Santiago, Chile

A bit of a haphazard collection of photographs from Santiago, Chile. But then I guess, it’s a bit of a haphazard city. From the beautiful and quiet tree lined streets of the Providencia neighbourhood, to the chaos of downtown Santiago and La Vega Central; the backwater, yet interesting markets of El Persa Bio Bio; the bohemian atmosphere of Bellavista; the green and relaxing Park Forestal and the expansive views over the city from Cerro Santa Lucia. Santiago is a city of contrasts and is often compared unfavourably to its ‘better-to-do’ cousin, Buenos Aires. Initially, I was a bit disappointed with Santiago, I guess I was expecting something more. But looking back, I actually quite liked the vibe of the city and I wish I could have spent more time there to get to know it better and appreciate it more. Spending only a day and a half there + a night, didn’t give enough it justice. I’d very much like to go back, for a least a week I suppose, so I can more deeply inhale Santiago and get a better feel for the city (as well as indulging once again in the INCREDIBLE – it deserves capital letters – ice-cream at Emporio la Rosa).

The first few nights of my stay in Santiago was spent in a lovely hostel, Hostal Romandia  www.romandia.cl in the Providencia neighbourhood of Santiago. This quiet residential neighbourhood, is characterised by its middle-class housing and wide tree-lined streets. The only problem we had was its considerable distance from the centre (although it is a walkable distance, it does take close to an hour) and metro stations were few and far between (we weren’t quite game enough to hail down cabs with our pathetic Spanish knowledge – anyway Chilean Spanish is language unto itself). But the hostel was comfortable and very homely – the owner even got up before the crack of dawn to ensure we had breakfast before our early morning flight to Peru – and I mean early, airport shuttle collected us at 4am. We couldn’t believe her kindness and dedication. One word of warning though, as for the upstairs rooms – our room was downstairs – near the kitchen, office and common rooms, and having timber flooring and high ceilings, we could hear everyone walking around and every small sound was echoed. So, we didn’t get much sleep unfortunately.

We spent our first day in Santiago literally walking around the city. We covered so much ground that our feet and legs ached for days (it didn’t help much that we were walking in thongs, rather than supportive walking shoes). We walked from Roman Diaz, up to Providencia, pass Park Forestal (passing Emporio la Rosa, and not being able to find it again, which cause great annoyance!) and El Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. Park Forestal is a lovely and large green park in the middle of the traffic chaos of Santiago – it’s located on the pain highway running from east to west along Santiago. It’s full of families enjoying the sunshine, kids laughing, riding bikes, playing on playground equipment. Being such a built up city, Santiago, surprisingly, has quite a number of large, well-maintained green spaces. Park Forestal being one of the largest and most popular. After a brief stop here relaxing in the shade, we made our way to Mercado Central. The peace and serenity found in Park Forestal, was replaced with mayhem – crowds, people bartering, and not forgetting the putrid smell of fish sitting in the sun (Mercado Central is well-known for its fish market). We bought some amazingly sweet strawberries, they were enormous too, and crossed La Costanera Norte to La Vega markets and Barrio Bellavista. We unfortunately missed the markets at La Vega, as my know it was late afternoon and they were packing up. Barrio Bellavista was interesting, with its bohemian atmosphere, outdoor cafes and graffiti art everywhere. If you’re a fan of graffiti art, I’d recommend you stop by in Santiago on any travels through South America. After seeing all this, walking a great number of kilometres, we were totally and utterly exhausted. On our way back to the hostel,we bought some measly dinner supplies, ate what we could and literarily crashed for the night.

The following morning was spent at the Bio Bio markets, which are located south of the centre, the closest metro station being Franklin. We were out of luck in choosing this particular weekend to spend in Santiago, which was only realise later – we visited on the weekend of All Souls Day – so, being a ‘pious’ Catholic nation, the majority of the population of Santiago took advantage of this long weekend and escaped the city. This had a negative affect on our visit to Bio Bio, as many of the store holders were obviously out of town, so Bio Bio became a bit of a ghost town. I was rather looking forward to perusing through the markets. But I guess it was not to be. A friend of mine who lives in Santiago took us out to lunch that day and took us to Emporio la Rosa (Yay! We found it again!). And the ice-cream was amazing, and I mean amazing. There were so many flavours which I had not tried before, including lucuma, dulce de leche (a caramel made from condensed milk), platano con miel de palma (banana with palm sugar), castana (chestnut), miel de elmo, esencia de rosa (rose water), the list goes on and on. I have to say, we I think back onto my time in Santiago, the ice-cream at Emporio la Rosa is the first thing that comes to mind. That, and the disturbing number of stray dogs roaming the city. Afterwards, we headed to Cerro Santa Lucia, a beautifully landscaped park which winds up the hill to a lookout point from which we had a panoramic view of the city and the Andean mountains.

I also quite enjoyed the nightlife in Santiago. There are a number of impressive clubs and bars in the Bellas Artes quarter of Santiago. My favourite being The Clinic, mainly due to its interior decoration – the walls are plastered with newspaper clippings, satirical writings and images about Chilean politicians, sports people and celebrities. It has a nice outdoor seating area at the rear, which is great for Sunday afternoon drinks, and the bar kicks on into the wee hours of the morning. The whole quarter is lively in the evenings, with both locals and tourist alike.

And perhaps just a very brief little geography and history lesson about the capital city of Chile. Santiago is located in central Chile, in a bowl shaped valley surrounded by mountains – with the Andes to the east and the Chilean coastal range to the west. Its geographic positioning results in smog and air pollution being trapped in the basin, resulting in high pollution levels. It is the largest and most populous city in Chile, with a population of about 5.5 million people. The city was founded in 1541 by the Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Valdivia. There was great tensions between the colonisers and the indigenous populations, resulting in a three year war. The natives were finally defeated and moved south as a result. The city thrived and in 1817 gained independence from Spain. With waves of immigration, the population boomed, urbanisation thrived and industry moved forward. Today, Santiago is South America’s most metropolitan centre and has made Chile one of the continent’s most affluent nations.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina

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Northern Chile – San Pedro and surrounds

I absolutely adore northern Chile. I could have quite easily stayed there forever. The quaint little desert towns and the ‘out of this world’ landscapes, not to mention the laid-back attitudes and the safe and friendly atmosphere, won my heart. To begin with, we arrive in San Pedro de Atacama, a beautiful little town located in the middle of the Atacama Desert. After the cold weather and high altitudes we experience in the Andes, on Lake Titicaca and on the Uyuni Salt Flats, we were so relieved to be able to walk around in shorts, t-shirts and thongs. We stayed at Hostel Soncheck, http://www.hostalsonchek.cl, where we were able to while away the time basking in the courtyard sun and take relaxing siestas in our simple, yet comfortable room. San Pedro reminded me a bit of Mediterranean Europe in the summer – the same dry air, the same relaxed, yet upbeat, atmosphere, the same feel.

During our stay in San Pedro we visited the nearby Tatio Geysers and Moon Valley. Once again we woke up at a ridiculous hour, 4:30am, and waited for our transport to the geysers. Trying to sleep on the mini-bus on the way was a little impossible, as our guide was a bit of a chatterbox, but extremely funny and good tempered, even at this early hour. We received quite a shock when we exited from the bus – the balmy weather of San Pedro was replaced with temperatures below freezing – not surprising seeing that it is located 4200 metres above sea level. If you do plan to visit the Tatio Geysers, I would definitely recommend rugging up in your winter woolies. Cheryl, my great friend and travel companion, was wearing thongs, as we weren’t expected it to be this cold. Brrrrr. To make-up for the chilly Arctic weather, we were greeted with the amazing sight of the Tatio Geysers. El Tatio is one of the largest geyser fields in the world, as well as one of the most elevated. You must take care where you step, as some of the puddles contain boiling water, heated by the volcanic activity beneath the geysers. It is best to visit the geysers at daybreak, as we did, when the geysers erupt and the hot steam condenses in the bitterly cold air, creating a dramatic effect. Besides seeing the extraordinary geysers, we were also lucky to experience the changing colours and shapes of the desert sunrise, as see in some of my photos beneath. On the way back to San Pedro, we made a short stop at the village of Machuca, where the ancient llama caravans once rested on their travels along the ‘Inca Highway’.

After a afternoon siesta, we headed for Moon Valley, or as it is known in Spanish, Valle de la Luna. This valley, which is located about 15km from San Pedro, transports you to another world, to the moon to be precise. Hence the name. The amazing rock and sand formations, which have been shaped by wind and water, bear a striking resemblance to images of the moon. Or even more precisely, it looks disturbingly similar to the desert planet Tatooine in Star Wars. Being one of the driest places on earth, there are no signs of life – no plants, no animals, no birds, no insects – nothing. We spent the afternoon wandering through the ravines and crevices of the valley, marvelling at the incredible shapes and textures of the rock formations. Just before sunset, we made our way up to one of the peaks in order to witness the incredible light show over the valley. The setting sun created beautiful shadows over the rugged landscape below, enhancing the forms of the crater like shapes. And as we were heading back to San Pedro, I admired the solitary silhouettes of the surrounding volcanos, standing solemnly against the violet sky, as the sun said goodbye.

The village of Machuca

Words and photography by Jade Spadina.

The Uyuni Salt Flat & The Atacama Desert in a 4WD

An amazing three day adventure traveling through the Atacama Desert. No electricity, no internet access, you’re lucky if you can find a proper toilet, freezing temperatures, bumpy roads, or actually lack of roads, driving through endless expanses of nothingless…doesn’t really sound like an ideal trip, does it. But this three day 4WD trip from the small Bolivian town of Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile was a truely unforgettable experience.

Our epic journey actually commenced in La Paz where we boarded an overnight bus to Uyuni. Many people warned us not to take this trip, as the bus travels along a non-existant road in the desert, meaning, firstly it is extremely difficult to get any sleep on such a bumpy ride, secondly buses are known to breakdown in the middle of nowhere making help difficult to find, and lastly, highway robberies are not uncommon. But despite all this, we had a rather non-descript trip to Uyuni and even managed to get a few hours sleep.

After a few hiccups in Uyuni (a desolate, somewhat unexciting town in the centre of the desert – just think empty streets, delapadated buildings, tumble-weed being blown by the dusty wind), including a mad dash to get our Bolivian exit and Chilean entry stamps, a wild goose chase around town to locate our tour provided and being freaked out by a man with a python in a box, we set out in our 4WD with an amazing driver and a fantastic group of people. Over three jam-packed days we saw the rail graveyard of Uyuni, the Salar de Uyuni (the incredible blinding white salt flats of Uyuni), an island overrun by giant cacti in the middle of these salt flats, a number of sulpha lagoons (one of each of the colours red, blue and green – the properties of the minerals found in each location affect the colour of the lagoons) full of elegant flamingos, numerous extinct, a few active volcanos, we had an overnight’s stay in a hotel made entirely of salt, an early morning swim in natural thermal springs, visited the arbol de piedra (a site which influenced the work of Salvador Dali) and saw the spurts of gas from geysers during the few moments before sunrise. We had some good laughs, some delicious food prepared by our superhuman driver/guide/cook/interpreter (I can’t forget that home-made apple pie on day one), made some lasting friendships over a few bottles of wine. All in all, it was definitely one of those ‘one in a lifetime experiences’, although, there’s always the option of doing it all over again.

Our tour providers were Red Planet Expeditions  http://redplanetexpedition.com/, which come highly recommended. All 4WD expeditions include a Spanish/English speaking driver/guide, all meals (and they’re damn good meals at that), simple share accommodation with your tour group, but exclude a few national park entry fees, which are minimal.

Image thanks to Ryan Quiel

Image thanks to Ryan Quiel

Image thanks to Ryan Quiel

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina