Monday, 17 November 2008

Santiago de Chile, day 1 - Smog, stray dogs, and pisco sour

I have just arrived in Santiago and frankly I am a bit lost. It always happens. The first couple of hours in a foreign land are always the hardest. You have no idea where you are. You don't trust anyone. You look at the city map, it doesn't mean a thing to you and you don't know how to get from A to B. My first impulse is to stay locked in the hotel room. It's a comfortable place where I know I am safe. Part of me is saying "you could just stay in here for all three days and watch TV" but a few minutes later I come to my senses and push myself out the door.

It's past 4 pm so I decide to just go on a recon mission. No maps, no camera, no backpack. I try not to dress like a tourist so I can just walk around unnoticed and get a feel for the city and the people. It's so hot I decide to buy a bottle of fresh water (sin gas!) There's a tourist alert right there. But then I notice that many locals are also walking around holding a bottle of water. It's all good.

I hadn't noticed on the way from the airport but from lots of places in Santiago you can actually see the Andes. Well, barely. The smog which covers city makes everything very hazy. But they're there. And you can tell the mountains are incredibly high, like a huge wall protecting Chile from the rest of South America. it's hot as hell down here (30+ degrees) but the mountains in the distance are still covered in snow.

I turn away from the Andes and continue walking along Av. Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins, which seems to be Santiago's main street and borders the city centre to the south.

It strikes me how tiny Santiago's city centre is. In my short stroll I walked past several of the places I will be returning to tomorrow with a little more time and (more importantly) my Canon SLR. Cerro Santa Lucia, Palacio de la Moneda, Biblioteca Nacional, Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombiano, Plaza de Armas, Catedral de Santiago, Mercado Central: they are all within 5-10 minutes walking distance from one another. Santiago is going to be a walk in the park.

Then I noticed something: stray dogs. They are everywhere. But they are not like the stray dogs I've seen in other countries. For one thing, most of these are big, the size of German Shepherds, and look well-fed and healthy apart from their badly kept coat. But the most bizarre thing is how they are strategically stationed at the traffic lights, one or two dogs per set of lights. It's like that is their territory. When pedestrians are crossing, they sit calmly at the kerb, just watching everyone walk by. But as the lights turn green, they go postal and start attacking the cars going by at 60km/h!! I am surprised I didn't see any of them get run over.

As it was getting close to 7 pm I decided it was time to find a place to eat. Luckily enough I was just next to Cerro Santa Lucia when I saw a sign saying Barrio Historico so I decided to see what that was all about. It turns out I was walking into Calle J. V. Lastarria which sports a nice collection of al fresco cafés and restaurants. After walking around a bit I chose to go back to the first one I saw, called Patagonia (which I can recommend) and had the most amazingly cooked steak with quail eggs and potatoes, preceded of course by a delicious Pisco Sour, one of Chile's signature cocktails (it tastes much like a caipirinha!)

Now I made it back to the hotel. I am very tired and very jet-lagged. Will talk again tomorrrow.

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