My flight arrived around 8am so I decided to take my time and explore the place at my leisure. My plan was very open-ended so this meant I could use public transport, explore on foot and just go whichever way the wind carried me. I generally prefer to explore new places that way and it usually seems to work out pretty well. So, after taking a couple buses and a longish walk into the city centre, I was already ready for another coffee and a slice of cake. I had tried to travel fairly light, but I was lugging around backpack which probably weighed around 25 kg, plus another bag with my lap top and camera etc. After connecting to wifi in a café, getting caffeinated again and having located what looked like a really nice hostel close by, I collected my gear and headed off once more.
I soon found the place I was looking for, The Casa Altura hostel, a wonderfully atmospheric old place with colonial style architecture, creaky floorboards and a big map of the world on the dining room wall. Feeling pleased with the find, I booked myself into a small room and dropped off my heavy gear, determined to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring.
Now that I had a base I wanted to get a feel for the country I had just arrived in and knew very little about. Knowing a bit about Spain and already having armed myself with some basic Spanish, I had the vague idea that Chile might me something similar. After all, they had been colonized by the Spanish centuries ago and spoke the language. I soon found out that Chile had very little in common with Spain, except the language, and even that was pretty different. It was Spanish for sure, but spoken with a heavy accent and sprinkled with tons of words I’d never heard before.
But Santiago was starting to growing on me and I soon realized I had chosen a really fascinating destination. The city centre was a mix of very familiar and beautiful architecture, similar to Madrid or Paris, but broken up with clusters of slick looking skyscrapers, parks and squares with fountains and statues and so on. But despite the familiarity it felt very different to anything I had seen before.
It was already dark and I was starving. Time to check out the local cuisine. I was looking for something simple but very filling, so headed into a nearby restaurant and ordered the biggest dish on the menu and a large beer. The plate arrive and it looked to be enough to feed a family of four! It was something called Chorilliana, basically a huge dish of fries, covered with fried eggs, chopped-up sausages and steak with plenty of ketchup! Perfect!
Over the next week or two I made plenty of new friends from all over the world, while staying in the hostel, from Spain, Brazil, Norway and Canada. We had a great time exploring the city and other nearby places. It turned out that the city had two very distinct sectors, the old centre where I was staying and a sort of mini-Manhattan business district in a totally different part of town. These two areas could easily have been separate cities, they were so different.
The geography of the place, was interesting too: built on a very flat plane along the side of the Andes mountains with a number small hills or mountains jutting up out of the city itself, many of which had been turned into parks. The most well-known is San Cristobel, right in the middle of the city. You can take a funicular rail system or walk to the top, where you can enjoy spectacular views of the place.