Two weeks ago I turned to Michael and said “you know, we’ve been so healthy it’s amazing. We haven’t even had the sniffles for over a year!” And then I sneezed. And then I got a razor-blade sore throat. And then I wished I hadn’t said that.
From there I ran the full cycle of cold symptoms and Michael followed close behind. It seemed ironic since we basically skipped winter this year by traveling south through Mexico, Peru and Chile. The air is just becoming crisp and fall like here in Buenos Aires - and it will start to warm up again as we move towards Rio De Janeiro next week. But after that we fast forward to Springtime in Paris just in time for Easter.
Our colds slowed us down a bit, but we still hit Santiago running. We arrived on my birthday so we decided to have a nice dinner out to celebrate. We combined that with a trip to the nearby Costanera Mall (located at the base of the tallest building in South America) where we could get SIM cards, and where our host assured us we’d find a large supermarket and several nice restaurants to choose from.
The mall was as modern and full of brand name and boutique shops. Getting SIM cards was more challenging than usual but we got it done. The supermarket was well stocked. And dinner was…disappointing. I won’t go deep here - because the picture below sums it up. And really, a lonely piece of overcooked salmon and lukewarm, lumpy mashed potatoes can’t stand in the way of how blessed I’ve been to celebrate six birthdays as a Senior Nomad. The first was in Barcelona, then Malta, Santa Fe, Doha, Melbourne and now in Santiago.
That was on a Wednesday. We nursed our colds on Thursday, but Friday night we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to do something we’d never done before - socializing with the local expat community. For those who may not know, an expat is someone living outside their native country, usually for work. Sometimes we look at the English speaking expat sites in a city to see if there is an event around an American holiday like Thanksgiving or the 4th of July to attend. Most often they offer recommendations on English speaking services like preferred doctors, dentists, hair salons, home repair, etc.
For some reason Michael had a random look at the Santiago site and saw there was an End of Summer Barbecue and Wine Tasting at someones home. All we needed to do was sign up online, bring an interesting wine and a side dish to share! We arrived at Vanessa’s backyard where we found a dozen folks with wine glasses in hand. We felt a little like party crashers since we aren’t “living” in Santiago but no one seemed to mind and we met some great people, including others just passing through. I brought an old school American potato salad that was fun to make since I wouldn’t make that for just two of us. The group also had plans to attend a major horse race a few days later and then gather again for a St. Patrick’s Day potluck.
We did go to the horse racing event, and before that we attended an Anglican church service where our new compatriot Fred, who we met at the wine-tasting, is the pastor. But on St. Paddy’s Day, instead of green we wore the black and white team colors of Colo-Colo the local favorite football team and attended a match. We also had dinner out with two couples from the group, and I met one woman that I hope to keep in touch with for years to come.
Constantly meeting new people is one the most satisfying parts of our journey. And we do stay in touch with many of them. In fact last week we were able to send a note of condolence to the friends we made in New Zealand last year after the shooting in Christchurch. We heard back from them all and we felt a bond.
We took four different walking tours while we were in Santiago. And while there was some crossover stops from one to another, we got four completely different perspectives on Chile’s complex history. Our first outing was a Free Walking Tour. We’ve been on 76 of these “tours for tips” and most of them have been an excellent way to get oriented in a city. This wasn’t one of the best, but we learned the basics. The others were Airbnb Experiences and all 3 were led by local hosts and very interesting. One was a fascinationg History Walking Tour that opened our eyes to the brutal military takeover in 1973 by Pinochet that still affects the country today. That made the Walking through Urban Art street art tour even more interesting as it also had a political narrative. The third tour was a foray into the sprawling food markets called Eat Your Way Around Santiago Markets with tastings and a couple of crazy local drinks at a “lousy” bar for good measure - but still politics played a part as we learned about food inequality and inflation issues.
Our Airbnb was one of our favorites so far this year - and it had to do with location as much as anything. We were finally away from car alarms, traffic noise, late night bars, and almost (but not quite) constant barking dogs. When we begin our search for Airbnbs in large cities we’re not always certain were to start. I usually Google “Best Neighborhoods in (city)” first. I also have good luck using Culture Trip for neighborhood suggestions, and if I dig deep on hotels.com they have good descriptions of the areas where they have properties.
Michael checks on the meeting location of the Free Walking Tours because they are always in a central location. In Santiago we knew we wanted to stay in the Providencia neighborhood. Not only was our listing on a calm, residential, tree lined street surrounded by cafes and shops - it also happened to be just five minutes from the Metro station for the Red Line - the most convenient of the five lines. We used our “Bip” metro cards and easily zoomed from one end of the city to the other.
In between sightseeing adventures we had an interview with Bio Bio, Santiago’s most popular radio station, for their website. The interview took place at the PR offices of Llorente & Cuenca who represent Airbnb. It was going to be a bit tricky since the reporter didn’t speak English, so a translator was present. We’ve done translated interviews before with mixed results, but this one turned out to be really fun because Renzo, a tall, thirty-something Italian college professor, who speaks four languages, did a simultaneous translation using his ingrained emotional expressions and exuberant hand gestures. It took a few minutes to get used to him listening and talking practically at the same time we did, but from the feedback we’ve gotten he really did a great job of reflecting the same passion we use to tell our story.
After getting some advice from locals in the office we began the process of trying to buy tickets to the football match. Even though we’d been warned they would be hard to get as foreigners - and even if we did, attending football matches in South America could be dangerous, we were determined. Well, Michael was determined, because we had been thwarted in Lima. We found the appropriate ticket office only to find we couldn’t buy tickets until the next day so we would need to come back. The man behind the ticket window was so taken with Michael’s enthusiasm for attending the match that when we came back the next day he helped us fill out the ticket request and used his personal credit card since you can not purchase tickets with a non-Chilean credit card.
So, with tickets in hand we set out for the match on Sunday afternoon. This time our angel was a young high school student we met on the metro platform who helped us all the way to the stadium and ultimately to our seats. We first approached him because he was draped in a Colo Colo flag so we knew he was going our way. When we commented on his Super Hero looks he laughed, and thanked us in perfect English. He had lived for a few years in Atlanta where he learned his English, and loved America! He was very impressed we were going to support his team and offered to help us. I can assure you, by the rolling eyes of his friends, he was going beyond the call of duty to escort these two “seniors” safely to the match - but God bless him, because it would have been considerably more difficult without his help to find the right entrance, get through the rigorous security check and find our section.
It was a day game, so we felt safe enough, although there was plenty of raucous fan behavior, and the opposing team members had to be shielded by linesmen holding large umbrellas when making corner kicks from Colo Colo territory to protect them from being hit with bottles, and batteries and other projectiles!
We heard from several people that we should take a day trip to the quaint city of Valparaiso to see the street art and the colorful corrugated tin houses that tumble down the hillsides toward the harbor. So we did. And once again we took an excellent Free Walking Tour. It was a town that has had its fair shake of the Earthquake damage so common to Chile, so in between some lovely colonial buildings in the city center, far too many architectural monstrosities built after the big 9.4 quake in the 60’s blighted the skyline. But the captivating murals, the food, the markets and the dozens of well cared for street dogs that loped alongside the tour made for a perfect day out.
From our kitchen window in Santiago we could watch Gondolas in the distance gliding up and over the hillside to the peak of San Cristóbal Hill with it’s massive statue of the Virgin Mary who watches over the city from her 1,000 ft. perch. We decided to take that journey ourselves and then come down the other side riding the famous 90 year-old funicular. So on yet another sunny day, we headed out. Nothing much to tell here, other than when you are high above it all, you can see this is one really big city!
We ended our time in Chile with a visit to a winery on our second to last day. We knew of course, that there were many wonderful wineries we could visit by car or tour bus, but since we’d given up a couple of days nursing our colds we settled for Concha y Toro - home of the largest wine exporter in Chile and fairly close to the city. We got there by taking two metro lines for a collective 20 stops and then catching a taxi for a short ride at the end. We spent the morning taking the Street Art tour and then having a nice lunch in the Lastarria neighborhood because we had plenty of time before the 4:20 pm English tour. Except when we reached the entrance to the metro it was closed. We went from that entrance to another that was also closed. We were getting very confused until we learned that someone had committed suicide on the tracks and the Red Line would be closed for the rest of the day. That was certainly sad news. However, a nice women escorted us to where we could catch a bus to the Green Line station where we would catch the train to the winery. We crammed onto the number 219 with all the other misplaced metro passengers and ultimately lost our 45 minute cushion. We popped out of the station at 4:00 pm and couldn’t find an Uber. The winery was 20 minutes away so we knew we would be late and had just about decided to turn around, when, once again, a kind stranger noted our distress. He whipped out his phone to get us a cab in under 2 minutes and invited us to visit him on Easter Island someday! We arrived at the winery and ran to catch up with our tour out in the vineyard. It had just started, so we took a deep breath, said a prayer for the poor soul in the metro station, and enjoyed a late afternoon of wine tasting.
The winery offered a shuttle back to the station so after the tour we climbed aboard the mini van with a slightly tipsy Brazilian couple who needed help juggling several orange gift boxes of wine. We had a nice visit and headed to the metro together. Unfortunately after sitting for five minutes without moving, the car doors opened and they announced hat we that everyone needed to vacate the station. Apparently the second suicide of the day had taken place on that line! We were stunned. We were assured two Metro suicides in one day was very rare, but suicide in Santiago was not uncommon.
We were a long way from home and the lines for the few buses running back to town quickly became mass confusion. We decided to share an Uber with our wine-tasting sidekicks and squeezed into a little Renault for the hour drive back to the city. The tall, former professional basketball-playing Brazilian spoke English, Portuguese, and Spanish and was a big sports fan so he bantered about the NBA and soccer with both Michael and the driver while his lady friend and I dozed.
On our final night in Santiago we went out with our hosts Macarena and her partner Romani. It was a nine o’clock start and we considered setting an alarm since by then we would have had dinner, watched the news, played a game and been ready for bed and books. If nothing else, Latin America is keeping us from becoming jammy-clad geezers! And, once you’re out it is easy to stay out, so we rolled back home it was almost midnight (gasp). Fortunately we didn’t have to be at the airport the next day until noon.
Now we have two major Latin American cities under our belt, and we are in the middle of our time in Buenos Aires. I know that we will not get the full measure of any of our 5 destinations by only visiting their capitals, but we are starting to understand the complex and often history and culture as we travel. As for Chile, I hope we return to that narrow bean of a country someday to visit the Patagonian wilderness at it’s southern tip and marvel at the famous Chilean sky.
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads
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