Santiago – Free City Tours

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For our first full day in Santiago, Chile, our AirBnB suggested that we partake in one of the free city walking tours of Santiago. It was a 4-hour tour and something I am so glad that we did.

The tour started in Plaza de Armas at 10am and all you had to do was look for the guys wearing red shirts with “free tours” screen printed on their back. There were two groups – one in Portuguese and one in English – I am pretty sure you can figure out which one we did. Our tour guide’s name was Franco. Now, a four hour talking tour is not something that probably sounds amazing to you, and normally, guide-led tours are not our jam. But if you ever come to Santiago, this tour is freaking fantastic. Our guide was funny and informative, but not in a museum, boring, facts-only kind of way – more in an anecdotal way with interesting facts about each place we stopped at to discuss. The tour is free, but there is a suggested 5,000 pesos ($8-10 US) donation suggested at the end. My opinion, definitely worth it.

So, the tour started in Plaza de Armas and our first stops were the various sculptures around the plaza.

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This first stop was a statue of Pedro de Valdivia. He was a Spanish conqueror that “founded” Santiago in 1541. Six months later, the Mapuche, the indigenous people of the land, burnt it down. He started over, there was a lot of fighting back and forth, he was murdered a few years later – by the escaped Mapuche slave that he was trying to “civilize” and who eventually took all the Spanish war tactics to fight the Spanish from conquering any land further South than Santiago.

The Mapuche, according to our guide, although the largest indigenous ethnic group in Chile is now relatively disregarded. They are not stakeholders in any politics and have little voice.

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This is a statue is for the Mapuche and is also in Plaza de Armas. According to our guide, it’s felt to be the “shut up and go away” statue since it was built to honor the Mapuche, but perhaps as a way for the government to say “hey, look what we did – now go away.”

Obviously, don’t know the full history here, so don’t think all my facts are perfect, just trying to share some of the Santiago history origins that we learned.

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This statue is of Salvador Allende. He was the president from 1970-1973. He was a socialist, but wanted to do it the “Chilean” way – meaning not with guns and armor like Cuba, but over red wine. He wanted to help diminish the class differences between the rich and the poor. Obviously, this caused a lot of contention (guess which class wasn’t that intrigued by more equal distribution of wealth?) Ultimately, Allende accomplished nothing. The far left supporters wanted to go extreme and began being supported by Castro with weapons. The far right became supported by countries, such as the States. And effectively, he was at a standstill.

Then, on September 11, 1973 the military led a a coup to overthrow him, led by Augusto Pinochet, and stormed the presidential house.

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There are still bullet holes in some of the statues and buildings around this building due to the fighting that occurred. After evacuating the building, Allende spoke on the radio to deliver his final words (“I believe in the destiny of Chile”) and committed suicide.

According to our tour guide, September 11 continues to be a day of fighting each year – with riots and protests and the like breaking out. People either hug or spit on Allende’s statue and the country remains politically divided.

After Allende, Pinochet took over the presidential office and led a dictatorship. In this dictatorship, many people had to flee the country (for not supporting Pinochet) and many others were murdered or tortured in various torture centers throughout the country. Pinochet also sent some business guys to the States, Chicago specifically, to learn about economic systems and brought to Chile the idea of living off credit.

Even after Pinochet was voted out of office, he remained politically active since whole in office, he rewrote the Constitution to protect himself. That Constitution is still active today.

Okay, that was the history part of my lesson. Sorry if some things are not completely accurate (again, just sharing what I learned from our guide so totally from his perspective), but I was rather surprised that Chile had experienced such a tumultuous and violent history in such recent times (the 70’s and 80’s!) Definitely never learned about that in any of my classes.

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This is the biggest Chilean flag in the country. Guess where it was made? Nope, not China. Oregon. Weird, right? Didn’t know that Oregon was such a player in the flag-making business.

Now, the tour started to extend to exploring things to do in the city. But before that, we stopped for about a 30-minute rest. This break was much needed. We stopped in Barrio Lastarria. We went to a cafe in an art museum, but had the option to walk around if you wanted (no one did). After that, we were shown the two things that Chilean hate about Santiago:

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This river. It’s not actually dirty, it’s just muddy. It’s carrying all the dirt down from the Andes Mountains.

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This tower. Look at it closely. And consider it was built in the 1990’s. It was built by a cell phone company who wanted the building to be in the shape of the “modern” technology of a cellphone – check out that antenna and the battery in the back. Freaking fantastic.

And, lastly, here is the house of the famous Chilean poet – Pablo Neruda.

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According to our tour guide, Neruda was a complete eccentric. This is actually the house of his mistress, which he moved into once he divorced his wife. It’s also all boat-themed. He loved the ocean, but was afraid of it – so decorated his homes to be nautical so he could still feel as though he was sailing the ocean. He also loved food and wrote an ode to the onion.

Alright, so the tour also showed us places to eat and bars to drink at – but I will share that in another post about the foods and drinks we did have and the things that I wish we had time to do!

Buenos Aires, Part 3

31 Dec IMG_2281-0

Parrillas, or steakhouses, are all over Argentina in order to serve up the nation’s most famous food – beef. From what I am told, all the beef here is grass fed. We went to two parrillas to try out this infamous steak.

I am going to start with the second one first, mainly because it sucked. In San Telmo, we went to a place called La Brigade. We had read about it in some blog and the wait was about an hour for lunch. When we finally got seated in this futbol (soccer) themed restaurant, we were served some rolls and breadsticks (the cracker kind).

We ordered a caprese salad – good. We then ordered our two steaks. Emilio had a pork flank streak – not delicious. I had a flank steak – super chewy. I was confused because the waiter cut it with a spoon but I was hacking through it with my steak knife. We had to request the chimmichuri, and before that – it was pretty bland. We also got a ridiculous amount of meat. The waiter gave no indication that our order could feed a family of six. Some waste occurred here, which makes both our hearts hurt. I learned from my dad that throwing away food is one of the worst things to do.

Overall? Don’t go to La Brigade in San Telmo.

Second place? Don Julio. This is the parrilla we read about all over the place.

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This was place was ridiculously packed. From what I could tell, it was mainly tourists (probably because they read about it all over the Internet also), but I think there was a mix of some locals. Since the projected wait is about an hour at 9:30 at night (we only waited for about 30 minutes), they pass out champagne to you while you’re waiting. Nice touch.

Once inside, the place is decorated with wine bottles that guests have drank and then left messages on.

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They start the meal with some delicious rolls – warm and soft on the inside, and nice and crunchy on the outside. I generally try to stay away from bread but I definitely ate two. They are served with butter, but they also serve some of the best chimmichuri I’ve ever had and some type of pico de gallo/bruschetta mix for the steak, and I ate my rolls with that also. We also ordered a butternut squash and goat cheese salad with beet vingeratte.

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For the steaks, we ordered half portions (good choice, since this was more than enough). I can’t remember what type of steaks we ordered. I am no steak connoisseur and without menu pictures, I forget. We also had waffle fries. I know, I know – carbs and meat everywhere. But, I swear, in all of South America, there are potatoes and bread with every single meal!

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Overall, I think there are probably better steakhouses in Buenos Aires, but Don Julio was pretty good. We definitely left satisfied here.

Although one final note – when we read about the parrillas, everyone wrote about how you could get a good steak and a good Malbec (or any red wine either, but Argentina is known for their Malbecs) for about $30-40. I guess this was meant for a single person, because we spent about double each time (once for lunch, and once for dinner).

Buenos Aires, Part 2

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In Buenos Aires, we did a lot of walking and eating. As I previously mentioned, Argentina is known for its grass fed beef. To partake in this red meat eating frenzy, we tried two parrillas, or steakhouses. But first, a few other snacks and drinks from our four days in BA:

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Empanadas. Since he was a young boy visiting Jalisco, Emilio has loved empanadas – a stuffed bread/pastry that is baked/fried. Due to his love of them, Emilio found a place famous for their empanadas, La Cocina, so we went there and grabbed two – one with cheese and onion and the other called “carne picante,” but it’s not spicy, it’s just spiced with cumin.

Emilio loves empanadas, but I think these were just “meh.” These were good, but we later went to a different restaurant and he had ones that he thought were much better.

We also went to one of the bars on a list of the 50 Best Bars in the World – it’s the best one in Latin America and is called Floreria Atlantico.

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It’s literally a flower shop on the front. And then you have to go through a door, walk down the stairs, and then your suddenly in the bar! It’s very Noble Experiment-ish in San Diego with its secret door, etc. But it was actually a pretty cool bar with bartenders making craft cocktails (their food was not recommended when we read about it). The drink menu is divided up by the countries of the immigrants that make up Buenos Aires. For example, the gin comes from the English and Dutch, bitters from Italy, rum from Cuba, pisco from Peru, and beer from the Germans.

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We had some drinks with house made gin and another called “the Hemingway.” The most interesting drink was probably the last one. Emilio ordered a drink, something along the lines of “the man’s drink in Bolivia,” but our bartender was rather reluctant to make it for him. Rather, she decided to make her own concoction. Obviously, I don’t know all the ingredients but it had orange juice and Tabasco – almost like a Bloody Mary, but an orange juice version. Sounds crazy, but actually quite tasty.

The drinks weren’t cheap (about $9 each), but definitely worth a stop in if you’re ever in BA. Just know they aren’t open till 7pm – but it is open till 3:30am (like I could ever stay up that late!)

We also went to San Telmo for its Sunday Market. It was a huge market. If you’re an antique fan, this is definitely the place for you.

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There were some beautiful glassware and vases – I wish I could have brought some home, but they were rather expensive and heavy to carry home in our backpacks. They also had some funky antiques – old dolls, fashion jewelry, knives, and old door handles and light bulb holders.

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In San Telma, there is also an old famous bar called Bar Dorrego.

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Emilio had a beer and I just ordered a lemonade since it was super hot. The lemonade came with about half a glass full of straight lime juice, a bottle of water, and some sugar packets. Mix at your own leisure.

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Supposedly, it’s been around since the 18th century, so the bar has been marked up pretty good over the years.

Alright, I think that wraps up all the odds and ends of Buenos Aires – I will post about the steakhouses next! This is getting too long already.

Buenos Aires

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The second we stepped off the plane to Buenos Aires, I was happier. At 8:00 at night, it was 80 degrees! That’s what this SoCal girl is talking about. Yes, yes, I know I am from Washington State, but I hate being cold these days and Peru was cold!

Our first night, we just arrived to our studio AirBnB and just chilled – it was Christmas Day and nothing was open, and it had been a long day.

But in the morning, we were ready to go! For our first day, we decided to explore the neighborhood Recoleta and visit the Recoleta Cemetery. Although visiting cemeteries isn’t really my thing, this one is famous.

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It’s basically a bunch of raised tombs – some of which are really fancy, and others that have broken windows and lots of cobwebs. I believe it’s maintained by the city, but families still own the plots. There were many tours being led through the cemetery, and I heard one guide sharing that a tomb had recently sold for $220,000 – after being listed for three years and originally priced at $300,000. This kind of blew my mind. He said that the family had to clear their family’s remains and then would turn the tomb over. I always thought something like that would be a one time deal, but apparently not.

Anyway, what makes this cemetery so famous is the grave of Eva “Evita” Peron, the First Lady of Argentina from 1946-1952.

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You might better recognize her as Madonna, signing “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.”

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She is beloved in Argentina for being a women’s right activist and fighting for the poor. Sadly, she died at only 33.

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After walking through the ceremony, we decided to get some lunch. Argentina is famous for three culinary things: beef, pasta, and pizza. We went for the pizza.

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I had read about El Cuartito as being the best for Argentina’s famous variation of pizza – the fugazetta. All pizzas here are served on a focaccia type bread, lots of cheese, and a little tomato sauce. The fugazetta is a pizza just like that but topped with sweet onions. We ordered a slice of that, along with a slice of mozzarella y jamon (mozzarella and ham with sliced bell pepper and olives), and napolitana (served with fresh tomato slices).

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All three were pretty good, but the fugazetta was actually my favorite. The onions were caramelized and sweet.

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Look at how thick that focaccia bread crust is! I am actually a thin crust and extra tomato sauce pizza kind of girl, but this was pretty good – especially compared to the fake pizza I had in Aguascalientes (didn’t even write about it, not delicious).

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After some delicious gelato and strolling around, we headed home to get ready for our puertas cerradas dinner experience. Puertas cerradas are closed door restaurants and are essentially dinners held in the private homes of chefs. Reservations are a must and they are usually pretty small. We chose a puertas cerradas called Cucina Sunae by Chef Christina Sunae and with Asian influences – we really needed some spicy food (nothing is served here with heat or salsa!)

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This is the front of the restaurant. They don’t give you the address until you make the reservation and this man in front (like a bouncer at a club?) ensures you have a reservation before you’re allowed in.

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We chose to sit outside.

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The menu. Delicious food. Same starter, salad, and dessert but you choose your entree.

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Homemade siracha sauce. I don’t like siracha at home. We used the whole bottle here.

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Chicken satay with peanut sauce and pickled vegetables. Delicious.

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Seafood salad. Probably my favorite course, and that’s with tough competition. It was spicy, but had nice fresh herbs to balance it out and was served with these succulent shrimp and calamari. Sooooo good.

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Emilio’s entree. Sea bass curry. It was delicious. Until he tried mine.

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Prawns in tamarind sauce. I usually think tamarind is too sweet, but this was balanced with salty peanuts and was just awesome. I am used to shrimps being called camarones, but here they are referred to as langostinos (which to me, are the small lobsters that Emilio and I drive to Puerto Nuevo for). Emilio kept sneaking prawns off my plate and pretty much licked the sauce clean off the plate (well, he used a spoon but that dish was clean!)

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And then, dessert. A delicious fried banana puff with omg good passion fruit sauce, some chopped fruits, homemade ice cream, and then this crazy green marshmallow thing.

Overall? Amazing meal. It’s 250 pesos/person and well worth it. Next time, though, I want to go to a closed door restaurant that is even smaller and where all the guests sit together communal style.

What makes Buenos Aires awesome, beside the warmer temps? Significantly better food (than Peru).

Machu Picchu

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Oh, Machu Picchu.

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The “lost city of the Incas” and definitely one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.

To get to Machu Picchu, Emilio and I took a 3.5 hour train ride from Cusco (and a 30 min taxi ride from where we were staying in the center of Cusco to the train center). The train was called Peru Rail. Although trains are not really my thing, it was actually a beautiful ride as you traveled through the rainforest and some some beautiful landscape – if not a little disruptive and the train honked its way through every small little town we passed through. We then arrived in Aguascalientes, which is the closest city to Machu Picchu. It then proceeded to rain the entire day and make us (well, me) a little nervous about Christmas Eve on Machu Picchu.

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(Representing for UW!)

We met our tour guide (from Llamas Path) at 6am to catch about a 20 minute bus ride up the mountain and arrived at Machu Picchu at about 6:30am. The bus ride is a little intense. A one way path (but with buses going both directions) that zig zags up the mountain, few railings, and steep cliffs.

A few side notes upon arrival: the only bathroom is located outside the entrance, so use it before going in. Daily tickets allow you to go in/out, but that’s not really convenient. There is a small cafe that opens at 7am and a restaurant that opens at 11am. We ate at the cafe and it was stadium prices and not delicious. I recommend packing snacks.

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At 6:30am, it was still wet and cloudy. And overwhelmingly beautiful.

We typically travel and tour without a guide, but I am actually really glad we had one for this trip because I didn’t know much history before entering. For example, these terraces were for gardening. Because Machu Picchu is situated in between the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Jungle (think half the circle of each and Machu Picchu in the dead center) , they had lots of rocks and little soil. All the soil for their crops was literally carried up the mountain – by individuals (no horses or donkeys).

And the Inca’s were geniuses. Our tour guide repeatedly called them “masters.” Machu Picchu is where the Inca masters came to hone and teach their craft.

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One of their skills? Architecture. These walls are made from all the stones in the mountain. The Inca’s arrived to Machu Picchu (since they did not have a writing system, no one knows what they called it) in approximately 1430. All of their buildings and walls are still intact – through earthquakes and time – because of their skills with architecture. All their buildings are built with the mountain and rocks, rather than against them.

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Case and point. This room is referred to as the “womb,” and you can see how they kept the natural rock formation as a wall.

Even more impressive? Look at that previous wall picture. That’s for “regular people.” Then, look at this wall:

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These walls are used only on the temples.

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That detail is crazy. Again, 1430 – no modern tools and technology.

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This is the Father and Son Temple – showing off both skills in architecture and astronomy. Notice the two windows. The sun goes perfectly through one on June 21 for summer solstice and the other on December 21 for winter solstice.

The Inca’s also created “looking mirrors” for their astronomy.

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These are perfectly placed so that the water reflects the sky and the stars, etc. could be studied.

Ok, and now just some pictures…

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After our roughly two hour tour ended, we had free time. After stopping in at the cafe I previously mentioned, we decided to hike up to Sun Gate. This is a free, on your own, two hour hike that goes to 8,900 ft elevation (Machu Picchu is at 8,000 ft), but the path is decent – this is in comparison to the people who bought the extra ticket to hike Wayna Picchu. Wayna Picchu only allows 500 people per day and you have to buy your tickets pretty in advance. We didn’t. I didn’t mind.

This is what I heard people saying about Wayna Picchu – the hike is also about two hours but the path is so slim, you often have to take the steps sideways and in some places, climb ladders. I won’t climb a ladder leaning against a house where I could only fall about five feet – much less than falling from almost 9,000 ft elevation. No thanks. Emilio was bummed, though. When we come back, he can do it. I was good with the Sun Gate, or Inti Punku, hike. The Sun Gate used to also be the main entrance to Machu Picchu.

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As you can see, the view from the Sun Gate is breath taking, as you can look down upon the entire city. Definitely a hike worth taking! Although holy crap – pack bug spray and sunscreen! As the day wore on and the clouds broke away, it got rather warm. I had to take off my poncho, North Face, and sweatshirt to get comfortable – but this meant exposed skin – and we both left with shoulder burns and more than our fair share of bug bites.

Alright, so that about wrapped up our Christmas Eve on Machu Picchu. A final history lesson though: the Inca’s only inhabited Machu Picchu for about 100 years, or till 1530, because of the Spanish conquerors. Below them, they heard of the Spanish conquering Cusco and other people and decided to leave, but no one knows where to. They thought their city would be next, but the Spanish never found Machu Picchu, which is also part of the reason that it stands in such good shape. Machu Picchu is referred to as the “lost city” because it wasn’t discovered until 1911 by some Yale archeologist, when he was actually up in the Andes looking for something else. The history of Machu Picchu is still really unknown because of this. I just wonder what happened to the people. It’s amazing to think of what he Inca’s built in only 100 years, but how little they probably got to enjoy it.

Overall, Machu Picchu was an incredible highlight to our trip. It was breath taking, mesmerizing, and also a little sad when thinking about the people who have come and gone from there. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend it. Emilio will give you tips on how to do it on a better budget than we did, because he’s already planning out how visit #2 will work. I am just grateful we had the opportunity to spend our Christmas Eve in such a place of history and natural beauty.

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P.S. If any of my history or facts are wrong, in the words of my Obachan, “so sorry ’bout that!” I am simply regurgitating the facts as given to us by our tour guide. I am no history major.