One heavy October rainstorm can transform Santiago, giving a brief respite to the city’s infamous smog and thick, claustrophobic air. As the wind howls down the wide boulevards and the rain pours down in torrents, umbrellas and Santiago’s non existent drainage system do little to keep your feet dry or your hair from frizzing. As the sun rises, the glorious Andes become visible, no longer hidden by the daily grey smear, the air is feels clear and the city shines in the spring sun.
Santiaguinos emerge on weekends, lazing in one of the cities numerous parks, children blow bubbles as musicians play away on a variety of instruments, with a varying amount of skill, and street sellers holler at you from afar.
The precious Santiago dogs, who roam the streets in large numbers, demand affection as they place themselves on your knee. With a a beer in hand (although not on election day, as bizarrely it is illegal to sell alcohol on such days), entertainment can take the form of watching aspiring circus folk attempt to walk the type rope between the trees, guitarists composing their latest singles in the shade and groups of hippies drumming away on bongos drums, accompanied by the most enormous digeridoos. Whilst the occasional drunk or hobo can cause a stir, there is an amazingly friendly, happy vibe at this time of year.
Although, as with any city, particularly enhanced by Santiago’s serious environmental problems, one can begin to feel quite claustrophobic in such a place where there is constant noise, covered skies and one cant see the stars at night. Despite Santiaguino’s extremely laid back approach to life, where time is not of the essence and any anything goes, one begins to crave the fresh air and outdoors. As a result I took up the opportunity to relive my D of E days in one of Chile’s stunning national parks nestled in the Cordillera. Two nights camping and three days hiking, cleared the sinuses and got the heart racing, the stunning views leaving me almost as breathless as the rocky ascent.
Chile’s calendar is dotted with bank holidays of varying degrees of creditability. Combined with our willingness to explore more of the country or pop over the border into Argentina, this past weekend took us to the renowned-wine region of Argentinian and the bustling town of Mendoza. One Thursday morning, a little international group of friends headed eastwards for the Argentinian border with little idea of what was in store.
Impossible to hitch out of Santiago, a bus dropped us on the side of the road in the shadow of the Andean mountains. Armed with some cardboard, water and high spirits we set ourselves up on the side of the road at different stations, and the race to get to Mendoza began. Charlie’s blonde locks and long legs meant her and our dear American friend got picked up first. A few minutes later, thinking we had struck gold in finding someone who was heading straight through Mendoza on his 30 hour drive to Uruguay, the french, english and chilean were back in the game…although not for long. As the overheating truck climbed up windy, mountainous road, the car drew to a halt, in what was to be a tortuous 11 hour wait in a 10 km queue to cross over the border into Argentina.Turns out, we had had exactly the same idea as the other 18000 Chileans who had seized the opportunity to cross over the Andes that weekend. Outwitted by our counterparts, Charlie and Sam walked across the border and picked up a car on the other side. Yet, for us the guilt of leaving this lone ranger in such a queue, meant an 11 hour wait in, what felt like, purgatory. At nearly 3000 m altitude, with no means of contacting eachother and darkness falling as the sun set behind, South America’s highest peak Anconcagua, all we could do was wait. On the bright side, we had (quite enough) time to jump out of the car and admire the stunningly colourful peaks mark the border.
Eventually arriving in the early hours of the morning, beaten by Charlie and Sam, we enjoyed a wonderful two days in Mendoza, a town which has a much more European feel than anywhere in Chile. Well dressed, tanned women sit in cafes on the street and the shop windows display the latest trends. Despite the divine Argentinian steak that is so readily available, we could have been in the south of France. At night, women don their highest heels, men Ralph Lauren perfume and dance the night away until the early hours. Our time mostly involved, exploring the city, siestas in one the city’s many plaza’s, eating a lot of meat, befriending others in the hostel, who provided endless entertainment and of course..cultural trip to the museum.
Various educational necessities called us back, but not without our last glass of vino tinto and steak sandwich in the small town of Uspallata, before making our way back to Santiago, Charlie and Sam bought back by a football team, me and Robin by what-should-be the next champion rally driver!