After a gruesome 18hr flight, I arrived in Santiago via São Paulo at 9am local time.
When approaching the airport, the plane just dives like a Stuka since it has just crossed the highest peak of the Andes (and the Americas), Mount Aconcagua which I was perfectly placed to observe. Santiago’s climate and non-existent flora is just like Athens’s, hot and very polluted, so it’s easy to imagine for someone who hasn’t been there. I found a decent hotel for $35 and slept. It normally takes me 2 days to recover when flying to South America.
I disliked Santiago but started liking the Chileans, something that would grow over time. They are extremely nice people, talk to you easily, take an interest in you and are genuine. They had a tough dictatorship and seem to have learned from it. There also seems to be or little corruption, unlike the rest of South America. Chile has got its act together and is an efficient, safe and stunning place to travel. While Argentina and Brazil started Mercosur (with Uruguay and Paraguay) and Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia started the Andean Pact as experiments in open economic zones, Chile was happy to go it alone and was having talks with NAFTA, believe it or not.
Prices? they are like the Algarve, in Portugal. Drivers are better than say the Greeks, the French or the Portuguese; and nothing like the Argentinean nightmare which was to come up later. Smoking is generally banned in closed spaces (including all internal flights which can be very long), the Metro is better than the Tube in London, wine is simply divine and you can drink the beer. OK, they can not drink coffee. They serve you everywhere a small packet of instant Nescafe – there is no real coffee to be found even in the best restaurants. I suppose they charge you for boiling the water.
But the biggest discovery of those early days was the local drink, pisco, mostly drunk with Coke (Piscola) or with lime juice (Pisco sour). Pisco is fermented grape (like Italian grappa) but tastes like tequila – pisco sour tastes like a sour margarita, which is why it was love at first gulp. There has been a fight for the appellation d’origine controllé of Pisco between Chile and Peru . The Pisco you will drink in Chile is called Pisco Elquí, since Peru have a town called Pisco where an international court decided the drink originated from.