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Santiago - last stop

Chile, 21. November 2019
Church near the hostel
We arrived in Santiago quite late in the evening, and due to the "reciprocity fee" which is charged to Australians (only Australians), I decided to be British. Once again pleased to have dual citizenship.

Due to the warnings we had read about taxis ripping off tourists (apparently a very popular scam in Chile), we went to one of the taxi counters pre-exit where you could pay for your fare up front, except it turned out you didn't. They just gave us a slip of paper and told us to find a man out the front. I got a little nervous about this as it seemed like it would be easy for the taxi driver to rip us off, so I found the shared taxi and purchased cheaper tickets there.

We got to the hostel quite late, and saw some rubbish on the road, and knew that Santiago had been having protests, but just thought that perhaps the public services, such as rubbish collection weren't going so well, or perhaps the street had seen some trouble in the past.

The hostel itself is an old faux tudor townhouse with a lovely courtyard for breakfast. The floor of our room creaks dreadfully, but it is quite nice and we have a nice view of the courtyard and the Argentinian embassy next door, which is a lovely big building with Jacaranda trees in bloom.

Next morning it was off for a wander around the city.

We had been reading about and monitoring the protests in Santiago, and how they were still happening, but it didn't really seem to make the news that much, so we didn't particularly worry about them, keeping the old adage: "if you are a tourist, stay out of protests" in mind. There is a lot of graffiti all over the city, and the banks especially have metal shutters on all the windows. A lot of the museums were closed as well.

We wandered around the outside of the Modern Art Museum, which looks like a rusty grater from the outside, and then into the centre of town, where we chose a really good, cheap pizza place for lunch (pizza seems to be REALLY popular here). There was a 3pm free walking tour, and we were kind of aiming for it, but given as though Luke is still recovering from his sickness, and I am coming down with it, we decided to take it easy and just head back to the hotel at 2.30pm.

Wandering through the park which leads to the street our hotel was on, there were groups of people just sitting round, and when we got to the intersection which leads to our street, there were a lot of people hanging around. I saw some people in masks and goggles, but thought they were having a bit of a protest pose, as we had seen a few girls selfie posing in their matching protest gear. Well, I was wrong. We had inadvertently walked into the protest. We didn't realise the seriousness of the situation, until we turned the corner into our street, and got tear-gassed (its really not nice) we turned around quick smart. Our street, as it turned out, was the centre of the protests.

Avoiding the protest, we walked the long way round to our hostel and were met by hostel staff at the gate, ushering people in. Apparently this was a regular occurance.

Turning right instead of left (where the protests were - although I did pause to take photos much to Luke's displeasure) we went over the Bella Italia for dinner. It was a nice area, nice houses and had a number of restaurants where people were sitting outside eating and drinking Aperol Spritz. You wouldn't have thought there were full on riots with tear gas a couple of blocks away. Bella Italia would be our dinner place for the remaining time we stayed in Santiago.

Anyway, finishing dinner we wandered back to the war-zone, and by this time, it was a war zone.

During the day the protests looked like groups of old and young (lots of students) people, with music, just gathering. However, the protests turned nasty in the afternoon, and by the evening there were pitched battles between the police firing tear gas and water canons and the protesters throwing rocks and paint. The riot vehicles looked like they were straight out of a Mad Max movie.

We met some lovely Brits in the hostel courtyard where we would all retire after our days out and drink beer or pisco sours (they were sooooo sour) and listen to the riots and tear gas being fired. It reminded me of a story I had heard about ladies drinking tea in the salons whilst the Nazi tanks rolled down the Champs Elysee. It really felt surreal, like we were in our own little tourist bubble.

I must admit though, I had never wanted to look more like a tourist than I did when wandering into the protests (which we managed to do a number of times over the next couple of days).

Santiago is surrounded by wine growing regions. I had been recommended one, but it was too far away for us on a day trip, therefore we decided to go to Maipo, an area about an hour's drive from Santiago where they famously grow Cabernet Sauvignon blends. They don't seem to do cellar doors as we know them, therefore we chose to go on a wine tour which would take us to as many vineyards as possible. It looked a little rough, but we thought for the price it wouldn't be that bad...

Fast forward through some wine drinking (I hesitate to say tasting as we weren't really told about the wines) some lovely views of the Andes from Isla de Maipo (the village) and a tasty lunch where there were some cats to annoy, we finished off at the owners place for some home made "wine" (from his bathtub I suspect), and the volume of our group had increased significantly.

Our group consisted of 5 young Americans (all under 30's) from various parts - a couple and three friends, and two older couples, from Canada and UK (but who knew each other).

To cut a long story short, our youngest American from Louisiana decided to decorate the bus with all the wine he had been drinking throughout the day, and on the bus on the way home. It was really disgusting, and I kind of blame the tour operator for allowing him to drink to the excess that he did, but apparently it has happened before and the guide wasn't that fussed. Other than the smell, the guy turned out to be a horrible drunk. When he wasn't crying loudly he was getting annoyed at his poor girlfriend. Anyway, we got dropped off at the protests with them. They promptly got in a cab... I wonder how much they got charged? I hope he felt horrible the next day, but then again he was 23, so probably not. I'm getting old.

That evening, the riots were particularly bad, and the wine bus dropped us off right in the centre of the riots rather than an earlier bridge, which meant we had to wander through tear gas again to get around the protest. We saw makeshift missile factories (people chipping off bits of street and building for missiles), a temporary hospital where people were being treated for injuries (mainly tear gas), and down a street which would have been nice for dinner, but we weren't ready yet (and a Starbucks for their loo).

The police cordon was actually in front of our hotel that night, therefore saying our usual good bye to the hostel staff waiting at the gate ("don't worry we are going that way" pointing away from the riot) we had to walk through the police to get dinner.

On the way back the police line had moved further down the street so that our usual path back to the hostel was blocked. We realised this when we turned down our usual street and saw people running towards us, and tear gas canisters being fired at the end of the road. Turning down the next street up, we made it to the end of the road and Luke went out to check it was ok before summoning me. We had to let the police know that our hostel was behind them. Walking through the space between the police and the rioters that night was quite hairy, although one of the police did turn around when I walked past him and told me to watch out for the rocks on the road.

Next day, Sunday, it was clean up time, and for the first time we saw shops opening on our street. It was desperately sad to think of the little shop keepers who, through no fault of their own were caught up in the protests and were having their livelihood taken from them. We made sure we went to one of these shops to stock up on water.

I now have the Endemic bug - I guess it was too good to think I had avoided it. Thankfully I don't have it as bad as Luke did.

Our last full day in Santiago we wandered through Bellas Artes (an arty, bar and restaurant district) and up the funicular on San Cristobal hill. It was quite smoggy, so we didn't get amazing views of the Andes which surround the city, however it was nice to see other areas.

We failed to do the walking tour again, and apparently it was a good one (according to the Brits we had a nightly appointment with back at the hostel), but that was ok. We had started to feel a bit jaded and were taking things a bit easy.

We liked Santiago, and even commented one night as we were sitting eating pizza in a nice restaurant, that even despite the nightly protests, we felt safer and more comfortable in Santiago than we did in Ecuador, and that's saying something.

Our last night there, was quite quiet and the protests were somewhat muted. We actually got to walk along our street without crossing any police cordons or getting gassed.

Next morning it was off to the airport by Uber, which was an experience in itself. Apparently Uber is barely legal in Chile, and disliked around airports, therefore I sat in the front with the driver and despite his English being almost non-existent and my Spanish being more so, he basically told us that we were to act as if he was a relative dropping us off at the airport. We therefore got out, he helped us with our bags, he gave us some dried fruit and we hugged him and went on our way. All good fun.

So, with a bit of excitement, we are at the end of our trip. We have been gone 5.5 months, which, when you are not on a tour is enough. We are both tired of the constant moving and looking after ourselves the whole time in places where we can't really understand the language. I am pleased to say that we still get on. We are still on talking terms, even if we don't have much to say to each other. It was especially nice ending up in places where we met fellow travellers, as the trip through Russia and Belarus was decidedly lacking in that respect. It was nice to travel-brag, and have them do the same to us.

I'm sure people will want to know the cool stories about missing trains, getting stuck, being in trouble, causing trouble... unfortunately we didn't do any of those things. It was all pretty smooth, pretty easy. Sorry.

I am really pleased we did this trip. It was generally amazing with so many highlights, some of which I am sure I have forgotten, but for this blog. Like I said at the beginning, its nice if people are reading this, but all in all it is for us, and to make sure we remember it (we can turn this into a book - same as I did with our last overland trip).

Is there anything we would do differently? Not sure really. It didn't go badly. I wish I knew more Russian however, that would have been nice.

Anyway next stop Sydney and real life. Back to work, back to pick up the cat and hope she doesn't hate us for too long.
The Argentinian embassy
Post Office and new building
Museum of Fine Arts
Museum of Fine Arts (closed)
Graffiti covering all statues
Fountain near the epicentre of the riots
Riot vehicles outside our hostel (aka Mad Max vehicles)
Standing outside our hostel (sign bottom right) watching the protest
ooops walked into the protests again
The worst night of the protests - police cordon beyond our hostel
Would you believe this is a block over from the protests
Maipo Valley vineyard
Santa Ema vineyard
View down to protest square
Us on the top of San Cristobal Hill
View from San Cristobal
Funicular up San Cristobal
View over the city to the Andes
Statue of the virgin on San Cristobal

Santiago

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