Days 190 to 191: The Price Of Freedom? Two Dollars!

Day 190, (continued). I was sat next to a nice America girl on the plane, she was a bit weird though as she told me she spoke fluent Spanish but when I asked for the Spanish for certain foods she didn’t know, not even an orange. On the journey towards and across the Andes there were some fantastic sights. Far below us were deep red coloured salt lakes surrounded by desert which I can only describe as looking like cranberry juice spilled onto a sandy beach, I’d irritatingly packed my camera away so couldn’t get a picture of them. The Andes Mountains also looked amazing their snow capped peaks sticking out above the surrounding haze.

At the airport there was the usual hoard of taxi drivers trying to extract loads of money out of me for the journey into the city. 20,000 pesos was the cheapest I managed to barter but being tight I headed for the 1,000 peso airport bus which practically dropped me off right outside the youth hostel. This place might be quite nice were it not for the hundreds of screaming Argentinean school children running around one half punching each other and the others snogging in ways fourteen year olds really shouldn’t! I briefly popped out to grab some food and had a quick walk around, it looks like a really nice town and hopefully with a bit more to do than Montevideo.

Day 191. I had a great night’s sleep after my long day yesterday but eventually managed to peel myself out of bed and stumbled outside in to another predictably hot sunny day. Actually having said that it was very bright but I could barely see the sun. Santiago is in a bit of a basin and although its altitude is quite high the basin ensures that the pollution gathers inside making for a smoggy dust chocked city. The pollution made me sneeze a little but luckily I had been warned and so had some antihistamine with me which seemed to do the trick. If it wasn’t for the smog I could have seen the city surrounded by the beautiful snow topped peaks of the Andes, every now and again I could make out their tantalising faint outline but sadly never the whole vista.

The old centre of town is very pretty and as I walked around Plaza de la Constitucion, Plaza de la Libertad and the Palacio de la Moneda (the old presidential palace) I took photos while being completely oblivious to the people around me. This obliviousness ensured that I inadvertently got stuck in the middle of a large protest. At first this was quite peaceful, obviously as I hadn’t really noticed; but as usual someone had to prove a point so the police started trying to push them back. Little armoured cars started to appear at the corners of the square which only irritated the crowd more, this led to one protester showing and waving his arse at an armoured car which duly fired.

Suddenly a jet of water hit the guy sending him flying. At this point I got really confused, instead of a massive riot it seemed to turn into a mass party, the police sprayed the water in the air and a crowd of people danced beneath it, cooling down in the midday heat. A bizarre game seemed to have also started, this involved a guy running up to the police sitting on the wet grass goading the police by pointing at his back. The police then duly turned the hose on him spraying his back propelling him across the grass, this was weird. I’m not sure this was deliberate but I still can’t work out if it was serious or not.

Even though I’d hidden at the back I was soaked and really wanted to leave. The police lining the square wouldn’t let me through even though I tried to explain that I was a tourist. On showing him my passport to explain he nodded towards my wallet, I took that as a hint and showed him what I had inside. I only ever keep enough money in my wallet for lunch just in case someone tries to pick my pocket but he seemed quite happy with the 2000 pesos, about $2us, and was allowed to walk off to get dry and get something to eat. I figure the cost of freedom is quite cheap in this place.

Now dry, this afternoon I headed up Cerro (hill) San Cristobal which has a statue of the Virgin Mary on top. The ride up was quite scary as it was on the world’s most dodgy funicular railway, this bounced up and down as if it were being pulled up by knicker elastic rather than wire. I’ve already done one bungy jump this holiday and figured that I didn’t want to inadvertently do another one here. The views from the top were unbelievable, I could not believe that I could still not see anything apart from the city fading away into the smog. Majestic views of the city my arse! But I suppose having said that the bit of the city I could see did give an impression of its vast size.

Back in the dorm I met a weird Canadian Taiwanese guy who seems nice enough and said he knew of a nice restaurant to go for dinner. Rather embarrassingly he spent the first few minutes asking the waiters what they thought of Pinochet as he wanted a feel for the country. I thought if he asked anymore he’d get slightly more than a feel but luckily most seemed to hate him so didn’t mind the question. This time I thought I’d ask for vegetarian as the steaks are starting to get to me and more importantly the restaurant cost more than I thought, this guy clearly doesn’t understand backpacking. The vegetarian option came but in true South American fashion this was chicken. He asked for a ‘blood’ rare garlic dressed steak. After his food came he added, “I can’t believe you don’t have steak cooked like this in the UK but I suppose you do have all that diseased food!” “No we don’t” I replied, adding that “It’s hardly cooked, it looks like the chef has put it under his sweaty armpit for five minutes, that’s your bleedin’ garlic dressing!” I also pointed out that basic evolution resulted in our forefathers discovering fire and found that cooking made the food taste nice and people stopped dying due to dodgy meat as cooking prevented the potential transmission of blood diseases of which many exist in South America. He wasn’t convinced and continued to tear at his raw meat with his teeth like a Stone Age man ripping flesh off a carcass. I’ve always thought that eating raw steak tastes more or less the same as the taste you get when a bit of blood from a nose bleed goes down the back of your throat, not a great taste. He looked up at me for one second, smiled and continued eating. “Good luck” I said….