More hills to hike


  • Rio – Santiago
  • Recover from Carnaval

As you may have guessed, my body was in dire need of recovery come my time in Santiago. I needed water, sleep, vegetables, vitamin C and exercise, in that order. Leaving Rio was relatively easy (other than following signs to “passport office” which took me to the other terminal and realising immigration was in fact right next to where I checked in initially). What’s very frustrating is that aeroplanes seem to only serve chocolate-based puddings that I cannot eat. Damn you 2017 resolution. Still, I’ve stuck to it so far. We also flew in over the Andes and seeing the mountains was breathtaking, so I’ll let them off.

I paid for a transfer minibus from the airport to my hostel. I’d heard horror stories of Santiago airport and forcing transfers upon you but I had no trouble at all. I arrived at the door of La Chimba hostel in one piece and had actually very friendly company in the taxi. The lady who checked me in was also called Gabriela (note 1 ‘l’ out here) and wanted to hear all about Carnaval.

Since I’d landed in the evening and it was already 7.30pm, I went for a short wonder to find ATMs and a supermarket. The ATMs were located inside the Bella Vista Patio. Bella Vista is the more bohemian area of Santiago and where my hostel was. This patio and its surrounding block held most of the nightlife and restaurants and had quite a buzz about it. Another time and in another frame of mind I would have jumped at the opportunity to spend a night out there. But alas, my body essentially ran away from the sight of a party!

Back at the hostel I attempted to cook the chorizo and sweet potato hash with egg on top that I consider to be one of my staple dishes. However, I had overestimated Chile’s grocery supplies and ended up with a mix of vegetables, mashed potato and hot dog sausages with an egg on top! But I did make enough for 4 meals so that would feed me for the rest of my time in Santiago.

The hostel was offering free Sangria that evening. I went to say hello to people but steered clear of the alcohol. Some of the guys retreated to the TV room to watch ‘The Last King of Scotland’ so I joined them and then went off to bed. I also used my early night to complete some life admin including booking my salt flats tour, deciding where to go next and how to get there, and contacting my Machu Pichu tour providers.

The next day was a very exciting one because I was going shopping! I’d managed to lose a fair few items of clothes during my last wash in Paraty, including underwear, so I needed to replace them. Santiago is home to the Costanera Centre a.k.a. the largest mall in South America. An additional bonus is that they offer up to 25% discount for tourists, depending on the shop, because we don’t have to pay taxes. Sadly, Chile isn’t dirt cheap so it was much similar to student discounted UK prices but still, every little helps!

Returning to the hostel with my new purchases, I set about finding something to do that afternoon. I wasn’t in Santiago for long and knew I needed to go up Cerro San Cristobal (San Cristobal hill) to see the view across the city. There are a few options to summit this hill: funicular, cable car, or hike. Well since I’d had my water, a bit of sleep and vegetables already, it seemed like a good opportunity to get the exercise in! The hike consisted of either an easier, slower route, or a much steeper, quicker one.

Initially, I planned to take an hour walking the slow path and winding around the mountain but something inside me urged me on to the steeper path once I actually got to the base of the hill. For this I was grateful as I got a right sweat on powering my way to the top. There were a few crazy people running up (in another head space I probably would have too), lots of mountain bikers, and a few just out for a hike, like me. I stopped a few times to take in the view and catch my breath. However, I thought the route was a really great uphill hike if you don’t want it to last too long and don’t mind attacking the gradient.

No one had described to me just what the view from above would be like. It wasn’t quite on the scale of Rio, because there weren’t the iconic landmarks of Rio’s. But what I hadn’t expected was the city to be completely encircled by the Andes mountains. It was remarkable and quite stunning. The city just spread out in the plain of the mountain range, which towered over behind.

It was also a very surreal experience because there is a cemetery/memorial garden and religious area on top of San Cristobal where you must be silent. Essentially, you sit in silence in this garden area whilst some hymns play and you look out over a spectacular view. There’s something quite benevolent about it all. What is it about views that make you understand the belief in a deity?!

I had planned to get the funicular back down but couldn’t be bothered to queue or pay. I decided to take the longer route to walk back instead. I think I probably took a wrong turn because I ended up in the middle of a nature park on the back side of the hill, and wondered through the woods until I found a main pathway. I still then had to walk 3 kms back to the hostel but embraced the exercise.

Yet again, my evening consisted of my mashed potato creation and Netflix. This time the boys were watching ‘Shutter Island’ so I’d certainly had my fix of good films whilst in Santiago. I know it sounds like I was highly unsociable whilst here but I genuinely relished the few days in my own company. I spoke to various people around the hostel that I’d frequently bump in to, but since I was having a boring few days, I didn’t want to force that upon anyone else!

For my last day in Santiago I was going to do the walking tour. I’d woke up feeling extremely ill and not really up to it so instead, I walked myself to La Moneda Palacio (where the president lived), Plaza Arenas (the main square with cafes, restaurants, and other touristy stuff), and Centrale Mercado (a giant indoor market with stalls selling cheese, meat, fish, etc’). I found them actually to be slightly underwhelming but at least I got out and about in the city. Santiago struck me as a very European city, so perhaps it’s no wonder that I wasn’t so enticed by it because I’m so used to it.

When I returned to my hostel, I packed up my bags and head out to flag down a cab to the bus station. It would have been 10x cheaper to get the metro but as I said, I really was feeling ill and I just wanted to get there without hassle. The bus station itself was a pretty easy feat. I did have to purchase my ticket to Valparaiso and then Valparaiso to San Pedro de Atacama in Spanish, but surprised myself at how smoothly this went! And then I was off on to my next stop in Chile: Valparaiso.

A short but sweet amount of time spent in Santiago but enough to see what I wanted to. In some ways I wish I’d got to do a hike in the Andes here but I was en route to the Atacama desert where I’ll be hiking every day so it didn’t matter too much.

So, 127 days in to ‘life from a bag’ and so far, my calf muscles are getting a great work out and I’ve seen some spectacular views. Although Chile is my country of rest and exercise, I really enjoyed my few days in Santiago. I’m on the mend!

Gabby x


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