I booked the deal of the century, a $176 round trip flight to Santiago, Chile and I couldn't contain my excitement! I was off to another destination! But what do I know about Chile besides wine? I knew nothing, Chile was never on my radar, I looked on the map and realized it neighbored Argentina. Immediately, I dismissed the notion of staying in Chile, I'd use this opportunity to hop over to Argentina and finally learn to tango or do whatever else Argentinians do. But would I regret not giving Chile a chance? After a bit of research, Chile won me over. From the swanky Lastarria neighborhood in Santiago, the coastal colorful town of Valparaiso, the desert in San Pedro de Atacama to skiing in the Andes Mountains, I had a variety of activities I could immerse myself in since I was traveling alone. My itinerary ended up looking like I was a contestant on Amazing Race, rushing to complete mission impossible tasks. But I did it and made it home unscathed and wanting to return to parts I was unable to discover in 7 days.
Making the Best of It
I have an overnight layover in Panama and used the time to visit Monkey Island, enjoyed dinner at the highly recommended but hard to find Peach Fuzz in the slums of Curundu. Checked into my hotel by 9pm, went downstairs to the casino, lost $25 dollars and decided to take my impending bad luck to bed.
First Day in Santiago
I started off with a bang, I was to have an adventure filled day with white water rafting, zip-lining in Maipo that ended with a Chilean BBQ, which means a big slab of steak and wine. From this day on, wine comes with everything, I wouldn't be surprised if they served it with breakfast. The adventure ended at 6pm, enough time for me to freshen up, put on a dress and go out on the town for dinner in Lastarria. I make it a habit to eat out of my pescatarian comfort zone and try foods I'd typically turn my nose up at home. I was in search for typical Chilean food and my night didn’t yield the results I was hoping for. My dinner, although plated elegantly was lackluster. Something to note: Maybe it could be a fluke, the place I went to, the neighborhood I was in or the change of season, but I was overdressed in color and my choice of shoe. I was observed, I don’t want to say I was stared or gawked at, but I got the attention of most. I didn't see anyone who looked like me so I take it in stride as always and return smiles to those intently “observing”. In my experience, by now I would have met someone and receiving offers of private guided tours, but that didn't happen this night.
I needed some reinforcements, I pull out the big guns (my phone) and I enlisted the assistance of Tinder. I swiped left all night, until I gave up hoping tomorrow will be a better day.
Day 2: Heading to the Coast
Pablo Neruda summed it up best Valparaíso, “how absurd you are…you haven't combed your hair, you've never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you.' Valparaiso with its vibrant ruins, a maze of steep hills, street art worthy of the Smithsonian alongside the fading beauty of a city that once was is now a masterpiece of chaotic perfection. You are in awe of the grittiness that layers the pink, blue and yellow walls. But this is a port city and like most, there's a transient ambiance, with the make up of sailors, dockworkers and tourists. But it was quite the contrast when I went to neighboring Vina Del Mar. Manicured streets lined with palm trees and a calm to the town where you can see, hear and feel the ocean. I was told on several occasions I must try the alfajor cookie, its filled with caramel, jam, sweet milk covered in chocolate. If you like diabetic sweets, you'd love this. Everyone raved about it while I was searching for a gallon sized glass of water to dilute the consumption of saccharin I'd just ingested. Footnote: I googled this cookie for the article and to my surprise this is an Argentinian/Uruguyan cookie, it’s not from Chile. The same group who suggested I try alfajor, also demanded I go to La Gatita (this restaurant is called the kitten, raised an eyebrow, but I went anyway) and try their famous dish, Machas a la Parmesana y Reineta, I don't eat clams so I declined but my lunch was amazing, but still not Chilean. I am determined, I will not be deterred, I will feast on a traditional Chilean meal when I go to Bali Hai.
Bali Hai is a cabaret like restaurant entertaining you with Chilean folklore, lively music and dancers who showcase their Cueca, la Tirana and Araucanan skills. The restaurants exterior is adorned by 5 large life-size Moai Statues and intricate wood carvings in the interior. The show was very interactive and I was content to be hidden from the dancers looking for their next victim to pull on stage. That’s until the hostess went around the room with a spotlight and asked every diner where they’re from and what brings them to Chile. Then I knew my cover was blown and at some point the dancers were going to make a beeline for my table. Although it took 2 hours, the inevitable happened during the Polynesian/Easter Island dance finale. Nervous and 3 pisco sours in, I waited my turn, got up and just let my hips go.
I haven’t mentioned the food, I know. Bali Hai isn’t about the food. I’m not insinuating the food was bad, it was good just not memorable when you’re watching a high-energy show nonstop for 4 hours. Yes, you read that right, four hours.
Exhausted from my night, I have no energy to go dancing in Bellavista. So I stayed in, Tindered, found one—maybe two possibilities, swiped right and ping, you’ve got a match! I’m just too tired to chat, I’ll save this for tomorrow. Like I said before, tomorrow is another day.
Day 3: Morning, Noon and Night… More Wine!
Who goes to Chile and not try the wine? Exactly, no one. I’m heading about an hour outside of Santiago to Concha y Toro Vineyard. The tour was only an hour, I wanted the guide to give us the short version and we get to the good part, the tastings. I was mostly interested in the Carmenere wine, this grape is mostly found in Chile. It’s not popular in the states and although I’m not a fan of red wine, I wanted to give it a try. My deficient sommelier Carmenere description, here goes… It has a distinct vegetable like tone, with a raspberry tart after taste. Bought two bottles, one to consume at my leisure and one to pull out for guests when I’m feeling fancy and cultured.
I’ve spent most of my time outside of Santiago and this evening’s bike ride was going to give me a better view of the city. On my morning drives to my tours, I couldn’t help but notice all the graffiti on everything and not beautiful street art, but more like tagging and scribble. My bike ride took me to a Bolivian festival, I witnessed a christening at Santiago Cathedral, Plaza Baquedano, Fine Arts Museum, Plaza de Armas, Bulnes Promenade, La Moneda Palace, New York Street, Lastarria, Bellavista Constitution Square, Supreme Court and La Piojera bar.
We had to stop at Santiago’s oldest bar, La Piojera and try the famous terremoto (earthquake) drink. The terremoto is a syrupy boiling hot mess, it’s sweet fermented white wine, grenadine and pineapple ice cream. This is the type of drink to have you with a severe hangover in the morning.
Today was the day in overindulging, wine tasting in the morning, terremoto’s in the evening and I still planned to go out dancing.
I finally make it out dancing and it’s a reggae club, called Jammin. The music selection was great and pleasantly surprised at the variety of tunes the DJ spun. I danced, mingled at bit and turned in for the evening due to an early flight to Calama in the morning. Damn it, I forgot to message my Tinderoni’s when I got back to my hotel. As I’ve been saying, there is always tomorrow.
Day 4: Desert + Glamping = Me Scared
I have a two-hour flight to Calama and then a 90-minute drive to San Pedro. This is when I realized how vast Chile is and the differing regions. Chile is almost 2,600 miles long, to put it in perspective Chile stretches from New York to California.
Arriving in Calama, I can start to shed some of these layers. Now in the north, the weather was more equivalent to May in New York as oppose to Santiago. The southern region felt as if we were in Fall, mostly overcast skies and briskness.
The drive to desert was a like scene from a movie, majestic from every angle. Intense luminous blue skies that changed from hues of rustic yellows and orange against salt capped mountains. San Pedro reminded me of an old Mexican pueblo. Stores, restaurants, stray dogs and backpacking tourists lined the dirt roads where you can hear pan pipes faintly in the distance.
Choosing to spend days in the desert is totally out my comfort zone and even more so I chose to glamp (glamorous camping). When I arrived at the site, I almost second-guessed my decision. I’m not afraid to rough it, but the sheer thought of being eaten by animals and nowhere to run for cover was more apparent at this moment. Nonetheless, I chose to have an open mind and stay. I was apprehensive at sundown, but I zipped myself in, said a prayer, left my light on and went to sleep. Awaken by sheep herding through the grounds in the morning was the only animals I encountered in San Pedro. If this is glamping, I can do this again. I didn’t say camping, let’s tackle one thing at a time.
Another night I didn’t Tinder, there will not be a tomorrow. I’m giving it up for the remainder of the trip.
Day 5 and 6: Oh There’s More?!
I spent two more glorious days in the desert, I visited the Salt Flat Lagoons, the Ojos del Salar, the geysers, Cejar Lagoon, watched the sunset over Moon Valley, trekked Lascar volcano and sandboarding in Death Valley. My days were filled with adventure and my evenings were filled with culinary artistry. By far the best food I had in Chile, in Santiago I found more sushi than typical food they even had a ceviche roll.
Back To Reality
Now that I’m home and suffering from PTVD (post traumatic vacation disorder). I recap my trip and those who hear my account are amazed by my hectic schedule and yet I still feel it wasn’t enough. Patagonia, the Andes Mountains, Easter Island, Pucon and so much more I needed to see.
Chile is the best place I never wanted to go to and probably the best place you’ve never been. For the trendy and chic to the great outdoorsy type and everyone in between, this country at the end of the Earth is worth the journey to get to.
With her Bahamian roots fused with a Brooklyn edge, Sachea's compelling narratives exudes all that she is: a lover of culture, embracing and celebrating our differences by telling the story through an amber lens. In her travels, she has learned regardless of what side of the globe you're on, we're all human. Sachea's blog Sachea Around The World was recently featured as Griots Republic "Blogger of the Month," published in She Roams Solo, Women Travel Latin America and Outside Go. You can follow her adventures through each country as she #EatSlayTravel all around the world @SacheaAroundTheWorld on Facebook, Instagram and her website.