only one English-speaking guide, our tour starts a little late, however, to our delight, we are the only two on our tour. We like private tours. Our guide is David and his English is very good, so we ask about his situation. He was born in Chile, moved to Florida for 20 years and has came back to Chile to go to college. As the tour goes on, he points out features of the vineyard that were destroyed and rebuilt due to earthquakes. In an eerie coincidence of a conversation, I ask David when Chile’s last earthquake was. His answer: “1960 and 1985, so we are due for one!” [Chile would have an 8.8 quake 4 days later!]). The tour lasts 90 minutes and takes us through the entire wine making process from growing the grapes (we got to eat grapes off the vine), to aging and storing the wine in the cellars. As the tour ends, they give you a souvenir wine glass and offer a sampling of four wines. One a TH Sauvignon Blanc, next a Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah, third a Carménère, and the last was a mango flavored sparkling wine. That concluded the tour and then we went to the gift shop to buy one bottle of the Carménère that we liked. The glasses were complimentary and it will be a miracle if they get home unbroken. As we leave, we ask David (the tour guide) if there are any places for lunch in the area and he points us down the road a five minute walk to a sangueria (sandwich shop) where we see a giant sign with lomitos and completos on it. The place is called La Plancha Talagante and they are serving what all the other lomito places sell. I get a pollo completo (grilled, chopped chicken with tomato, avocado mash, and, of course, lots of mayo). It is good, but there is clearly more avocado than chicken on this bun. I break out the knife and fork and we eat what I can. The bill comes to p/5500 (US$11) which is considerably cheaper than the lomitos we had yesterday. Next we will go across the street and wait for a green bus with a "Santiago" sign in the front window to get back to the city. We discuss the rest of our day as the bus will take us back to San Borja/Estacion Centrale. El mentions the Pablo Neruda house and I tell her I will go if she wants to go. Otherwise, I have no plans. There is a Parque Forestale that we can go to that is supposed to be nice. After lunch, we walk back to the road and walk to the nearest bus stop. The bus is pretty casual as you just put your hand up like you are hailing a taxi and the bus stops for you. It has a big sign in the front window saying where it is going and this bus says San Borja/Santiago. We get on and pay our p/900 each and sit down for the 40 minute ride. When we get back to the Estacion Centrale, we both have to pee. The bathrooms are pay entry and there is a booth with a collector and a turnstile for entry. The line is sometimes held up by mothers with small kids who obviously need to go immediately or couldn’t hold it as they run to the front of the line- everyone understands. El wants to do the Pablo Neruda house, so we take the metro to Baquedano and grab a taxi from there to La Chascona

where, at 4:30, we get booked on the 5:00 English tour. The tour costs p/3500 each. We get a bottle of water at the gift shop and wait for the tour. As with many of the attractions on the trip, there are no photos allowed. You can take them outside, but not inside the house. After seeing all of the things that Pablo collected, I guess they don’t want people planning to steal it! The house was built in three parts and I really liked the layout. Very eccentric. The house is complete with secret doors, rooms that look the bridge of a ship and items he had collected from all over the world. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and was pretty informative, although it did make an assumption that you at least knew who Neruda was...other than the name, I didn't, but this did not dissuade me. The relationship between he and his third wife, Matilda, was pretty inspirational. Over the course of the tour, the guide has made reference a couple of times to the “tragedy” that occurred here, but purposely did not expound. As the tour ends we stop in the poet’s library that curiously has very little on the shelves. This is where the guide explains that in Neruda’s last years, he was in ill health and living in one of his other houses (that had less steps). When the Pinochet regime came into power, his people stormed Neruda's house and burned the contents of his personal library and also dammed up the two man-made water channels that had been constructed around the house causing a flooding of the entire compound. There are photographs documenting the destruction that was done, but the real value of what was lost is not known. Considering the caliber of friends that Neruda had (painter Diego Rivera was a close friend), his collection of irreplaceable volumes and art can only be imagined. One funny moment that I wanted to write down to remember was a question, actually two, that were asked during the tour. There were two points on the tour where there were about 10 medallions each about 2”x4” and each one had an eye on it. The first time we saw them was on the overhang of a staircase and the second hung from a low hanging tree branch. Now, on our tour were six people and five of us were in the vicinity of the guide when one person asked what the significance of the hanging eyes was. The guide laughed and said, “they are to warn people to look and watch not to bump your head”. Everyone chuckled and the tour continued on. Then, about 10 minutes later into the tour the one guy that was not present for the explanation, stops the guide and points to the eyes hanging from tree branch and instead of asking what the significance of them is, instead poses his own theories regarding what

"Neruda was trying to say" (i.e. looking inside oneself or outside forces always keeping an eye etc.) The thing is that the rest of us knew the answer and when anyone else, including his wife, tried to interrupt him to tell him what we all knew, he would quickly shut them down to pose another theory as to what "Neruda was saying". This made it all the more funny when he eventually stopped asking/posing philosophical statements, and the guide succinctly answered "watch your head" and without missing a beat continued his tour as everyone got a good laugh out of it. I liked this tour and walking through the house and I guess I have to admit that I am pretty glad El put this back on the itinerary. Afterwards we walk back across the river to the Parque Forestale.Observation: There is a remarkable amount of PDA in this city. Almost everywhere we went from park benches and greenspace, to subways, to literally while both people are walking down the street you would see people making out, cuddling, or engaged in an extended kiss or hug. The other remarkable aspect of this situation was that it was not just limited to younger people, but people of all ages. On a subway, I suppose I would rather be near a kissing couple than a fighting couple! It seems like it is just part of the culture here and those people around us seem unfazed. As an outsider, it is just a reminder that you are experiencing a foreign culture.Parque Forestale is a nice promenade but after a few blocks we decide we have seen enough trees and head back to the hotel for nap. Out by 9:15, metro to Baquedano, walk to Barrio Bellavista to have dinner at Restaurant Venizia. Thinking this might be an Italian place, some research reveals that it is so named because of the flooding that occurs in the area after a storm- it is still just a Chilean restaurant. The book recommends to get the daily specials, unfortunately they have been open all day, and the specials have long been erased from the chalkboard. I get a house specialty called costillar de cerdo con agregado which is a rack of pork (spare) ribs with a side of choice. El gets the same preparation using beef (short) ribs. We get a 1/2 bottle of the Undurraga Sauvignon Blanc/Riesling. The food is OK at best. Thankfully we see the 1/2 portions on the menu and order those. The pork is pretty dry, tough, and gamey. The fries, ultra greasy and the puddle of grease in the bottom of the plate suggests that there was even more grease on the fries before it dripped off! No idea what the people that recommended this place were thinking- another culinary disappointment. We get the check and get out as soon as we can pry our waiter away from reading his newspaper. The whole meal runs us p/10200 (US$20) and this place has what we see in almost every restaurant, a mobile credit card machine. When they se you are using a card, instead of taking the card, they bring the swiper to the table, and ask you to type in the tip amount directly into the machine. Convenient. I guess that the price was fair, as I did eat all of my pork and El ate as much or her beef as she could. We will not be having dessert here. We leave Venizia and walk over to Nercobar which is closed. Without posted hours it is impossible for us to tell if they are opening or closed for the night. There is some activity inside and we decide to wait a few minutes hoping they open at 11:00. If not, we will grab a taxi back to The Phone Box near the hotel. El sees some more activity inside so we are optimistic to be in soon, but by 11:00 they have yet to open, so we stop at a churro van for some fried dough for dessert. Then we grab a taxi to The Phone Box. We try to get a bottle of Undurraga white wine, but they only have a red. Instead, we order a bottle of Palo Alto Reserva Carménère. I see the two guys who worked last night and they remembered me. I asked about the Chinese exhibit and they were very specific about the directions. We should be all set to go there tomorrow morning as one of the last things before we go home tomorrow night. This bar is a good last stop for us. The music is good and the place is not too pubby, more like a quiet bar. We leave at closing time and wave our final goodbyes to the staff then head back to the hotel and call it a night.

Wednesday 2/24/10

Our flight out is scheduled to leave tonight at 9:05pm. This gives us most of the day to wrap up our trip and prepare to leave. We get up and have breakfast at the hotel and we head down to the government palace to see an exhibit of Ancient China. We take the metro to La Moneda stop and walk around the area until we find the palace. It is a pretty big complex, but if you don't know exactly where it is, the smallest of buildings can block your view of it. Which brings me to another phenomenon is when getting directions from someone who knows and is very familiar with the area they are giving directions to, they tend to say things like, "come out of the metro station, and you can't miss it." Well, we came out of the metro station and are standing in a park with a bank in front of us. It is entirely possible to miss, if you don't know where to look. Luckily we asked a cop and he pointed us in the right direction. The exhibit was p/1000 each. They had no literature in English. You can only get English tours on weekends and today is Tuesday. The exhibit centered around the terracotta warriors of Xi'an. Of the 8000 warriors, they had a room with a display of about 12 of them. The place was pretty crowded and kids and families were everywhere. At one point actually, a museum representative scolded everyone in the exhibit room for letting kids run around and for not observing silence. It was pretty well needed for the room as the chaos was peaking. We did the walk through the exhibit which was rather disappointing. Granted, I always wanted to see the warriors, but the rest of the displays were nothing spectacular. The curation was nice and the displays were aesthetically pleasing, but there really didn't seem like a lot to them. We stayed there about an hour and metroed back to the hotel to pack and get ready to leave.

Observation: maybe I am getting old, but one of the more annoying things we have seen, or heard as the case may be, is people of all ages, not just young ones, using their cell phones like a boom box on the metros and buses. You would think they could invest a few pesos in head phones, but instead they use the speaker feature of the cell phone to play the music at a level where the distortion makes the song unlistenable. Surely, others on the train or bus don't want to listen to it either and when you get two or more on the same train car doing this, the noise is just mind numbing.

We arranged for a late checkout from the room at 3:00 and ordered a taxi to the airport at 5:30. We leave the room and bring our bags to the desk and check out of the room. We now have 2 1/2 hours to kill, so we walk in one direction that we have not seen much of on our trip. As we walk for several minutes it becomes obvious why we haven’t seen much of this area...because it is all residential and not commercial at all. It made for a nice stroll, but not helpful when looking for lunch. We change directions to go to an area we have walked through, but have not eaten in. We take our last walk down Providencia and see a place called Santorinos: Not Only Pasta. We check it out and decide to eat there. I start with a house salad with lettuce, boiled potatoes, carrots, olives, and tomatoes. For main course I get: mechada which is a slice of braised beef studded with carrots and garlic, and then pot roasted. I get it with a side of with rice. The beef is very tasty and just a little salty, which is really saying something! The dessert is a small dish of ice cream and a coffee which turns out to be really nasty. El thinks it might be burnt coffee, but I think it was made with steamed milk that was sour. I only drink a few sips and leave the rest. For just picking a place to eat while walking we did pretty good. The total for lunch is p/11200. This turns out to be a nice last meal in a city certainly not known for their food (what was the last Chilean restaurant you went to?). It is now around 4:00 and we need to be in the lobby of the hotel at 5:15 so we stop at Starbucks' rival, The Coffee Factory. El and I are both not feeling well and hope our stomachs get right upon return home. This could be a long flight home! I get a cafe con leche and El checks email. We will be done here soon and wrap up our trip with a ride to the airport which actually gave us some of the best mountain views of our trip! We take the hotel arranged taxi to the airport and it runs about 40 minutes and is p/16000. We probably could have gotten a better deal if we took a shuttle or got our own taxi, but that is not something I want to chance when getting to the airport. Arriving without an agenda is obviously a little different. We get to the airport three hours before flight time. We have been seeing some bad weather reports for New York and if our flight does get cancelled, we want to be at the front of the rebook list rather than at the end of it. We have an interesting situation at the immigration booth just before we go through security. We stand in line and get called to the window and the officer asks for our passports, boarding passes, and our immigration cards. We have no immigration cards. He flips through our passports and sees we are truthful. He points us to the police office to get another. We fill it out (not recognizing the form if we had ever filled one out before) and get back in line. The new officer questions what we had done with our immigration cards. Honestly, having never seen it before we do not know if we would have gotten one on the plane from Lima, at the airport in Santiago upon arrival? All we know is we did not have one, now we have a new one. He seems a little peeved that he is processing a “duplicado", but it is no use trying to assure him we did not throw it away- either we never got one or it was taken when we arrived in Chile. He waves us on, and as we are walking to security, we see a line of people at the police office and both comment that it cannot be possible for all of these passengers to have lost their cards. It is odd. Security is a breeze and we walk towards the gate. As we do, a young lady from the Chilean tourist office stops us and asks us to take a survey, which was actually a really great experience for us. As we have been travelling and I have been journaling, I have been making notes about what I like and don't like about this city. El and I answer the questions together and take averages when our answers differ. Most questions are about our trip (how long, lodging arrangements, where did we come from, where are we going to etc.) Then she got really specific as to what we liked and did not like about the city we had just spent five days in. We agreed that our goals when traveling is to experience a tourist friendly city and not be made to feel uncomfortable for not speaking the language. We agreed that in this capacity, Chile, was a really good choice. As for the suggestions we had for the Chilean tourist board related to the museums we went to. They have to figure that those who are visiting museums are not always nationals. For this reason I think it would be more tourist friendly if they at least offered brochures or information pamphlets in other languages (and I don’t mean just English), as I am sure Germans, Japanese, and Italian tourists that come also want to understand what is going on and what they are looking at that. Although we did not go to the Museum of History, even the guidebooks note that it is "better if you speak Spanish, but OK if you don't". I have never let my not knowing a language stop me from visiting anywhere. And although I think it is great to know another language- if I decide to take up German, I will still be equally lost in Tokyo. So knowing a second language can be helpful, but I don' think it is of paramount importance when you start off knowing the words for "thank you" and "hello" ("excuse me" -as in I just bumped into you, sorry, and "please" don't hurt to know either). By the end of a trip I am usually surprised just how many words I do learn (or come back to me from previous trips). Obviously, I am lucky to have El to help with many of the romantic language countries, but we were both stumped with the Slavic and Chinese we saw and we had a ball in those places. The other we mentioned to the tourism office is how bummed we were about the smog situation in this city. Aside from possibly Lhasa, Tibet there is no question that this has to be one of the most spectacularly situated cities in the world. From almost any spot in the city you can see mountains. Some even snow capped in summer. Just breathtaking...sadly, both figuratively and literally. The amount of smog is not enough to obscure the mountains, but there is a continual haze that does turn the crisp scenery into more like silhouettes than anything else. I nominate Santiago to go green for this reason alone as the air quality is in drastic need of improvement. One funny question in the survey related to the quality of the food in Chile. As El and I discussed our answer and assured the asker that we would be honest, we averaged our answer to a 4/10. She told us that she had questioned people from France who refused to answer the question! We laughed and told this twentysomething girl to take a trip to France someday and she would see why that is so funny. I was at least happy to be asked about what I thought about a city I had visited. To tell them both what we like and disliked about our stay. So far, our flight has been delayed two times for reasons unspecified. We cross our fingers for better luck in an hour. So, as we wait in Santiago for our flight to leave they wind up delaying it so long that people are starting to miss connections that they have in Lima, so the airline starts rebooking people to Lima on another flight. Then we are told that so many people have switched to another flight that we will now fly direct from Santiago to New York. This is good news as we will make up any lost time by flying direct. Then before we know it they are boarding us. As we stand in line, we hear that we are still stopping in Lima as scheduled. This of course pushes our schedule back. We arrive in Lima and are told to stay on the plane while the cleaning crew gets the plane ready for the next leg of the flight. Then all of the Lima to New York passengers board the plane and everyone is in their seats and we are sitting there ready to go, then an announcement that the flight is cancelled due to the airport being closed! We all disembark and wait in the gate area. After a few minutes, the LAN rep announces that we may be able to take off tonight if they can get a crew. This sounds improbable, and after a few more minutes they reschedule the flight for 10:00am (it is now 2:00am) because the plane is having maintenance done. One of the problems I am having is that being a bilingual flight the announcements are being made in Spanish and then, before the announcement can be made in English, several disgruntled Spanish speakers inundate the podium and the rep cannot finish the announcement. So now you have half of the plane angry and yelling and the other half saying "what did she say?". After about 20 minutes, "our" rep calls all passengers who arrived for Santiago and tells us to wait in a particular area for her to return. Meanwhile, after she walks away, another rep gets on the PA and starts reading names including ours and tells us to go to a different gate. Then the first rep returns and has to round us up because she told us to stay where we were. It is now after 2:00am and the new flight is scheduled for 10:40am. Now comes the absolute chaos that is getting a hotel for the night. Mind you, considering the time needed to immigrate out of the airport and then check in before the departures, most people agree it would be better to just curl up on a gate bench and sleep until 10:00am, but the reps say that is not allowed. Since the airport is closed, at this hour, there is very little staff on duty for things like immigration and customs. We find ourselves stopping to fill out paperwork and then go through one line, only to be given another form to fill out and get through that line. Then, as the first person in our group of only 20 gets to the front of the line, the immigration officer wants to charge the passenger some sort of entry fee. Of course this is unacceptable since we offered to stay in the airport, and we are not actually "visiting" Peru. This takes some time to get some supervisor on the phone to tell the officer how to process the group. Our rep tells the group that she has a group of Japanese people who require different services and that we are to get ourselves through immigration and customs and wait for her on the other side of the exit. We all get through in a relatively timely fashion, although the customs officer questioning the electronics we are bringing into the country was a bit pointless, since we did not PLAN to be here! We all get through and sit and wait. By the time our rep returns to take us to the hotel it is after 4:00am. It turns out the hotel is part of the airport complex and there was no shuttle needed, just walking across the street to the lobby. They collect all of our passports and call everyone one by one to the counter to get a room key. This takes another 15 minutes and we are now asked to fill out another form for the hotel. I cannot help but think how much time could have been saved to speed this process up if only there was some better coordination. It's not like we are the first flight that has ever needed to be cancelled and had to be put up for the night, so why does it feel like it?! Nonetheless, we finally hit the bed around 4:25am with a wake-up call at 7:30, gate report at 8:30, flight scheduled for 10:30. What else could go wrong with this flight? Well, the flight went almost on time and landed in NYC, as a severe snow storm was starting which stranded us in New York for an extra day. Not the best way to end a vacation. We are already longing for the 80 degree days of South America, and starting to plan our next somewhere warm! 

As I look at this trip I am finding it difficult to sum up. There were some aspects of this trip that were amazing and made the trip worthwhile like the food in Peru, or the scenery in Chile. And the people in both places being so friendly, even though I couldn't communicate with most of them. There were also aspects of this trip that reminded us that we aren’t in Munich (or any other Westernized destination) anymore. Be it whatever it was that we ate or drank to give us upset stomachs, or the fact that Lima did not seem to be a very traveler friendly city makes me consider what we are trying to get out of a city when we travel. Are we looking for adventure? Are we looking for comfort? Do we seek the familiar or are we alright with the concept of “foreign”. I think the answer to this is that we are looking to experience as many new cultures as we can around the world. There is so much out there that is different from what we are used to as Americans that we are fascinated to see and be a part of them even if only for a short time. On some levels, I think we would rather spend a short time in a very foreign place (like Japan or Africa) than take a vacation to New Jersey. I think in the grand scheme of things Santiago and Lima are still considered tier one cities in relation to the rest of the cities in the world. We don’t need to take every vacation to London or Paris and as we leave Chile and Peru, I think I would rather plan my next trip to La Paz or Quito than Amsterdam or Brussels, because this is what world travel is all about to us! Further, when you have a good travel partner (even if it is not the perfect travel mate like I have) you can still have a great time learning about and traveling to places that most people don’t even have on their radar to get to in their lifetime. And that is the way I like it. I don't think I need to come back to these two specific cities, but would absolutely come back to South America. I am not sure where our next trip will be to, but wherever it is I am sure it'll be a good time, as long as El is there with me! 


Two final notes: we flew out of Santiago Airport around midnight on Wednesday February 24. At 3:30am on Saturday February 27 (51 hours later), one of the strongest recorded earthquakes (8.8) hit Chile. It appears that the area we were in suffered damage that was minor compared to the hardest hit areas to the south of Santiago. So, we were not there when the quake hit, and thankful to have made it home safely.

After making it home, El is still not feeling all that great. Some days seem better than others, but she is having enough problem that she sees a doctor. After much testing and diagnosis, she has picked up a food borne parasite. It is impossible to determine exactly where it was picked up, but does help to explain why she was feeling worse than I was while eating the food in Chile.