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Fiona in Space

that time I went to South America.

I guess it’s good that I’m getting bad at the whole keeping a blog thing. But let me catch you up anyway.

So I’ve learned the hard way that the first day in a place is always the worst, or rather always difficult. I like to think oh yeah, I can just walk around and figure it out, I’m savvy, I’ll be fine, I feel at home here! Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter if you’ve travelled a million times or this is your first time on a plane, the first day is always an adjustment.

My first day didn’t go as planned. At all. Well, except for going to the market. I overslept for breakfast, waking up right at the end, and then scrambled awake and ready. So of course I left without my watch and without thinking about the fact that I needed caffeine STAT. I headed to the metro, unprepared. When I got there (it’s very awesome, by the way, the metro. And my stop is right next to this cool documentary film place), I was suddenly overwhelmed. How the hell do I get a ticket? I decided to get coffee before making this adventure.

Little did I know, I wouldn’t find a single cafe, that was open. Well, for a while anyway, until I got to the next metro station. Coffee, where are you? C’mon Santiago, I know you have cafes, stop holding out on me! I finally reached Baquedano/Plaza Italia and saw a golden, shining, albeit kind of shitty place that had a sign for coffee – and pastries! Dry filled churro and cafe cortado chico (it’s very chico by the way, they mean it) in hand I sat outside watching what I now realize was a student protest. Baquedano is the square where everyone gathers, it’s that kind of place. Now that I’ve finally taken a tour I can pretend like I know things, but at the time I was rather confused.

Oh, another thing you should know about Santiago: there are a lot of (stray) dogs. A lot. Apparently they are great for hanging around you and scaring off drunk people. I made a doggy friend hanging out in the square, he just came up and plopped down next to me.

Finally rejuvenated, I went down into the metro and watched what others were doing until I figured it out. I went to the ticket window and held up my fingers in a peace sign: “dos boletos, por favor.” When I inserted the ticket into the machine, my BART training made me pause for it to come out again, until I realized that that’s not how it worked.

Metro Santiago is AWESOME. It’s clean, easy to understand, and the trains come every 2 minutes. Yes, it can get crowded, but it’s so fast, it doesn’t matter. I figured out which direction to go in, following the signs and making only a few errors, got on, got off, got on my transfer, and arrived at Puente Cal y Canto.

I saw this big old train station and figured that must be the Mapuche Cultural Center everyone had been talking about. By everyone, I mean my guidebook. There was some really fascinating contemporary art there, and you can see the pictures, but I really liked this one:

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Or maybe this one:

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Next I stumbled over the my main destination, el Mercado Central. All you really need to know about el Mercado is FISH. I took so many pictures of fish, as you may have noticed. I think people thought I was crazy. The best thing about my Spanish being rusty is that it’s really easy to ignore people (restaurant people) hassling you. As a tourist, I was in great demand. They wanted ME (and everyone else) to come to their restaurant. I feel so special. I think I overheard some people debating if I was Chilean, although it could have been them affirming I definitely wasn’t, but I’ll pretend it’s the former. I eventually chose one of the tucked away seafood places, and orded ceviche para llevar, because well, eating there seemed overwhelming and ceviche was the only thing I knew.

I of course, forgot to ask for a utensil, and forgot the word for spoon (I have since remembered), so I found an ice cream place in the HUGE Centro mall (oh my god Chileans love malls), and stole a tiny ice cream spoon. And that’s how I ended up sitting in the Plaza de Armas eating ceviche with a tiny spoon and looking crazy (partly because eating ceviche when it’s so cold seems silly). But damn, it was good ceviche. Simple, and refreshing, and just the right about of crunch and lime.

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More things, non-chronological. So there are lots of dogs, and TONS of adorable children. So many. Also malls. And pigeons. I wandered into this one mall that was ALL music stores, it was so cool. Just musical instruments and equipment everywhere.

There’s also things like cafe con piernas in these malls (and other places). Cafe con piernas means “coffee with legs” and in most of the places waitresses with short skirts serve coffee to businessmen, but in others the women wear bikinis and the windows are blacked out (and there are blacklights and loud music), like this:

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Yeah. I wandered some more. A lot. And went in circles. And got lost. And had to decide what I should do: a) go on a free tour at 3, b) see historical stuff myself, or b) go cafe hopping in Bellas Artes. Oh and I had to buy a plug converter. I changed my mind many times.

I ended up getting cafe cortado and an okay medialuna in a cafe and visiting the Metropolitan Cathedral on my own. It was beautiful, and even though I’m not religious, rather inspiring. It doesn’t look like much of a cathedral from the outside, but once I was inside I felt instantly revived.

After more wandering, I ended up back at Plaza de Armas and went to the tourist information center to pick up some pamphlets and then headed to the National History museum. It was rather interested with a lot of cool artefacts and an interesting overview of the history of Chile.

I then realized I had to begin my outlet adaptor search. The information center was closed, couldn’t use their computer. So I scoured the mall, finally breaking down and asking the department store electronics people, who pointed me to 2 different intersections, one which had nothing, then I asked a policeman and he pointed me to the second one, which I found – but the store was closed. By the way, Chileans drop sounds, so I heard Casa Rolla, but it was actually Casa Royal. I went into a hotel and asked them – they pointed me to one in the adjacent alleyway, which was – you guessed it – closed.

I started getting really upset, I was basically lost in a country where I don’t speak the language well, and I couldn’t find anything! It was then I went into the lovely little bookstore that made everything better. I asked the bookstore owner if he knew anything that was open. He then proceeded to look all over the back room to see if he had anything, and figuring out what exactly it was I needed. When he didn’t have it, he asked EVERY SINGLE SHOPKEEPER in a 2 block radius. It was ridiculous. When they didn’t, he drove me to a store (which was 2 blocks from my hostel) and bought me one, and took me back home. It was bizarre and amazing, and goddammit Chileans are the nicest people. Obviously I was hesitant and a little weirded out, but once I realized that it’s just how the people are here, and I was back at my hostel safe and with what I needed, I got over my American sensibilities.

Well, okay the adaptor was broken and I accidentally blew out the power (twice) and I had to exchange it , but the store was close and he still helped me so it was all okay.

That evening was another quiet one. Well, I attempted to go to this restaurant called “El Rey de Churrascos.” A Churrasco is a delicious Chilean sandwich with beef and tomato and guacamole and all sorts of deliciousness. They were closed and I wandered around a bit to see if they opened at 8. I paused for a second at what appeared to be a musical sermon. I think I could love Santiago.

So my first day I went in a lot of circles, which is not always a bad thing. I definitely should have taken that tour, I needed that orientation on that first day. But I did it the next day, to great success.

To be continued…

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