“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta
Recently, I traveled to Rapa Nui. (Possibly more on that another time. I’m currently conflicted about how much to share of this exquisite island for fear of contributing to over tourism.) Enroute, I stopped in Santiago. And, surprisingly…shockingly…candidly, I really didn’t like it.
In Santa Lucía, a charming, artsy neighborhood in Central Santiago, I caught someone trying to pick pocket me while I was lusting after hand crafted bracelets and necklaces. Hindsight being 20/20, I’m fairly certain the jeweler and the older woman feigning interest while also being WAY to in my personal space were in on it together. Thankfully, my belongings are still with me. And admittedly, I left my AirBnB with a much different plan that morning hence a backpack that likely made me an easy mark. Regardless, it’s unnerving to find yourself in a foreign country panicking that everything you need has been swiped right from under you.
Even before this mishap, the not-so-charming gentleman and my walking tour of Centro Santiago were meh. The Plaza de Armas was hardly appreciated. The Mercado Central should have been a place to stop, not the hideous Café Bombay (aka, coffee with legs) even with the explanation that I should be ‘open minded’ and understand the women want to work. If that’s what women want to do, I try not to judge. But costumes with the cigarettes and cigars were too much for me.
All over town, taxis were a hassle, heckling about the price and having keep your eyes glued on the meter to avoid shenanigans a NYC Cabbie would admire. Yet, Uber is “illegal” so what do you do? I walked most places. By this point, I was so downtrodden; I completely forgot there was a Metro.
Admittedly, these are champagne problems resulting from my own poor planning. My workaholic tendencies kept me from my due diligence, but Santiago just isn’t as welcoming as other capitals. The Museo Nacional Bellas Artes is a beautiful building (entrance is free) but the exhibits are all in Spanish. I tried to practice but my Spanish is still fairly rudimentary. I inquired about a guided tour or recording but the woman smiled and kindly said, “no habla ingles.”
Beyond the complexities of a language barrier, I was struck by the number of homeless people. Pollution and trash, if not addressed will soon be big problems for this metropolis.
The bright spot of Santiago has to be the boom in restaurants and nightlife. The exchange rate generally works in a tourists favor and you can enjoy some impeccable meals at very good prices (22 tapas plus a bottle of wine: $70 USD). My three favorites were
- Bocanariz. A wine bar featuring terrific flights of Carmenere (well actually just about any wine) in Santa Lucía.
- Chipe-Libre. For the largest selection of Pisco in Santiago
- Peumayén. The Providencia restaurant features “tribal food”which I think is really a polite way of saying ‘only tourists come here’ but the service was excellent with delicious food.
Anything in the Central Market is good if you can get over the discernible tourist trap feeling.
Before I left, I was visiting Valparasio with friends and confessed my not-so-fond thoughts of Santiago. To my surprise, my friend agreed. It just wasn’t her favorite either. That left me wondering. When places no longer enthrall you, is it time to stop exploring? Or, have I become a snob that I can’t see the unique charms of each place I visit?