Santiago, Chile – A city of green parks and stray dogs

The first stop on my stay was Santiago, the capital of Chile. I was so exhausted and deprived of sleep that I thought I would have been head back, mouth open, sound asleep, dribbling and drooling all the way over here. Surprisingly enough I didn´t sleep a lot on the plane, and I only caught myself drooling once. I did however do one of those embarrassing jump things. You know when you are fast asleep and you kind of wake yourself up by lurching out of your chair (or is that an Alison thing…). There was nothing else remarkable about the plane trip. I flew LAN who were really good, but I was so disorgansied for the trip that I didn’t realise there was a stop-over in New Zealand.

I arrived in Santiago, got my bags and headed through immigration, where my profession of librarian seemed to cause a few problems. It appears that the immigration officer I had didn´t know what that was. After some discussion with his fellow immigration friend and some further questions to me (none of which I understood) we eventually agreed that I worked in a libreria. A check of my phrase book later told me that libreria was a bookstore. Opps what I should have said was biblioteca. Oh well…

I got through customs only to be confronted by those annoying men saying taxi, taxi, taxi. It was at that point that I wished I had taken up the offer of the airport transfer. I´ve never used those transfers before, not because of the cost, but because it is such a huge sense of achievement to make your way successfully into a foreign city without being robbed or murdered. I figure if I can manage to make it to my hotel I can manage anything.

I went to the info desk, but that was only an airport info desk. Apparently I had passed the tourist information before I came through customs. Bugger… Eventually I gave into one of those taxi men that had “official” on his badge, and had a walkie talkie thing in his hand. I still felt a bit dodgy about him, and when I got outside I hesitated, and he kept pointing to his badge saying “official airport information”, etc etc. I looked to a few people nearby and a local women sitting on a seat with her children shook her head a me, and another man also shook his head. Okay, obviously the wrong decision. Headed back to the terminal, and to the ladies toilets where I could get away from those annoying taxi men. Referred to the lonely planet guide (which I was beginning to distrust, as it had said the fee to get into Chile was US$34. It was actually US$56. Checked the copyright date, okay a few years old.) Went outside and bought a ticket with a company I had read about in the guide. I wanted to catch their bus service (similar to the Skybus), but they ended up talking me into a bus service that dropped you at your hotel door. Glad I did that because my hotel ended up being a 1.5 hour walk from the city centre.

When I got to my hotel it looked like the place was closed down, the only two people I saw were painters. Eventually I was checked it and shown to my room. It was at this point I realised my lack of Spanish may be a problem over here. The guy showing me through the room was lovely, but the only words I understood were “ahh” and “okay”. We seemed to get by through facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice. I managed to pick up from him that the hotel wasn´t on the lonely planet map and I needed a bigger map from reception.

After a brief nap I decided to venture into the city. I got myself the bigger map and off I went. At this stage I didn´t know it was a 1.5 hour walk. It was a lovely warm evening. Singlet top weather. YAH!!! I passed through many parks where people were riding bikes, walking dogs, couples were lying on the grass making out and young families were playing. It was such a nice atmosphere. No water restrictions over here. Lots of green grass, tree lined streets and fountains. It was kind of surprising, because the land around Santiago was so dry and arid when we were flying in.

Santiago is apparently more like a European city than a South American one. Everything is very orderly. Most of the streets were one way, and the green men come on automatically to tell you when to cross the street, which is such a relief after China where crossing the road was a life threatening exercise.

A quick note on the Chilean sense of style. They don´t appear to have any…Everyone is just dressed in singlet tops and jeans or 3/4 pants. And jelly bellies rule. It´s not that people are obese, they just don´t have any tone. I fitted in like a glove. Also of note are the stray dogs. There weren´t really any where I was staying, they just seemed to be in the city centre. Janice, I think there may have even been more than Samoa, but unlike the ones in Samoa these seemed quite friendly. I never once felt like I was going to be bitten, well maybe one time when a female dog was unsuccessfully trying to excuse herself from the attentions of a male dog.

Day 2 in Santiago was spent visiting a really interesting pre-columbian museum and visiting more parks. On day 2 I also discovered the train system as I had developed a blister on the sole of my feet from all the walking around in thongs.

I really enjoyed my stay in Santiago. I felt completely safe wandering around by myself, even walked home at night by myself. My hotel was really nice, a little bit too far from the city, but it was off a main road, and very close to the metro (train system). Another great thing about Santiago was the gelati shops. They were everywhere – a city after my own heart, but a day or 2 is enough to see everything you need. 

NEW YEARS – FIREWORKS, FIREWORKS and MORE FIREWORKS

It was a funny New Years, I felt like I celebrated it 3 times.

I awoke in the morning, just in time to see the fireworks in Sydney on CNN. I then celebrated New Years in Santiago watching the fireworks with thousands of others. They had a band and had blocked the streets around where the celebrations were. Boy do Chile know how to do a good blockade! They had police everywhere. I had to walk blocks and blocks to get around to where the people and band were.

People were drinking straight from champagne bottles, but they didn´t seem as drunk as what people are in Australia at New Years.

What I found most amusing was the people selling bags of hold punched bits of paper. Like confetti, but seriously just hole punched white paper. I had visions of them hole punching, hole punching and hole punching for days before the event. There were people every couple of metres selling these bags of dots or ghastly looking hats. At midnight the hole punched pieces of papers were thrown into the air. There were all these stray dogs running around that were covered in white dots.

A note about the fireworks – Chile obviously believe in quantity, not quality. They seriously went for ages and ages, but there was no real ohh and ahh to them.

I couldn´t work out what bus I needed to get home and they were packed anyway, so I walked home and eventually got back to my hotel at 2 am! Just in time to watch the New York celebrations on CNN.

(Mum – don´t panic about the walking. If it wasn´t safe I wouldn´t do it, and besides there were families everywhere still out at that time.)  

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