Currently there are no direct flights to Santiago from San Francisco. Since we were flying via United, our best options were flights with a layover in Houston with Continental Airlines or a layover in Toronto with Air Canada. We ended up choosing Air Canada for a couple reasons: 1. I was able to book flights using 1/2 the normal amount of points (55,000 instead of 110,000 for business first class) on a date that worked for both of us (March 12). 2. Air Canada’s 2-class 777 was decent enough. I know this is going to sound snobby, but I conduct extensive research on aircraft and international flights prior to flying to ensure the most comfortable experience. I read nothing pleasing about Air Canada’s 3-class 777 and I confirmed with the airline that we were flying the 2-class 777. =D
We arrived at SFO around 9:40am for our 11:45am departure. After printing our boarding passes and going through security, we sat ourselves down in the Air France KLM Lounge by around 10am (thanks TSA pre-check!). Breakfast time!
We made sure not to eat too much–knowledge gained from flying a number of international first class flights last year. Long, first class flights are a feast and we had not one but TWO international flights to Santiago!
Honestly, the food wasn’t great. It was okay. It’s a meal on a plane, what can you expect? At least the flight attendant passed around free Lindt chocolate bars.
Little did we know that our next international flight had TWO meals: dinner at 1:30am and breakfast 90 minutes before arrival. More food AGAIN?! OKAY!!! Chris asked for wine at midnight. Heehee.
Dinner of steak and potatoes. The steak was as awful as it looks, but Chris devoured his. I think he devoured it because he was so absorbed in his movie, he didn’t notice how terrible it was. I mean, just look at him.
After the brownie I literally passed TFO. I only woke up again because I heard the flight attendant serving breakfast. It was nice to have 6-7 hours pass by so quickly.
The plane landed around 11am Friday the 13th and the weather was FUCKING INCREDIBLE. It was like Northern California in September–warm and dry with a cool breeze, and amazingly pleasant in the shade. And to top it off…I inserted my travel debit card in the ATM and realized I forgot my PIN. DOH!
Accommodation for our first two nights in Santiago was an apartment with a couple of dudes we found on AirBnB for $25/night. Directions to the apartment via local bus and metro were simple enough. After all, Santiago’s metro is considered the most extensive metro in all of South America.
After dropping off our luggage, we set out to explore downtown Santiago. The metro was super easy to use, clean, reliable, and cheap (~$1 USD pp, depending on what time you ride), but hot (no AC!).
We stumbled upon the Santa Lucia Hill, walked up to the top, and saw this view of Santiago. The Andes is to the east (left center of the photo), but the smog kept it hidden. Pretty damn big city of ~7 million people!
Jet lag between Chile and California wasn’t so bad (4 hours), but our lack of sleep from the flight caught on and our minds slowly scampered off into a slight daze by late afternoon and we promptly returned to the apartment for a nap.
The following day was our first full day in Santiago, but definitely not our last. (We will be returning again in late April en route to Easter Island.) We returned to the historical Plaza de Armas for lunch. From left to right, the buildings below are the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral, the post office, and a national museum.
La Vega Mercado was the real deal. It was literally on the other side of the river north of Mercado Central, hustling and bustling with locals doing their shopping and eating. I read that prices at La Vega for groceries and food are a fraction of the cost of what you can find at Mercado Central.
We took it easy the remainder of the day, primarily getting ready for another flight the following day to Punta Arenas, the southernmost city of Chile. We were now going to leave Santiago’s perfect summer weather for the south’s frequent rain, strong winds, and unpredictable cold (cold to Californians with high 50s and low 40s), but the wonders of the Patagonian outdoors awaited us.
It had only been 2 days in South America, 2 days in Chile, and my observation is that it’s not that different from home. Southeast Asia was such a drastic change and I guess I had a similar expectation in South America only because we were traveling internationally again. How is it like home? For starters, no one gives a shit that I’m an English-speaking Asian. I don’t get too many awkward stares. People wear flip flops, short shorts, and mid-drift tops. Young adults aren’t shy to show public displays of affection. Traffic is manageable; drivers and pedestrians obey traffic rules. Drivers don’t abuse their horns. Sidewalks are wide, and people drive large cars. There aren’t any squat toilets, and toilet paper is provided in bathrooms. The weather is pleasant. I haven’t had to bargain yet, and it seems as if everything is a fixed price. And, like in California, Spanish can be heard from anywhere. It really isn’t that foreign. It’s still the west, after all.
In any Southeast Asian country, the smart businessman or businesswoman knew that speaking English was the key to their success. From Vietnam to Myanmar, it was actually quite common to converse in English with natives. Hell, even the Hmong tribes in Sapa were more fluent in English than Vietnamese! Chris said he didn’t really have a difficult time at all communicating in Southeast Asia. Even when I spoke Vietnamese to the Vietnamese locals, everyone was just so delighted that I could speak and understand their language. Southeast Asians simply don’t expect foreigners to know their language. On the contrary, Spanish speakers expect you to speak Spanish. If you do happen to speak it, no one is impressed. Spanish is so widely spoken throughout this massive continent that it’s not necessary for businessmen and businesswomen to speak English in order to have a successful business. As a result, almost no one speaks English. Thankfully Chris has an ear for Spanish, and I have a pretty basic Spanish vocabulary due to my 2 months of cramming.
I’ve studied Japanese for 6 years, but the most time I’ve spent in Japan was about 2 months. Vietnamese was my first language, but the most time I’ve spent in Vietnam was also about 2 months. Now, I’ve spent about 2 months studying Spanish, but I’ll be in Spanish-speaking countries for 5 months. We’re both pretty excited to see our Spanish progression from now until the end of this trip. Next stop: Patagonia!