The flight from Heathrow was as smooth and relaxing as any 15hr long-haul flight could be. Having renounced the patriarchal authority of my father at Terminal 5, I was as buoyant as a space hopper as I bought an overpriced neck cushion, and only cried for 120 seconds.
My first point of contact with the Andean word was my self-appointed plane friend Titi. Within just a few hours, I had discovered that she had been living in Bournemouth (?!) for 7 month, had a boyfriend in Spain, and wanted to be an air hostess. She seemed to be perfect: the same age as me (20), and (being half Italian) access to EU citizenship. She seemed confused as to why I was quite so bitter and jealous of said passport. I realised that Brexit angst was not in fact at the centre of the global psyche. Amazingly, I slept for a long time on the plane (listening to Jake’s playlist and various podcasts) in spite of the fact that , reader, she stole my new neck pillow. We’re now apparently going to Russia together.
We flew in over the Andes as dawn broke, and the white mountains glowed with the orange of the new morning. I successfully navigated the extremely busy airport (Arturo Menino Benitez), where it seemed that all of South America was queuing to get through customs. However, I was caught out by a sniffer dog – for the bananay smell of my bag from my wild PRET purchases the night before.
The taxi to the hostel turned into an extended guide to Chilean history over the past 6 centuries. I tried to make the occasional intelligent contribution, such as ‘Si’. And ‘puede repitirlo por favor? Soy un idiota que no hablo español a pese de estudiarlo a la Universidad de Cambridge’.
Whilst the hostel itself (on the Plaza de las Armas) was beautiful, clean, friendly etc etc., there is a big brothel on floor no. 2, with lots of big brothel women, and men who stared with aggressive sexual energy at this intrepid solo female traveller.
After washing and sorting my bag out (plus meeting a Chilean girl in my dorm, who commiserated with me vis-à-vis the prostitutey situation) I headed straight into town. Enjoyed the general wandering, and went to two museums. No.1: the Museo Historico Nacional (for some reason the 1stfloor was closed, which unfortunately wiped out all pre-colombian history. Lots of portraits of serious men in serious beards, all Spanish captions, – luckily I had had my lesson from the taxi driver this morning (and indeed vague bits of knowledge). Many beautiful 19thcentury items, like portable writing desks and a dolls house, plus some very informative exhibits on the Pinochet dictatorship, which I knew very little about.
Then onto the Museum de artes pre-colombianos, just off the Plaza de las Armas. I remember seeing Inca statues when I was little in the British Museum, and have been generally taken by the craftsmanship of South America ever since.
Tried to locate a second set of museums to go to (in the Quinta Nacional park) but embarrassingly (despite being SURE I was on the right street), didn’t find them. Or the road just ended. Or I’m just silly. Ah well, every day is a new day.
Post museum failure, I was in an angsty mood for the next few hours, and talked to Jake for the 2ndtime that day, with the entirely rational concerns that I a) had not made any best travel friends for life yet; that b) I wasn’t going to improve my Spanish at all, (in spite of fact that I had been speaking Spanish all day), and c) that I was going to expire of a broken heart. He reassured me on a and b and commiserated with me on c. Then he told me to have dinner, go for a walk, and go to bed early, and I did.
Back in the hostel the hookers display a cheerful disregard for the ‘4 personas al maximo’ sign in the old, creaky lift, and I picture my gravestone ‘death by lift; she died as she lived – trying to ascend’. But the hostel upstairs was fuller than before, and I made friends with a cheery Irish woman, and an incredibly thin Brazilian woman who looked like a blonde spider.
2ndday: Got a new pre-paid SIM for the next two weeks with Claro. Felt immensely successful. Walked (and only got a tiny bit lost) to the Cerro Santa Lucia, which is an extremely picturesque and landscaped hill and public park, where Santiago was officially founded in 1541.
Walked along a pathway and found the Centro de Arte Indigena, which was a collective of supposedly authentic handicrafts from various indigenous Chilean tribes. However a lot of it looked suspiciously mass-produced or, indeed, simply made of plastic. From there it was a short walk to the huge neo-classical Biblioteca Nacional de Chile, which (explain.) Finished the walking tour in the Barrio Lastarria, an artsy, extremely pleasant neighbourhood full of pretty restaurants, shops and bars. I had an excellent ice cream: orange G&T and miel de ulmo.
All the museums seemed to be shut. But I’m an extremely chilled world traveller now, so it didn’t bother me, I just continued on like the wind and the sea flow, ya know? Went to get a Turkish coffee on Merced. `Then, at a bit of a loss, went back to the hostel to book bus and hostel for Valparaiso tomorrow.