This is the fourth in a series of articles documenting the Sharing the Point South America 2012 Tour, sponsored by Fpweb.net and AvePoint.
“Your plane has crashed down. We have had to cancel the flight.”
These were the words we heard when reaching the checkout counter at the airport, before leaving from Montevideo, Uruguay for our flight to Santiago, Chile. It seems there was something lost in translation. Fortunately, “Your plane has crashed down” only means “There is a mechanical failure and the plane has been taken off the schedule.”
While it was a relief to get that worked out, the dilemma was now how are we going to get to Santiago? Option one: Rent a van and drive 12 to 14 hours through the mountains at night. Not a great choice, but available as a last resort. Option two: Find a private plane and charter the flight. Not viable at all on our budget. Option three: Stand at the counter, holding up the entire line at the airport until the attendant found us seats on the next available flight.
At first, that didn’t look like it was going to work, but we were persistent and with the blessing of a group of nuns standing in line right behind us, we were able to book a late night flight, arriving in Santiago about 1:00am.
Arriving in Santiago
I’ve never seen the guys pass out so quickly as on that flight to Santiago. The two days in Uruguay were catching up with us as we landed and headed for the hotel. Even though we were all sluggish, we needed food immediately.
Walking the streets of Santiago at 2:00am is quite an adventure. Ricardo was worried about us as we wandered, looking for anything that was open. After a 25 minute walk, in which we were introduced to the idea of friendly wild dogs following us through the streets in hope of scraps, we found our way to a local greasy spoon that served us one of the country’s traditional, local dishes: the Chilean hot dog. It starts with a large, soft bun filled with Vienna sausages, smothered with chopped tomatoes, guacamole, all smothered in an entire jar of mayonnaise. From the image below, it looks like there is something else dripping off the sides, but you get the idea.
This was an interesting setting for our introduction to Santiago; a late night diner filled with characters from a Midnight Cowboy set. As we were to discover in the coming days, there was much more to the city than what little we could find at 3:00 in the morning.
The next morning, we were greeted in the breakfast room by Marina, who would be our escort for the day. Having traveled through Asia, and now parts of South America with this crew, I didn’t envy her position. We’re pretty strong-willed when it comes to seeing an area. We’re insistent that we don’t want to do the tourist things. We want to see the local culture and get off the beaten track. That said, our first stop of the day was a quick tour of the Cerro San Cristóbal, highest point in Santiago and one of the premier tourist spots in the city.
At the peak was a gorgeous little chapel, hidden with a grove of trees, with an interior of handmade reliefs made from concrete. I have never seen anything like it.
The ride down the hill was novel. When we were previously in China for last year’s Sharing the Point Tour, at the Great Wall, Dux, John and I had tobogganed down the side of the mountain in what looked like a handmade metal tube. Here in Santiago, we took the funicular down, which means we all jumped into something that looked like a coal car with a hood, and were rolled down the hill on a set of cables and rails. Like I said, pretty novel.
After that, it was time for lunch. It was another one of those “We want to go HERE!” moments and our hosts wanted us to go “THERE!”. As we were driving to the fish market, we passed what looked like a huge open air fruit and vegetable market in the allies and streets along the way. We were all hollering for her to pull over, but nope, Ricardo had been very specific, telling her “The gringos will always want to do something dangerous. Keep to the plan, don’t stop and don’t let them out of the car.” In this case it turned out to be an incredible experience.
For those of you who have been to Seattle’s Pike’s Market, the Santiago fish market would dwarf that by a scale of ten. It would be hard to explain the size, so I’ll leave it to your imagination and show you a shot of the size and quality of the fish we saw.
To the right of the fish market is restaurant row. I was talking to the manager of one of the places and he said Anthony Bourdain had eaten there… twice. We had had luck following Bourdain’s trail while in Manila, so we figured it was a pretty safe bet. As it turns out, it was probably the best meal of the entire trip. I’ve got an entire photo album about the foods of Chile with this restaurant featured in a lot of the shots, but I’ll let the manager of Donde Augusto explain for himself why you should eat at his restaurant.
After such a meal, where we tasted virtually every dish in the case, we were scheduled to do our sessions. Little did we know, the location was to be one of the most spectacular views we could have, overlooking the entire city of Santiago. The elevator opened to a small hallway, leading to a large auditorium with multiple screens. A speaker’s lounge was located next to a terrace with a perfect view of the mountains surrounding Santiago.
But I think by that time we had pretty much burned out Ricardo. Most of the audience needed to have a translator in order to understand our session, so Ricardo volunteered to do all of them, live, in real time. By the time we got to the end, his voice was shot and he was exhausted. He’s a remarkable guy who went well beyond what was expected on the tour.
We ended the day with dinner at a local restaurant serving regional Chilean food. As he had done the entire tour, Ricardo was the consummate host, taking care of all arrangements. His team of helpers for the day came along and we were able to get to know them a little better before we headed off to bed back at the hotel. We were supposed to fly out the next day but were determined to get to the open air markets we had seen on the way to the fish market.
The next morning was a beautiful day for walking. After saying good-bye to John, who had to catch his flight back to the States, Paul, Michael, Joel and I backtracked our drive from the day before and found ourselves immersed in a food culture like we had never experienced.
Let’s start with the basics. I’m a foodie. Some of the fondest travel memories I have are of walking through a vegetable market in Segovia, Spain, eating fresh made noodles as the base of the Great Wall, sleuthing through the streets of Paris in search of the perfect soufflé, tracking down local food in Dubai, eating fresh apples off a wagon in Corsica, or eating a simple breakfast of tortillas and quail eggs with a local family in the hills of Mexico. But none of those experiences prepared me for what we saw at the open market in Chile.
It would seem like an exaggeration if I told you all that we saw, so I’ll let Michael and Joel give you a brief overview as we walk through the marketplace:
I had always been curious as to why most of the food markets in New York City had produce, vegetables and fruits from Chile instead of Mexico during the winter. Now I know. We had found the heart of the local food culture in Santiago, the one that supplies the wholesale markets for the rest of the world.
There was a plane to catch, but we were still infatuated with all that was going on around us. We spent another hour walking the city, discovering other nooks and crannies that had us all agreeing that we want to spend more time in Santiago. But now it was time to make the jump to Punta Arenas for our scheduled flight down to Antarctica, the centerpiece of our tour.
Please stay tuned for more stories of exciting adventure from the Sharing the Point South America Tour. Yet to come in the series:
- Sharing the Point: King George Island, Antarctica
- Sharing the Point: Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina