This is it, the last part of my journey to the south. I did what others could not even think of: from Bolivian highlands, to Argentinean valleys, through Uruguayan shorelines, eventually reaching the ultimate south: Antarctica. Now, it was just a matter of getting back. This is the home run, boys, and this is the last stretch of my voyage south. So I am going to make it count.
Santiago is a mysterious city. Because of the unfortunately generic name, people seemed to have mistaken it for a random small town. However, it is exactly the opposite of that. It is as culturally vibrant as it is naturally stunning. Commanding the strategic position at one of the very few stretches of land flat enough to build a megalopolis in the Chilean Andes, this city was full of surprises. A strange blend between Andean highland freedom and Pacific coast relaxation, this local feel was like none other. I instantly took a liking to this strange city that few knew existed. On the walking tour, I learned quite a lot about the city’s rich history. As a colonial town, not a great deal was left over, mostly because of the extended periods of dictatorship, as well as a plethora of extremely devastating earthquakes.
grand cathedral contrasting a modern high rise
inside the grand cathedral
Before the dictatorship that made Chile famous, the country was under the leadership of Marxist Salvador Allende, who narrowly won the election in 1970. He was regarded by some as the best president ever in Chile because he actually fixed a lot of crippling issues for poor Chileans, but most of the elites hated him to guts. USA also was not particularly happy with one more socialist country in the world.
street artist pair performing loving tango
However, things quickly turned sour. Lots of price controls and low wages kept the workers dissatisfied during the years before the fall of Allende, mostly due to his policy to devalue their currency escudo, thus causing years of inflation. He clashed with the people, the guilds, the union, his own army, as well as public media. Numerous demonstrations, strikes, lockdowns took place, and he was almost impeached by the right-wing controlled congress. And of course, USA paid millions secretly to discredit Allende and paralyze the government, because one fewer commie is one fewer enemy.
a protest about native rights in Plaza de Armas
On September 11th, 1973, a coup d’etat encouraged by CIA successfully tossed the socialist democratic Chile out of the window, and here began a 17-year-long military junta/dictatorship. Allende killed himself with an AK-47 given to him by Fidel Castro. Augusto Pinochet took the power within a year, 3000 were killed or went missing, and many more tortured in dark cells.
presidential palace La Moneda, bombed by airforce during the coup
Pinochet did not yield his power until 1988, when a referendum forced the junta to admit a democratic election was due, and they were promptly voted out by 1990, ending the 17 year rule of the bloody military government. Chile, as you can see, has recovered quite well, and unless you look for it, you will find it difficult that those dark events took place.
Plaza de Armas
I spent days walking around the famous sites of Chile, such as the beautiful Parque Forestal (a giant park along the major road), Cerro San Cristobal (a hill overlooking the city with a steep cable rail car), central market, and major square Plaza de Armas.
view from Cerro San Cristobal
One thing quite fascinating is the situation about stray dogs here in Santiago. A mindboggling number of stray dogs roam around the city, from airport to downtown. They are different from your normal “stray” that they are well fed, perfectly groomed, and are generally extremely friendly. Chileans have a special name for them, “quiltro”, and they have become an inseparable part of the Chilean lifestyle. They are more regarded as dogs owned by the community as a whole than homeless dogs. People pitch in to build houses for them everywhere, and a lot of restaurants have special food for them; they also repay their debt by cuddling up to any family picnicking in parks for a pet, and accompanying tourists throughout their trips. Their days are certainly better than mine, which is basically a dog’s life.
a cross on top of San Cristobal
One funny anecdote about them is that the city council back in the days decided to exterminate the beloved quiltros. Unlike people from most other places who would only voice their concerns and not do anything, citizens of Santiago sprang into action. They formed neighborhood watches, (you can call them watchdogs~! haha? no?) and whenever a city extermination van approaches the road, someone perched on a window would signal another person down the first floor to open the doors, and the doggies rushed in after hearing the signal, and they would wait it out until the van left. The government realized they were barking under the wrong tree and stopped the campaign. This guerrilla warfare is why the quiltro culture survived till this day.
underground station arts
And there is this thing called food, and honestly Chileanos do not go easy on food, much alike their long time neighbor Argentina. Seafood was abundant, especially in the famous Central Market. A sip of pisco sour only brings out even more aftertaste of the gorgeous mariscos. A big pot of piping hot mixed seafood served in a tiny restaurant at the corner instantly gets one a bunch of jealous looks.
a corner of the central market
Loved as much as seafood is its polar opposite. Lacks the inherent pretentiousness, and instead packs an enormous amount of carbs is their junk food. Oh boy where can I start with their junk food. They are gorgeous!
cazuela de mariscos (seafood soup stew)
Hot dogs seemed to be locals’ go to choice when they are in a rush. No matter where you are, a busy metro station, a crowded market, or a bus station in dire need of ventilation, as long as it looked like a place that one needed to maximize the calories per bite, for sure a hot dog stand is around the corner. Chile’s love for hot dog is profound and endearing. One swift roll of a sausage, a quick hold sits it down, and don’t forget the ample mayonnaise and garnish, here we use fresh tomatoes, because health is still hanging around the corner. Oh and of course, a whip of guacamole makes everything better.
a Chilean hot dog “italiano” because the colors mimic Italian flag
Then here comes the beef. Though Chile is not as well known in heavy meats as its eastern friends, but they still give the juicy bites a shot with their best effort. A classic dish called Lomo a lo Pobre, literally “beef for the poor”, summarizes Chilean’s idea of meat clearly. Enormous portions, mild condiments, and a shit load of protein, so that they make sure you will have gag reflex for the rest of the week for just hearing the word “steak”. Where else will you find a steak topped with some onion, and then two full eggs?
lomo a lo pobre
National hungover food/munchies bite is chorillana, a dish that, for sure, was designed by a madman who later died of stage 6 high cholesterol. A full serving of fries topped with a mixture of stewed beef, onion, carrots and probably my future of ever getting a girlfriend with a sexy 6-pack, can be easily washed down with some tears of joy, and maybe, some tears of loneliness. Other popular foods are Pastel del Choclo, a strange baked pot of corn and minced meat, or churrasco, strange beef sandwiches…
Of course, nothing rivals the wine of Chilean valleys on this continent, thank to long hours of sunshine and general appreciation of wine culture. Everyone seemed to know a bit of this and that about wine, and even more knew a good one when the precious smell happened to waft down a small alleyway. No restaurant dares to have a drink list devoid of a page of wine, and every meal would be incomplete without a good glass of chardonnay and a few good friends. However, since I don’t have any friends, I would have to just settle with a bit more wine as my company.
seafood soup with some wine
Talking about drinks, of course there is the national sweet tea: mote con huesillo. Dried peaches are submerged in sugar water with cinnamon, mixed with some corn/wheat and cooked till boil, then cooled, this drink is undoubtedly the national go-to choice for quenching thirst, and getting diabetes, much like Americans with coke. This drink is so iconic that there is a saying “más chileano que el mote con huesillo”, which means “more Chilean than mote con huesillo”.
mote con huesillo
I decided to spend a few days in the ever-so-attractive port town of Valparaíso with a great friend of mine, Mía, who happens to be a local to the area. We met on the expansive Salar de Uyuni a few months back, and she had to be the best person to show me around this fabulous place!
Mía in the sunset
Valparaíso was one of the first ports to open on the Pacific side of Latin America. Up until the middle of 20th century, it was a shining beacon for all ships going between Pacific and Atlantic. After the difficult crossing of Magellanic Straight, most ships called this beautiful port city to resupply, and a lot of others going the other way prepared here for the crossing. This made the naval and maritime sector enormous in Valparaíso, and people enjoyed life there.
a restaurant by the sea
the painted streets
However, after the opening of Panama Canal, Valparaíso quickly fell out of favor. Within a few decades, the city was all but a junkyard of ships, and only Chile Navy was helping out the economy a bit. The city decided on a huge transformation in 21st century, and quickly established numerous universities, installed quick transit systems like light rail, and encouraged all kinds of arts. Within a few years, the area turned around, and quickly became the epicenter of artistic movements in Chile.
musicians playing in the windy alleys
a normal street in Valparaíso
Valparaíso is famous for its hilly streets covered with graffiti, street arts, and performance artists. This city now is less about specific attractions, but more about the murals depicting futuristic imaginations and the gentle violin wafting down the tiny alleyways. The vibe is what counts here.
violinist sliding down a graffiti-ed slope
Of course to boost its creative legitimacy, one of the most famous Chilean writers, Pablo Neruda, has his ruse home, La Sebastiana, on the hills overlooking the beautiful Valparaíso port. Beautiful flowers bloom in front of his windows every day, and this helped him win the Nobel Prize in 1971.
view from La Sebastiana
a mural of Pablo Neruda
A renowned communist, he had to flee the government in the 40s just to come back and serve Allende in 1971. Hours after Pinochet’s coup, Neruda was injected some strange substance by a doctor in the hospital during his treatment of prostate cancer; though he died hours after the injection, Pinochet claimed he died naturally of cancer. Many believe that was an ordered assassination. Government forbade the public attendance of his funeral, but thousands of Chileans participated anyway.
Neruda’s home in Santiago, La Chascona
The entire old Valparaíso has been designated by UN as a UNESCO Heritage Site, for its unique building style, roundabout streets, and a strange yet amicable feeling of the past. It is nice to finally see some acknowledgement for this unusual city.
a fridge recycled as a public library
Another amazing feature that you can only see in Valparaíso is the funicular system. They are rail cars mounted on steep hills, so they look like slanted elevators. All 15 public funiculars have been protected, and has not changed in decades. Tiny turnstiles are coin-operated, and a conductor monitors the situation from above at all times. A strange way to transport people in other cities, but in a mountainous town like Valparaíso, there is no better way!
a funicular towering over a little shop
I spent a day walking around with Mía, completely immersing myself in the beautiful ocean side weather and the salty breeze. I had to take a late night bus back to Santiago. I was almost tearing up hugging Mía goodbye: this is the end. The 5 days in central Chile was over, and my 2 weeks in Chile was over; most importantly, my 2 months in South America was over. Everything, was over.
enjoying a passion fruit milkshake by the hills
American Airlines lounge at Santiago Airport
As I stepped into Santiago Airport, I realized this marked the end of my Voyage South. From landing in Bolivia, to the breathtaking Salar de Uyuni, to the broken hills of Quebrada, and then the shocking Iguazu Falls, continuing to Uruguay, just to reach the final destination: Antarctica. No matter it was the cultural lessons in Falklands/Malvinas, or the penguin-infested South Georgia Island, or even the absolutely incredible Antarctica Peninsula, this trip was worth it. I may have tanned a bit, lost a lot of sleep, and maybe lost a normal career in financial sector, but I became a little wiser, a little older. I have finally been to all seven continents, but my journey is not over yet. I just finished Chile, and I am going home. Though it has always been a rather foreign concept to me, I think I understand now.
a puppy and a vendor
Home is where the heart belongs. The road, the path, the window seat on this Boeing 767, that is my home now.
However, my next destination is waiting for me already. I think just passing by Shanghai is cheating for my Asia sector, so I decided to make up for that. Only after this can I legitimately claim I have traveled to 7 continents in a year. After a few days’ rest in Los Angeles, I would continue with my family to Bangkok, Thailand, where my next journey begins: ThaiMar 2017.
For now, my Voyage South has ended, but for me, my voyage of life, it has just begun…
And you’ll have made
-=FOREVERYOUNG|VOYAGE SOUTH 2017=-