Day 112: Fated

Mon. 3rd December 2012

Some of us can sleep anywhere - even early morning on the night bus.It wasn’t the best night’s sleep that we have ever had but equally it wasn’t the worst. I’d liken the seats on the bus to those in Premium Economy on an airplane. I would have preferred to have had the fully lie flat seats – but they would have been twice the price and, in any case, there were none left available for the bus that we wanted. This is our last night bus for a while. We won’t need them on Pacific islands or in New Zealand and we are not yet sure as to how we will travel once we get to Indonesia.

The sun was streaming in through the curtains and looking out of the windows we could see blue skies and the outskirts of Santiago. The overnight rain evidently hadn’t held up the bus as we arrived in the bus station just after 7:30am – half an hour ahead of schedule. As we had a reasonable idea as to how to take the Metro to get to our apartment for the next couple of nights, our first priority was for some coffee and so we squeezed ourselves into a tiny coffee shop in the bus station and generally made a nuisance of ourselves with our backpacks.

Museo de Bellas ArtesThe Santiago rush hour was in full flow as we headed into the Metro and there were people milling and queuing everywhere. Fortunately, I spotted the machine that said ‘comprar tarjetta Bip!’ (the Bip! card is Santiago’s equivalent of the Oyster card). Even better, the machine had an options for instructions in English which made it even easier. Our first impressions of the Metro were very positive – the stations were clean and well lit – and, more importantly, well signposted – finding the right platform was straightforward and before very long a train pulled in. As it was rush hour we squeezed in with our backpacks and daypacks, just as busy as London.

We have chosen to stay in an apartment rather than a hotel – partly because of the location (in the Bellavista district which we have been told is a good place to be) and partly because we liked the idea of having a bit more space. It turned out that we had about 1km to walk from the Metro station. Not the longest walk we’ve done with backpacks but long enough – still the sun was shining and it was lovely and warm. A good day to be outdoors.

Santiago CathedralUnsurprisingly, our apartment wasn’t ready for us to check in so we dumped our bags and headed off into town to start exploring. We have a long ToDo list (starting with having breakfast) and we want to get started. After finding a cafe that was just opening for breakfast, we made our way to the main square (Plaza Armas) and the tourist information office there in order to pick up a map and ask about winery tours. We succeeded with the map but found out that we had just missed the free walking tour of the city which is a bit of a shame as these tours are a definite help in getting oriented in a new city. Oh well, we’ll have to find our own way around.

Fountain in the main square (in the sunshine)The centre of Santiago is a maze of streets large and small – but filled with shops medium and small. Santiago is our last city until we get to Australia and there are few items we want to buy while we have the chance. We are particularly looking out for an outdoor clothing shop so that Janet can buy a pair of walking sandals like mine. (She has previously had a pair of Regatta shoes designed for use in and out of water. Whilst these have been comfortable for her, the heat in Cuba and Galapagos meant they soon started to smell and now they absolutely pen and ink.) We saw plenty of outdoor shops in places like El Calafate but it was too cold there for them to sell sandals. Now we can’t find any outdoor shops.

Inside the Mercado CenrtralMoving on, we spend some time admiring the impressive old buildings in the city. In particular, the theatre, the cathedral (the oldest building in Santiago), the Museo de Bellas Artes, and the Mercado Central all impress. Despite this, we are not yet quite sure what to make of Santiago. It is like we have been looking at the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle but haven’t yet worked out how to put it all together. Tired after our morning’s exertion, we stop for a breather in Parque Florestal, a green area that runs alongside the fast-flowing but muddy Rio Mapocho.

Nice little cafe for lunchAt least we succeed with lunch (after only a small period of indecision). Sitting outside, in the shade munching on a freshly-made smoked salmon and caper baguette and sipping a lemon and mint juice and watching the world go by. I can cope with this! However, if we want to make the most of our time in Santiago then we need to get cracking and so it is back to the apartment to check in and see what we con sort out.

A good place for a trimOne item on my list is a haircut. My last trim was in Mexico and so I am long overdue to have my ears lowered (even NickJ wouldn’t drive to Manchester from Santiago though!) Exploring the area around our apartment, I find an appropriately salubrious pelluqueria  and get a much needed tidy up. (I should point out that the hair cut score is now Dave 2, Janet 0 – Sarah will be appalled!)

Looking out over SantiagoWe’d quite like to do  a winery tour or some wine tasting while we are here – though, to be fair, we have done a reasonable job with our evening meals over the last few days! Given that we only have today and tomorrow in Santiago, we don’t really want to go on a day trip out of town – both because it chews up a lot of time and it is against our “don’t be a gringo” principles. We do find a winery in town that can be reached by Metro and are just about to book a tour for tomorrow when we see that they are closed all week. Pah!

Funicular under repairThere are a number of parks on our ‘want to see’ list the top-most of which is Cerro San Cristobal. This park is set on the side of a hill with a funicular railway going up to the top where there are the best views overlooking Santiago and a statue of the Virgin Mary – the Immaculate Conception. Forcing our legs to get moving, we head on out to the park only to find that the funicular is not working. Fortunately, there is a bus instead and it is free and it is ready to go, so its not all bad. Its clear that the road is longer and more windy than the funicular.

Statue of the Immaculate ConceptionOnce at the top, we find that the statue is as much shrine as ornament and there is a chapel and a garden for contemplation underneath it. It is also quite a bit smaller than the Christ Redeemer statue in Rio – surely we are not becoming blasé after only 4 months of travel?? The view out over Santiago is as promised – or at least it would be, but the sky has clouded over and there is a bit of a haze over the city. We have a small shock on the bus back down as it drives past (what we assume to be) the park entrance and heads off down the road. It turns out that the road up and the road down are different and come out in different places. Phew!

So, after our first day in Santiago, we haven’t quite got our bearings or our empathy with this city. We haven’t quite sussed out where people go to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner or what the must-see sights are. We just missed out on a walking tour; the winery we wanted to visit is closed; the funicular isn’t working; and we can’t find a shop selling sandals for Janet. But despite all of this, we’ve had a great day – we’ve seen plenty; found some nice cafes; visited historic buildings; explored the city; mastered a new metro system; and enjoyed wandering around in the warm sunshine. We could feel fated, but we just feel lucky.

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