The capital and the largest city in Chile, Santiago is one of South America's most modern metropolises. Compared with the cities that I've grown used to further north (e.g. in Peru and Bolivia), Santiago is very modern and very beautiful. With its tree-lined boulevards, its trendy cafés, and its public lawns filled with lounging uni students, Santiago feels like it should be in Europe, or perhaps in the USA's New England area. Also very polluted, and a bit cold at this time of year.
One thing that Santiago should really be proud of is its underground train network, the metro. Very fast, very modern trains. Quite safe and clean at all times of the day and evening, inside the stations and on the trains. Really frequent services, and thus not too crowded on the lines. And quite cheap, too: only about $0.50 a ride (and they accept int'l student cards, so show yours at the ticket booth if you have one). I've been using it to hop around town, for my past two days here in the city, and I've found it to be useful and enjoyable. Certainly better than the trains back in Sydney — althought that really ain't too hard!
The food here in Chile is nothing amazing. It's no gourmet cuisine: the main things on offer are hamburgers and empanadas (meat-filled pastry pockets). The portions ain't huge. And, of course, it's expensive: approaching the prices back home, for food in take-away joints (and let's not even talk about the restaurants). So, it looks like I'll be eating sparsely and sparingly, for this week in Chile. Need to save up my appetite, anyway, for the non-stop steak-eating that will no doubt take place for the duration of my upcoming time in Argentina.
Today I took a whole lot of the souvenirs that I bought last weekend in Otavalo to the Santiago central post office, and I mailed them back to Oz. I lugged the souvenirs down from Ecuador, becuase I was hoping that unlike PEB (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia), Chile would have surface mail available to Australia. Sadly, no luck here either: Chile also offers airmail service only. So mailing stuff home from here is just as expensive as it is further north. Ah, well: at least they're more professional down here, and they put your items in a box and seal them up for you, if you need them to.
Had an unexpected but most welcome surprise tonight: the staff at Hostal de Sammy decided to throw a free BBQ for us! Great first night in Santiago: lovely home-cooked dinner of steak, salad, and chips; and an esky (or, as the kiwis working there called it, a "chilly-bin" — sorry Honour! :P) full of cold beers. The barbeque took place out on the back patio of Sammy's, where the guests and staff alike were able to sit and shmooze, in the pleasant (although slightly chilly) atmosphere of the Santiago evening.
Santiago is hardly the ideal place in Latin America to buy yourself a new camera. But for the past 40 hours or so — since my camera got nicked in Quito — I've had no camera. And if you just continue straight on in your travels, without getting yourself a new camera: well, then the robbers have really won, haven't they? Because there's nothing more precious than the memories of a great trip. And so, despite the unfavourable buyer's market in this part of South America, I went out and got myself a new toy this afternoon.
Not sure if I mentioned this before: but everywhere you go in PEB (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia), you have to put your toilet paper in the little bin, that's always provided in the bathroom for you. I haven't dropped my toilet paper in the toilet for about 5 months. Today, I did it again for the first time. Because this is Santiago, and it's not some backward banana republic, and you can do things like that. And once again, I was surprised at how surprised I was. It felt really, really weird! Not only am I going to have to acclimatise to Western life again — I'm going to have to learn how to go to the toilet, like a Western person does, all over again.
After my amazing breakfast this morning, I was ready to go out and explore Santiago, the city that I'd just arrived in late last night, and easily the furthest place south that I've been so far, in South America. I was planning to head straight to the downtown area, to start taking care of some housekeeping tasks that needed to be done. But I ended up spending several hours just walking around, staring in awe at this city, that's nothing like anywhere else I've been in South America. This place is really, really... well, really nice! It's so neat, the people are so trendy, the buildings are so grand, the buses and trains are so new — it's like being somewhere in Europe. A whole different world to PEB (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador). A world called the Western world. The world that people like you and I live in. People from Santiago live in it too.
I woke up at Hostal de Sammy this morning, and went downstairs for breakfast. And oh my g-d, they have CEREAL!!! Unlimited, crunchy-as-can-be corn flakes, with delicious full-cream milk. I never thought, in all my life, that I'd get so excited over a bowl of cereal: but after 5 months of subsisting on the only things on the menu that they have for breakfast, further north — continental (bread, jam, juice, tea), or americano (same, with fried eggs) — it was like a dream come true. I couldn't stop eating the stuff (got through 3 bowls, no probs).
This is one of those hostels that makes you think: "why can't every city have a hostel like this?" It's just so warm and friendly, and the fellow guests are such great people, and there really aren't too many more freebies that they could possibly offer. They have a games room (with pool table, fussball, and even an Xbox), they have an Internet room, they have a DVD room. They have a lovely patio out the back. They have Aussies, and Kiwis, and all the rest of us. They have it all. Don't even consider staying anywhere else in Santiago.
After getting through my two connecting flights yesterday evening, from Quito to Santiago, I arrived back in Chile at about 2am this morning. Let's just say that I had a bit of a "rough" welcome. They let me into the country in the end: but not until I'd paid yet another gringo tax. Which, upon stepping off the plane, I quite literally could not afford.