4. Santiago & Valparaiso: A tale of two cities and a lot of food!

Without realising that snow had closed the border between Mendoza and Santiago four days ago, we arrived at the bus station happy and carefree…ignorance really is bliss! Luckily, 5-hours of uncertain but picturesque border “queuing” later, we managed to squeeze through and make it to Santiago just in time for Friday night kiddish at the Israelita Circle of Santiago (conservative shul in Santiago).

The shul was big, buzzing and incredibly beautiful. It was built only 5 years ago and was designed with a huge amount of Jewish symbolism and purpose.  Once past the rather strict security, the mix of metal, stone, wood and water feature, created an extremely modern feel; the views of the Andes through the large glass walls were also stunning.

Photo from Google images as was shabbat/chag when we there.

From the second we arrived, the community was so welcoming and friendly. Our visit was frequently (and embarrassingly for us reserved Brits) publicly announced mid-way through services and often included blessings for our future children (#lol)! In true Chilean style, dinner at Rabbi Ari Segal’s house (one of the three Rabbis who huge thanks must go to for being our shul guide and translator) didn’t start until 10pm but was delicious. They really did make us feel part of their community throughout Shabbat and Shavuot and, whilst amusingly I did have to decline the offer to be their fourth Rabbi, we’d both love to return sometime.
From shul to shore, we spent a day wandering the streets of the coastal town of Valparaiso with Free Walking Tour guide and comic extraordinaire Alvero G. Now a brightly coloured quirky mishmash of a town, Valparaiso was originally a shipping port for Santiago and was never intended to be a town of it’s own.

Alvero brought the mass of street art to life as well as introducing us to some tasty (although gluten-filled) local delicacies. The alfajores (biscuits filled with Dolce de leche and covered in chocolate) were tempting but it was the empenadas (fried pastries filled with cheese/meat/veggies) which were too good to miss even for a glutard like myself.

Who can resist a steaming hot deep fried cheese, olive and mushroom pastry pocket?! This was of course all washed down with a Pisco sour (local liquor made from grapes) – delicious!

As Santiago is somewhat bigger than Valparaiso, and as I’d finally run my first 5k of the trip, we decided a bus tour would be a good way to see a lot of the city in a short space of time. This however turned out to be an expensive day of traffic jams and endless waiting whilst stranded at remote bus stops. The next day I channeled my inner Uncle Jona and, under the pretence of being a disgruntled travel journalist (does this blog count?), insisted on a refund.

Feeling elated that our dastardly plan had actually worked, we merrily joined free walking tour #2 guided by Franco, which was much improved and cheaper than the bus tour and to our surprise validated our last blog post title! Although no-one is entirely sure where the country name originated, our favourite of the many theories was that Chile actually does mean chilly; the Inca found this land freezing compared to the tropical north and in the Inca language, Chile literally means chilly.

Whilst wandering the streets and sites of Santiago, Franco took us through the roller coaster history of Chile from Spanish invasions to military coups, and to the darker side of Chilean history which until 20 years ago had been completely removed from the history books. In the 1920s, the Chilean government discovered Patagonia (the very south of Chile) was rich in natural resources and decided they wanted control. They began a campaign to exterminate the indigenous populations and sadly many cultures were completely wiped out.

From the sad to the bizarre, Chile generally has bad coffee, but beware when searching for a decent espresso. A few decades ago, a creative business woman came up with an “innovative” idea to sell more coffee. Whilst she couldn’t improve the quality of the coffee, she decided the next best thing would be to employ women and have them dress provocatively. This worked and the “Cafe con piernas” (coffee with legs) industry is still going strong today; the female equivalent “coffee with 3 legs” proved much less popular probably due to the horrendous name!

Liv’s favourite site was the funicular (the name says it all) at San Cristobal Hill which rises high above the rest of Santiago and has a giant 14m high statue of the Virgin Mary dedicated to the immaculate conception.

For me, a real highlight of Santiago was the food. After finding kosher meat and amazing fish and in the supermarket, we proceeded to eat like kings. From salmon green Thai curry and satay chicken to lomo beef steak accompanied by a variety of crazy new fruit/veg (some good and some not so great), and of course some delicious Chilean red wine.

With our bellies full it was time to fly from Santiago to Salvador to begin the Brazilian part of our travels. Had we known what we know now though, we never would have booked that flight! More on that in the next blog post…


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