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Fiona in Space

that time I went to South America.

My second day here was much better, and I finally did what travelling alone is all about: meeting people and making connections. I started off by doing what I should have done all along, and taking that free tour another guest had told me about. I woke up and made it to breakfast, a rather uneventful affair of toast (the toaster wasn’t working that day, so make that bread), cereal, instant coffee, and…cookies (which I didn’t eat, it felt too wrong). At breakfast I saw a girl that I had noticed arrive the night before, we figured out we both spoke English and had our breakfasts together. To both our surprises, we discovered we both went to school in the Bay Area and were studying English! Albeit, she’s getting her masters and I am but a lowly undergrad, but still, cool coincidence. I convinced her to come on the tour with me, although she was leaving to study in Valparaíso for a month later that day. We arrived in Plaza de Armas to find a group of other tourists huddled around a guide in a red jacket. It was still gray and drizzly and pretty cold. So much so that the carabineros gathered in the square had their raincoats on.

Our guide introduced himself, Antonio, and proceeded to make our day. He was funny and charming and spoke great English! It was the much needed orientation that first time travellers to Santiago need, and presented a great overview and historic/cultural background. I urge you, if for whatever weird reason you end up here, take this tour! I am not one for organized tours, they seem tacky to me sometimes (funny, considering I’m a tour guide), but this was perfect. We didn’t get to do lunch because the restaurant was closed, but we covered a lot of ground without going overboard. We learned about Santiago’s history, barrios, symbolism, cultural quirks, cuisine, etc. I can now tell you that there are 20,000 Peruvians in Santiago, which answered my question of why all the markets are Peruvian (later today my other question of why so many people eat sandwiches with forks was answered when I attempted to eat one with my hands).

I’d love to go on and on and tell you every tidbit, but that could be a little much. Perhaps I’ll update this post later. We went by all the sights: Plaza de Armas, Catedral, Municipalidad, Correos, Antiguo Congreso, Palacio La Moneda, Bolsa de Comercio, Teatro Municipal, Cerro Santa Lucía, Museo de Bellas Artes, Parque Forestal, Plaza Italia, Barrio Bellavista, y más!

Have I mentioned the stray dogs? There are a lot here. They followed our group and “protected” us in hope of food. Antonio said that they will ward off angry drunks because they smell the alcohol. They bother some people but I like them, although the sheer amount of strays makes me sad.

The tour ended in Bellavista, in front of the Neruda house. I couldn’t help but give the suggested tip for the otherwise free tour, it was so good! My hostel friend and I decided to go to lunch at one of the recommended restaurants. We ended up being joined by an older woman from Australia and another woman from England – who now lives in Wales. All I can say is mmmmmmmm! The experience also made me feel better about my Spanish when I helped the Brit find something Vegetarian on the menu. Inspired by the cold weather, I ordered cazuela de pollo, a soup served in a cast iron bowl with steaming broth, a quarter corn cob, carrots, potatoes, green beans, pumpkin, and a huge hunk of chicken. It was a chore to eat, and I almost didn’t defeat it, but I put in a good effort. Another delicious treat was pastel de choclo, another dish recommended by our guide. It’s a toasty pie made of smashed corn and full of hidden surprises: beef, egg, olive, raisins, onions… I wanted one in addition to my soup. We also ordered the very cheap house wine, which – as I’ve discovered with most Chilean wine, cheap or not – was still really quite good.

Goodness Santiago, I start to think, how can I leave you? Afterwards we split up and the Brit and I headed over to La Chascona, the Pablo Neruda house and museum in Santiago. Neruda has 2 other houses in Chile, La Sebastiana and Isla Negra. Before starting the mandatory tour, we enjoyed some coffee in the cafe and perused the giftshop. We had another fantastic guide take us through La Chascona, a quirky Chilean wearing a Maoist cap, who had lived in New York. He took us through the creaky turns of the house, pointing out Neruda’s obsession with odd collections and partying. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take pictures inside, but it was…awesome. I loved seeing the house of one of my favorite poets! It was of course quirky and colorful and very nautical. I want to move there, basically. The house in Santiago and La Sebastiana had both been ransacked by the government so they are not quite as abundant and vibrant as Isla Negra. I’m pretty sad I won’t have time to go there, but another day, for Neruda. I love museums like this one, because it’s truly being immersed in another world. The history, commentary, and fun information of the guide made me thankful we weren’t allowed to go through without one. Apparently Neruda came to Berkeley to speak! Wish I had been there then. Although our guide joked that Neruda’s voice was terrible and he didn’t understand how he could fill huge stadiums. Who gets to do that? Very few poets are rock stars, and Neruda was most definitely one of them.

Afterwards we wandered down through Bellavista, crossing the bridge, and then meandering through Plaza Forestal. On the way we stopped at the Peruvian craft market we had seen before, and tried on hats and looked at earrings. I somehow got roped into buying both (so cheap!) and am pretty pleased, especially with my hat because it’s been pretty necessary since then. I also got a pair of earrings, one a fork the other a spoon – perfect.

Next we went to el Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which had an interesting mix of exhibits. One looked at the various processes of a single sculpture (of a Mapuche), as well as had a room where a light circled around a sculpture (and you could walk around) showing all the different nooks and angles. The weirdest exhibit was this multimedia thing that looked like it was from the 80’s. Maybe I would have got it if it was in English.

I remembered I wanted to go to Emporio La Rosa for ice cream, as it was mentioned by Antonio, so we stopped and after a confusing ordering process, I was happy with 2 scoops: Rose and Dulce de Leche (another thing Chileans love). The little wedge where the place was situated was a little odd, with a street performer serenading us and various vagrant types nearby. After we looked for an ATM for me (I still needed to pay my hostel bill!) but kept on having trouble we settled on getting a dream in Bellas Artes along the cafe hotspot of José M La Barra. We chose a cute place we had walked by earlier and ordered the waitress’s favorite beer and some empanadas. Her favorite beer ended up being a Kunstmann (a craft Chilean beer, bless the Germans here) honey beer, which tasted, well, like drinking honey. It was a really fascinating talk, and we discussed roommates and travelling and she told me her experience scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro . We parted ways and I wandered home, only getting turned around once. I stopped at the grocery for a successful ATM attempt and some water and the cheapest wine I could fine, called “Gato.” Really I just got it because there was a cat on it.

I spent the rest of the night contemplating my trip to Valparaíso Tuesday. But first, other things.

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