Saturday, 24 July 2010

It's rather chilly in Chile...

Before heading off this summer, I was checking the weather forecast for some of our destinations as a guide for packing when I saw a headline: ‘Antarctic winds hit South America’. One of the coldest winters for a long time, many parts of South America were experiencing the force of icy climates pushed up from the south.

On arrival we felt that climate. Santiago was bitterly cold, and although that itself isn’t a problem – it’s no colder than most ordinary winter temperatures, although a bit of a jolt after coming from summer - the issue lies with the fact that no-where in Santiago seems to have any available heating for the nights. We should have realised something was up when we sat down in the reception area of our hostel and everyone else was wearing woolly hats and heavy coats inside. But we didn’t. We only realised when we finally got into our room, and the temperature inside was actually lower that of the outside. It was freezing cold – teeth-chattering cold, even under the blankets of the bed with our coats on during mid-afternoon. Dreading what it was going to be like in the early morning, and envisioning spending our remaining three days trapped in the bed as it would be too cold to brave the room without the protection of at least three layers, we asked to move rooms (ours opened up onto the courtyard and a gap in the door was allowing the icy draft through).

Unfortunately the hostel couldn’t offer us any other room for all three nights as they were fully booked, so we made do with a basic room they had for that first night and looked for somewhere else to stay the next morning. After a bit of searching we struck gold – a lovely hostel in a different part of the city, warmer and more comfortable, with an owner who offered lots of advice regarding restaurants, buses and hidden gems. We couldn’t have been happier!

However, although the accommodation was a bit of a disaster to begin with, our time in Santiago has been really nice so far. We wandered around the central area, admiring some of the impressively large and ornate buildings, and climbed a number of steps winding up in a small central park to reach a fantastic viewpoint over the city. Although I wouldn’t describe it as ‘beautiful’ compared to some other major cities, Santiago is easily assessable by foot, relatively simple to navigate, and has some fantastic features tucked away. The only part I found heart-breaking was the sheer number of stray dogs wandering around. Completely unlike the diseased animals usually found wandering streets, these were made up of majestic breeds – Alsatians, Labradors, all very street-savvy and gentle but still a shame to see so many without homes. Maybe I’m just a big sucker. F was not quite as affected…

On our second day we continued with the theme of lofty sights – at the Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago’s largest park. A high peak sits at the centre of the gorgeous landscape contained within, culminating in a crowning Virgin statue which overlooks the city. With glorious sunshine streaming down (bringing with it a bit of temporary heat!), and completely clear skies, we were able to see across the whole of the city and the Andes beyond. It was fantastic, if a little tiring on the feet with the uphill slog and getting a bit lost on the way.

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