Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to visit many different countries, sometimes for pleasure and sometimes for work. The corollary to this is that I have also had the misfortune to experience many different approaches to best practice among the world’s taxi-driving communities. Nothing prepared me for my drive from the airport to the centre of Santiago – not even India.
We arrived from New Zealand on Monday, three hours before we left. The international dateline is a confusing thing. Already befuddled by this, we were treated to an immigration process worthy of Heathrow at its finest, as we spent 90 minutes waiting in line to present our credentials to those worthy men and women who guard Chile’s borders against an influx of mountebanks and ne’er-do-wells. After eventually negotiating the border, we changed some money so that we had walking about money in Pesos and avoided the many unofficial drivers to ensure we booked an official, fully licensed Santiago taxi to get us to our AirBnB.
Our driver proceeded to demonstrate his Formula 1 credentials as he weaved between and across traffic at high speed with millimetres to spare. I spent the ride with a fixed smile on my face, radiating to Ishbel a confidence I did not feel on the inside. I was delighted when we reached our destination and departed the cab with unseemly haste.
We were booked into a flat on Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins in the city’s Lastarria district. The entrance to the block was unprepossessing and the door didn’t open fully due to some hinge problem which also produced a painful, grating screech as its lower edge dragged along the floor. Despite the unpromising first impression, our sixth floor flat turned out to be lovely. We had a large living room with a small kitchenette in one corner, and a snug bedroom. Perfect for our needs.
Google maps was, once again, our friend as we located a nearby supermarket and launched a sortie to acquire necessary supplies. Tea and milk. We also bought ingredients for a simple relaxing meal. We decided to eat in as we couldn’t make up our minds as to whether or not we should be jetlagged. The bottle of Carmenere helped.
The following day we had a relaxing start to the morning. With lots of tea, despite the barriers thrown in our faces by science. Santiago is at about 600m elevation above sea level, which means water boils at 98°C (150m = 0.5°C). This means we don’t get quite the full infusion necessary for a perfect cup, but it was adequate.
Replete with tea, we decided to start our exploration of the city slowly and visit the most local tourist attraction to us: Bellas Artes – the National Museum of Fine Arts.
There were some quite striking works on display in here, and we started to get our first taste of Chile’s determination to meet head-on certain sensitive eras of its past, from the Conquistadors to the Pinochet regime, through art and other media.
The building itself was very impressive, and we were also able to see an exhibition with a splendidly punny name: From here to modernity. I can only assume that the old movie ‘From here to eternity’ had a literal translation as its Spanish title.
After the gallery, we had a walk around the neighbourhood to get our bearings and came across a park slap bang in the middle of it. Not so much a park as a miniature hill that climbed steeply straight up from street level to be topped off eventually by a shrine. This was the Cerro Santa Lucia. By this time, however, we had gone several hours without a cup of tea so headed back to the flat to rectify that situation and to play our instruments for the first time in a few days. There were clear signs of rustiness there, so we spent while trying to improve our respective techniques.
Eventually, we headed back out to the park to ascend the hill and see what the view was like from the top.
Flights of stairs led to the peak, but they would have been condemned and shut down had they been in the UK. The uneven steps and low barriers added an unnecessary element of excitement to the climb but the view from the top was magnificent.
After this, we once again called into our local supermarket. We ate at home again, despite the siren cry of the many restaurants within walking distance. We decided we needed to do some planning and wanted to book a wine tasting tour.
A quiet evening and some research was the plan to end our first full day in Chile.