Chi-chi-chi, lay-lay-lay, viva Chi-lay! Santiago, Chile

July 5, 2010 at 9:41 pm 3 comments

Walking through Bellavista on Monday 28th June you would never have known that it was one of Santiago’s most lively neighbourhoods. Shop windows were darkened by graffiti-covered shutters and dogs roamed freely along the empty streets, sniffing at discarded burger wrappers. Traffic lights flicked uselessly from green to red on the main road where police and army officials in riot gear twirled their batons at invisible mobs. Still it was an eerily beautiful scene. Single and two-storey buildings with flat roofs painted orange with deep blue doors or hot pink with green windows. Riverbeds coloured by artistic murals and mounds of rubish. Meanwhile standing as a reminder that this was no ordinary city in no ordinary continent was a backdrop of hazy snowcapped mountains seen above a skyline of mix-and-match skyscrapers.

In every bar, cafe and home around the city people were sitting around moaning and sighing. Every now and then the empty streets echoed with a collective scream. Santiago was in the grips of football fever and today, Monday 28th of June, was to be their last World Cup appearance. Later there would be riots in the street, temper tantrums and defiant cheers of “Chi-chi-chi, lay-lay-lay, viva Chi-lay!” For now though, an entire nation was holding its breath.

Behind one purple door in Bellavista the scene was of a different nature though. Two opposing armies faced each other down – one in green and yellow, the other in red white and blue – across a room. They traded chants and insults in different languages for 90 minutes, one revelling in the misery of the other until eventually it ended and everyone grabbed their bottles of beer, wine, rum and pisco and headed for the rooftop garden. Somehow we had managed to choose a hostel which was sheltering a mob of Brazilians and when, a few hours after arriving we were woken up by a pretty girl waving a bottle of rocket fuel (aka pisco) and insisting on shots, we knew that our Santiago trip was going to be a little bit messy and a lot of fun.

By the next morning we had managed to slot into a huge group of Poms, Aussies, Brazilians and Irish people and were ready to take our hungover, jetlagged heads out for a walk arond the city. Leading the way, Katie decided that we should all climb a hill – Cerro Santa Lucia. After walking around the city for an hour we had come to four conclusions:

1.Chileans are incredibly friendly people

2.Santiago was one of the most sexually charged cities we had ever seen with couples, young and old, locked in passionate embraces on every street corner and park bench

3.There was an astonishing amount of stray dogs in the city – something about people liking to own puppies but not being too keen on fully grown animals.

4.We were going to love South America.

Although it was a challenging uphill climb, Cerro Santa Lucia was worth all of the energy. As we stood at the top and took in Santiago our hangovers started to clear and awe set in. The city seemed to be an endless maze of towering apartment blocks, delicate church spires and colourful residential areas. Most surprising of all were the ever-present Andes which, in the dense smog of a working day were all but invisible, their snowcapped peaks strangely detatched like whisps of cloud against a dim blue sky.

Over the next two days we cemented our first South American friendships over football and pisco (I know, us watching football. Gas.), grappled with our first few words of Latin American Spanish and wandered around Santiago. We were amazed by the stunning architecture of some of the city’s buildings – the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Ex-Congreso Nacional, the heart-stopping Palacio de la Moneda and the surprising Bolsa de Comercio (far too beautiful to be a stock exchange) – little slices of Barcelona, Paris or Rome peeking out over the bells of tiny churches and ugly office blocks.

The best thing we saw though was Plaza de Armas. As was our habit in Santiago, we arrived with bellies full of pisco and heads full of cotton wool and had to sit down for half an hour to take the mammoth square in. On a bandstand at one end were dozens of tables crammed full of old men stooped over chess games, a picture of concentration amid a flurry of activity. Across the square shoeshine boys (and men) tauted for business; a comedian was surrounded by a hysterical crowd of hundreds; tarot card readers poised serenely over desks covered in red cloth; and artists fussed over exhibitions of varying quality. There were some bizarre scenes too – toy ponies ridden by children posing for photographers; a group of students dressed up as The Flinstones; thousands of pigeons perched wing-to-wing on the roof of a sweet stall; and an information point on wheels that was zipping about the square far too fast to be of any help. Amid the chaos churchbells chimed and middle-aged men snored on benches yet somehow everywhere we went people looked at us as if we were the strange ones.

More than a little overwhelmed and still jet-lagged we tried to let it sink in. We were in South America. We had new friends. We were once again the obvious strangers in any crowd. We were finally adventuring again. Here in Santiago among life-size toy horses and a thousand curious eyes we were totally, utterly and completely happy.

There are more pictures from Santiago available in the gallery

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Entry filed under: Travel. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sarah Reilly  |  July 6, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Aw Bellavista!! We loved it!! Too much steak and red wine!! get prepared for the who invented pisco argument! Peru vs Chile! Its not pretty!!! How cool are the dogs that just sleep everywhere on the street!!! Aw Santiago a distant dream!! Love ya’s x

    Reply
  • 2. Peter  |  January 28, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Great blog! I love the 4 conclusions!

    Peter

    Reply
  • 3. julie  |  September 26, 2012 at 5:04 am

    Thankyou.It all sounds very exciting.My husband and I will be travelling there december 2012.

    Reply

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