Days 78 - 85: Arica to Santiago

Trip Start Oct 15, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Chile  , Santiago Metropolitan Region,
Tuesday, January 7, 2014

We flew into Santiago on December 30th and arrived at Happy House hostel at about 8 o'clock in the evening. Happy House is one of the nicest hostels we've stayed in yet, a really neat renovated mansion from the 1800s. It contains multiple terraces and indoor common rooms with high cathedral ceilings and also has a beautiful outdoor pool. It's the first hostel where we've seen people of all ages, with most being in their 50's and older. We were happy to find we weren't too far of a walk from the central downtown area. We got there in the evening and were feeling hungry so walked to a restaurant chain called Dominos which is famous for its hot dogs with a ridiculous amount of toppings. At this point all we've eaten in Chile had been pork sandwiches or hotdogs with a ton of toppings (mostly homemade mayonnaise). This is the typical chilean cuisine, as Roberto from Arica told us, this is a sandwich culture. The most popular is the italiano; mayo, mashed avocado, and diced tomatoes, colours to match the Italian flag and lots of each. Delicious, but almost immediately afterwards you start thinking about the health consequences, especially knowing it's your fourth day eating one. We also learned quickly that good bottles of wine are available at most every corner store for about 4 dollars, so drinking a bottle of great Chilean wine would soon be a new nightly tradition. At least the good antioxidants in the wine balanced out the bad fats from the hot dogs... or so we tell ourselves.

Our second day in Santiago was New Years Eve. Our initial plan was to make reservations at a nice restaurant and catch the fireworks in the city. A local persuaded us to avoid the overpriced and overcrowded restaurants and join in on the street party that takes up most streets of the downtown while the fireworks go off. She said it's the one night of the year police will turn a blind eye to drinking in public and therefore the streets are filled with people double fisting beers and bottles of champagne. We ended up grabbing a late lunch at a restaurant called El Hoyo which was a local dive recommended on Anthony Bordain's 'No Reservations' for its pitchers of Terremoto (earthquake in Spanish). This is a drink made from cheap white wine with a couple scoops of pineapple ice cream. With a few stirs it becomes more of a milk shake. You don't realize the effects of a few drinks until you stand up and it feels like an earthquake is happening. If you finish a pitcher and want to have one more glass you tell the waiter that you want to order a "replica" or an "aftershock". The drink was delicious and yes, it did hit you pretty hard. We didn't understand the menu very well so I simply ordered the first thing on the list, which turned out to be what Anthony Bourdain ate on the show and consists of pork meat rolled in pig skin and poached (see picture below). Luckily it came with lots of bread and potatoes. Matt thought it was amazing. Like most of the food we've eaten so far in South America, it's delicious if you close your eyes and take a bite without really thinking or knowing what it is. This meal was so filling we didn't even need supper that night.

After our NYE lunch, we ended up meeting a group of Brazilians at the hostel and joined in with them for many drinks and the Santiago street party. The street party was awesome. It was kilometres of downtown streets full of people spraying fake snow and confetti, and drinking champagne and beers. Everyone was in such good spirits as they passed around their bottles of champagne to total strangers and took photos with groups of randoms.

Throughout the week we came to really love Santiago. Though it's a city of 6 million people it is well spread out and has many parks and mountains within and nearby for hiking. The subway and bus system made getting around very easy. We could even visit a winery by taking a bus right to the front gate an hour away in the country. Though it was a consistent 35 degree Celsius or higher dry temperature, we were always close to a bar with ice cold beers (or Terremoto) for a good price.

We ate a lot of our meals in the markets. Their 140 yr old fish market was named the 5th best market in the world by National Geographic when they visited in 2012. Their central market is called La Vega Market which is also the biggest in South America. It has 900 stalls and 10,000 employees selling fresh fruits and vegetables as well as meats and full meals. They have an entire floor dedicated to expats selling their traditional products and food. We tried a lot of different foods including Thai, which was the first time I found one of my favourite foods since we left Canada.

We also visited a cemetery (they brought us there on a city tour) which is the largest in South America. It covers 86 hectares, the size of 112 soccer fields. All of the graves are built into above ground structures. Because we were there shortly after Christmas, we saw many graves were decorated for Christmas with lights and ornaments all around the grave. Some even have full Christmas trees. They treat the dead with much more reverence than we do in North America, a lot of the Catholics practice animism; an ancient belief that the soul of the dead remains on earth and must be taken care of. This comes from the mixing of new and old religious beliefs as the natives were converted to Christianity by the conquistadors. We also got to see the grave of the late communist president Salvador Allende who was killed in a military coup in 1973 leading to the dictatorship of Augusta Pinochet.

We visited another restaurant seen on Anthony Bordain's show called Fuente Alemana. It's another local dive where Santaguinos sit around a high top table as the cooks fire up the grill and make sandwiches in the middle. The day we went the restaurant was packed. The atmosphere was cool to see, with all the locals sitting down at the crowded bar and standing up around the outside wall at 2 pm with a pint of beer while the cooks tossed spatulas around in the middle. We both got the popular lomito italiano, which consists of pork sliced thin and cooked in its own juices, then slathered with guacomole, tomatoes, and mayo. We also had a few pints of the homebrew draft beer, which they call a schop. We both thought it was delicious!

We spent Saturday doing a wine tour in a region called the Colchagua Valley, about 2 hours south of Santiago. This wine region is known to produce great grapes because of the dry climate (apparently the same climate as Spain and France) and perfect soil. We visited three wineries, all very different from one another and they were all almost too generous with the pours during tastings, which no one complained about. The first winery named Lapostolle was huge and very eco friendly (no chemicals used anywhere in the vineyard). All grapes are hand picked off the vine and they even have chickens that roam free through the vines and eat various insects that could effect the grapes. In the cellar where we tasted the wines, we could see through the glass table to the owner's underground vault that holds the largest private wine collection in South America. The second stop was a small family owned vineyard named after one of the owners Laura Hartwig. It was beautiful and the real highlight was taking a tour of the vineyard on a horse-drawn carriage.

The third vineyard, Viu Manent, was where we ate our 3 course lunch under a large pergola topped with grape vines and an equestrian track behind us. Each course came with a different wine. After lunch we also got to try 7 more wines. I never thought drinking wine would be a struggle, but we all found it tough to try the last couple.

We enjoyed the wine tour so much that two days later we hopped on a bus to Unduragga Winery, where we also got a great tour and tried 5 wines. Here they also included a small museum on the Mapuche people, whom used to own the land. Today a portion of each sale goes to the indigenous Mapuche people.

We learned a lot about wine including Carmenere, a grape Chileans used to use to make Merlot (not knowing the difference due to the similarities between the leaves). After Chile won many awards for best merlot France wasn't too happy, so they forced them to do a DNA test on the grapes and determined they were not Merlot at all. Carmenere was once grown throughout France and Spain but was believed to be extinct after a fungus wiped out many vineyards all over the world. As it turned out this was one of the many variety of vines brought to Chile during colonization so they would have wine for weekly mass. With Chile being too isolated to be effected by the fungus (by the Pacific ocean, Andes, desert, and Antarctica), Carmenere persisted to grow here among the merlot vines for 100 years while no one knew what they had. Although they tried to transplant the vines back to France and Spain not many took and to this day it is mostly only grown in Chile. Out of respect we are doing our best to try lots before we leave!

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