Yo no hablo Spanish...
Oh boy. I think we’ve been in South America for over 10 days now, but in some ways it’s been a bit of a blur. A lovely, fun, delicious blur.
We flew in to Santiago, Chile from Auckland. I barely slept on the eleven hour flight and was immediately confronted with quite a serious problem after stepping off the plane. I don’t speak Spanish. Neil doesn’t speak Spanish. Of course we knew this before we came here, but I don’t think we really thought about how much of an issue it would be. We wrangled our way into a cab and got to our Air BnB both feeling a little rattled, but excited. I had read about a dive bar that wasn’t far from our place so rather than risk not sleeping later by taking a nap, we just headed out into the early evening. We made it to La Piojera, which translates to ‘The Flea’, which was an absolutely excellent, heaving venue. An old man came to take our order and after realising we didn’t understand a thing he was saying, basically just decided for us what we were getting. Neil ended up with a litre of beer, and I got a drink that shook my world called a Terremotto (literal translation - Earthquake) which is a kind of strong white wine with a big dollop of pineapple sorbet on top and grenadine syrup. It was excellent. I had three. Which is maybe why the rest of the night went like it did…
As we were leaving a guy started talking to us, asking if we spoke French, and then stumbling through some broken English when we didn’t (What is wrong with us, why don’t we speak any languages?!) Then his two friends joined us, including a spitfire 19 year old Venezuelan who spoke quite good English. We got to chatting, finding out they were all colleagues out for after work drinks, and even though Neil and I were just on our way out, we ended up going inside for MORE Terremotos. When we said we were yet to try Pisco sours (we had been in the country all of about 4 hours at this point), we were invited back to one of their houses, where we drank more, traded music and stumbled through hilarious conversation using Google translate. It was the dream Friday night out in a new city - friendly locals, good drinks and me falling asleep on a strangers couch. Neil woke me up at 2am and we wandered home through the still busy streets of Santiago, talking about what a stroke of luck to find such a great group of people.
I think I really buggered myself up for my sleep pattern, as I didn’t sleep properly for about 4 nights after that. Santiago was really cool, but I felt in a bit of a daze the whole time. We did a lot of walking around the neighbourhoods of Barrio Italia, Bella Vista and Bellas Artes. They were really pretty and vibrant areas. Sunday was eerily quiet, and we learned that it’s Chilean law that everyone has to have at least two Sundays off a month, so many businesses just close altogether. I felt like we had seen a lot of the city, but when we went up the hill in the middle of town to the big statue of the Virgin Mary, my jaw dropped to see how far the city extended out to the horizon, to the foot of the Andes mountains, and I realised we’d barely scratched the surface.
We took an early bus to Valparaiso, which is a gorgeous little coastal city known for it’s hills, colourful buildings and street art. It was here we did our first walking tour, and I think we were spoiled by our first guide. He was such a legend, so passionate about the history of the city and Chile as a whole, and gave us great tips for the rest of our stay. We met a great couple, Australian and English, who had been travelling for a year, who we had lunch and dinner with, again staying up and enjoying ourselves so much we didn’t realise it got to 2am and we had to take an early bus.
Probably my favourite thing we did in Chile was visiting Pablo Neruda’s homes in Valparaiso and Santiago. I discovered his beautiful poetry when I was an angsty teen in high school (I’m pretty sure I first heard of him in La Vie Boheme from Rent…?) but I had no idea what an eccentric he was. His homes are full of art and collections that rival any museum, and are curated in such a weird and wonderful way, you can still really feel his presence throughout the rooms.
We had a big long travel day from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires that left both of us feeling pretty frayed. I didn’t feel happy or excited to be there, I was just too tired. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, as I really wanted to love Buenos Aires, it was the main place I wanted to visit in South America, and had been a dream destination of mine for a long time. So rather than trying to force myself to have a good time when I wasn’t feeling it, we just had some food close to the hostel and went to bed, promising ourselves to reset the next day. I’m glad we did, because I was right about Buenos Aires. It’s the best. We wandered through the city to old cafes, catching the subway which is blessedly easy to navigate. We have been using a website called Atlas Obscura to find weird, non-touristy attractions, which led us to an old theatre that has been converted to a gigantic bookstore, and a museum of a weird artist who invented new languages and musical instruments. Would highly recommend checking this website out to find kooky things to see when you’re travelling, or even in your home city! We also did a walking tour of the old port area called La Boca, as well as the stately homes area of the neighbourhood of Retiro. I feel like a bit of a loser doing these tours, but I think you have to just suspend that feeling, because they are really the best way to get to see the city with someone who knows what they’re talking about. It’s respectful to learn about the history of the place you are visiting, and a good, affordable walking tour is by far the easiest and most entertaining way to do that.
Probably the thing I was most excited about coming to Argentina for was the steak and the wine. And so far, we have not been disappointed. One of the loveliest dining experiences of my life was on our second night in BA (once I’d had a good sleep and gotten over my travel crankiness), at a parilla (steak house) called Don Julio. So classic, such impeccable service, the ingredients were incredible, and everything was just delicious. And while it was very romantic, I only wish there’d been more than just Neil and I so we could have tried more things! One thing about Argentina is that they eat very late - if you dine before 9pm, you’re likely to be eating in the restaurant alone, if it’s even open! So again, we were out drinking wine and eating steak until almost 2am!
I had read that BA had a great independent theatre scene, which is something that Neil and I both love, and we noticed so many theatres all around on our wanderings through the city. Apparently there are over 300 theatres in the city! I researched online while Neil napped (he loves napping. He’s napping right now.) and found a show that was physical theatre, but it looked like it might have been sold out, as the translation of the website said “To the cap”, which I assumed meant the seats had reached their cap. But we decided to go anyway, and try our luck. I’m so glad we did, as "To the cap" meant you couldn’t buy tickets in advance, and just had to turn up and pay what you thought in the end into the guys cap! What we ended up seeing was a truly remarkable clowning show of such grace and skill, I am still blown away by it. Neil and I have continued to talk about it since, just pondering how lucky we are that we stumbled on something so hilarious and beautiful almost by complete accident. The show was ‘The Wheels of a Clown’ by Agustin Soler.
Last night we travelled by overnight bus to Mendoza, one of the best wine regions in the world, renowned for their Malbec, which is one of my faves. On our way into the bus station in BA a lady tried to get our attention to say we had something dripping off us… and it turns out we’d been SAUCED. As we walked through the kind of rough area outside the bus station, someone selling food at a little roadside stall must have sprayed us with their bottle of green relish. All over our packs and the back of our jeans. Sweet, sweet Neil mused that possibly it was an accident, but we were like… really covered. Neil was approached by a policeman in the bathroom while he was washing his bag to ask what had happened. Apparently it’s something that the food sellers do occasionally, because they don’t like tourists. If you don’t notice, then they pranked you real good cos you’re going to smell like relish for your whole 16 hour bus ride. If you do notice and get annoyed and take off your bag to clean it off, it’s an opportunity for them to possibly steal some of your stuff. Anyway, not a big deal, we were fine, we were saucy, but it was a shitty thing to happen. I have felt very welcome both in Chile and Argentina, so it felt crappy to have that challenged. But all part of it I suppose. If that’s the worst thing that happens to us in the whole trip, that’s not too bad.
So far, Mendoza is great. A smallish city, surrounded by mountains and desert with famous wineries and olive farms. Today we went to hot springs (a recurring theme), and I was so sleepy I snoozed in the warm water all afternoon.
I want to write some more posts less about blow by blow experiences, more about thoughts and feelings I’m having while we travel, like “Why don’t I feel like I’m on holiday”, “Not speaking the language of the country you’re visiting: a narrative” or “Why naps make me feel guilty”. But I hardly feel like I have the time… Which seems like an oxymoron - all I have is time, right? I don’t know… all these beers won’t drink them selves.