Posts tagged ‘south america’

Santiago, Chile … how I love thee, let me count the ways

by Zoe Russell

Today’s Experience

Santiago is a gem to discover – and we have a weekend with discovery on the agenda!

Santiago, Chile photo collage. All photos by the author.

Santiago, Chile photo collage. All photos by the author.

Jaw dropping snow-capped peaks greet us as we descend from the air in our Sky Airline flight from Buenos Aires; beautiful green parks where lovers canoodle are scattered amongst the city’s high-rises, impressive architecture rich in history looks down on massive squares where locals gather to dance the afternoons away, and artisans and tourists co-habitate in eclectic suburbs.

Once you get over the steep $95 reciprocity fee many foreign nationals (including Australians) have to pay to get into Chile, you’ll fall in lust with this city – and we’re told a few days is more than enough time to experience the best sights Santiago has to offer.

We’re staying at La Chimba Hostel in Barrio Bellavista. The streets of this funky suburb are lined with colourful graffiti art which brightens your way during the day, but it’s at night that Bellavista really comes alive with bustling bars and restaurants. There is something for everyone but we chose to walk past the nightspots blaring Gangnam Style, instead preferring a more authentic South American experience at a tango bar with Latin dancing. Have our moves improved after so long in South America?

Santiago, Chile photo collage dos. All photos by the author.

Santiago, Chile photo collage dos. All photos by the author.

Barrio Bellavista is also at the base of San Cristobal Hill which at 300 metres above the city offers sweeping 180 degree views of the skyline. It is also where a 22 metre white statue of Virgin Mary stands offering those who need it a place to worship … but mainly just another photo opportunity for tourists. The funicular is out of action, but we don’t want to miss the view so we decide to stretch our legs by walking the steep route to the top. It’s quite a challenging half an hour walk and not for the unfit, but the views were well worth it. The afternoon is a better time of day as the smog had lifted a little, but don’t expect crystal clear views.

The best time to see the views from San Cristobal Hill over Santiago Chile is in the afternoon, when some of the Smog has cleared. Don't expect crystal ball views from Cristobal Hill !

The bella vista from San Cristobal Hill, overlooking all of Santiago Chile (through the smog). Photo by Kyle Simourd, CC License.

With limited time in Santiago overall, and wanting to see as much of the city as we can, we choose to do the hop on hop off bus tour of the city. For about 19,000 Chilean Pesos each (about $40) it’s definitely worth doing – we’re going to see so much more of the city than you normally would simply walking around for a few days, and we can get off at all the best sights the city has to offer.

One great spot worth visiting is Plaza de Armas, which gives us a little perspective on how old Santiago is. The Plaza was designed in the 1500s but most of the impressive buildings including the Metropolitan Cathedral were built in the 1800s. A must for history buffs but it is also a great place to just people watch, from buskers jostling marionettes to locals dancing. It is even a popular meeting spot for the city’s stray dogs to sniff each other out.

Santiago's Plaza de Armas is one of the best places to spend some time in the city people watching and enjoying a coffee.

Looking down on Santiago’s Plaza de Armas. Photo by Addy Cameron-Huff, CC License.

This is a city alive with amusing experiences. We duck into a coffee shop/bar seeking a quick caffeine fix, and face the choice of either taking a seat or standing at the bar … where we are served by the most voluptuous women you have ever seen wearing dresses barely covering their boobs and butts. I actually thought we had walked into a gentlemen’s club (and as the only blonde female in the joint I received my fair share of uncomfortable stares). For the rest of the group, put your eyes back into your head! I think we’ve suddenly found a new appreciation for the coffee houses here … perhaps we should open a franchise back home when the everydaydreaming is done?

As far as South America countries go, Santiago isn’t ‘cheap’. Expect western prices if you come for a visit but overall, and expect to have a great time. In comparison with some of our other stops, there’s no doubt Santiago can serve as both an excellent introduction to the continent and an inclusion on any South American travel plan.

Santiago, Chile photo collage tres. All photos by the author.

Santiago, Chile photo collage tres. All photos by the author.

Want to go? Need to know!

One thing is for sure, our limited Spanish is only just getting us by! The most common phrases used so far are:

  • Hola (hello)
  • Adios/ciao (goodbye)
  • Buenos dias/tardes/noches (good morning/afternoon/evening)
  • Habla englais (do you speak English?)
  • No intiende (I don´t understand). We’re using that one a lot!

We are picking words and phrases up quickly, and the locals everywhere we visit appreciate us making some effort. Maybe we’ll be quite the linguists when we next travel through your home country? (Speaking of which, have you invited us to feature your home or favourite travel destination yet? Head over to our local guides page now.)

What’s your travel experience in South America? How much Spanish did you feel you needed? Tell us in the comments below.

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Photographing the Streets and History of Buenos Aires

There are some cities that sneak up on you.

When we’re travelling, it’s easy to get lost in the routine and details of logistics – got to be here by eleven, forty-five minutes then the 305 bus to the museum, don’t forget to grab a photo of that monument…this rush to see and experience everything you’ve been told to see and experience leaves you feeling a little like a game hunter bagging trophies on sight.

You own but you don’t understand.

Coming into Buenos Aires, we feel a little like the trophy hunter. We never realised how important Buenos Aires is, how large, how culturally diverse, and how many facets there must be to this ‘trophy’.

So on the way to Buenos Aires from Paraguay, we conduct a quick review of the quite hectic itinerary that had been meticulously mapped out, and free up some space to let Buenos Aires show itself to us.

Today’s Itinerary:

  • be guided by locals around lesser-seen streets for photographic trophies
  • visit the site of Argentina’s inspiring and bloody modern history
  • indulge in the cuisines that Argentina is famous for – wine and steak
  • head off into the good night air of Buenos Aires for late-night celebrations

Trophy Hunting in Buenos Aires

Photo by (M), Licensed under CC.

Photo by (M), Licensed under CC.

Photo by Ignacio, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Ignacio, Licensed under CC.

There are over 3 million people living in Buenos Aires, and over 15 million people living in the greater province that contains this city. With that many people, and this much history, there are sure to be interesting stories to find.

So whilst we are still going to be trekking around the city of Buenos Aires bagging photographic trophies, we’ll be doing it in a much more local fashion, and paying closer attention to the rhythms of this city.

We’ve organised a custom photography tour of Buenos Aires with Foto Ruta. They hold weekly tours that involve puzzles and clues, aimed at making you look at the world a little differently and inspiring your photographic ‘eye’.

As Tim wrote for the BBC;

For example, I joined Foto Ruta for one of their excursions on Halloween weekend, so all the clues had to do with Halloween. By following a clue called “haunted and holy”, I recognized the decaying and eerie characteristics of some of the older buildings in Monserrat (the chosen neighbourhood for this Foto Ruta event) and concentrated on capturing their “haunted” essence.

(Make sure to check out the great articles on Gringo In Buenoes Aires, his very detailed travel blog on Buenos Aires).

Photo by Nicolás Ancheta Curbelo, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Nicolás Ancheta Curbelo, Licensed under CC.

Today we’ve organised a custom tour because we’re in Buenos Aires midweek, and we’ve asked Foto Ruta to show us around the upmarket streets of Palermo.

The barrio (neighbourhood) of Palermo is worth a visit in it’s own right, featuring tree-lined streets, fashionable neighbourhoods, and the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA) containing hundreds of art works from twentieth-century Latin American artists.

Today, however, we’re interested in it for its stories.

Our clues have us scurrying about the streets, brows furrowed, and engaging the locals of Buenos Aires (called porteños for “people of the port”) in our quest. It’s a fun way to meet the people who live in the city, however briefly, and enjoy trying to bridge some of our respective cultural barriers.

Photo by Nicolás Ancheta Curbelo, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Nicolás Ancheta Curbelo, Licensed under CC.

Exploring the City

Although Argentina has a rich cultural history of immigration from European strongholds like Spain and Italy, and the respective architectural and cultural qualities to reflect these origins, its modern history is understood by the rest of the world to be linked to two main people, and to one of them in particular…

Madonna, as she is known worldwide…just kidding.

We all know Evita, even if the political history is a little more hazy than the lyrics to the song from the Evita musical.

We head down to the Plaza de Mayo, the main square in Buenos Aires.

It is in front of the pink house in this square, the Casa Rosado, that the working classes rallied in their hundreds of thousands to demand the release of Juan Perón in 1945. It is from this balcony that Evita rallied the people to the support of her and her husband, and it is from this balcony that the Juan made his last acrimonious public appearances.

The history (and frequently, the blood) of the people of Argentina is soaked into the stones of this square. Chillingly;

the plaza, since 1977, is where the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo have congregated with signs and pictures of desaparecidos, their children, who were subject to forced disappearance by the Argentine military.

But why is it pink?

An Argentinian president ordered it painted so as to symbolise the unification of warring political opponents – whose colours were red and white. Local legend states that the first coat of paint was made by mixing whitewash with blood from a bull.

The Argentinian Experience. Steak.

We’ve had many friends visit Argentina, and there’s one thing they won’t stop talking about.

The steak.

With recommendations from people who been there, and eaten their way across the countryside, this is one item that has to be on our agenda for the day.

The other is Malbec.

Along with Australa, New Zealand, and Chile, Argentinian wine has fought its way into the ranks of new world winemakers who are setting palates aflame in Europe. They’ve even been making Malbec icecream in London.

We head to dinner at The Argentine Experience. Don’t be put off by its initial appearance as a mass-produced tourist attraction featuring bad wine and tough steak. This experience grew out of the passion of four people who wanted to show and tell Argentinian culture, and began doing so in a tiny flat, before outgrowing that venue thanks to its popularity.

We’re in for a guided tour of Argentine cuisine and culture, including making our own empanadas, devouring steaks that have been specially prepared over 24 hours, and sampling some Malbec, then sampling some more Malbec, then sampling some more…did we mention the Malbec is unlimited?

The steak itself is ridiculous. Grass-fed beef is the right choice in general but the taste and texture of this steak, and the care put into its preparation, ranks it as absolutely one of the gastronomic experiences you have to try in life.

Main courses down, and with the table getting more raucous (the Malbec is unlimited, remember) our guides take the time to answer our questions about life in Buenos Aires and Argentina’s past and future, as they show us how to prepare Maté, and fill the last few gaps in our bellies with Dulche de Leche.

Dinner at 9:30, then the party starts at 12!

In Buenos Aires, they eat late. 9:30PM late. So prepare yourself with some snacks in the afternoon if you’re used to an earlier dinnertime – and a cheeky kip wouldn’t go astray either, because things don’t really get moving until around midnight.

Our hosts from The Argentine Experience point us in the direction of some local nightclubs, and wave us off smiling into the “good air” of Buenos Aires.

It’s going to be a good night.

Photo by Tiago Cata, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Tiago Cata, Licensed under CC.