Thursday, August 24, 2006

Santiago de Chile

The first thing I noticed when I landed in Santiago was a special welcome sign for Canadians, Americans, Australians and Mexicans. A “reciprocity” tax is imposed on these nationalities, with Canada being the highest at U$132! After paying by welcome tax, we purchased very cheap bus tickets into town. We got off in Barrio Brazil and walked over to the Hostelling International hostel nearby. The prices in Chile are about double compared to the prices in Argentina. We dropped our bags and walked to a nearby Peruvian restaurant for lunch. We had some pisco sour, a strong local drink which includes raw eggs. We then walked downtown and visited the Cathedral, the market, and parts of Bella Vista. We had pisco before dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant. Tapan was once more asleep at the table so we took a cab back to Barrio Brasil and dropped Tapan off. Leo and I walked around Avenida Brasil for a bit before having a last drink and going to sleep.

We got up early the next morning to visit Valparaibo, a costal town which once was the economic center of the country. It is also famous for its century-old funiculars going up the cliffs all over the city. We walked through the market, the harbour, the main streets and the main squares. After walking around all day, we had lunch at a very fancy and touristy restaurant. The seafood was fresh but not prepared well according to my taste. The wine and service were very good, however. We walked around the city all afternoon before heading back to Santiago that night. Once in Santiago, we went out to Avenida Suecia, where we had lunch at Bedrock restaurant. Around 11pm, I decided to go use the internet down the street and told the guys I would meet them in a specific bar, but Tapan didn’t get what I said so when I returned to the bar an hour later, they were no longer there. I walked up and down the party-filled street a couple of times, before I saw Leo run out of a bar to find me. It was our last night together, so we stayed out until 5am, when everything is forced to close. The next morning, we had lunch at a seafood institution in Barrio Brasil, before I walked Tapan and Leo to the airport shuttle stop. After a sad goodbye, I napped a bit in the afternoon, before walking around the evening, and having lunch in a nearby restaurant. I also made arrangements for transportation and snowboard rental equipment for the next day!

The driver was on time the next morning to take me to El Colorado ski station, about an hour out of Santiago. After a few more pickups, the driver took me to the main office where I rented a one-piece snowsuit, gloves, googles, boots and an excellent Burton snowboard. They asked for a U$400 deposit for the board. Everyone else in the minibus was going to Valle Nevado, the ski center right next to El Colorado, so I agreed to go there also. Valle Nevado turned out to be higher, with more runs and less people. The view was absolutely breathtaking, There was a 2-for-1 special on ski tickets, so I bought two and sold one at a bit less than half-price. I then locked my bag inside a locker and hit the slopes. I made friends with a local couple who showed me around the mountain. The one thing that really sucked is that they don’t have chairlifts on one side of the mountain; they only have those things you put between your legs to drag you up. These are extremely awkward with a snowboard, as you are standing sideways rather than facing the front. About 1 hour before the bus left, I decided to take a break in the restaurant in the middle of the mountain and took a 20-minute nap. When I went back outside, I discovered that someone had taken my snowboard. There was an identical one with the reverse stance very nearby, so I figured perhaps someone took mine by accident. I advised a ski patrol, and he told me to walk back to the main complex and speak to customer service. I walked back in the deep snow and advised security. Shortly after, the bus driver arrived and when I told him someone stole my snowboard, he told me to get in and that we would settle it at the main office. I thought I was U$400 poorer all the way back to Santiago, but figured I wouldn’t let it ruin my awesome day of snowboarding. We I got back to the office, they told me someone had found my snowboard, and that I would be refunded for my deposit. Big relief! That night, I had dinner at the “Fat cow” restaurant near the hotel, and slept very well.

On the last day of the trip, I walked around all day. I climbed the big hill to the Holy Virgin statue, which took about one sweaty hour. I visited the Pre-Columbus Art museum, which had very interesting native art. I then picked up my luggage at the hostel and took the bus to the airport. I had dinner at the airport, chatting with some Canadian workers. The flight to Miami was uneventful, and the connection to Toronto, successful. I was back to Canada for good.

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