Southpacking Part 1: Santiago, Chile

I’m alive all! It’s been a whole year since I was in South America with my amigos Sheila, Alex and Nipton! So I am here finally deciding to write about it because my year in the USA has come to a close and I am back in my sunny island by the sea (I have realized that island by the sea is redundant, because islands are naturally by the sea, unless they are in a lake..? I digress.) I haven’t been updating because I am super overwhelmed being back. I love being back (but if the temperature could just be 10degrees Celsius lower that would be great). I don’t really intend this to be a guide for traveling. I can’t possibly write a detailed guide one year belated. It would be outdated and irresponsible.

A lot of planning went into this 11-week trip. Because it’s a strange land, I can’t speak a shred of Spanish, and it was the longest period of time I was going to be away from home. My parents and sister really supported me through the trip and it would have never been possible without them. I’m forever grateful.
We knew we wanted to travel in South America before heading to California and there were some hiccups along the way, but eventually we made it back alive and I wouldn’t exchange it for the world.

Getting from Singapore to South America 

This one is a tricky but fundamental issue. We kinda had an idea where we wanted to venture, which areas of South America we were headed. That being said, flights to Sao Paulo from Singapore are in the area of S$3000 and upwards. There was no way we could afford that and still plan for 11 weeks. We’re poor students. The flight there took up the main bulk of the costs. We ended up taking LAN to Santiago from Sydney. Yeah, that’s a pretty long way around the world, but as scrimping engineering students, you can bet that this is the most calculated and cost-saving route.
We took flyScoot to Sydney and I took half a row of seats for sleeping which was awesome. Spent a night in Sydney and took a plane straight to Santiago the next morning. LAN was surprisingly awesome. Having never heard of such a flight carrier, I was truly blown away by the quality of wine they had. Hey, it’s Chilean after all!

Santiago, Chile

When we arrived in Chile, it was winter. As a tropical islander, this did not go down well and I piled on layer after layer of clothing. We had 4 nights to acclimatize to the mucho frio temperatures while exploring the city. Santiago is beautiful, I wish I could have captured how the city was framed by the Andes mountains better. Everything was a breath of fresh air because I had on travel goggles and everything seemed novel and exciting. After getting over the fact that they have an amazing mountain range backdrop, the second thing that struck me was that there were dogs everywhere. I’ve seen so many friendly and silly-looking dogs here, dogs that followed us around and seemed like they were guiding us across the street, dogs that slept with their bellies up, dog walkers with 10 dogs and dogs that bark at bicycles. Dogs that sleep like humans. They are super adorable.

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View from San Cristobal

San Cristobal was our first hike of the trip. It was a primer for the Torres Del Paine National Park (will update next time). It wasn’t super tough to hike up the hill,  save for a few steep portions. But the view was great, there was a statue of Maria at the top of the hill. I remember interacting with people from Uruguay and Paraguay on the way down who were intrigued by the Timberland shoes we wore. (Not we, but the other three were wearing them.)

Santiago has parks peppered around the city and we managed to go Santa Lucia, which has some unique architecture and sculptures.

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Santa Lucia was like the city park I never knew I wanted. There were so many elements which made the park pretty architecturally. And although it was winter, there was greenery. Admittedly, they didn’t have many people in the park at the time that we went, so it wasn’t super lively or anything. But the whole vibe and decorative accents made it interesting. File under: inspiration.

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Brick and cement accents in the park Santa Lucia

We also walked past this park we named the PDA park.
Because there were so many couples making out. Everywhere. Actually, the whole Santiago is made up of couples making out. 

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PDA park: a couple in each others’ arms

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Emporio La Rosa

And food highlight of Chile: ICE CREAM
Emporio La Rosa has really good ice cream with a crazy number of flavours, I wouldn’t say it could beat Bi-Rite in SF, but it was definitely very appetizing and unique.

After the 11 weeks, most of my Spanish vocabulary consists of food. (I’m a true Singaporean) We ate a lot of ice cream here and learnt about fruit names. I saw so many people wearing awesome shoes that I told Sheila I needed to get a pair when I came back. (And we did.) I don’t think we’ve explored enough of Santiago, but at this point we were jet-lagged and anxious to get out of the city and into the wilderness. There is so much history in Chile, and we learnt a lot from the free (not so free) city tours. I had an awesome privilege of rooming with Luz, a Chilean girl in Berkeley and she filled me up with so much Chilean history. I wish I could type it as eloquently as she explained it to me. But all I want to type now is that Chile is so rich in its landscapes and history, I definitely need to return.
We day-tripped to a little town called Valparaiso which was around one or two hours away from Santiago.

Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso is colorful and charming. We alighted right in the middle of a flea market. Immediately, locals told us to keep our cameras in our bags because robbery is not uncommon in the area. Honestly, we made that out via their body language because our Spanish was so poor. This happened twice, so we were pretty wary about people around us. Please don’t take my camera I want to take nice photos of the next 11 weeks.
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Valparaiso’s slums

Isn’t it ironic how all these slums are so chaotic that they make such a picturesque sight? The colors and chaos are everything. There are these wonderful paint jobs, graffiti, alleys and structures here. So many people warned us of robberies but thankfully we didn’t get robbed. We did hear about other travelers getting robbed though.
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That’s the furnicular we took to get some views. There was a queue for it and it brought us up to this little town up there where there were cafes, shops and schools. We saw a preschool having an excursion here and they were dressed up in some cute sailor outfits. I had no idea what they were but the babies were too cute and distracting.
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Maybe it’s because I look like a star? Hahaha

We just spent the day traipsing through the colorful town, and got stopped by two large groups of students wanting to take photos with us. They were so intrigued! I guess we really were like aliens to them. In Santiago, we were very obviously foreign and we got a lot of stares from people on the streets but we got used to it by the second or third day.

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Imagine the Bear in the Big Blue House. That’s his Big Blue House. Just kidding I believe that’s the navy’s building. Valparaiso is by the sea, so I guess it makes sense? Chileans from Santiago come here during the weekends for little trips to the beach and why not? It is so quaint!

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It’s like I’m in a Wes Anderson film set.

All these colors bring joy to my heart and a quite the departure from Santiago. It’s no wonder people like to escape to here from the city. When we were there it was winter, but the temperature was more bearable than in Santiago. But that could be because we got used to the cold quickly. It was very sunny and I was happy.
So far so good: Santiago was a good transition for us to acclimatize and nothing bad had happened, other than eating super oily chorillanas. (Please do your arteries a favor and minimize consumption of that.) That pretty much sums up the first part of Chile in our 11-week adventure. Next, we head on to the nature and wilderness and away from urbanites.
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