Talkin’ about Chile, Part One.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight:

picture004And now I going to tell you why.

Recently, for our October holiday, we decided it was about time we made our first Latin American jaunt outside of Peru itself. In the 20 months or so I’d been living here up until that point, we’d made a pretty good fist of travelling around the country-from Lima to Tarapoto, Paracas, Huaraz, Nazca (and the Lines), Trujillo, Mancora, Iquitos and the (amazing) Amazon, Cuzco and of course the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu-the usual host of names that are familiar to anyone who’s either spent a bit of time in Peru, or is planning to. There’s still (probably more than) a few spots to hit (Lake Titicaca, anyone?) in this adopted country of ours, but it was reaching the point where we were feeling sufficiently emboldened to tackle another, neighbouring country.

So why Chile? Here’s what I knew about the place beforehand:

1. Like everyone else, I knew it was an incredibly thin country, caught between the Andes and the sea (like Peru without the jungle, you might say) stretching over an immense area-from the glacial sub-antartic fjords of the south all the way up to the driest desert in the world, the Atacama, in the north. To borrow a quote from the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in an otherwise favourable description of the landscape: “The least apocalyptic of geologists think of Chile not as a country of the mainland but as a cornice of the Andes in a misty sea and believe that the whole of its national territory is condemned to disappear in some future cataclysm.” Crikey, we’d better get there and see it!

2. The country has had its ups and downs over the years, including a 17 year period of military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990, but these days is a thriving democratic nation (more about that presently).

3. It’s relationship with its northern neighbour Peru (and Bolivia) can be a bit strained-largely due to the War of the Pacific in the 1880s, but reflected in things like both sides of the border claiming that they were the ones who originated drinking pisco sours (don’t underestimate the strength of feeling on this one). The first taste I got of the rivalry, however, was when Peru defeated Chile in a World Cup qualifier last year. The number of people out on the streets here in Miraflores beeping their car horns until late into the night (not to mention the people going mental on the T.V cameras outside the stadium) attested to this fact. In other words, I’d been led to believe from some quarters that the Chileans were, if not the bad guys, then the not-so-good-guys.

I’d also heard that in actual fact, it was a pretty cool country as well. There was only one way to find out…

First impressions of Santiago.

I think for both El and me it really hit home that we were no longer in Peru when we got our night taxi from the airport in Santiago to the hotel we were booked into. Lima is a swirling desert metropolis of ten million people, a wrestling match between order and chaos which is no better reflected than on the roads of the Peruvian capital. Here, on the other hand, although it was late night and quiet, we were travelling quickly and quietly along spotless, near-deserted highways that resembled German autobahns or British motorways. We arrived at our hotel, a very modern place called Hotel Ismael 312, staffed with cool bilingual staff and stuffed full of decent books and magazines in both languages and both of us had a real sense of ‘this isn’t going to be crap’.

The following morning, we pulled back the curtains and took to our little balcony to be greeted with a view of streets that could almost have been New York:

street view ismael (left) street view ismael (right)

Feeling the inspiration from our new surroundings, we started to plan our week’s adventures. With almost a week in the city at our disposal, it was time to put Santiago to the test…

One thought on “Talkin’ about Chile, Part One.

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