Monday, November 22, 2010

Santiago, Chile

After returning from Torres Del Paine, Christina and I spent the next two days recovering at our hostel, Erratic Rock in Puerto Natales. We celebrated the night of our return with copius amounts of pizza and beer and a night out with some of our fellow travel mates. On the morning of our departure, we woke up early and had a nice breafkast, before beginning the arduous, but very familiar task of repacking our rucksacks. I was folding my clothes and stuffing them into grocery bags for the twentieth time in not-so-long when a strange sensation came over me. There was a radiating pain in my lowerback, near my kidneys that sparked my curiosity. Not more than five minutes later, I was doubled over on a bench in the common area and and trying my hardest to stave off the chills. It was no use; something had popped my balloon and any gusto I had disappeared into the Patagonian air. Not thirty minutes before, I was wide awake and chipper, ready for our day of travel to Punta Arenas. But in what seemed like an instant, my body began to feel  as if I had been in a car wreck and dunked into ice water. Up until this point, Christina and I had managed to stay relatively healthy during the last month of travel. But when the chills hit as hard and fast as they did, I knew my fate was sealed. I had to settle in for the ride and take what was coming. Timing could not have been worse, my mind was racing with thoughts of what fluid would come out what orifice and at what point during the four hour bus ride ahead of us. I spent the four hours waiting for our departure in the common area of the hostel, sitting next to the furnace, trying to stop myself from shaking beneath the three layers of clothing I was wearing. Nearing 3:00 p.m. and feeling like a crippled old lady, I managed to get my rucksack on and hobble down the street to the bus station. As soon as I hit the bus seat, my chills dissipated and my body began to warm up quickly, as if someone had lit me on fire. Having spent a sizeable portion of my childhood in the sick bay, I knew that follwing the "chills" the fever would not be far behind. I spent the next four hours staring out the bus window and at some point during the barren Chilean landscape, I broke the fever. We arrived in Punta Arenas and I felt much better, but the battle was not over. Not soon after settling in at our hostel my immune system decided to hit the repeat button and the "chills" hit once again. I had to have Christina lay on me to keep me warm. After I broke my second fever, I realized I had not eaten that day. My stomach felt like it was tied in knots and unaccepting of anything that would make its way down there. Christina went to the store and came back with some crackers and ramen for me to attempt to eat. As I choked down some crackers and chicken flavored ramen, Christina and I could not help but to acknowledge the cruel and hilarious irony of having to subsist on the very same food which I had been forced to eat nearly 3 x daily while hikng for the past week. The next morning, we would catch a flight to Santiago and it would take me another three days before I was feeling back to normal.

On our first full day in Santiago, we decided to explore the National Park across the street and the monkeys at the zoo that had kept us up all night. Something as simple as a visit to the local zoo can bring to light glaring differences in culture and standards. The zoo was poorly maintained, animal waste flushed from the innumerable small cages ran directly beneath your feet in a putrid brown stream (someone actually had the forsight to write "do not drink this water" in spanish near the streams). And, despite numerous zoo keepers and signs warning visitors not to feed the animals, people fed the animals peanuts, cotton candy and chips at nearly every turn. Although watching a tiny monkey crack open a handful of peanuts and eat them one-by-one was pretty amazing, Christina and I could not help but to feel bad for the animals. Later that afternoon, we took a train/escalator hybrid (known as the funicular) up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal where one can find great views of the city, as well as a chapel and some religious statues overlooking the city. Located between a few small mountain ranges, Santiago is usually blanketed in a dense cover of smog. From the top of the lookout, one can barely make out the detail of the city beneath it.

Our hood for the next few days.
The "dont feed the animals" sign was lost on most people.

What a beaufitul view. I'm not talking about the city.

Windows like these were everywhere.  There is something storytale about them, dont know why but they caprtured me.

The rest of the afternoon, Christina and I walked around Bellavista aimlessly, admiring the beautiful houses, the well kept terraces and the way of life. Christina and I were really enjoying Santiago. It was cleaner, less chaotic and much safer than any large S. American city we'd visited so far. We grabbed two chairs at a sidewalk cafe for happy hour and for the first time in three days, I was ready for a beer and solid food, although I now question the methodology for picking my first post-sickness meal. Christina orderd a Pisco sour (Pisco is a rum and the official alcohol of Chile) and I ordered a beer. For our snack, we ordered a Pichanga. Our options were limited, but after surviving on crackers and chicken flavored soups for the past week, I'm not sure my system was ready for the onslought of grease, cholesterol and flavor that was to come. Pichanga, in one form or another, is popular around Santiago and it's surrounding cities. It's a heaping mound of french fries, covered with a spattering of various meats. Ours contained sirloin tips, pork sausage and pork leg and onions. It was delicious and we finished nearly every bite, though it would be about another 18 hours before my stomach was ready for another meal. We stumbled upon an impromptu tango performance on our way home, before deciding to hit the sack early and beat the monkeys and karaoke singers to the punch.

Typical of most Latin Americanbig cities.

The look on my face is one of both fear and excitement.  Here comes the Pichanga!

The next day, I was finally back to feeling like my normal self. Christina and I woke up early and decided to hit the markets. We first headed to Mercado Central, a sprawling seafood market designed by Andes Eiffel (yes, the dude who designed the Eiffel Tower). It took us a bit, but I think it was our noses that eventually led us to the market. Inside of the market lies the final resting place for countless thousands of fish and seafood oddities. Walk into Mercado Central and you're sure to be smacked in the face with the smell of a few thousand tons of seafood. After overcoming the initial stench, my eyes grew wide with excitement and curiosity at the sights that were before me. The market was packed end-to-end with fish mongers, each covered in shiny fish scales, each selling an amalgam of ocean dwelling critters, many of which I had never seen. From barnacles to barells of fish guts, to giant Congor eels, Christina and I tromped around the market, the 1/4 inch of seafood sludge splashing beneath our feet as we gaped at the carnage before us. The market is full of tiny restaurants and cafes frying up the catch of the day. So, we grabbed a seat and noshed on some ceviche and Octopus before heading outside to catch some fresh air and explore a bit more. By shear happenstance, we stumbled upon La Vega Market, a sprawling meat and fruit market.

Let the fishy madness begin!

Christina ready to chow down at the fish market.

I love meat... alot. In fact, I've turned meat into a hobby: curing and smoking my own bacon, making my own sausage and rillettes, etc. However, inspite of my love for meat and having been very intimate with animal parts of all shapes and sizes in the past, I was still not prepared for my virgin foray into the sprawling meat market in the Centro Barrio. Your neighborhood butcher shop in America does not share a single common thread with meat markets in S. America. You can call it a meat market, but it was more like a slaughterhouse or a scene from "The Jungle". Americans do a very good job of distancing your meat from the animal it came from and it's inevitable death. Here it was quite the opposite. The floor was covered in an opaque red fluid, likely some combination of blood and ambient meat juice. Pig parts of every shape, size and degree of quality hung from the cieling. Pig and cow heads were stacked in pyramids of carnage in some display cases. Tubs full of guts, coagulated blood and other unidentifiable offal sat unrefrigerated in many areas of the market. And, the fear of becoming a vegetarian began to creep quietly into my psyche. So, I grabbed Christina by the arm and high-tailed it out of the meat market and into the vegetable market before an unforgivable sin was committed: becoming a vegetarian.

This is the cliff notes.  The actual story is longer and more gruesome.

The fruit market was no less impressive than the meat and fish market. On the outside vendors hawked everything from knock-off purses and antique locks to back scratchers and leather goods. On the inside, vendors sold a dizzying array of fruits and vegetables, stacked neatly in uniformed pyramids. Fifty-five gallon drums of pickled peppers and cured assorted olives lined nearly every aisleway and the smell of vinegar wafted through the humid air. Our day in the markets would've been an impressive adventue for anyone, but pulled especially on the heart strings of my inner foodie. Tired and smelling kind of ripe ourselves after intimate encounters with nearly every level of the food pyramid, Christina and I headed back to the hostel to ready ourselves for a night on the town with Roberto, a Santiago native and old friend of mine.

Mercado Vega

Fruits!  Yes!!!!!

Pickled and cured concoctions of every shape and size

Plaza De Armas.

I cannot remember exactly the last time I saw Roberto, but it must have been close to five years ago. Roberto and I met through a mutual friend and he was quickly adopted into our group of close friends in Evansville, Indiana. After a family member fell ill, Roberto moved back to Santiago and has not been back stateside since. When I realized I would be traveling through Santiago, I looked him up and we planned a reunion. Roberto picked us up around 7:00 p.m. after having just gotten his drivers license back that very same day. We headed to Barrio Centro where we would start our night off at "The Clinic". "The Clinic" is a hangout for left leaning people and it makes no secret of it. The walls of the bar are peppered with politically fueled images, poems and epithets. But, inspite of it's reputation, most people come for the Pisco. Roberto ordered us all a round of expensive Pisco with a coke and we dove deep into conversation and catching up. After our first drink, the night would play out like a fast forward movie montage cliche, set to techno music and all. After a few more piscos and an amazing Spanish tortilla, Roberto decided to take us to his favorite local dive bar, a place full of character where classic rock is played all night long. We hopped in the car and ended up at Bar Renee. Roberto had warned us beforehand that no Gringo would ever walk into this place unaccompanied. We walked into the tiny front room with a single long worn wooden bar and not a single empty seat. A couple of heads turned to check us out. Unsure how to act or what to do I stared blindly at the soccer match on TV, though I could've cared less. After Roberto had grabbed some craft brew, he reassured us that there was a larger room in back. We walked into a dimly lit back room where Led Zeppelin was being blasted from the speakers and the air was so thick with smoke you could touch it. The atmosphere was appropriate and the place buzzed with energy. It was the kind of place I would hang out if I lived in Santiago. To some strange degree, it reminded me of home and felt familiar. We nestled into a tiny corner and I had my first microbrew in a month and the first of many that night. After downing two liters of the tasty brew, our new neighbor sparked up a conversation. Though moments before they were belting Janis Joplin at the top of their lungs, they did not speak any english. Before I could grasp what was happening, this 300 lb man had taken out of his wallet and fanned infront of me a fat wad of pesos before licking the nasty money. He then proceeded to spray me with the only english word he appeared to know: "fuck". For a brief moment, I recoiled, thinking I had upset this giant drunken man and he wanted a piece of my comparatively pretty face. After looping Roberto into to the string of events, I came to find out the guy was just inquisitive and wanted to buy us a drink. As he swigged from a tall glass brimming with campari, the large man threw his arm around me, peppered my face with his saliva like a Jackson Pollack painting and ordered us a liter of the delicious beer we had been drinking. After another five minutes of a conversation that was completely inaudible and involved mostly hand gestures, the man grabbed the beer he bought us, of which we had drank none of and disappeared. We left the bar and ended up at an apartment complex near 1:00 a.m.

To pick up Roberto's younger sister, we made a quick stop by a random apartment complex somewhere in Santiago. We ended up drinking in a tiny apartment with an Aussie, a Chilean and a spattering of other people with whom I don't remember. But, I do remember that it was slightly akward, as can happen when packed into a sardine tin with strangers who don't speak your language. We left the apartment near 2:00 a.m. to head to Barcelona, a local discotheque. Anyone who knows me knows my appreciation for a good neighborhood bar and my complete disdain for nightclubs. I knew I was in for an interesting experience, especially in my pickled state. As far as I can remember, the rest of the night went something like this: We paid a pricey cover at the door and hit the drink line, which involved standing in a long line to by a ticket and another requisite line to redeem your ticket for a drink. Christina and I both got another Pisco and coke and we hit the dance floor full of unduluating bodies. We bounced around to electronic music for the next two hours and were burned by other peoples cigarettes countless times as the place reached capacity. Out of nowhere, the nightclub had exploded with people and our dance moves turned defensive as our ground was overrun. Sensing that everyone was growing agitated and unhappy, we left "Club Barcelona" in a hurry at 4:00 a.m. with Roberto intent on finding us some late night eats, but not before Roberto lost a fog light on the way home (another long story). We ended up around the corner from our Hostel at 5:00 a.m. and found a place to eat some "ASS". If this sounds bizzarre, it's because it is. "ASS" is the food of choice after late night drunken revelery and it's ingredients are equally as wierd as the name. "ASS"consists of the following: one large hot dog, one toasted bun covered in tomato salsa, onions, avacado, countless tablespoons of mayonaise and seared sirloin tips. After a night of too many drinks, one "ASS" will bring you back to reality. We had had it's distant cousin, the Italiano Completo, but this was our first experience eating "ASS". After wiping our faces clean, we said goodbye to Roberto and went to bed one last time to the sound of Bon Jovi and screaching Monkeys. The next day, we would have to catch a bus to Valparaiso, Chile.  Thanks for following this crazy adventure.


Italiano Completo.  The "ASS" is the wicked step-sister.


  1. Not gonna lie, that hot dog reminds me of the "load" filled donut that was eaten by the dillhole on Van Wilder. Can't remember his name, but all the same. Rather impressed with your immune system. Maybe you owe it to the cancer filled airs of the U.S.A? These stories are very interesting though.

  2. Wow, what a night. How you feeling this morning... is the ASS the cure-all for hangovers? Maybe it should be your new business venture in the states... I think college students would eat it up. "Yeah, that's right Mom, I aced my psych test thanks to the ASS."
    Fun stuff Clay. Thanks for sharing your adventures.

  3. Nice pics (well except the pig's head).

    I prefer just about anyplace in Chile to Santiago. If you don't have a lot of time, Valparaiso is only a couple of hours away and from there you can go to the beach quickly. Valparaiso, Chile