[simage=3110,200,n,left,] We planned an early escape from the cold and dark of Vancouver on 20th December for Santiago. Undoubtedly a smart move, as American Airlines had inexplicably not confirmed our seats on our flights to or from Santiago. Luckily they managed to squeeze us in right at the back of the plane and we left for Chile with no return flight confirmed. Hoorah!
We arrived in Santiago to stay with Cristian and Gi, our friends who lived in Vancouver for 2 years. They had just had their 4th child and moved house the weekend before. It was really great to stay with them, but we don’t know how they coped with being so busy before Christmas.
Arriving in Santiago!
Gi met us at the airport after a very long wait due to arrivals chaos, with their youngest daughter, Blanca, in tow. We headed back home to meet the other kids, Isabella (who has grown up a lot in 7 years!), Andres, and Santiago. We ate a late dinner together with Gi and Cristian, reminisced about the old times in Vancouver, and updated them on all the news from friends back there.
Day 1 Zapallar Beach
On our first day we headed off to the beach about two hours’ drive from Santiago. We arrived and went straight to El Chiringuito de Zapallar, a favourite restaurant of Gi and Cristian’s, where we ate an amazing lunch and also had our first pisco sours. After relaxing on the beach for a few hours we headed back to town. Unfortunately on the return we discovered that Andy’s shrimp intolerance extends to other seafood!
Day 2 Around Santiago
We explored Santiago, starting at the Palacio de la Moneda which unfortunately was surrounded by contruction. We walked on to the historic Plaza de Armas, with the old post office, museums and heritage buildings then called in at the Mercado Central fish market, another beautiful old building. We stopped for ice cream and coffee at Patio Bellavista with its artisan boutiques, before climbing to the statue of the Virgin Mary at the top of Parque Metropolitano for great views of the whole city. Back down in the Bellavista area it was time for some cold refreshments before heading back to Hotel Puga-Sigala. That evening we joined the Puga family Christmas party with six of Cristian’s seven siblings and their families for a lovely evening of food and celebration.
Day 3 Valparaiso
We took the Turbus bus to the coastal town of Valparaiso to see the old town, a UNESCO world heritage site. Much of Valparaiso is a little tatty but the old town perched on a headland and reached by steep steps or small funicular cars that run on rails up and down the cliffs. These “ascensors” are old, dating from the late 1800s to early 1900s. The old town has houses in various styles, from stone mansions to more rustic metal sided homes that seem characteristic of Chile. All are painted bright colours and there was lots of great street art. We wandered around for the day before heading back to Santiago and out for dinner with Gi and Cristian for some traditional Chilean food.
Day 4 Christmas Eve
We relaxed around the house, picked up supplies for our hiking trip, and went out for empanadas and ice cream. Andy entertained Santi, who still hadn’t realised that we don’t speak Spanish, but luckily you don’t need language skills to kick a football around! In the evening it was time for Christmas celebrations, starting with open air Mass in a local park in the evening sun. Back home We had appetisers and champagne in the garden with Gi’s family including Gi’s excellent cerviche. We had Christmas Dinner including fantastic veggie lasagne and home made desserts and pisco sours. We hung up our stockings for Santa and went to bed late.
Day 5 Christmas Day
Santa came! He even knew Andy and I were in Chile so we weren’t forgotten. We had cake for breakfast, Andy and Cristian assembled the trampoline for the kids and then it was time to say goodbye to our friends and leave for the airport. We had a fantastic time catching up, hopefully it won’t be so long next until time.
Arriving in Punta Arenas airport in the late afternoon, we realized it was a really necessary to book the bus to Puerto Natales in advance so that it would come to the airport, even thought the airport is a 30 second detour along the road to Puerto Natales. We had to take the shuttle bus to Punta Arenas to try and get on the last bus leaving from one of the terminals for the companies that drive the route. We made it with a few minutes to spare and got the last two seats! The couple behind us in the line were not do lucky and were left behind, which is a pity because the bus did not get full even when it did stop at the airport. We arrived in Puerto Natales at 11pm and after finally managed to find a taxi (they don’t have taxi ranks and just drive around). We arrived at our guesthouse and collapsed into bed – had to make the most of our last night in civilisation before the backpack began!