Last year, a friend of mine in Buenos Aires had about US$100 in Chilean pesos she couldn’t use. Knowing that I wanted to get to Chile someday, I bought them from her. I bought a ticket to Santiago, Chile earlier this year while in Mexico City (long story here). I left on 18th October with few plans and almost no expectations. A friend of mine that I met at the School of Authentic Journalism offered to host me while in Santiago and was kind enough to make me feel like home.
The flight to Santiago from Buenos Aires was turbulent, and I had heard all flights crossing the Andes are like this. The plane felt like a flying earthquake. Immigration was hassle-free because Americans don’t need a visa to travel through Argentina and Chile, and I was handed a piece of paper that stated I had 90 days to stay in the country as a tourist.
Once arriving, I took a shared taxi that cost about US$12. There was a lot of traffic, but I met a sweet Chilean couple that gave me a few ideas about things to do and places to go on the cheap, and told me what local dishes to try.
As a freelance writer, I sometimes have to work during trips. On Thursday and Friday I worked until about 2.3opm and then took the metro to various places in Santiago. I began with Plaza de Armas, where I saw the Santiago Catedral Metropolitana. The church was getting ready for a visit from the Pope in 2018, and people were taking selfies with his cutout before entering the building.
When I got hungry I headed to Mercado Central where I ate a paila marina and washed it down with pisco sour. Then I walked to La Moneda, which has a cultural center that’s free to visit.
I also wound up in a café con piernas, a seedy bar where women dress as if they’re about to hit the club, mostly men attend, and the coffee is terrible. Imagine a Hooters, but for coffee.
My friend advised me to visit Cerro Santa Lucia, which is a beautiful walk up a hill that leads to a peak where you can see the city of Santiago’s skyline. It’s free to visit as long as you sign in. I then walked to Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which had small exhibits dealing with Chilean identity, Haitian migration to Santiago, and how the Mapuche have influenced the country. I walked until I reached Mercado Tirso de Molina, which sells a variety of foods at an affordable cost.
My waiter was from the Dominican Republic and had been in Santiago for four years. When he could tell I was a foreigner, he walked me to my next destination, La Piojera, where I drank a terremoto that resembles New Orlean’s hurricane.
At the weekend, my friend I went to the largest mall in Chile where I bought a things at H&M because clothes are extremely expensive in Buenos Aires. From there we went to Parque Metropolitano Santiago where we went up to the top in a cable war, then I climbed up so I could see the entire city. After this, my friend and I drank mote con huesillo, a peach drink and snack that also has wheat.
We got hungry, so we went to Bellavista la Florida, at some Korean ramen, and headed to Kuntsmann. The bar was busy and the waiter didn’t serve us even after waiting several minutes, so we went to Kross Bar where I had a sampler and enjoyed the stout. My friend and I ate at Charly Dog after that, a place where you order a hot dog and can put as many toppings as you’d like for a set price.
The next day I headed to Valparaiso in busses at Santiago’s Pajaritos station. I felt that despite my two large backpacks people were kind and there was plenty of space.
Valparaiso is hilly and beautiful, and its street art and bohemian vibe remind me a bit of Berkeley, California or San Francisco’s Mission District (before gentrification, of course). I stayed at hostel Casa Verde Limón near a lot of bars and restaurants, but wound up hanging out and meeting a German girl. The next day, she and I did a free walking tour of Valparaiso and learned some of the city’s history—including history having to do with Chile’s military dictatorship and political prisoners.
We ate some shrimp empanadas after the tour, then walked around until we found Museo de Cielo Abierto near La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s Valparaiso home. Walking around Valparaiso I felt a constant marine breeze despite the sunny day. I enjoyed the wonderful views of the city, but had had my wisdom teeth removed the week before and was always tired.
On Tuesday 24th October I left Valparaiso for Mendoza, Argentina. The bus ride was beautiful because it cut right through the Andes. I stayed at Hostel Lao, which was recommended by a friend in Buenos Aires. The hostel’s owner, Mike, is a British expat who had been in Mendoza for 11 years and tried to make the hostel a place for its guests to hang out. Upon arriving, he recommended a cafe where I could because I was extremely tired. Hey, seven hours on a bus will dehydrate you.
I met a Dutch couple, and Australian couple, and two French girls who were traveling through South America. The first evening at the hostel, the owner, Mike, arranged for us to have a typical asado while we all split the costs. The meal was lovely and everyone discussed different travel tips, stuff they like about Mendoza, and shared stories about adventures they’ve had (the Australian woman talked about a time when she was swimming through a reef in Western Australia, encountered a small shark, and looked at it until it decided to turn around).
On Wednesday the 25th, the Dutch Couple, French girls, and I went to the Termales de Cacheuta. We took a small bus from a company called Buttini and rode for about an hour until we arrived to a water park that keeps pools in different temperatures, with beautiful flowers, and is surrounded by local mountains. Plus, many of the nearby restaurants sold food at reasonable prices. The water park had lockers and towels you could rent for cheap, a small convenience store, and was affordable at 150 pesos (keep in mind that prices go up often in Argentina because of inflation).
In the evening, my two new French friends and I cooked dinner and salad together at the hostel. We met a guy from London during dinner. As we were eating breakfast on Wednesday (26th October), we talked about how we were going to Chacras to rent bikes and do the wine tour by bike, and he joined us. We were able to take to the public bus to Chacras, a serene town that was a welcome change to the fast pace of Buenos Aires, and rented our bikes. I was a bit nervous because an ankle injury from April hadn’t allowed me to point my foot down for a few months, but by then I felt better and was able to ride.
We visited Pulmary, an organic wine bodega where the owner gave us wine in different stages and where he explained the difference between regular and organic wines. Next, we visited Bodega Nieto Senetiner, where we saw the vineyards, did a tour, and then had a few tastings. The tour guide also took time to explain what we’re supposed to expect. Finally, we visited a small family-owned business called A La Antigua. They make many delicious dips, sauces, chocolates, and spirits from family recipes.
When we returned our bikes, the owner of the bike shop played me some Malevo on YouTube and talked to us about Argentinian music. My last day in Mendoza was chill. I walked around the city with one of my new friends from the hostel and ate organic vegetarian food. Thanks to a kind friend, research on hostels, and other budget-conscious travelers, I was able to stick to a modest budget for this trip.
FYI: all pictures on this blog post are my own personal property.