Ah Santiago, a beautiful cosmopolitan confluence of tradition and modernity with some of the best museums in Latin America, wide open parks and greenspaces and a bohemian nightlife similair to a small scale Buenos Aires. We arrived in Santiago with relatively few expectations but were soon embraced by the beauty and energy of the city. On our first evening in town we were looking for that Santiago “experience” and boy did we find it. Following a locals suggestion we headed to the first ever bar in Santiago, La Piojera, the oldest and still the best dive bar in town. Literaly translated as ¨The fleahouse¨, this dingy and lively indoor/outdoor spot is famous for (among other things) its bizarre concoction known simply as the ¨Terramoto¨, or in English… the Earthquake. A combination of white and red wine, Frenet Branca, bitters, grenadine and topped with a ball of pineapple ice cream, the Terramoto is designed to make the ground shake bellow you as you stumble out of the bar. It was absolutely distgusting but the sugar rush from it was like eating a dozen pixie sticks. Terramotos
We also decided to order for our table a few plates of what all the locals in the place were eating, a giant plate of french fries covered with chopped steak and fried eggs. Needless to say we left La Piojera having had an unparalleled cultural experience and desperately craving Alka seltzer! The next few days would be spent exploring the cities beauty and culture including the spectacular Cerro Santa Lucia park, local museums and the bohemian quarter of Santiago known as Bella Vista. Santiago is a gorgeous city which one could easily spend weeks exploring but with winter coming and Patagonia in our future, we had to move on.
The next stop would be the dazzling artsy city of Valparaiso. Former home of Chillean poet Pablo Neruda, the “city of 46 hills” drips with creativity as almost every house, building and alleyway is adorned with beautiful murals from local and international artists. The whole city, one great canvas. Valparaiso
It’s name literally meaning ¨Valley of Paradise¨, the hillside city on a beautiful bay is the arts and cultural epicenter of Chile and has been the inspiration for countless poets and authors throughout the ages. With steep hills, the city is also known for its ¨funiculars¨, old rickety wooden elevators that go up the hillsides on rails to get people from one neighborhood to the next. Of course being us, riding one would be our first stop and the shed on tracks made its way halfway up the hill before stalling mid-ride and leaving us stranded in the crowded wood box above the city. A classic claustrophobic nightmare of being trapped in an elevator… but with spectacular views. Eventually they got it fixed and we made it out and to the top but needless to say that would be our last funicular ride in Valparaiso! We spent the next several days exploring the beautiful art and history of the city and fell in love as so many before us have. Unfortunately though, two days after we left, the cities hills caught fire and over 2000 homes were destroyed. The soul, creativity and resiliency of Valparaiso is incredible though and I know they’ll rebuild the town even better than it was.
Our next and final Chilean destination would be the Cholchagua Valley wine region. The heart of Chilean wine country. We spent several days exploring the beautiful vineyards (it was fall so the vines were a beautiful orange and the harvest was around the corner) and learning about the history of Chilean viticulture. At some points we would almost feel as if we were wandering through our beautiful California wine country of Napa Valley… but then we would look up and see the snow covered peaks of the Andes looking above us and knew we were some place much more special. The Chileans are known for their own grape varietal known as Carmenere. Originlly a French varietal, all french Carmenere vines were killed by disease in the late 19th century. It was believed for decades that the strain was actually extinct before it was discovered that the grapes that the Chilean wine farmers were calling Merlot, were in fact Carmenere vines that had been brought from France more than a hundred years ago! Now it is their flagship wine and a delicious one at that.The vines of Vina Santa Cruz
With winter coming, we needed to keep moving and after a few days exploring Cholchagua we set off through the Andes towards Argentina to begin our great adventure south to Patagonia. Though we only spent 12 days in Chile, the beauty of the country and the warmness of the people was felt and we hope to spend more time there soon.