Beach Vibes and City Lights: From Arica to Santiago, Chile

Disclaimer: This is a long one. It’s taken me a while to get all of these South America posts written, and that’s because it’s been a super busy time in my life. Logan and I have officially moved (back, in my case) to Chicago. Back in March, when we made the decision to move to Chicago together, we were set back numerous times by various job interviews and opportunities in other cities (I had yet another flirtation with San Francisco, believe it or not).

But we’ve ended up choosing to stay in the Midwest. Ultimately, Chicago is pretty darn cool, and it’s closer to our families as well as cheaper than other big cities — which means we’ll have more $$ to keep traveling. And now, on top of all of it, I’m starting a new job (yes, a full-time one) that I’m extremely excited about. My hope is that with more of a work-life separation than I had while freelancing, I’ll be able to get back to blogging more regularly.

Basically, the past few months have been a series of job interviews, apartment hunts and other adventures. I’m SO excited to be here in Chicago with Logan, and I know it’s going to be the start of a whole new chapter in my life.

But before those new adventures happen, I REALLY NEED TO BLOG ABOUT THE ONES THAT ALREADY TOOK PLACE. And so, we left off at Peru/Chile border (I encourage re-reading that one if you’ve forgotten where I left off in our story) …

After we breathed a sigh of relief upon being dropped off in the center of Arica, we exchanged our currency and grabbed a cab to our hostel. In retrospect, we didn’t really need the cab. After weeks of being in the windy, chilly, high altitudes of the Peruvian Andes, we were now in the desert of northern Chile. Arica is a desert-landscaped beach town right on the Pacific coast. It’s really hot, really sunny and super laid-back. And our hostel was literally half a mile from the bus station.

In fact, upon arriving at our hostel (which was run by a Kiwi, I was delighted to discover), we learned just how laid-back Arica is. This hostel was very different from most of the hostels I’ve stayed in. It was more like a homeshare. We and two other couples shared one wing of the house, with each couple inhabiting a separate bedroom and all six of us sharing an open-air common space, bathroom and stocked kitchen. The air stayed kind of trapped in the bedrooms, which made it HOT when we were trying to sleep. But overall, it had a homey, beachy vibe and was just steps from the ocean.

We spent our three days in Arica walking around this little hippie beach town. There were a few shops, but we aren’t really big shoppers, so we didn’t really partake in much of that. We mostly enjoyed the beaches themselves, which — though a nice change from Peru — were relatively tiny, with the views of the ocean being slightly obscured by rocks and small cliffs. We didn’t mind though. I was just ecstatic to be warm!

We also rented bikes and peddled around the town. This proved to be really fun, and a great way to see the city without feeling confined to a a bus. We even found a Pokemon store.

Arica, and most of South America in general, is a very active place. Workout equipment is placed all over the landscape, presumably by the City, and I think that’s pretty freaking cool. We started our mornings by enjoying a daily run down the beach followed by (in my case) some plyometrics and other mini-workouts before cooling down with fresh juice. Pineapple, passionfruit, mango, watermelon, kiwifruit… The types of juice available in South America are simply endless (and incredibly delicious).

One final thing about Arica: We had already seen plenty of stray dogs in Peru, all of them friendly. They weren’t mangy or aggressive, as Logan had experienced of some of the dogs he’d come across in Asia. Instead, they were adorable and people-loving, and we met one dog in particular who followed us around for an entire three-mile walk into town. We affectionately named him Salad (long story).

Now, we had decided ahead of time to take a plane to Santiago rather than bussing from Arica, simply because the bus trip would’ve been three or four days long and we were trying to squeeze three countries into about a month. On the day we flew out of Arica, we decided to go out for breakfast before catching a cab to the airport at 10 (our flight left at 1).

Unfortunately, we had a bit of a delay getting home from breakfast, so we got back to our hostel around 10:30 and asked the hostel owner to call us a cab. We mentioned that we’d like for it to pick us up at 10:45 (in essence, right away), because our flight was leaving at 1. He turned to the clock, looked back at us, and slowly said…”but it’s 11:45 right now.”

Our jaws dropped. We’d been in Chile for three days and hadn’t realized that there was a time difference between Chile and Peru! For some reason, our phones never updated time zones — I think it was because my data was turned off and Logan had manually set our previous location in his phone. Now, an hour before we were supposed to catch a plane, we realized our mistake.

We quickly called the cab, and when he arrived I explained our situation (in Spanish, I’m proud to add.) He got us to the airport in 20 minutes flat, and it seemed like everything was going to work out just fine… Until we tried to board the plane and the stewardess at the gate told us we needed to report back to security.

Apparently, they’d found an aerosol in my bag. It was insect repellent, and it was totally fine on the flight from the US to Peru. We’d invested in a high-protection repellent because of Zika, and that stuff wasn’t cheap. After frantically tearing through my bag to remove everything and discover what the problem was, I handed the aerosols over to security, hastily repacked my bag, and sprinted back toward the gate.

And….we made it! Just in time, we clamored into our seats and buckled up for a quick and easy flight to Santiago.

When we touched down in Santiago, it was late evening, and the sun had just disappeared under the horizon as we climbed into an Uber to head to our hostel. Combine the energizing urban glow of the modern streetlights and skyscrapers with the electrifying trace music our driver was playing, and we were feeling some serious excitement about being back in a big city after weeks exploring rural Peru and small Chilean beach towns.

We were going to dine at hip urban restaurants! We were going to get dressed to the nines! We were going to smoke cigars and drink Chilean wines before hitting the clubs! Sitting in that cab and looking out over the city, just getting ready for its Thursday night, we had high expectations for our weekend in Santiago.

But alas, none of this tomfoolery was meant to happen. We checked into our hostel (a total party hostel, by the way) in a popular area in heart of the city. At this point, we were getting kind of tired of shared sleeping accomodations. We couldn’t wait to have our own private Airbnb the following week in Buenos Aires. So, entering a party hostel and getting to our bunks in a room shared with six others was fatiguing, though expected. We decided to get a bite to eat, so we grabbed some chicken from a nearby joint and then sat down at an outdoor cafe to enjoy a bottle of wine and some lemon pie. By 11, we were back at the hostel and in bed, excited to have a more rowdy night the following day.

The next morning, we, naturally, went out to explore Santiago. Like I said, our hostel was quite centrally located, so after grabbing some breakfast we simply walked around and took in the sights. We walked to a nearby park, Parque Bustamente, which adjoined to several other parks and grassy boulevards alongside the Mapocho River. As the hours ticked on, we walked everywhere… To the Plaza de Armas, around al fresco shopping malls, through parks, to the Museo de Bellas Artes. We also tried (and failed) to get a decent lunch, because our language barrier prevented us from really understanding the menu, and we ended up with expensive bite-sized small plates.

At the end of the day, we calculated that we’d walked approximately 12 miles. Like I said, it was A LOT of walking.

Oh, and another thing: Because we had all these aspirations to go clubbing, we knew we’d need proper club attire. Logan hadn’t brought any nice shoes, so part of our walking journey was in the spirit of finding him some shoes to wear. We hadn’t been able to find anything in his size (US men’s size 13, which will be relevant to our story later), so we vowed to try again the next day and turn in early for the night. We spent our evening socializing in the lobby of our hostel, where we met two other 20-somethings from San Francisco and the UK. We chatted about Donald Trump, Bon Iver, and everyone’s respective travel experiences.

The next morning, we woke up stiff, tired, and frankly, not excited to do much walking. But we would only be in Santiago until Monday (it was Saturday by now), so we knew we couldn’t waste time. We knew we’d have plenty of energy to go out and party come nighttime.

So, we rallied, and decided to do some more walking. Very smart. We decided to explore Cerro Santa Lucía (translation: Santa Lucia Hill). Santiago has a few raised parks that are essentially situated on huge hills, effectively allowing you to hike up to a cool religious monument and chapel, with plenty of wildlife viewing on the way. You read that right: After walking 12 miles the previous day and aspiring to go dancing that night (knowing full well we still had to walk around looking for Logan’s shoes), we decided to go hiking, of all things.

It was a really cool park, though, and we had a great time exploring it. Afterward, because Logan had been craving Chinese food all day, we literally got Chinese in the middle of Santiago. Later that day, as we continued our shoe hunt, I began to get frustrated with the fact that we couldn’t find anything in Logan’s size at any shoe store. So, I decided to use my shaky Spanish skills to ask the store clerks if anyone sold a men’s size 13 — and every store clerk said no.

After doing some research online, Logan uncovered that they simply don’t sell his shoe size anywhere in Chile because it’s unfashionable to have large feet. Now, this is obviously information garnered from random internet threads, but I honestly think it’s probably true. There were no size 13s anywhere we checked, no exception. I still think this is one of the weirdest cultural phenomena we encountered in South America.

So, with no luck in the shoe department and still feeling tired from our excursions, we went home early again. We ate out at some more restaurants and had a drink or two, of course, but it seemed that we wouldn’t have our fun city nightlife experience after all. The following day — our last day in Santiago and Chile in general — was more of the same. We managed to explore the art museum and walked back to the Plaza de Armas once again, and spent some more time hanging out in the parks and people-watching.

My only regret about our South America trip was that we weren’t able to fully enjoy Santiago the way we did other cities. The stars just didn’t line up in that regard: We had been on the road for three weeks now, were ready for a private room, spent WAY too much time walking around aimlessly, and simply tired ourselves out too much to really enjoy the experience to the fullest.

But, that’s not to say Santiago didn’t have its positive moments: We enjoyed leaning on each other for comfort, practicing our Spanish skills, and seeing the beautiful parks that make up the city center. Oh, and we tried the infamous El Completo, a Chilean hot dog covered with avocado and mayonnaise. So that was a high point.

Would we ever get our fun night out in a South American city? Would Logan ever find a pair of shoes? And would we learn from our mistakes and practice walking in moderation? Tune in next time to hear about our week in the beautiful “Paris of South America,” aka Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s