The capital city of Chile. Upon arrival I had to queue in customs for around 2 hours before I was officially through. After pushing through the swarm harrasive taxi drivers I found a bus that would get me to the centre for 1,350 pesos (£1.50) rather than a taxi costing 20,000+ pesos. Castillo Surfista, my Santiago hostel, was positioned on a quite central street - so quaint that I walked past the hostel 3 times before I found it. The hostel itself was low-key built in an old colonial house. Although I hadn't slept properly for nearly 2 days at this point I wanted to get out and explore with my new American friend, Adoniran.
Santiago on Sunday was like a ghost town. Few cars, few people. For a capital city it's pretty bizarre. At this point I had seen a lady add sugar to Coke and an albino Asian man?! We decided to walk around the city before we started a "free" walking tour (tip-based).
The walking tour was great and we learnt a little about the colonial times, importance of certain dictators etc. We had a pretty good group - US, Australia, Sweden and German. After the tour we ended in Bellavista, the drinking zone of the city. A one liter bottle of beer was 2000 pesos (just over £2). A few things struck me:
A) The amount of smog in the city. Where the Andes run along the coast of South America, smog/pollution sits in the city due to a lack of wind. I've never seen anything like it as even the mountains and horizon weren't visible.
B) The stray dogs, all 400,000 of them - just think about that. The strangest part is how none of them appeared starved. The locals take care of them, building little huts for them in parks etc.
C) General costs: Coke and more Western-type goods are no cheaper than England, which is surprising considering the average wage is so low.
The next day and I wake up feeling a little hungover. Once showered and fed, we left the hostel for my last day in Santiago. Firstly, I needed to find a Tur Bus ticket office to get to San Pedro de Attacama in the north (48,000 peso, £55).
After finding the office we wanted to climb a 760m high mountain to get some views over the city. You would think a major tourist activity would be well signposted etc. We couldn't be more wrong. After walking around the base of roads that surrounded the mountain we found one route up. It happened to be taped off but we still went up. After slogging it up the mountain we came to the reason it was cordoned off - a huge landslide! We were near the top at this point so we just carried on - dehydrated and hungover. The views at the top were incredible regardless of the smog.
Once we found our way down, again not simple and it took us miles out of the direction I wanted to be in, we went to the famous Mercado Central (Market Central). This was basically a fish market with various restaurants and were recommended it by the tour guide. At first we were hassled by people but found a little family run place just on the inside of the market. Having not had anything localag this point we decided to get a mixture: soup (no idea which type - but good), rolls with a chilli salsa, Ceviche (cold cooked fish with lemon and onion - not great), Mariscal (squid, muscles, and not really sure what else - again cold and not remotely great), fried seabass (perfectly cooked) and a bottle of Santa Emilliano Sauvignon Blanc 2012 - local Chilean wine. There aren't many times you go to a restaurant back home where you're 50% satisfied with the meal! However, in total it cost £7 each! We then gave the leftovers to a homeless guy who asked us.
Santiago has been so much better than I had thought it would be. I've been here 2 days yet it feels like a week. Although anymore than the time I've spent here in my eyes is too long (struggling for things to do).
After wondering back to the hostel to collect my things I had to get from Baquedano to Universidad de Santiago - about 30 minutes away by metro. However, I completely forgot about rush hour. After finally boarding I had Chilean people (who's Spanish dialogue is so fast you can't understand them) taping my shoulder saying what I think was "take your bag off". But imagine being in square room packed of people and you are in the middle with a backpack on. Try taking it off without moving anyone else. That's the jist of the situation! Crazy, hot and stressful. After eventually getting off and having a laugh with the locals who could understand my lack of understanding, I found my way to the stupidly busy but efficient (something I doubt will be the case outside of Chile) bus terminal where I would wait for the bus to San Pedro de Attacama - a mere 24 hour bus journey. I sit here now at 8:25am, 13 hours into the journey in comfort. The roads are superb, empty and the view of the never-ending Andes is awesome. Snacks are bog standard and look like something that would be airdropped into a 3rd world country! No other foreigners that I can see but it's fine.