Hunderburton Adventures


A record of wanderings through Latin America

Archive for the ‘Santiago’ Category

Leaving Santiago

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Hey Friends

Sorry we haven´t been posting much lately. This has been because my computer died, and also because not that much has been happening except for Spanish class and typical holidaying. Now that we´re back on the road and have a new computer we will hopefully post more regularly.

So anyway we´ve finally moved on after 2 weeks in Santiago. While I love Santiago and will always have fond memories of my time there, I have to say it was time to leave. Santiago has the reputation (deservingly I´m told by many) of being the safest and most boring city in all of South America. By Australian standards its still pretty happening, but we keep hearing travelers stories from the more exotic cities of Bolivia and Peru which always end with ¨its amazing… you´ve got to see it to believe it¨ or something like that. It makes ol´ Santiago feel a tad dull in comparison.

Also about half of the population of the orient (or more accurately, about 20 retirees from Hong Kong) moved into our hostel over our last few days there and I cant say it improved the feel of the place. The hostel is smallish to begin with, and completely unsuited for large groups of geriatric travelers. They would all move together like some sort of flock so often we would find that there was an impassable barrier of old Asian people cutting off access to some section of the hostel. Apparently they caused a real stir amongst the staff there actually. The group spoke very little English (or Spanish for that matter), so when they encountered a sign on one of the bathroom doors saying ¨DO NOT ENTER¨ they casually removed the sign and proceeded use the shower continuously for several hours. It turns out the sign had been there for a reason (what a surprise right?) and it completely flooded the ceiling cavity of the room below, which then melted in that way that plasterboard ceilings do when exposed to excessive amounts of water. As a result of all this the kitchen below was flooded. So its no surprise that the group was not popular amongst the staff. This is probably an understatement as the hostel counter guy said ¨I want to kill them!¨ about 3 or 4 times over the course of telling me this story- he also told me that they stole all of the staples from his desk when he let his guard down for a split second, which i thought was pretty funny.

On our last day in Santiago we finally made it to the city walking tour which is normally one of the first things most people do when they arrive in the city, but we had been preoccupied with Spanish classes and other stuff. It was an interesting insight into the history and politics of Chile. They´ve had a surprisingly tumultuous political past there, and in the last 50 years have had both the first ever democratically elected socialist/communist party, and an absolute military dictatorship (you’ve probably all heard of Pinochet?) which was responsible for thousands of political murders and nearly 30000 cases of torture of Chilean people for political reasons (this is a lot considering chile only has a population of 15 million). According to our guide most Chileans know of someone who mysteriously disappeared during Pinochet´s rule. Now that Pinochet is gone, some super capitalist conservative government has taken power, and as a result Chile has one of the worst discrepancies between the wealth of rich and poor of any country in the world. 4% of people control 96% of the wealth or something (don’t quote me on that but it was some similarly shocking statistic)

Chileans love their flags. There is a flag 1/4 the size of a football field in the centre of Santiago, and on one day every year it is a crime to not display a Chilean flag on your property

After the tour we had one of the better meals I’ve had here. At our hostel they have this buffet every Friday; Its all you can eat pasta, salads and steak, and all you can drink beer and wine for $12Aus. The steaks in South America are really REALLY good. I don´t know why people go crazy for Australian beef- it doesn’t compare to the stuff you can get here. The cuts are usually about 1.5 inches thick and always cooked to perfection. So i ate about a kilo of steak last night (if the food is as good everywhere in South America, I’m going to come back to Australia so damn fat) I went pretty easy on the alcohol though. At last weeks buffet i had maybe 4 glasses of wine and woke up feeling like i´d been roofied, and had my brain stomped on. The wine here tastes great but I swear they put antifreeze or something in it.

Asador (BBQ) in Hostel (sin carne)

So anyway, we caught the bus to Mendoza this morning (which is where we are now). Mendoza is this small city near the Andes which is famous for its wine and produces about 80% of Argentina’s wine, or so some Californian guy i met earlier tells me. Its a bit early to comment on the place, having only been here for a couple of hours, BUT the bus trip here was pretty spectacular. To get here from Santiago you have to drive directly through the Andes if you don’t want to take a 4000km detour, so the bus path gets to over 3000m high (we think), so there were some amazing Mountain vistas.

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Saturday, November 26th, 2011

Hey hey friends!

Apparently we were on Chilean public TV last night! Unfortunately we didn’t actually get to see it because we couldn’t find a TV at the right time, BUT we’ve been led to believe – and I plan to assert as truth in the future- that we were right there on Chilean channel 11 at 10pm!

Anyway, here’s the story of our brief foray onto Chilean public television. Our Spanish teacher decided we should take a break from classroom learning and converse with some locals for practice, so he took us on an excursion to a local fruit market. Basically our teacher would start up a conversation with a local vendor and then leave us to discuss the intriguing world of Chilean fruit vending. Chileans are really friendly, and you can count on a brief Spanish lesson from a local if you strike up a conversation so it’s great practice. Anyway, one of these conversations was with this great guy who gave us (free of charge) some of the best fruit I’ve ever eaten (the avocados he was selling were so good you could eat them like apples). He looked kind of like a caricature of a typical salesman- his face was unusually animated when he talked and he had a cartoon style mustache; he would have looked completely at home in a rug commercial. So anyway we get accosted by this Chilean woman and a cameraman who herded us in between two fruit tables (there was no escape for your brave storyteller!) and started talking in quick Spanish and some broken English about filming us. She kept saying things like “muy sorprendido! very surprised!”- she didn’t have to tell to tell me to look surprised, I was thoroughly bewildered by the situation, but I gathered that it was some sort of ‘end of Today Tonight style’ fruit commercial in which Anna, Nick and I were customers surprised by the low low prices! So we pretty much stood there looking surprised while the fruit seller talked in Spanish about his fruit. Then the woman told us we were going to be on TV!

Even though we’re Chilean TV stars now (it’s not all splendor and womens as you might think) we decided to go back to our tourist roots and head to the zoo. It’s always a treat to see a zoo in a new continent because they tend to focus on the local animals. There were some cool weasely and catlike animals which I hadn’t seen before, and a bunch of Andean animals which I hope to see in the wild over the next few weeks- condors etc.

One thing which we all thought was pretty amusing (and this is going to totally tickle Louis) was that at the primate enclosure there were handprints of the largest ape species, set out so you could put your hand into them and remark at how small your hands were in comparison. The caption under the gorilla handprint read (translated to English) “They have big and broad hands with long fingers and thick nails. They are huge in comparison with other primates …”. My hand fit perfectly into the imprint…


Three days in

Friday, November 25th, 2011

So I figured it was my turn to put something up on this here blog. First bit of important news it that we finally have our bags back. Nick made an executive decision to spare everyone the full saga (probably a good call), but for a while it was unclear whether we would get them at all, so it was a massive relief after 36 hours when they were delivered, cocooned in glad-wrap to our hostel.

Our schedule here is pretty laid back, which is nice while adjusting to the time zone. We tend to wake up very early, somewhere between 4 and 6, lie in bed cursing our jetlag for a few hours, then head off to the hostel breakfast at 8.30. The breakfast would be pretty average (toast, over-sweet cereal, mediocre coffee) but for one small glass of freshly squeezed orange juice – what indulgence! Really brightens my day. Then we head off to Spanish class for a few hours, which is exhausting but we’re definitely improving. So the afternoon and evening we have to ourselves, which means lots of spare time for much needed Spanish study, blogging, reading etc. This won’t be the case for most of the trip, and we could probably be making better use of the time, but hey.

Yesterday after class we went on one of the group excursions that back home we thought was a real selling point of our language school. We were under the impression that it would take an hour and a half, and would be a tour of the cemetery but after three hours of walking through smelly fish markets there was no cemetery in sight. Eventually we did get there and it was really quite spectacular – the sort of thing you don’t really get in Australia. The tour guide was speaking in Spanish at a level wayyy beyond what we could understand, but she was able to fill several hours with stories about ghosts, famous artistic, military or political men who were buried there and other such things, so I can confidently say that the place has an interesting history, though don’t ask what that history is!

Some of the graves had fallen into disrepair (a few quite dramatically so, a now head-less angel and a completely collapsed mausoleum come to mind), and much of the cemetery was overgrown, but I think that added to the effect. Still, it was very striking how many fresh flowers had been laid on the graves given that I don’t think anybody has been buried there for fifty years or so. There was an enormous variety of tombs – some military, many rather boring but showy family vaults, others obviously very Catholic and solemn, some of these very humble and others with large and beautiful statues of the Virgin or Christ. Others were quite artistic; sometimes the statues of the women were strikingly sexualized or seemed despairing, in contrast to the pious acceptance of the Catholic statues. Anyway, it is interesting the way people chose to mark their resting place, or that of their family, it is obvious that an awful lot of money and thought had gone into it. Very special, if you’re ever in Santiago I would recommend it!

Other highlights of the day include a few lovely cats, including a jet black one perched high overlooking the graves, very appropriate. What really took the cake was this totally bizarre grave of some woman who I gather died in the 40s, and yet carved into her tomb – above a strikingly unflattering sketch (presumably of her?) – was the address of a blogspot website, of all things. I think she’s somewhat of a cult figure in Latin America, people come to her grave and leave wishes written there, I think? Anyway we went to the website later and its really trippy, have a look: I wish I had understood more of her story! Oh, to understand Spanish!

Oh well, that’s it from me. I’ll put up a few more photos of the cemetery (probably more than anybody wants to see) in an album if I can – I had free reign with Nick’s camera, so humor me!

Chao chicos! XX

Cementerio General de Santiago

Number of photos:17
Total size:4.02 MB

In Santiago

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Hola Amigos!

So we’ve been in Santiago for two days now and its pretty swell. Santiago has a very similar feel about it to Sydney actually; similar townhouses and windy backstreets which are kind of dirty and a cracked- not in a poor kind of way, it just has that lack of maintenance that you need to make a place feel trendy (think West End if you’re not familiar with Sydney). At least where we’re staying its pretty rich I think. The locals all drive nice cars and groceries and such aren’t that cheap. You can buy a litre of beer for $4 AUD for instance, which is fine, but not Bolivia or Peru cheap from what I’ve heard. I think if you were to drug me and fly me from Brisbane to Santiago, I would probably wake up and think I was still in Australia somewhere if it wasn’t for all the slicked back rollercoaster haircuts and gold rimmed glasses that seem to be an essential fashion accessory here.

Santiago is anything but chilly though (I had to fit that in somewhere- it takes a level of punmanship which Louis could only dream of to come up with gems like that). When we decided to fly to the closest major city to Antarctica I don’t think any of us were expecting sweltering heat (not sure exactly how hot, but above 30). It’s dry though at least, so there are those evaporative air conditioners everywhere. I’m lead to believe it’s basically just a bucket of water with a fan blowing into it- but they work surprisingly well in dry heat.

There was an earthquake here last night- the first one I’ve experienced! You will be happy to hear we all bravely survived the destruction! It was actually pretty underwhelming to be totally honest. It happened during the night, and in the morning we had a debate about whether it was an earthquake or a fat guy running up and down the stairs. I’m not even joking…. we are in an old and really tall building so it creaks a lot anyway.

I’d best be off, the fan in my computer has misaligned somehow so it sounds like a chainsaw when it runs now.  It’s the most grating sound I can imagine, and if I don’t turn it off soon I’m going to smash it into little pieces. Hmm that sounds like a pretty good idea right now… But I guess I might regret it later.

Arrival & Santiago

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

We worked out that time spent in transit summed up to around 24 hours. The flight and time spent in airports was so choc-a-block with adventure and excitment that I dare not write much about it lest my fingers become sore and the keyboard worn down to the bare electronics.

I will mention a couple  of aspects which may be of higher interest. First of all I don’t think I have ever seen a proper rabbi in my life (you know the ones with the hats and the curls on either side of their head) but there must be some jewish conference on (those exist right?) somewhere in South America because during transit in Buenos Aires we saw perhaps 5-10 of them. Whence they had come I suppose I will never know!

The other interesting event was flying over the andes. The sky was as clear as it could be and we got a nice birds eye view (no bird could actually be as lucky seeing as we were at approx. 11km high) of the mountains. It was a pretty spectactular.


The andes from the plan

We haven’t spent much time in Santiago and the time we did spend was mostly napping. I am sure there will be more comments on it later but as far as first impressions go it is a pretty nice place. Probably by far the safest and cleanest capital city in South America and the constant presence of the andes as a backdrop adds a lot to the city. The photo below probably doesn’t show the best of the place but it is really the only one I took.


Oh and the change over in Buenos Aires was really tight so our luggage did not make it. We are hoping that we get them tomorrow morning but I guess we will have to wait and see.

Also let me know if these photos show up too big or too small.