The Santiago Valley is home to one third to one half of the Chilean population. It is also the main wine growing region in Chile. The valley is sandwiched between the Andes and the coastal mountains, and is a dry desert like climate, known to have hazy smoggy skies, especially in the summer months. It is also vey modern, with a new subway system, network of buses and generally feels more North American than Latin.
A good bet for accommodation is using the VRBO website, which we did, and landed us an apartment in Los Leones, a prime area of the downtown district, near a lot of restaurants, shopping areas and transportation connections.
Our main focus was wine tasting. Research ahead of time lead us to explore Bocanariz wine bar and a few others. Bocanariz, run by a Chilean, Catherine, who studied in the US for many years, featured 350 wines from Chile, with 30 of them organized into 10 flights. These paired with various appetizers formed the basis of three of our meals. WE were also shown the wine cellar, below the bar, which housed the precious liquids.
The past 40 years has been fairly tumultuous in Chilean history. The overthrow of Allende by Pinochet, resulted in the disappearance of many thousands of people. These stories are now being told in the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. The concrete and glass structure contains three floors of newspaper clippings, videos and other news items from the 1970s and 1980s, as well as a wall with names and pictures of the people that were known to have disappeared in this time.
Present day Chile is still known to have the occasional protest and strike. We got caught up in a student protest, demanding lower tuition fees for University students. This peaceful demonstration turned a bit violent, when the police started using tear gas to disperse the crowd. We were quite close to this action and could smell the tear gas that was less than a kilometer away.
One of the benefits of travelling in the southern Autumn is the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. Santiago’s main fruit and vegetable market had a wide range of local fruits, including blueberries and raspberries, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Surprisingly the prices were not that much cheaper than the prices we pay in Vancouver for our local produce in season. The other food that we ate was also excellent, and continued our gastronomic experience form San Pedro and Easter Island.
One of the more unusual discoveries that we made was the concept of a “Café with Legs”, a coffee shop/hostess bar. We were informed of this on a three hour city tour that we took one afternoon. Apparently, the coffee shops have female servers, wearing miniskirts who serve the coffee to the mostly male patrons. Then the shop is closed for one minute, and supposedly anything goes within that minute!
As part of our wine tasting experience, we visited two wineries. Indomita and Undurraga. Both are in the Casablanca region, which is more known for whites. However, both wineries grow grapes in other regions that are more suited for red production. Unduragga offered an English tour of the vineyard, including a look at the soil sample bunker, which had a bus shelter sized trench about 6 ft deep showing the profile of the soil and root system. I had never seen this before, and it was certainly an education. 95% of the Chilean wine is exported, as Chileans are not big wine drinkers. We had a lot of very good wine that was reasonably priced during the 5 days we were in Santiago.
We spent many hours exploring different neighbourhoods in Santiago. There was an abundance of street art in every area that we visited. The Bellavista neighbourhood had a lot of small eateries and bars, including the wine bars. Rosa’s ice cream shop was a daily stop when we were in that area of the city. The subway system was easy to navigate, clean and safe, and provided an inexpensive way to get around the city.
Modern art was also well represented in Santiago, at the Museum of Bella Artes and the Contemporary Art Museum. The exhibits ranged from hand drawn sketched portraits that looked like black and white photographs, to the Dialogues and Traces exhibit of interwoven shirts by the Finnish artist Kaarina Kaikkonen, which occupied the better part of the main rotunda in the museum.
Santiago is on a plateau inland about 70km from the Pacific. Its main port is in Valparaiso, the largest port on the westcoast of South America. Valparaiso shares the bay with Vina Del Mar, the “Miami Beach” of Chile, which is more like a resort than a real city. Valparaiso is filled with colorful buildings, more street art, lots of small restaurants and bars, and has a laid back feel compared to Santiago. The city is built on the slope of the hill leading to the water, and is very picturesque.
We capped our stay in Santiago with a visit to the W Hotel bar. The main one on the top floor was closed for renovations, but the one on the 4th floor made the best Pisco Sour that I had on the entire trip.
This brought us to the end of a great experience in Chile, filled with great food, scenery, history and culture.