In March earlier on this year we packed two back packs and boarded a plane to the end of the world. Everybody asked: why Chile? And I answered: why not?
The truth is, I believe it was just meant to be that we ended up in Chile this year. Firstly, I found cheap plane tickets. Then I checked the weather forecasts and climate information for Chile and finally, I found this picture. The dates were ideal, I was about to finish my med school exams and we would be off the next day. We just HAD to go.
The other side to this story is that I’ve wanted to visit Chile since I fell in love with Isabel Allende’s writing in high school and couldn’t wait to set foot on this preposterously thin strip of land spanning half the length of South America. I’m a romantic like that.
We had two weeks to play with and the main aim of the trip was to visit Chilean Patagonia and do a hike in Torres del Paine.
Here is a summary of our itinerary:
2 nights in Barcelona
1 night in Santiago de Chile
2 nights in Puerto Natales
4 nights camping in the mountains
2 nights in Puerto Natales
2 nights in Valparaiso
1 night in Santiago de Chile
Two weeks was definitely too short to even try to see the wealth of beauty that Chile has to offer. I hope we made a fair try at it though.
We had to buy quite a lot of gear for this trip, mainly because we were still using hiking boots and rain jackets we bought in early years of high school circa 2005. (I will write everything about what we packed in another post).
The plan was to pack super light and only use hand laguage. Since we flew with so many airlines, we had to adjust to the lowest baggage allowace which was 7kg per person.
Our flights were ridiculously cheap. For economy return tickets from Barcelona to Santiago with Swiss Airlines we paid around 300 pounds each. That’s cheaper than flying to Poland with KLM. Our flight itinerary was somewhat crazy though:
Barcelona – Zurich (2h change)
Zurich – Sao Paulo (7h stopover)
Sao Paulo – Santiago
To make the most of the holidays we flew to Barcelona from Edinburgh on Saturday and stayed there one night to add a sort of a city break to the trip. This was a great idea. I loved it. A nice way to relax before the long flights and a first opportunity to relax after the hectic months of exams.
Overall the journey went absolutely fine, with no hiccups or problems. Flying with Swiss was a pleasure even in the economy coach. They served swiss cheese and chocolates and the movie selection was interesting (I watched Wild to get into the mood). The wait in Sao Paulo passed rahter quickly as well and before we knew it we were in Santiago, trying to remember what it feels like to have sunshine on our skin.
First impressions from Santiago
It was hot, very very hot. We didn’t think to pack lighter clothes closer to the top of the backpacks so we were roasting in warm clothes and in hiking boots.
We took a bus to the city centre and then walked to Barrio Bella Vista – one of the neighbourhoods known for its bohemian vibe and street art, also a home to one of the Pablo Neruda’s houses.
From the very beginning I was very happy that I decided to take Spanish lessons. The hostel decided to cancel our booking without letting us know, because we booked to stay only for one night. Eventually they agreed to give us a room and we could take a shower and start exploring.
The area we were staying in felt very calm and green with lots of little bars and restaurants dotted around and a St Cristobal hill with a massive statue of Our Lady on top. Naturally, the first thing we did was went to a little local shop to get ice cream. It felt like one of those country shops in Poland where you can buy newspapers, soap and sausages from the glass meat counter. The shop lady even wore a polyester apron.
By this time it was around 5 o clock and we wanted to take the funicular to the top of the hill. The panorama of Santiago from the top was spectacular and made me realise that the climate surrounding the city is very much dry and arid.
The funicular ride was fun in itself, apparently Pope John Paul 2 took the same carriage up the hill as the feet of Our Lady (before they were assembled).
Afterwards we went looking for dinner and stumbled upon some great street art on the way. Since the kitchen was still closed we were offered pisco sour on the house- a local cocktail based on chilean rum, similar in taste to a margerita. It was heavenly. It still is my very favourite drink.
Our flight the next day was at 6.30 AM so we made our way back to the hostel and tried to sleep. Little did we know that at night Bella Vista turns into a party capital of Santiago and that Chileans love to sing along….
For me visiting Chile was a dream come true and a personal journey at the same time. I have loved the Spanish language for years and finally I could speak it too, to appreciate its melody and Chilean accent. Allende’s writing and her beautiful use of magical realism for some reason appealed to my teenage self very strongly, and being in the motherland of the author I admired for such a long time meant something to me. I know this may sound silly, but I felt like myself, I was surrounded by the things I loved, my thoughts were still floating around the topics of medicine, I had J by my side, I could practice my Spanish and I was about to visit a place which once onced discovered by some of the first European explorers. In my memory, those first days in Chile were an experience I want to cherish and remember, as cheesy as it may sound.
I’m a romantic like that.
I want to have an epic life. I want to tell my life with big adjectives. I want to forget all the grays in between, and remember the highlights and the dark moments.
– Isabel Allende
She sowed in my mind the idea that reality is not only what we see on the surface; it has a magical dimension as well and, if we so desire, it is legitimate to enhance it and color it to make our journey through life less trying.
-Isabel Allende, “Eva Luna”