It was past 1am on Christmas Eve (or as I pointed out to Dom since I wanted to eat the cheezels we bought slated for Christmas day, technically Christmas day) and we were waiting for the bus back home.
“Do you actually know if the bus will come?” A woman donned in a holiday dress with a present in tow asked as she approached the stop.
“Nope,” I shrugged. “But I’ve seen at least four buses pass in the opposite direction, and it’s a lovely night. So I assume one will come eventually, and I don’t mind waiting.”
A bus did eventually come, and as we waited she explained (in perfect English) that she is originally from Bosnia Herzegovina but has lived in Santiago for the past 11 years. I gushed about how I loved this city, and she was both mildly surprised and very pleased. Apparently other tourists she’s spoken with think Santiago’s too boring. “It doesn’t have the nightlife of Buenos Aires or Rio de Janiero,” they say. But, as Dom aptly replied, “Well yeah, we’re not really nightlife people.”
And that’s just it. From the moment we touched down in Santiago and boarded the bus to the metro, Santiago seemed like the perfect place to live a wonderful daily life. The city is walk-able, the public transportation fantastic, the public parks refreshing and the vibes at one moment New York City and the next LA. Icing on the cake: every Sunday from 9am-2pm over 30km of roads are shut down to all vehicles and opened up for cyclists, runners and walkers. Best run of our travels so far! My pictures won’t do this city justice, but trust me when I say Santiago is worth visiting.
Our first afternoon in the city, we embarked (a tad unknowingly) on a fantastic urban hike up Cerro San Cristóbal, one of Santiago’s many “Cerros Islas”, or “Island Hills”. Cerro San Cristóbal is part of Parque Metropolitano de Santiago, the largest urban park in South America. The park not only has hiking and bike trails, but also two public pools, a funicular and a teleférico. The hiking path has many free water refill stations and fantastic views of the city abutting the Andes mountains. It also has many many crosses, a giant Virgin Mary and a slightly smaller Jesus on the summit. You can’t really forget you’re in a Catholic country here (or really anywhere else we’ve been thus far).
Speaking of Catholicism, the next day we went on a walking tour of Santiago’s highlights, run by the same company who did our fantastic tour of Valparaiso. While standing outside the main cathedral on Santiago’s Plaza de Armas, our tour guide led our group in a game of “Is this legal?”. A recap for you:
- Gay marriage is not legal, but there are civil partnerships. Big caveat: same-sex couples cannot adopt children or use a surrogate to have a child.
- Abortion is only legal in cases of rape (before 12 weeks), when the mother’s health is at risk or if the fetus won’t survive birth. These abortions only became legal in September 2017.
- Prostitution is neither legal or illegal (but pimping is illegal).
- Smoking marijuana in public is illegal, but it is definitely done.
After cooling down in the afternoon with some watermelon in a cup (you heard that right, selling watermelon in a cup on street corners is totally a thing here) we met up with Francisco for a lovely evening stroll through his old neighborhood and dinner at one of his old haunts. Speaking of dinner, two things:
1. Dinner happens incredibly late here (at least by American standards). You often won’t sit down to eat until 9pm! Nearly my bedtime!
2. I love Chile, I do. But so far I haven’t been super keen on its food. Given I don’t eat meat I’m providing a narrow perspective, but the food for the most part has been rather bland and starchy. That being said, we were reunited with Indian food for the first time on our travels, so I can’t do too much complaining.
The next day we continued our time with Francisco (and this time with Carolina, too!) at a surprise party Francisco’s friends threw for him at Parque Padre Hurtado. The park is a fantastically large green space filled with ample barbecues and endless areas for friends and family to gather for celebrations and relaxing days alike. I particularly enjoyed a conversation we had with one of Francisco’s friends whose business trips have take her to Iowa and Nebraska. “There’s nothing there!” she kept exclaiming. Fair point.
My only critique of the park is that you have to pay a marginal entrance fee, even if you’re just walking in on foot (and a dog counts as an additional person)! It’s not that the cost is burdensome (it’s less than a dollar per person), but c’mon people. This is literally what local taxes are for!
On a more somber note, we also visited the Museum of Memory and Human Rights which does an incredible job documenting the multiple human rights abuses committed during Pinochet’s rule. Much of the exhibit was in Spanish, but I understood enough to feel the incredible weight of history. More than 3,000 Chileans were “desaparecidos” (forced disappearances, mostly ending in murder) and over 30,000 individuals tortured throughout the country for political reasons. It’s really hard to understand how Pinochet was never tried after his rule.
The museum also did a great job explaining the referendum that eventually pushed Pinochet out of power, when 56% of Chileans voted “No” to eight more years of Pinochet. Along with showcasing the actual ballot Chileans cast on October 5, 1988, a TV played different campaign jingles that were broadcast in the month leading up to the election (both for the Yes and No campaigns). It’s so bizarre how a vote to end a dictatorship bears such a resemblance to modern US elections.
We ended our time in Santiago on a much higher note, celebrating Christmas with Francisco and Carolina at Francisco’s uncle’s home. (Thank you Francisco’s family for including us!) Much to Dom’s dismay, Christmas in Chile is actually celebrated on Christmas Eve, with children receiving presents at midnight. Our Christmas felt distinctly southern-hemispheric; we didn’t start eating until after 9pm and dinner was outside under the stars. Also, dinner included ceviche…best Christmas dinner yet! The evening ended with a Secret Santa gift exchange with a frightening twist: if you didn’t guess your Secret Santa within two guesses, your gift would be taken away to penitentiary. Only after dancing the tango at the end would you earn it back…
Like I said, I fear this post doesn’t do Santiago justice, but I hope you see why I find it so special. Not that more pictures will help…but in case they do, I’ll leave you with a few more snaps from our time wandering the streets of this magical city.