Week eleven: halfway holiday

Exactly half way through my South American sojourn, I decided I had earned the right to do nothing for a while; a holiday from my holiday, if you will. Thus I am still staying with Tam in Santiago.

However, I did still manage to maintain some level of touristing, rather than just sinking into Santiago studentism.

I began the week with a full day of exploring; as Tam heads off to university, Charlie and I (the graduate layabouts) are left daily to our own devices. We began with a climb up the particularly glamorous Cerro Santa Lucia. ‘A big hill’ by any other name, but complete with an entrance that wouldn’t look out of place in a Vegas hotel and a turreted mirador at its peak. The view over Santiago is somewhat less glamorous- 1970s high rise blocks, shrouded in smog- but the busker playing ‘Eye of the Tiger’ for those who reached the summit made the gruelling ten minute climb worth getting out of bed for!

Back down at ground level, the GAM (the arts and culture centre; the Chilean Barbican) had an underwhelming exhibition of photographs from the local, equally underwhelming zoo. The Plaza de Armas, ubiquitous in all Latino cities, was decked out with more benches and palm trees than many other plazas I’ve come across- you win this round Santiago- and lying on its periphery was the National History museum. An exhibition of ‘men’ in general offered little insight, followed by a ‘state the obvious’ laden journey through Chilean history as a whole; conveniently this ended in 1973- Pinochet who?!

Feeling pretty well-achieved after this one busy afternoon, it was time to escape the city for an Easter weekend mini break. And of course no backpacker’s trip would be complete without hitchhiking at some point, thus this was my chance! After hopping a metro to the outskirts of town, it took us less than ten seconds to flag down a willing trucker; I think he just wanted the company of some idle small talk!

Thus we arrived in Valparaiso, the edgiest city in Chile, in the most hipster fashion possible. Valpo (to us local types) is a labyrinth of steep hills and spectacular street art. As with all gritty, grubby towns, Valparaiso is an arts hub, buzzing with buskers serenading the city itself.

For those of us too lazy to scale the decorated stairs and steep hills, rickety funiculars will drag you steeply up (or treacherously down) for a mere 30 pence. Once up high, the vista over the bay is industrially intruded upon by the major port, but this only adds to the mix and match vibe. Beyond the visual and musical arts here, Pablo Neruda chose this city to sit and write poetry, from his wonderfully kooky, Art Deco house on the hill. Complete with collections of his own random toot, touring this house was far more up our street than the mansion-cum-museum we also frequented in Valpo.

Whilst we did enjoy some artisanal bevs in some very trendy, poster-laden bars and basements, the main party was to be found on the street of an evening. And when the police rained on the parade of the drumming, dancing revellers, we were welcomed just the other side of the fence into a front garden barbecue, rendering our street party totally legal!

A mere ten minute bus ride from Valpo lies the much flatter, more civilised city of Viña del Mar. As it was the Easter Bank Holiday, we explored the museum exhibition here pertaining to Easter Island. Apparently the world famous Moai heads were modelled on the penises of two men searching for their muse (and finding it in their trousers, of course!)

Other than these enlightening exhibition snippets, Viña claimed its main attraction to be a giant clock made of flowers. You may well be as skeptical as we were upon first hearing this, but as we walked past the ‘Reloj de Flores’, crowds of colourful characters flocked to take full-on photo shoots! Take or leave the clock itself, but if you enjoy people watching, there is categorically no better spot; we stayed and stared for almost two full, florally-measured hours!

Other bizarre treats to be enjoyed on a day trip to Viña include the rental of quadcycles along the seafront promenade. Unfortunately there is but a single carriageway for all, thus our journey held up a lot of disgruntled car drivers and we were similarly blocked in by a busking clown and his swarming audience!

As is the custom on a bank holiday in England, we drank copiously, but in an abundance of different, equally kooky settings, and spent Easter Day itself achieving nothing more than two square meals. N.B. Chileans put cream cheese in all of their sushi… And occasionally cooked chicken. I guess the country is westernised to the point of offering easy access to world cuisines, but still trapped in the Latin American bubble, thus stubbornly adding their own twist.

We hitched a lift back to real life and resumed our lethargy, wiling away the afternoon in the Literary Cafe in the park. The perfect spot for reclining and reading, or pretentiously posing whilst secretly people watching.

I’ll resume hardcore travelling soon, but for now, I’m living the lazy man’s dream.


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