The Highs and Lows of Santiago

Written By: jeff

Posted On: May 15th, 2011

career break, career break travel, career break advice, travel the world, Chile travel

Santiago at Dusk. Copyright

I arrived in Santiago on December 28 and stayed through January.  My plan was simple: take some time in the gym to continue on the weight loss path I had been on since September in Buenos Aires and take a photography course to improve my photography skills.  Further, I arrived to a small group of friends so I anticipated a great deal of socializing too.  Well, I did accomplish two of the three goals.  As it turned out, I started out my stay on a high note which rapidly fell but then recovered again at the end just before leaving.

New Years was a weird night.  I traveled with 5 friends from Santiago to Viña del Mar on the coast on the 31st.  The plan originally included renting a cabin or house in Viña and turned into a day/night trip with a return on the 1st in the morning.  I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of partying all night and then catching a bus back to Santiago at 6 or 7 in the morning. But that was the plan and I was with friends so I readied myself to go with the flow.  The first sign of trouble came when we arrived to Viña on the 31st to find out that the first bus still available back to Santiago would be at 1PM on the 1st.  It was a disappointing realization but again, time to go with the flow.

We caught a local bus to the nearby town of Valparaiso to have lunch at the local market and spent the rest of the day walking around a bit.  We finally headed back to Viña around 6PM to get ready for the evening.  We went up one of the ocean-facing mountains to get a spot to watch the fireworks at midnight.

We found an historic, cobblestone street filled with people and we found a good spot still available to watch the fireworks.  We made a picnic, had a few drinks and watched the sunset.  Everyone in the street was very social and there was lots of singing, chanting and dancing.  At midnight, the fireworks started and were extremely impressive.  All along the coastline for probably 20 kilometers to the north and south of us fireworks went off and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen including those in Washington DC and New York.  We cracked the champagne and celebrated the new year.

Down the street a band from a restaurant started playing music.  That livened up an already festive crowd and we all started dancing in the street.  It was like a scene out of a movie. It was great.  Suddenly, the emotional fireworks began and the night took a turn for the worse.  One of the women with us has been flirting with a couple of guys during the evening.  Each believed that they should have been the one to hang with her from this point on.  Two fights in the street ensued between the two.  Just after the second melee, I got separated from my friends and stuck with the drama queen.  There are more details to the story not worth really telling here.  Unfortunately, this woman is the type to cause drama when none exists.  Having had too many of these people in my life, I have sworn them off and after this night, I just had to cut her out of my social circle.  I’ve learned it’s not worth trying to continue the relationship because the toxicity involved with this personality type never goes away.

We tried to find the club we had planned to go to spend the rest of the evening.  It was a 2 hour search (which started at 2AM) through a city built like San Francisco.  At 4AM after a high hill climb, we found the club but not the friends (I later found out they were indeed inside, we just didn’t see them).  Since the group was put off with the drama queen, they weren’t returning our calls and texts on her cell.  My happy-go-lucky demeanor was gone replaced by complete frustration.  So, we made our way back to the bus station and found a bus back to Santiago.  After playing the exorbitant price – I didn’t care, I just wanted to get back – we boarded and arrived at 6AM.  By 7, I was back home at my buddy, Jose Antonio, and away from all the drama.

Jose Antonio, owner of the house who I met through my school here last year, made a nice, simple lunch after I woke up from a short sleep.  I had almost no money on me, had been abandoned the night before and was emotionally spent.  I was incredibly appreciative of his hospitality and welcoming me back into his home for the month.  He could’ve served me dog food and I probably would’ve been just as grateful.  I immediately calmed with the knowledge that I was safe, had food and housing.

Over time, I worked things out with my friend Alejandra (not the drama queen in the group).  She’s been such a good friend over the past year and wasn’t the cause of the drama so it was easy to get back on good footing with her.  The rest of the crowd, I didn’t feel like making the effort so if there was a group activity, I participated.  If not, I didn’t reach out deciding to focus on my other activities.

In September, I started hardcore at the gym again from where I left off in March before leaving.  I had a good trainer and a good program and took off a lot of weight.  I took advantage of the time in Santiago, and in fact, planned to have a large block of time in Santiago to continue before getting on the travel road again.  So, I found a gym and a trainer and went 5 days a week again.  I had good success and still believe I can hit my long-term goal before leaving South America in June.

I signed up for a digital photography class which met on Fridays and Saturdays.  The class covered the basics of how to take a good picture, how to use a standard camera and how to use the photo editing software available on the market.  Our last class was a trip to a park in the mountains to spend the day taking pictures using all the new techniques we learned.  So, now I have some new tricks to play with and hopefully over time, improve the pics I’m taking.

The month passed quietly with the occasional visit by travelers that I met on previous trips passing through Santiago.  So, I got to play tour guide in Santiago.  It was always great to see familiar faces and swap travel stories.

The last weekend in Santiago ended my stay on a high. On Thursday the 31st, I met up with Michael, a student at my language institute that used me as a reference for him before he arrived.  We went out to meet finally and see how things were going. On Friday, I met up with my friends Ale and Paul who were moving the next day.  They fed me sushi and I helped them pack.  On Saturday afternoon, I had a date (finally!) and then went to a going away party that Ale and Paul threw for me.  We went out dancing afterward until about 3-4AM (early by local standards).  On Sunday, I met up with Bruno and Diego, two Spaniards I had met in Ushuaia and were passing through on their way back to Spain.  Diego told me that he’s planning a traditional Spanish BBQ at his family’s house when I arrive later this year.  I really enjoyed hanging out with these guys and look forward to seeing them again in Spain.

At 8PM, I boarded my bus to Puerto Montt in the south where I would catch my boat through the Patagonian islands even further south.  I was ready to leave.  Even though I had  good success in the photography course and at the gym, I didn’t have enough to do.  So, I’m looking forward to the more upbeat pace of backpacking again.

Originally Published February 3, 2008

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