From Santiago to Valparaiso (Two Funky Neighbourhoods & The House of A Poet)
Chile felt like the beginning of a whole new trip.
By the time we got there, we’d spent four months backpacking.
Two weeks in Cuba had given way to three weeks in Colombia, followed by three weeks in Ecuador, most of which was The Galapagos Islands, onwards for five weeks hiking all of Peru, before spending three weeks traversing all the terrain Bolivia had to offer.
Landing in Santiago was an abrupt change.
Feeling like we’d stumbled across a European portal, we spent our first few nights in the funky neighbourhood of Bellavista.
By this stage, we had a ‘new place’ routine that went something like: Check in, drop packs, scope out current abode, head out to explore surroundings.
There’s nothing I like more then stepping out for the first time in a new place, when everything is fresh.
Bellavistas streets were lined with restaurants spilling chairs of every kind (except the white plastic ones we’d seen up north) out onto the sidewalks.
Every second door down, lit up bars thumped, pumped or floated music out onto crowded avenues. It got busier when we stepped into Patio Bellavista, the main hub of bars, restaurants, cafes, ice creams stores, shops - you name it, it's got it - in the Bellavista neighbourhood.
By the time we moved to an Air B’n’B in Lastarria, we felt quite rugged in our backpacking clothes, so the next morning we went shopping along the tree lined avenues.
Although that may be a direct comparison on moving from a hostel to an AirBnB, where our host, a tall, olive skinned man with a penchant for polished dress shoes, educated us on human rights in the LGBT community.
In between cafes, we popped into boutique shops selling unique clothing from local designers. We perused alleyways lined with art stalls that sold jewellery, vintage posters and all things velvet - right up to the gilded doors of independent cinema El Biografo.
The result of this excursion was yet another battered, brown parcel of souvenirs (clothes) appearing on our parents doorstep two months later.
A walking tour is one of the best ways to see the a city for the first time. You get accustomed to where everything is, plus you can ask your guide for insider tips.
If you like seafood, you'll love Mercado Central. We weaved down rows of stalls where everything from under the sea was available on ice. There's markets for meat, markets for bread, markets for fruit and veg so whatever your palate prefers, you'll be satisfied.
We walked through rows of graves at Santiago's main cemetery, Cemetario General de Santiago , before stopping at one of the bigger monuments for a lesson in Chiles' economic history. Having this in the cemetery was normal we were told, as due to the lack of open green spaces in Santiago, one of Latin Americas biggest cemeteries doubles as a park for residents.
There were quite a few backpackers on that tour flying through Chile faster than the pesos were leaving their wallets. After an agonising decision to leave Patagonia for another trip, we headed north to the graffitied hilltops of Valparaiso.
Valaparaiso’s a muraled maze of a port town on Chiles coast.
The cobbly streets are steep, so in order to get from one part of town up into another, you have to elevate through by way of the citys' funiculars.
Everywhere you turn, colourful alleyways wind up, down or around, all the way to the hilltop home of renowned poet, Pablo Neruda.
While we were there, we took ourselves on a graffiti tour all the way up to La Sebastiana, one of Nerudas' three homes that are now open to the public.
La Sebastiana was abandoned for years until Neruda transformed it.
He reimagined that house into a home of spiralling levels, then filled each one with strange and wonderful things.
By the time we reached the third level, I wanted Neruda as one of my guests for "If you could invite three people to dinner, who'd you choose?"
On our way back down from La Sebastiana, we stopped at the best empanada shop, Delicias Express.
Ha-days expression at the choices on the menu told me we'd be back the next day, while the empanada told me it'd be worth a second visit.
After a healthy dose of culture (hey, those empanadas were vegetarian), we were ready to embrace some of Chiles natural wonders.
Although we weren’t headed all the way into Patagonia, it didn't stop us from booking a bus to it’s doorstep.