Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hola Santiago!


Continuing from the previous blog posting, Francisco took me up to the room and when I entered, Bro told me in all seriousness that there was no air conditioning in the room. Oh no! It as hot, hot, hot in there. But I had not slept all night and was tired. Bro and I chatted for a bit before I fell into a short nap.

The door to our room is the one on the left.  The entire place only have 4 rooms.

I woke up 2 hours later just in time for breakfast.


A view from the dining area to the bar.

Francisco had laid out a small spread of breads, croissants, jams, and fruit. Bro and I also shared some scrambled eggs and we each had cups of coffee to wash down our breakfast. I needed the caffeine if I was going to stay up the rest of the day!!


After breakfast, Bro and I chatted about our plans. First thing to do was to reach out our Airbnb host to see when we could check into our apartment. There were quite a few phone numbers listed on the profile page for the apartment but eventually I got through to Raul, our host, via WhatsApp. We agreed to meet him in the lobby of the building at noon. That gave Bro and I about an hour to wander around the neighborhood by the hotel.

We had the key to the front gate so we let ourselves out. Tells you something about the safety of the neighborhood when there is a locked gate just a few feet from the front door!




We simply chose a direction to walk in.  There is a LOT of graffiti here and what I thought were run down buildings in a poor part of town turned out to be the common sight.



You can see beauty in the underlying architecture.  Very much Spanish European style.



On our walk, we stumbled upon a small farmers market. We both love markets and it's always interesting to see what fruits and produce are for sale.  I had been hoping that we would get to enjoy some different kinds of fruits but no, they have here what we have at home - it's time for berries, peaches, pears, apples and grapes.


Overall, what they have here is pretty much what we have at home though not as much variety but in many cases, much better looking produce.


Choclo, also referred to as Peruvian corn or Cuzco corn is a large-kernel variety of field corn from the Andes. It's in season so we saw quite a few vendors selling it.






We made it back to the hotel by 11:30 and quickly packed up our suitcases. I paid Francisco our bill and by the time we were ready to walk out the front door, the taxi was already there waiting for us.

It was a short drive to the apartment which is located just a few blocks away from Plaza de Armas. It cost it 5000 CLP for the ride which as we would come to discover later, was an expensive ride - should have taken Uber :-)

Raul was waiting for us in the lobby and took us upstairs to the apartment. According to Francisco, Santiago has been suffering from a heat wave of late and the fact that the apartment did not have any airconditioning was disappointing. I just hope it cools down enough at night for me to sleep. I plan to throw open the doors to the balcony!

Downtown Santiago.

Bro and I took a few minutes to get settled in before hitting the streets. We had decided that our first destination would be the Mercado Central where we would find a place to have lunch.

On our way to the market, we had our first and hopefully only encounter with the not so nice elements of Santiago. Bro and I were simply walking along. I as always was completely engrossed by our surroundings. I had my Nikon camera nestled in the crook of my left arm. All of a sudden a woman approached Bro and told him that a bird must have shit on him, pointing to a large drip of brown goop running leading down from his right shoulder to his elbow. She offered a tissue and we began to wipe him down. It was then that another woman pulled me into the store that we happened to be standing in front of, all the while saying something in Spanish. She waved for Bro to come in as well and then immediately shut the door behind us. She continued to say something in Spanish but she was speaking so fast even Bro couldn't catch what she was saying. Apparently, I had the stuff all over the back of my shirt. Inside the store, there was a woman customer who told us that thieves often throw stuff at people to distract them before robbing them. We all suspected they were drawn in by my camera. I have to admit, the whole incident really put a damper on things for me. For the rest of the day, I would only take my camera out to take photos and then I would immediately put it back in my purse which also got tightly wound around so it would be harder to cut off the strap and make way with it. I tell you, it doesn't take but a small incident like this to really put a damper on one's travel spirit and now looking back on the day, I don't recall seeing any other tourists carrying large cameras. Perhaps I did stand out more than the other tourists.


We did eventually make it to Mercado Central, stopping by a few fruit vendors along the way. Francisco told us that the vendors in Mercado Central mainly focus on seafood and meat and indeed the moment we walked in, we were smack dab in the middle of the seafood section.  They sell an amazing variety of seafood here.  We recognized a few things but others were new to us. I had just watched Andrew Zimmern's show on food in Santiago and he had featured a segment on congrio, an eel like fish that locals absolutely love. I told Bro we would have to try it. I had hoped to have crab but what was available didn't look good. My hopes are quickly being dashed.





This ugly fish is congrio.

Close up of congrio. It's not a pretty fish and in this case, not a fresh fish.

That's my left hand against what is the largest mussel I have ever seen!

We soon had to turn our thoughts to lunch and it wasn't hard figuring where the restaurants were located. Waiters were all at the ready to come and lure you in to their respective restaurants. Bro and I took our time picking a place and we finally settled on a small place called YiYi that I had read about on a web site written by two women foodies who had traveled to Santiago not so long ago. We liked the place because every diner looked to be a local - not a single tourist eating in the place.


With the help of the waitress, we ordered our dishes and two Coca Colas. Our meal came in bits and pieces.



Mine was suppose to be a cold dish of mussels and clams accompanied by a bowl of seafood broth. The broth came first. The cold dish turned out to be a ceviche of sorts. No offense to the Chileans but the Peruvians do a better version of this same dish. Bro ordered the congrio cooked in a broth. We both tasted the fish. In my opinion, Chilean seabass is a nicer fish to eat - the meat is just as firm but finer in texture and much sweeter than the congrio we had today. Perhaps, we didn't have fresh congrio??


As we ate, we put together a virtual menu of the dishes we want to come back and try. On the top of the list is a dish called pastel de chochlo a Chilean version of Shepherd's pie. Chochlo is the large kernel corn that is found all over the Andes regions and it's only in season in summer so this is the time to eat it and for Chileans, pastel de chochlo is the way to go.

One of the restaurant workers loading up bowls of pastel de chochlo into the hot oven.

Pastel de chochlo, fresh out of the oven.  It's a big bowl of food!

After lunch, we did a quick walkthrough of the market before deciding to walk over the river to the La Vega Market which Francisco had told us was more about fruits and veggies than fish and meat. It's also much less touristy that Mercado Central which is located just stone's throw from Plaza de Armas, the heart of the tourist zone.

On the way, we made a quick pit stop to a very famous empanada shop called *Empanadas Zunino* which I had heard about from a Santiago tour video on YouTube. The shop has been in business since 1930 and offers only two types of empanadas - pino which is meat mixed with onion, olives and a hard boiled egg and queso which is cheese. We had decided the empanadas would be good for breakfast so we bought two pinos and a queso and had them packed to go.


Cutting into the pino empanada from Zunino.

As we walked towards La Vega, I was ever so mindful about my camera and my purse. It's truly no fun worrying about getting robbed. I have to get over this so I can have a good time in Santiago. I somehow think that once we are in the Atacama Desert and Patagonia where there are more tourists and fewer pick pockets, I'll be able to go back to my *regular* photo taking ways.

Before entering La Vega, we stopped at a street vendor to buy a Chilean sopaipilla or as more commonly know it as  - sopapilla. Again, thanks to Andrew Zimmern, I learned that the sopapilla dough in Chile are made with squash added to the dough giving it a unique yellow color. The round of dough had just been fried and was piping hot. Taste wise, I thought it was a bit bland which explained why the man who bought ones before I did smothered his with mustard and ketchup. It took a squidge of hot sauce to perk up the taste. We can now cross Chilean sopapillas off the food bucket list. I prefer the Mexican ones.


La Vega is a huge place and by now many of the vendors had closed shop as it was already early afternoon.


We still managed to stop at a few places and pick up some fruits - half kilo of blackberries which Bro devoured in no time, a large container of blueberries, a melon which looks like a cross between a cantaloupe and a honeydew, a small melon called a pepino which is native to the Andes, and a few lemons for me to make lemonade with.


I also couldn't help but buy a skewer of grilled pork from an old woman who had literally transformed a shopping cart into a makeshift grill. It was also her vending cart.


From La Vega, we slowly made our way to Plaza de Armas stepping inside Catedral de Santiago and the Metropolitan Cathedral along the way. Nice churches as so many of the ones built by the Spaniards are. We decided that we'll return to the Plaza area day after tomorrow to have a better look at the landmarks here. Today, we are just taking it easy as it's our first day here.






By now, my energy was quickly waning and the heat of the day was finally wearing on me - actually on both of us. We decided to head back to the apartment to cool down and rest before going out for dinner. After our lackluster impressions of Chilean cuisine so far, we are thinking of breaking down and having Peruvian food for dinner. Even Francisco admitted that of all the South American countries, Peru has the tastiest food offerings. I most certainly ate well when I was there!

Back in the room, I tried to wash the stains off my t-shirt but to no avail. I suspect the thieves used some sort of a concoction that had tobacco mixed into to it to make sure the stain would hold. The shirt is now sitting in the trash can. Luckily, it was shirt that I bought more than 10 years ago and it was ink stained on my trip to Egypt. So for me, nothing lost and I have an excuse now to buy another shirt :-). Bro's t-shirt was also stained but against the dark navy color, the streak of stain is not so apparent. Thinking back on the incident, I wonder if the *kind* woman who came up to us to tell us about the supposed bird shit that hit us and gave us the tissues to wipe it off was part of the distraction. Perhaps she was sent in to check out whether or not we were worth robbing. I am suspicious as she all of a sudden mysteriously disappeared when the other woman pulled me into the shop. Hmmm.....

For dinner, we opted to go Peruvian. Sorry Chileans, I prefer Peruvian food. As we were walking away from the door of the apartment, I asked Bro to bring his flashlight just in case we need it walking back to the apartment building. Bro tried to to unlock the door but was so unsuccessful that we finally gave up and called Raul. Poor guy. He agreed to meet back up with us at 9p.

On our way back to the apartment earlier this afternoon, we had passed by a Peruvian restaurant called Los Tresoros del Inca. I led Bro back to the place and it looked good enough for us to enter. While I do know my Peruvian dishes quite well, it didn't hurt that the menu had descriptions in English as well so Bro could read them and decide for himself what he wanted. I ordered the Mediterranean ceviche and Bro had a fish and rice dish.

My ceviche.

Bro's fish and  rice dish.

I also ordered a glass of chica morada one of my favorite drinks, especially if made by my Peruvian friend, Margarita. Indeed her chica morada sets the benchmark against which all others are measured and I have to say, her's is still the best. I have to say I really enjoyed my meal tonight so much so that I would happily eat here every night that we are in Santiago. I will have plenty of opportunity for local Chilean cuisine when we are in the Atacama Desert and Patagonia.

Raul was waiting for us in the lobby when we arrived back at the apartment building. On his first try he was able to open the door and so we felt kind of silly having dragged him all the way here to help us out. Then, he ran into the same issues as we had on subsequent tries so we felt a bit vindicated. Seems like he and Bro agreed the lock is a bit sticky and it will take a bit of jiggling to get the key to unlock it. I hope that's true and we don't have to keep calling the guy. He has been very responsive to our requests and while the apartment is small, it suits our needs just fine not to mention that it is in an ideal location for tourists like us. I will give him a very good rating on Airbnb.

Tomorrow, we're taking the local bus to Valparaiso and we need to plan our day plus get a good night's sleep so I'm closing this post.

Goodnight from Santiago!