::::: EL MUNDO REAL :::::
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Tony Gavilanes / Lacy Sarco

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(episode 11)

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I’m amazed by the power lines out here… It was all there waiting for us, the vastness of desert rock sprawling into hills in all directions, and the straightest road cutting right through it, ushering new horizon as we tumble the wind hills. This Tur-Bus is certainly the nicest so far. Clean fake leather, food, and lights that really do respond to the switch. I’m eating a pack of chocolate cookies – everywhere, cookies – that our attendant passed out at breakfast time. I’m saving two so that when Lacy wakes up we can cheers. Writing upside down , on the road, is tough business. Pens explode when ascending and descending altitude in the Andes Mountains. Still work, but make a mess of your thoughts. Made a stop in Antofagasta where the coffee was so hot we almost missed our bus waiting for it to cool. At least coffee’s cheap. Aside from being a natural export and all, it’s nonetheless the dissolvable instant stuff. All you pay for is heat on the water and soap for your spoon. But it gives you a lot to think about. Wide-eyed, pre-noon ponderings, hatched from Cassidy and Kerouac madness. I feel like I’d want the front seats, hanging out over the driver box, an Imax of window panes around you. It’s worth the crawl up from the back row to take a picture, but most likely very numbing, I keep telling myself. Then, the Promised Land. Santiago...

The roughest things were going across two time zones when crossing the Chilean border into Arica (God knows why they chose to do that), and the exchange rate.. In addition to $900 Big Macs, we ended up paying $11,000 CLP for the 5:AM taxi ride from the terminal to the hostel. We found out later that it was around $18 USD. Judging on the fact that when we left the city, that same distace on the subway was $1.25. We may have just been deprived from cities for a long time, but Metro (the subway system in Santiago) was one of the best things we have found in South America. You could get anywhere in the major part of the city quickly and cheaply. Exchanging that for our taxis and ground busses was a blessing! And especially when we were finally let in to the hostel after waiting on the sidewalk for 30 minutes because the desk attendant was sleeping, and paying 18 bucks for a taxi, and riding the highways for two full days... We needed breakfast.

The very kind people at Atacama Hostel in the Providencia district of Santiago, Chile, told us to hit the subways and get out to the city center, where we found Paseo Ahumada. Although we ended up at a mall eating bratwurst and drinking German beer, the area was awesome. We walked up the pedestrian street lined with shops and found ourselves at Plaza de Armas. Santiago has an impressive Plaza de Armas, not particularly due to the architecture, but rather to the culture and amount of people there. From fortune tellers to art dealers, chess players to bible thumpers, the city was alive! Not only that, but the sun was shining and at this point just after noon, we had about 80-degree heat. Fabulous.

That night, we chose to take in some of the local flavor of Providencia, and amongst about a thousand restaurants, we chose Pad Thai, which ended up being a full-fledged experience. We sat on a bed which bordered one side of our table, overlooking the jets swirling the pool, and ate some well hungered for curry and noodles while the bead curtains wafted around us. Not that we went out many more times to take in the amazing restaurants Santiago had to offer, but I'm sure that this metropolitan city had quite a few more in the same incredible vein as this.

There is a hill in the center of the city that offers the best panoramas. So we ventured down Av. Pedro Valdivia, passing the city sculpture park. There were some very cool pieces there, so taking a stroll through was a pleasure. After seeing everything from abstract to bull balls, we made our way further down the avenue, which, looking very much like Ravenna, took us straight to the entrance of Parque Metropolitana. The park covers the entire hill which has two parts. The Teleferiqo begins at the north end and ascends up over Japanese gardens, playgrounds, and running trails, to one of two public pools in the park. Since we were boarding a cruise ship in a week, we opted out of the entrance fee and after resting under a monkey tree, took the rest of the Teleferiqo to the peak hill. Really, we had no idea what was at the peak, but as it turned out there was a statue of the Virgin Mary which overlooked a huge amphitheatre for Catholic mass on Sundays. We stopped at the statue to take in a wonderful view of the city, and then it was down the other side of the mountain via Funicular - a diagonal trainlike elevator.

It dropped us off in the Bella Vista district, which was flowing with a bohemian artistic flare. The graffiti artwork scattered all over the area's walls was some of the best we've seen so far, and you can find some great stuff at the artisan markets. Stopping for a pitcher of Escudo, we made our way to one seeing a ton of Lapizlazuli, a blue stone that's found only in Chile and Israel... Hundreds of carved figurines, jewlery, etc. Lacy spotted the three cutest penguins that day, but I convinced her that we should shop around and compare prices. Two days later, we found ourselves back in the same market enjoying lunch and wine, and we bought them on the spot. They really are the cutest.

That was the afternoon that we rolled up to the house of Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda. It's a museum now, but the house is intact with all of the things he had around when he was writing his amazing poetry. This guy had some very cool collections of statues, paintings, and knick-knacks. The house was built in the Bella Vista district up on the foothills of Parque Metropolitano, and it employed some very intriguing architecture. If you've read Neruda, you know his fascination with the sea.. Well, his house was built with nautical themes in mind, complete with a patio of water when it was functioning. His other house in Valparaiso was constructed like the shell of a snail. It was truly fascinating though, with secret spiral staircases behind dining room armoires, tree trunks ascending three stories through rooms, and a generally unconventional layout. Most rooms connected in angles and either up or down a small flight of stairs. In his bar, there was even a pair of dress shoes that could have fit a giant. Personally, my favorite thing was a picture of Neruda with Pablo Picasso, and the two of them were laughing histerically.

And I believe that this was the night that we decided to go out and drink some money away. After hitting up our favorite Bella Vista cage bar for anothe couple pitchers of Escudo and a few Pall Malls, we decided to get back closer to home. Fortuately, Providencia is a great place to do this, although the other clear option would to have stayed in Bella Vista. After scoping a few blocks of the local gastronomy, we landed on Amelia Sushi, where we ordered some of the best sushi we'd ever had. It was a roll, coated with a type of tempura, and flash fried so that the outside was nice and crispy. Gordon Ramsey would have been proud. We stayed there enjoying the warm evening and cool beer, watching the people come and go. Then we went next door to Elfo's bar to have a pisco sour. Now, mind you at this point we still hadn't been able to make up our mind on whether the Peruvian or Chilean pisco sour was better. Fortunately, our bartender Maile had it all covered. Upon ordering a pisco sour, she asked us, "Peruvian or Chilean?" Seizing the opportunity, we asked for both and a description of each. Apparently, it comes down to the type of limes each country puts out, and Peruvian or Chilean pisco. Peruvian limes are smaller, greener, and a bit sweeter than their Chilean counterpart. Also, Peruvian pisco has a much more potent flavor than the Chilean. Both made with sugar, but without as much egg. The foam you see on top of Peruvian-style pisco sours is a foam of egg white. Makes it hard to drink a few... All in all, the Peruvian pisco sour had a harder kicking flavor, the Chilean was much smoother altogether. And guess what? I liked the Peruvian style better, and Lacy liked the Chilean better. Oh well...

While we were there, we enjoyed the company of a fella named Wes who hailed from North Carolina. He bought us a round of mojitos that Maile made with serious deviousness (4-5oz of rum...). I ordered a seafood risotto which made me break out in a rash over my entire head and shoulders (something that doesn't even phase me at this point). And before we left, we told Maile and Victor, who together were the bar owners, that our plan was to acquire 24 bottles of wine for the cruise. Now, you may have had the leasure of enjoying some Chilean wine at one point or another, but let me tell you, the wine in Chile is great.. and cheap! They pointed us to "La Vino Teca," which is a specialty wine store in Santiago sparing no expense at acquiring the very best the country has to offer. Unfotunately their prices were a bit over our budget, but we managed to pull thirteen choice bottled from their stock. The other eleven we bought for $1.50 each at the supermarket. But that was the next day, after a serious hangover breakfast. We strolled the streets with Wes and had deep conversations about the military occupancy of Iraq and Afganistan.. he was a ground troop. But there was no way after those last mojitos that we were staying out too much later. The waitress at Elfo's, whom Wes had a pounding heart for, told me to put Lacy to bed immediately when we returned after her shift to pick her up. It was the best idea for the both of us.

downtownAfter that, the rest of our stay in Santiago kind of blurred, but I know we spent one day walking all through the downtown area, seeing the Palacio de la Moneda (government palace), the Bolsa de Comercio (stock exchange), Paris-Londres (a small district with wonderful architecture), Cerro Santa Lucia (a gorgeous park on a hill in downtown), Basilica y Museo de la Marced (a pink Catholic museum), and the Museo Historico Nacional (the museum of national history)... just so we had some more pictures to pad the blog... No, very beautiful, interesting, and well worth visiting. And with a case of wine under each arm, we took the red train to Pajaritos bus station and boarded another Tur-Bus to Valparaiso...





POSTED: March 21, 2009