Santiago

Santiago winter smog

Santiago winter smog

Santiago is often the springboard or ending point of many a South American journeys, and I had heard some poor things about, which I was quite surprised in retrospect after visiting it. It just goes to show that you can’t take everything you hear at face value. Some travellers are just cranks I suspect. Maybe because many people start their trips here, and it seems like a city you’d find anywhere in Europe and North America, that that first impression is somewhat tainted. As we were ending our journey here, after visiting Bolivia, Brazil and Peru, this city had a much more profound impact on us. The wealth of the city is obvious, as mentioned. It would not look out of place in any wealthy nation, and I suspect is the most developed city in South America. I think because of this, travellers may not feel like it’s the type of place they should be visiting, at least not the backpacker type of traveller, who’s more interested in slumming it off the worn path. For the wealthier travellers, the types who stay in hotels and not hostels, I suspect Santiago would be more up their alley. If there’s a couple of negatives I must mention about the city, it’s that the pollution and smog is tremendous in winter (specially July and August), and the men are lecherous. My wife received more visual undressing at the hands of the men here in one day than she would in a year elsewhere, and I could tell she was slightly embarrassed and a little peeved. Being a foreigner though made her stand out, which didn’t help.

San Cristobal Hill

San Cristobal Hill

A short trip from Santiago is the Concha y Toro vineyard, which was beautiful. Nestled in a valley and surrounded by stylish buildings, it was a real treat, as was the tour around the grounds. The fact I was starring at our tour guide’s rather voluptuous arse for much of the tour didn’t hurt (the men of Santiago definitely rubbed off on me I must admit, haha). We even got to tour the wine cellars, but of course it was the wine tasting portion of the tour which was the highlight, and I’ve added many new additions to my list of notable wines. The wine tour we took in Argentina was probably more enjoyable on the whole, but this one was much more in-depth, and with far more beautiful surroundings. I think I might actually be turning into a wine snob, maybe I should start vutting the wine tours out of my trips, haha.

We later ventured to Cerro San Cristobal, a large hill near the center of the city. The views were great, though partially obscured by the dense smog. After this we took a motorway back to the hostel, and our rider gave us quite a fright with a harrowing hard shoulder turn at one point. It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time. I’m sure he knew what he was doing, but it’s not pleasant when you feel so powerless like that. I’ve experienced many such experiences on my travels (heck, that’s what I live for), but this was one of the top ones.

All in all Santiago was a nice city, and hardly deserving of the bad rap we had read about it from other snooty travellers, just because they don’t feel like they’re slumming it there. Get it over it people, it’s a beautiful city with a lot going on and great diversity. Should it revert back to a lower standard of living just for you, so you can add it to your list of scummy places you’ve been? I think not. After what the Chileans have had to put up with in the past, this city is a true testament to their willpower and resourcefulness.

After this we’re off to Valparaiso, a city on the opposite end of the spectrum as far as traveller reviews go, so we’ll see if that one is as deserving of the praise as Santiago was undeserving of the slag. Should be interesting at the very least.