Where are the Andes?*

Posted by on Mar 29, 2013 in Chile | No Comments
Where are the Andes?*

I wonder how many Santiagos there are in the world? Maybe my next trip should be a quest to take in every single one? I reckon I’d prefer that to a tour of all the Stockports on the planet. For reasonably adventurous parents, Stockport really wasn’t the most glamourous place they could have chosen for the auspicious occasion of my birth.

After all it ends up on your passport. Thanks for that. I can however console myself that I share a birth town with still-sexy almost octogenarian Joan Bakewell and renowned architect Norman Foster. Oh and David Dickinson, Yvette Fielding and Sarah Harding.

Dear god help me, that last sentence has popped a really unwanted image into my head. If only it were possible to take a bar of soap to a dirty mind.

Quickly, let’s talk about travel again!

I’d have a head start on that Santiago list, as I’ve visited two this last year. The first, on the crazy sexy island of Cuba, is famous for the toe-tapping, hip-rolling salsa music of the Buena Vista Social Club. The Santiago I currently find myself in stands out due to its jaw-droppingly impressive backdrop. The Andes. Which you can sometimes see through the smog.

Perched on the rooftop of the building I’m staying in – with the lovely cancer geneticist Brazilian Ricardo, a gorgeous and talented man who sadly refuses to ‘bore’ me with tales of his work – as the warm orange sun sets over the mountains and the music and laughter rise up from the streets, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect spot to begin my first ever South American experience.

My lucky streak has continued in picking this fabulous location, right in the heart of Barrio Lastarria, an historic yet unstuffy, effortlessly cool area – full of street-side cafés, linger-til-closing bookstores and unique fashion houses.

With only a couple of days to soak in the city, I join a free walking tour – one of my favourite ways to get a good feel for a place. As we wander round we are joined by a growing band of stray dogs, weaving their way between our feet and barking our arrival at every new location. It starts out as a charming distraction. By the tenth flying lurch across Santiago pavement – as my feet are taken out from under me – it’s a little less so.

Much of the city is boarded up and under renovation – which is either a good sign for the local economy, or perhaps just a fact of life in an area so prone to earthquakes. Sadly, or luckily if I’m being sensible for a minute, there wasn’t a hint of a tremor as we tramped the pavements, taking in historical landmarks and, happily for me, more recent additions – in the street art marking the approach to national treasure Pablo Neruda’s house.

Now there are only so many times you can write about ice cream before people will notice you are addicted, but I’m prepared to sacrifice my remaining dignity to share a Santiago institution with you.

A long queue snaking down the street is all the advertising that Emporio La Rosa needs to keep its tills ringing from morning til night. Flavours range from the pedestrian chocolate (seven different kinds to be fair) and vanilla and to those for the more refined palates, like rose, dulce de leche or strawberry and black pepper.

It was so good I went there two days in a row (day one for a rich but not overpowering hazelnut chocolate, day two the same again, with an extra scoop of refreshing raspberry and mint to balance the chocolate and counteract its calories – that totally works, you should try it).

Thank goodness I wasn’t there for longer, as I don’t think I’d have managed the ten scoops by day ten.

A quick tour of the contemporary art gallery, squeezed in between food stops, found me back in New Zealand, with an exhibit  recently arrived from my favourite shaped country in the world.

Seeing as you asked, second favourite is Italy. I think I have a thing about boot-shaped coastlines.

My adaptation to the local time zone – via a hop over the dateline, thereby literally becoming a time traveller, what with me arriving before I left – wasn’t as tough as I expected.

What was more confusing was that nobody here sets their clocks to the time that my life guru – the iPhone – thinks is Santiago time. It seems they changed their clocks a few years back and didn’t bother to tell anyone else.

Things run late round these parts anyway, so it hasn’t mattered one bit that I’ve thought it was 8pm, and therefore time to hightail it down to the supermarket, to grab a cheeky half-bottle of Chilean Sauvingnon Blanc before it closes, when actually it was 9pm.

Half the city can be found shuffling casually around the aisles at that time, starting to ponder what they might have for dinner later that evening. As a natural night owl I could quite get used to this…

But before I’ve had chance to really fully submerge myself in South American cosmopolitan life, the time I’ve been looking forward to (and – honestly – increasingly dreading, as the reality of what I’m about to attempt begins to dawn on me) has arrived.

My Patagonia trek awaits, and so it is time to board a plane (well three actually) southbound to the land of glaciers, pumas and some of the most changeable weather on the planet.

Santiago airport - baggage reclaim Chile style

* At the end of your armies. Everybody knows that, silly!

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