Let’s just say the altitude made itself known. Two days after finishing our trek to Machu Pichhu and we’re both still struggling. It’s the fourth time in five days that we’re up at the crack of dawn. No, actually before dawn, at 4am, heading to the Cusco airport, ready to make the two day journey to Santiago.
It so happens that direct flights from Cusco (or Lima, for that matter) to Santiago, are prohibitively expensive. So, in an effort to stick to our tight travel budget, we first fly back to Lima, then to the border town of Tacna, in the Peruvian desert. From there, we jump in a “colectivo” (in this case a 1990’s Lincoln, driven by a grumpy old Peruvian man) and race south to the Chilean border. One exit stamp, another entry stamp, and we’ve officially arrived in our 14th country.
Chile stands out among South American nations in subtle, yet significant ways. It’s the only “first world” country in South America and the manifestations of this level of development are most apparent in its capital city. Santiago has a well designed and efficient metro system that easily transports us from the outskirts of town (after a short airport bus ride) into the city center. In an interesting display of trust, something we find has a much stronger presence in more developed countries, the metro cashier hands over our tickets before we hand over our money. It's a small, but noticeable difference from many of the countries we've visited.
We’ve been looking forward to our AirBnB apartment in the bohemian Bellavista neighborhood for a long time now. After six weeks of long bus rides and short(ish) stops throughout Peru and Ecuador, along with our 25 mile trek high in the Andes, Santiago has been our personal beacon of rest, relaxation, and recuperation. Unfortunately, as cool as our flat is, it all goes quickly wrong. Apparently the neighborhood is a bit too hip, since the music from local clubs blasts through our thin walls and not-so-soundproof windows until well past 3am. The apartment could also be described, fairly, as good from afar but far from good. We’re in an old, dank building in an upstairs apartment that has been “refurbished”, but the mold in the walls and the cracks in the furniture tell a different story. After two nights, Ryan has a rash on his feet, legs, and hands, and we’re contemplating internet theories such as bed bugs, dust mites, or any number of other microscopic instigators. So once again, with a severe lack of sleep, we pack our bags and find someplace new. The focus, cleanliness.
We settle on a new neighborhood in the heart of downtown. Our new, modern apartment is on the 22nd floor and, in addition to being clean, offers incredible views of the city’s skyline. The next morning, we both strangely wake up a little after 4am. Ryan’s in the kitchen when we start to feel the building sway. On the wall of the small living room, a hanging mirror is swinging rhythmically, hitting the wall as our 27-story building moves back and forth in a 6.8 magnitude earthquake. We stand in the doorway, watching the door swing and waiting for the bizarre feeling to end. Earthquakes are downright common in Santiago and we go back to sleep feeling like we’ve passed some sort of Chilean initiation.
At this point we’re down to just over 3 days in the city, with plenty of “catching up” to do. We find some lovely coffee shops, a few nice cafes, and take some long walks through the Lastarria and Providencia neighborhoods. They’re all “happening” places, but with American price tags. We also take part in what seems to be a local ritual - drinking one liter bottles of Chilean beer in a crowded patio along Pio Nono street. Sufficiently lubricated, we head straight for (like any good Californians and Coloradans would) a local Mexican restaurant. A few drinks and a massive tower of nachos later and we’re happy campers.
As the final days of our Santiago stopover pass by, the rashes and sleep deprivation start to diminish and our spirits begin to rise. Throughout this trip, we’ve learned that feeling good is by far the most important part of traveling. No matter where in the world you are, if you don’t feel good, it can be tough. Likewise, if you’re feeling great, even the smallest things can become the best experiences.
Next stop, the end of the world and a check in the box next to a lifelong dream - Patagonia!