Like many of you, I’ve had a pent up wanderlust thing going on lately. I did get to go to Guatemala earlier this year, but since then I haven’t been able to get away. So, my husband and I decided to take a quick trip to South America, since we haven’t been there too much. Our original plan was to spend 4 days in Santiago, Chile (and surrounding area) then head to Argentina. We had to call an audible right before the trip and make a change, but we still headed to Santiago. I had an interesting time, including experiencing my first earthquake!
Getting to Santiago
The plane trip was easy. I fly out of the Memphis airport, which basically is a feeder airport for Atlanta (if flying Delta,) or Dallas (if flying American.) On the outbound trip we took Delta, and had a reasonably comfortable overnight trip. The flight left Atlanta at 10:30 pm, and we arrived at around 7:30 local time in Santiago. This is one good reason to go to South America, you won’t fight jet lag near as much as traveling to Europe. Santiago is on the same time as Eastern Time, so only one hour ahead of my normal CST. On all of the flights we took in South America, the baggage claim was exceedingly fast, which was very nice.
A cab ride got us to our hotel. I wish I could say pleasant cab ride, but we had a very angry and aggressive driver. Not at us, but at everyone else on the road who was in his way. I will say we probably arrived at our hotel in half the expected time for a more composed cab driver. After our heart rates calmed down, we checked in to the hotel. We stayed at the Singular Hotel in downtown Santiago, and the hotel staff was some of the nicest we have ever encountered while traveling. The downtown area however, is a great disappointment. While we felt safe, graffiti covered almost every inch of the city area. Hundreds, and I mean hundreds, or people were selling anything from trinkets to socks to knock-off cloths on almost every inch of walkway. Other parts of the city looked better, but only marginally. Very sad.
When we travelled, the exchange rate was an astounding 851 chilean pesos for 1 USD. Yep, you got that right. I changed out $300 USD, and got back 250,000 or so pesos. Prices are insanely cheap there as well. A dinner that would easily cost $100 USD would go for around $30 USD there. Of course, there’s a difference in quality to take into account as well. To be closer to a good comparison, a Starbucks costing $6 USD would, for better quality coffee, cost about $1.85 to 2.50 there.
We took a one day trip to Valparaiso, a port city, and important to the commerce of Chile. Valparaiso is a small flat area surrounded by large hills, where most of the residents live. The business center is in the “plains” as the locals term it. We booked a tour with FoodyChile and had a very nice guide, Andy. In addition to seeing the city, we walked up hills and down hills, then up some more hills, then up some more hills, then down a hill or so, then up some more hills. I was over the hills. Still, it was a very nice tour and Andy was quite knowledgable about the area and the history.
Wine and Food
After a trip to the Central Market (read more below,) we decided to have lunch at our hotel. We had a good meal, including one of the best oysters I’ve ever had. Fresh pacific oysters topped with a Citrus Foam and jalapeño essence. It was truly a delicious bite. We also had a beef stroganoff presentation that was unique, and featured micro vegetables and whipped sweet potatoes. Calling it beef stroganoff might have been a stretch, but it was very well made and delicious.
On the way to Valpraiso, we stopped at an artisan winery, BodegasRe. Amazing. They make wine in a very traditional way but with a modern blend. We sampled 4 wines, and they were all terrific. My favorite was what they termed an “orange wine,” where white wine grapes are used but skins and pits are fermented along with the juice, as in how a red wine is made. It gave the wine the most beautiful orange hue, and it had amazing flavor. The best thing they had, however, was a red wine vinegar. Now, most red wine vinegars are very tart, and have a “wang” for lack of a better term. Vinaigrettes using them need a bit of honey or sweetener to tame down the flavor. This vinegar was on par with some of the better balsamics from Italy that I’ve had. It was delicious with just a piece of simple bread dipped in it. Gosh, I could have some with literally every meal.
Other foods we had were the famous empanadas pinos, or beef and onion empanadas. For some reason, a tradition in chili is to put 1 olive in their empanadas, with the pit. I don’t get it, I think it’s probably some kind of joke to play on foreigners to see if they’ll break a tooth. But, they do that so be warned. Another thing they put on or in almost every dish, a hard boiled egg. Now, imagine a wholesome, filling dish such as Pastel de Choclo, which is a traditional corn based, baked dish with chicken, or beef, or both. You make it in a ceramic pot, then you bake it. Before you bake it, you stick in some pieces of hard boiled egg. So now, that egg has turned to a rubbery texture when the dish is cooked. It just doesn’t make sense, but I’m a believer in you like what you grew up with. I’m just warning y’all that if you didn’t grow up with twice-cooked hard boiled eggs in things (or olives with pits,) be careful.
4 Meals a Day?
I find when I travel that many other countries eat much later than we generally do. I’m an early riser, usually 4 or so in the morning, as I can get a lot of work done without interference. My best friend, Mr. Coffee Pot, bears no ill will for getting him up early, either. Not so in other countries, and it always throws me for a loop. Many Chileans get up late, have breakfast and lunch, like normal. A coffee shop may open at 9 am. What? You’re a coffee shop, get up and get those beans to grinding, man! Then, they have an afternoon snack called “once,” around 4 or 5. Then, dinner starts around 8 to 10 pm. That’s like hours after my bedtime! One thing, if I ever retire in South America or Italy, I’ll be saving the buckeroos with all the early bird specials! Just kidding, they don’t have those because many restaurants close from 5 pm until 7 pm if they open for lunch, or just open for dinner at 7 pm. Plan accordingly.
Another note, when a menu mentions “Italiano,” they in no way are referring to Italian flavors. They are referring to coating said item in mashed avocado, tomatoes, and usually a thin, home-made mayo- the colors of the Italian Flag. When I say coating it, I mean it. They believe in condiments. Bread is served at almost every meal with “Pebre” or salsa. This can range from a mild salsa closely resembling pico de Gallo, to a fiery concoction similar to a hot pepper salsa. The best one we had was in Valparaiso, and it was so hot you couldn’t quit eating it, if you know what I mean.
Alpacas Save the Day
So, honestly, my trip to Chile was not going so great. I was a bit disappointed with the food, I experienced my first earthquake (a 5.3 Richter scale. We were in bed, and I thought my husband was having a seizure until all the glasses and tables started shaking. He simply put his arm over me and said “earthquake” and immediately went back to sleep. What the heck.). But, on our final day in Chile we headed on a tour to the largest, privately owned Alpaca farm in Chile. I wanted to bring them all home! They are truly amazing creatures, and I won’t get into everything here, but please investigate them. This farm raises, breeds, shears, and creates amazing garments from 100% pure Alpaca wool.
I am a believer in artisan-made products, but the care that goes into these animals, and the many, many steps to create the most amazing garments rivals any food producer in the world. I was truly stunned at the different steps it takes to make a garment (of which they make at the site themselves. If you have the opportunity, visit their site and help support people who love what they do. There is no amount of money that one could make that would make it worth it to put in that much work for a garment. These animals, depending on type, are sheared once a year or once every three years. The wool is separated- belly wool, leg wool, etc, depending on grade. I’m just in awe of the skill and work it entails. Plus, they are the cutest thing I’ve ever seen (she leaves them a little “mop top” hairdo after shearing. OMG!)
The Central Market
Many cities have a large, “central market” where you can buy fresh produce, fresh meats and fish, prepared meals, and much more. I truly enjoyed my trip to the central market in Guatemala, and the market in Florence Italy is amazing as well. Umm, don’t go out of your way for the one in Santiago. Most of the fruit vendors are outside the building just selling normal bananas, etc. Inside the market, fish. and not good, fresh fish. Fish stacked up high, with no ice to be found (yes, it was chilly weather but it wasn’t “keep the fish fresh weather.” The smell was terrible and the fish was not fresh. Skip it. Thank goodness I went through the market before I decided to eat at one of the many seafood restaurants around the market, because, yuck. I was going to take pictures in the market, but we decided to exit, stage right at our first opportunity.
Is Visiting Chile Worth It?
I’ll give this a “it depends.” One, I was there for a short time, and I don’t want to make any long-term judgements when I couldn’t really experience the country enough. I will tell you some of the scenery is downright breathtaking, with the snow-capped Andes on one side and the smaller xxxx mountain range on the other. I would really need more of a local guide to hold my hand through the country for a better food experience. If you are a wine connoisseur, there are some amazing wineries there, and you’re just a quick 2 hour plane ride from Mendoza, the heart of Argentine Wine country, so you could have a pretty awesome wine tour. I like wine, but prefer a more robust Italian than what I sampled there. My husband hates dry wines, and he loved the wines at BodegasRe, and that’s certainly no slight against them (I ordered cases to be shipped to my house- it was that good.) The other side, is if you can find a cheap flight, your money goes a long way there. And the people are appreciative of even (relative to the US) small tips.
I took two tours, and would heartily recommend both of the tours and the tour companies (links highlighted above.)
Unlike a lot of Europe, English is not spoken much except in the better hotels or a special guide. So if you go, get to know google translate, or brush up on the Spanish.
Remember, Get out there and Eat the World!
*Please note: Many “influencers” or bloggists accept discounts or freebies to travel and write posts. I absolutely do not, and travel on my own dime for the experience and the flavor of the country I’m visiting. So, all the views are my own, and, although I try to be positive, I’ll also let you know the cons to certain areas as well.