Since we hit the markets Tuesday, today the plan was to lean toward culture. Our Air Bnb host told us how to find the area considered more cultural (i.e. less touristy), with lovely neighborhoods and museums. We struck out in that direction, and did not have to try very hard to admire everything we saw.
We walked through the beautiful neighborhoods of obviously wealthy families, on our way to Vega Central. It’s a huge market area, but we were not going to shop; we wanted to see it. We walked along the river, Rio Mapocho, which is a particularly ugly river for a downtown anywhere, and spotted our destination easily from a distance. Vega Central is worth the visit. There is a rather big flower market, next to a very big two-story market, with grocery on the ground floor and mostly clothes on the second floor. I am impressed with how mouth-watering the produce looks. Sometimes markets are just not that appetizing, even if they sell “fresh” food. Here, however, everything tempted me. We bought spiced peanuts and blueberries to munch while we walked.
Outside, surrounding the grocery and stretching for a couple of blocks are street vendors selling vacuum cleaners, strollers, kitchenware, batteries, you name it. If anyone in Santiago needs anything, this is the part of town to get it. The markets are jammed though, with stalls almost in the streets, so you negotiate vendors and wares and traffic and other people, and the occasional stray dog, all while watching where you place your feet (just in case), and it gets overstimulating quickly.
We crossed the river again and came out by the fish market we saw on Tuesday. We had only explored one side of it the first time, today we explored the other side. We had a particular lunch in mind and tried to find a shop that would sell it. As we stood gazing at a menu for Tio Lucho, the proprietor came out to tell us what he thought was most important. He held a magazine of what to do in Santiago, then turned a few pages in and pointed out his establishment. The message being pretty obvious: his was the place to eat. So we tried to explain what we wanted. Empanadas…”oh yes!” he says. “But no,” we continue “empanadas with…” Margaret and I struggled to remember the word for crab. Centolla I thought, but that was the word to describe the King Crab we ate the day before. So M pulled out her phone translator and finally got the word: cangrejo. The proprietor knew right away what we wanted. “Con queso?” he asked. With cheese? So basically, yes, Margaret and I walked into a restaurant at a fish market in Santiago and ordered off menu. Spoiled Americans, anyone? The crab and cheese empanadas were outstanding, and came with two special sauces that the proprietor explained how to apply. As we left, our new Tio told us to consider the place our home.
After we ate, we walked back to the wealthy quiet streets and strolled through more vendors. These sold quality goods, i.e. jewlery, fine art prints, books. We aimed for the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. This building caught our eye earlier in the day, and was a perfect stop for the heat of the afternoon.
Inside we were allowed to take photos of the statuary in the main hall, but not allowed photos of the original oil paintings in the side rooms. The sculptures were of such high quality tht we found ourselves admiring knees and shoulders and feet as much as the whole image. Some of the paintings were outstanding; take my word for it. I fell immediately in love with a small one of a reclining woman smoking, called La Fumadora.
After the museum, in the heat of the afternoon, we went back to the apartment – stopping first at the supermarcadero to pick up a bottle of Chilean wine. We were both tired enough to nap, and sadly, I have never been a person who can nap. I can lie down for an hour, but not sleep. If I lie down long enough to fall asleep, and have to wake up 20 minutes later, I’ll be a bear. Best not to go there! Instead I began a blog post because I didn’t know when I’d have access to Internet again. Margaret reclined, but also did not sleep, and instead carefully plotted out our evening travel.
Refreshed, we went back out into the streets, our third day in Santiago comfortable for us as we had learned so many shortcuts and landmarks. In one corner area, as we went from place to place reading menus and checking prices, we enjoyed a guitar player. He was so good that we stopped in the shade and listened for awhile. I would have been happy to sit there in the shade until he was done, and happy to pay for a personal concert. But it was time to eat.
We settled on a place specializing in coastal dishes from southern Peru and northern Chile. Margaret and I are such fans of the Pisco Sours that she ordered another and I ordered a flight of different Piscos in order to taste the liquor itself. We were told it is made from grapes, and I am surprised at the flavor being nothing like wine. The three I tasted were 40 and 42 proof. A liquor I can’t compare to anything I have tried before. The lightest one most reminded me of tequila – isn’t that interesting? The second had strong floral flavors and was Margaret’s favourite. I remarked “I taste plants!” The third, apparently very rare Pisco, was my favourite because of the complicated mineral flavors and creamy oakiness. I had enjoyed the ceviche so much the day before that I ordered another today. M had steak and mushrooms with polenta.
Next we went to the GAM (Centro Culturo Gabriela Mistral), a modern museum right next to our apartment. It’s a huge building so we expected more art, but the space is dedicated mostly to conference rooms. We did find displays of contemporary artists using folk art styles such as metal work, clay, and baskets, with the older art mixed in. Soon we had seen all the displays and we wandered through a bustling book sale. The GAM seems more like a college campus to me than a museum, and kids were everywhere. I settled on a book to purchase as a gift for Tara, and the vendor asked if I wanted the author to autograph it. Until then I had not realized that the place was filled with people selling their own books. The author turned out to be fluent in English and autographed in both Spanish and English. What a treat!
We went back to the apartment and soon after, Angelo and Evelyn (his roommate) arrived. After an enjoyable chat over wine, Angelo saw us to the metro station. With kisses and hugs and many thanks, we separated over the gates and M and I hopped down the stairs to the subway. In moments we were at the bus station and there was only one hiccup of the evening. We asked which bus went to Temuco, and when bus 12 was pointed out, I took my roller bag there and had it loaded into the back. When we went to the front of the bus, the driver wouldn’t let us on. It was a regular bus to Temuco and we had purchased a ride on a sleeper bus. A kind man took pity on us and took our reservation over to the Tourbus counter and got us assigned seats and boarding passes that told us to go to bus 20 instead. And that’s fine…but I needed to get my bag. I tried and tried to explain (in English of course, which was not helpful) to the man at bus 12 that I wanted to get my bag back. I held up the ticket and pointed to the bag storage. The man just shook his head, “No.” Not that he refused to get my bag, but he refused to try to understand what I was saying. Margaret and I became more emphatic, pointing to where the bags were kept, and I kept holding up my bag claim tag. The man simply shook his head at us. The helpful man spotted us still at the wrong bus. “Come with me, bus 20 is over here,” he said in Spanish. “No! We need our bag!” we protested. This man understood instantly. He began hollering at the first man, gesturing at him to come help us, and opening the luggage compartment without even asking. I reached in and got my bag. The first guy, though he hadn’t helped with anything up to that point, stopped me and asked for my bag claim ticket to make sure the bag was mine. Hmpf. I guess you can go anywhere and find people like that.
We got my bag onto the proper bus and we boarded. The seats were huge and reclined way back and we settled in for a 400 mile journey to Temuco.