I still can’t quite believe that I’m in South America. I grew up during the height of the War on Drugs. South America was often in the news, but it was never good. Drug lords, kidnappings, bloody dictatorships. I’ve always wanted to explore this vast continent, but in my mind it was always too dangerous. To me, South America was for the skilled and experienced traveller, not for the young novice. Times have changed though and South America is no longer a place to be feared (if it ever really was).
I landed in Santiago early this morning to heavy clouds and cool temperatures. I didn’t even make it out of the airport before being hit with my first challenge. The ATM system in Chile is the Cirrus/Maestro network. My bank card is not. Unable to withdraw cash from my bank account, I quickly weighed my options. I had a little bit of US currency left, but I had used most of it to pay the $130 Chilean entry fee. I didn’t particularly want to take a cash advance on my credit card, but it was the best option available to me, so I sucked it up.
Cash in hand, I easily found the bright blue Centropuerto bus into town. Bypassing all the taxi drivers and touts, I quickly climbed on board and bought a return ticket for $2,800. Having been awake for about 24 hours at this point and only sleeping about 4 hours before then, I was exhausted. I could barely keep my eyes open on the 40 minute bus ride into town.
Arriving at Los Heroes station, it took me several minutes of blind wandering to get my bearings. The map I was using didn’t have all of the street names on it and I couldn’t yet tell North from South. Heavy clouds and fog obscured the surrounding mountains, making it that much worse. At last I figured out where I was going and made the short walk to my hostel.
I quickly checked in and settled in to my room. Once again, it seems I have a hostel almost entirely to myself. I knew I was travelling in the off-season, but being the only guest in a large hostel is just creepy. It’s also a bit depressing. I stay in hostels so that I can socialize and meet other travellers while I’m on the road, so when there’s no one there, it really makes me question why I don’t just pay the extra for a hotel.
With no plans for my stay in Santiago, I took some time to weigh my options. The hostel had no real information for me, so I decided to wander. Meandering through town, I made my way towards Plaza de Armas, the historical centre of the city. Most of the square was closed down for construction, so I didn’t stay long. My next stop was Santa Lucia Hill and Fort Hidalgo. A small garden oasis in the middle of the city, it was a great place to sit and contemplate.
Crossing the Mapocho River, I made my way to Barrio Bellavista. Home to the University of Santiago, Bellavista is a young and vibrant neighbourhood in the shadow of San Cristobal hill. With plenty of pubs, nightclubs and cafes, it’s the place to be in Santiago.
I found a tourism office and tried to figure out what to do with my time in Santiago. I really wanted to get up into the Andes if I could. Unfortunately, a late winter storm meant that the mountains were out of the question this trip. I booked a day tour to Valparaiso instead.
Back to Barrio Brasil and a very quiet night in the hostel. I was happy to crawl into bed early.