Even living abroad can start to settle in after a while, so after two months in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I decided it was time to take a weekend getaway and travel a bit. My chosen destination? Santiago, Chile.
Arriving in Chile was certainly a breath of fresh air from the busy, crowded, loud streets of Rio de Janeiro. As I took my bus through the city, it seemed that almost every store was closed, with very few people wandering the streets. At just 9:00 PM, this came as a startling surprise for me.
The tranquility didn’t subside even during my days in the city. The streets were never quite as crowded and bustling as the streets of Rio, which was honestly a very nice change for me. I enjoyed the peaceful aura and calm nature of the city, and it was a good taste of something new.
After a relaxed arrival night filled with embarrassingly rough portuñol, delicious Peruvian food, and Chilean reserve wine, I finally settled in to the Princesa Insolente Hostel, a colorful, one-of-a-kind, hostel in the middle of Santiago’s historic district. Just a short walk from the República metro station, the hostel’s location is absolutely perfect for exploring around the city. Although my eyes were heavy for a day of studying, packing, and traveling, I was awakened momentarily by the beautiful murals, colors, and textures that line the building’s interiors. Princesa Insolente is quite possibly my favorite hostel I’ve ever stayed in, and I have stayed in a pretty good share of them.
Upon arriving, a friendly, smiling Chilean man, Pablo, met me at the door and explained to me a little bit about the hostel. Even though my Spanish speaking is broken and riddled with Portuguese sounds and words, I could understand surprisingly well. I guess (read: hope) learning Spanish a second time will prove much easier than the first. At the hostel, I was shocked to meet another Filipino, Richie, who was sitting in the lobby upon my arrival. We quickly became friends, along with a sweet Venezuelan girl name Maryori, and although they had already eaten, they decided to accompany me to a nearby restaurant so I could eat something before I went to bed.
Unfortunately, at the time, most every eatery in the area was closed, leaving us few options. Luckily, we stumbled upon a sweet little Peruvian restaurant. I’d never tried Peruvian food before, but I decided it was worth a try (and, I mean, we didn’t have much of another choice). It ended up being delicious! I ordered an estofado, a delicious chicken dish with rice, white beans, and salad. For a first meal here in Santiago, I’d say it was as solid as they come. Richie welcomed me to the hostel my treating me to a delicious bottle of red Chilean reserve wine, the night turning from a bare-bones backpacker’s story to a feast for plenty. We toasted to new friends and my first night at the hostel, an incredible first night that basically surfaced out of nothing. Life on the road certainly surprises us more often than not.
The rest of the night was spent watching a cunning Frenchman, Sergio, dazzle us with card tricks in the hostel’s kitchen, the smells of toasted bread and red wine filling the air. Pablo even joined us eventually. We laughed together, watching mind-blowing magic and speaking to each other with accents from around the world. It was a great night, to say the least. I fell asleep that night with happiness in my soul. After all, I’m back to my traveling groove, and even though I now live abroad, I can’t say I didn’t miss the feeling of going hostel-to-hostel, meeting people on the road from all walks of live doing all kinds of things.
Out of pure luck (or maybe lack thereof), I happened to make it to Chile in the middle of Santiago’s fiestas patrias, humongous festivals celebrating the country’s military forces. So, after getting a good night’s rest, I prepared myself to brave the multi-thousand person crowds at General O’Higgins Park. And, as always, it came as a huge surprise. First, the air was full of smoke – not from fireworks, firearms, or anything military-related, but because of the various fondas at the festival which served traditional Chilean food. What a pleasant surprise!
Cheap, quick, and delicious, the fondas were a wonderful way to learn more about Chilean cuisine, street food, and to, of course, practice my Spanish. Additionally, booths sold souvenirs, clothing, and kites, a tradition for children in Chile on September 19. For lunch I ate a delicious ceviche, something that’s harder to come by in the streets of Brazil.
After walking through the booths for a little while, we watched the military parade. Marching bands, fancy cars, and majestic horses showcased all of the grandeur of Chile’s military. It was truly a spectacle I will never forget. During the shows, I met a sweet Chilean women, Patrícia, and her thirteen-year-old daughter, Michell. After talking for less than an hour, they’d invited me into their home and offered to host me the next time I come to Chile. They say people in South America are nice, but nothing could have prepared me for just how nice that they would be.
Admittedly, after the long day at the festival, it was nice to have this particular hostel to go back to in the evening, because the staff and guests here extremely accommodating and are always up for a nice, friendly chat. Tonight, we pooled our resources together to celebrate our friend Jae’s last day in Chile, getting so much food we were stuffed to the brim and toasting yet again to new friends and crossing paths. Of course, deep conversation ensued after our generous helpings of rice and meat. The air here is cold, and the occasional sniffle and sneeze escapes my nose. And of course, the language barriers have left me, at the end of the day, mentally exhaused and linguistically confused. And although you might not find Santiago on every ‘top things to do in South America‘ list, it has definitely been worth the visit so far.
Muchas gracias, Chile, for welcoming me into your country with open arms.
Special thanks to Pricesa Insolente Hostel for hosting me during my stay in Santiago. All opinions, observations, and descriptions are entirely my own.