Central Chile: Feeling the love in Santiago (Part III)

Without the generosity, love and support we received from our friends in Chile, we may have not had the opportunity to learn as much as we did about the country, its culture and Chilean lifestyle. Thank you Kris Cabezas, Ale Castillo, Ivan Cubillos (and Paula), and Maria Ferreira, for making our trip to Chile unforgettable. We will cherish the memories we made together forever.

Brandon and I fell hard and fast for Chile. With its low level of corruption, high literacy rates, strong and stable political front and growing economy, it sets a perfect example for the rest of South America – or for at least Ecuador and Peru.

Chile proves that a strong middle class is very important for an economy to grow and flourish.

In the mid-1980’s, after the political, social and economic unrest of the 60-70s, the Chilean government implemented a new constitution, unprecedented privatizations and other social and economic reforms to transform and grow its economy and empower its people.  The Chilean economy has steadily grown each year since 1984.

According to the 2011 Latin American Economic Outlook report released on Dec. 3, 2010 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Chile has the third highest percentage of middle class citizens in Latin America and the group continues to steadily grow – from 46.6% in 1998 to 49% today.

The wealthy group has hovered between 32 and 33%, while the poor in Chile have declined from 20.1% in 1996 to 18.7% in 2006. Only Uruguay (55.51%) and Mexico (52.88%) have higher percentages of middle-class citizens. Countries with the lowest proportion are Bolivia and Colombia.

Being middle class means different things around the world.  The stereotype in Latin America isn’t the same as the US, Europe or India.

Most Latin American middle class citizens have jobs, don’t live off credit or own their homes, and in most cases only have one car per household. It takes them longer to save money and take vacations, and they do not need a ridiculous amount of space for living, hence the very small rooms, kitchens and car spaces. The family unit is very strong. It is traditional for children, male and female, to live at home until married. When they do get married they are not likely to relocate, or be so far away that they cannot come home for Sunday dinner each week.

Regardless of region (we’ve been to several of them), it appears Chile honors the Horatio Alger ‘rags-to-riches’ mythology: that a person born into poverty can succeed to a life of security and comfort through hard work, determination and courage.

Most middle-class citizens in Chile work in the transport and construction sector, followed by agriculture.  It is a developing country—incorporating into its cul­ture an appreciation of entrepreneurial activity and innovation. Start-up businesses are on the rise. Although Chile lacks a strong infrastructure to support the rise of the digital world, and may not be as technologically advanced as the US or China or Europe, there is a lot of room for growth and opportunity. Considering the people are creative and forward thinking, I believe Chile has a promising future. I am looking forward to seeing what happens next!

Chilehas a well-organized government structure. It is a republic with executive, legislative and judicial branches.

The executive branch consists of the president, and the legislative branch features a bicameral legislature composed of the High Assembly and the Chamber of Deputies. The judicial branch consists of the Constitutional Tribunal, the Supreme Court, the court of appeals and military courts.

Chile is divided into 15 numbered regions for administration. These regions are divided into provinces that are administered by appointed governors. The provinces are further divided into municipalities that are governed by elected mayors.

Santiago, the capital and largest city in Chile, has always been on my list of top cities to visit.  After falling in love with so many regions within Chile, we were even more excited to see what the city had to offer us.

During our travels we stayed in touch with our Chilean friends, Ivan and Maria. (Remember, Ivan took us to a beautiful lunch in Lima, Peru? If not, be sure to read Peru: Lima – Better than we imagined). We met and hung out with Maria earlier in our travels while she was vacationing in Montanita, Ecuador.

Ivan, a funny, sarcastic, fast-talking, kind-hearted, generous family man insisted we stay with him at his home in Maipú, a community located in the southwest Metropolitan Region in the Santiago Province – about 45 minutes from downtown.

After spending an afternoon with Ivan in Peru, we were thrilled to take him up on his offer. Knowing he lives with his girlfriend, Paula, who speaks a little English, and her daughters Paulita (17) and Panchita (7), who don’t speak English, we were even more excited. This would allow us to really learn about the Chilean culture and lifestyle – especially the food (… always the food). Considering the high prices of accommodation (even hostals), food, and transportation, staying with Ivan would end up saving us a lot of money.

Ahh, home sweet home.

Ivan picked us up at the bus station in Santiago. He took us home to meet his Chilean family, eat breakfast, take showers and get settled in for the next 12 days.

Ivan travels often for work. He can be gone for days, weeks and sometimes months at a time. During our stay he actually had to work a lot. Although we saw him in the evenings for dinner, we ended up spending a lot of time home with Paula, Paulita, and Panchita.

Paula runs the household and has a small business selling cosmetics from home. Between Ivan and the girls though, Paula definitely has her hands full. But she is so happy to be home, around the girls, and was really excited to practice her English with us. Paula made us feel more than welcome. She made sure we felt like her home was our home. She made us breakfast and dinner, did our laundry (which hadn’t been cleaned really good for a while), drove us around the city to get a new hard drive, board bag, Mac plugs and always did everything with such enthusiasm and a smile. We truly enjoyed spending time with Paula.  We adopted her as our new Chilean momma.

Paula is also a fantastic cook. She made sure we experienced typical Chilean dishes – vegetarian style.

Bread rolls in Chile are always fresh and very popular, mainly for breakfast. However, it is very customary to have a breadbasket on the table at every meal. In the mornings Paula bought fresh rolls at the panaderia (bakery) and yes, there were rolls on the table at every meal. Our favorite dishes that Paula made include:

  • Tomatican – roasted tomatoes mixed with onions, corn, parsley and fried potatoes on the side;
  • Porrotos conrrendas – pinto beans, spaghetti noodles, diced pumpkin, chopped onion and lots of merkin (no not that merkin… it’s a chili powder from Southern, Chile). Together it formed a soup;
  • Berrlin, Molino y Cocada – platter of three yummy pastry cakes filled with different creams and chocolate;
  • Mixtas platos vegetarianos – blanched green beans; boiled potatoes and carrots mixed with butter and white onions; roasted tomatoes with corn and parsley;

One evening, Ivan came home early from work. That night we made mejillones con parmesean, ajo y salsa de vino blanco (mussels with parmesan, garlic and white wine).

Early that same morning, Paula, Brandon and I headed to the fish market. Here we purchased 5 kilos, or 11 pounds, or 240 individual mussels.

Paula and I cleaned and gutted the mussels and then mixed them in a bowl with butter, garlic, white wine and parmesan. While the mussels soaked in the garlic mixture we reserved the bottom cupped portion of each mussel shell and cleaned it really well. This is how I know we had 240 mussels.

After the shells were cleaned, we put each mussel back into one shell. Then we topped each mussel with a heaping teaspoon of the parmesan/garlic/oil mixture. The last step was placing the mussels on a baking sheet and in the oven on broil for several minutes or until cheese mixture lightly browned.

Prepare and cook time: 3 hours.

This was Brandon and my favorite family dinner of the entire trip. We drank wine (except for Paula, she doesn’t drink), ate mussels, laughed, told old stories and laughed some more. What a beautiful meal and wonderful night!

After a week relaxing at Ivan’s – mentally and physically recouping from our adventures – our friend Maria, whom we met in Montanita, Ecuador, was anxious to tour us around Santiago. We saved the touring and exploring time for her.

Maria lives about 45 minutes by train from Ivan, near the Irarrázaval metro station in Ñuñoa, southeast in the Metropolitan Region in the Santiago Province.

We hadn’t ventured out on our own since we arrived to Santiago.  It was refreshing and exciting to take the public rail – which is quite large, clean and organized – to meet Maria. In and out of tunnels we could see the many communities of the city with the Andes Mountains resting in the background.

Maria met us at the metro and brought us to her beautiful penthouse studio (on the 20th floor), with amazing city views.  She prepared and served us a yummy Chilean breakfast, which included bread, butter, avocado, salsa, crepes, jam, orange juice and coffee. It was fantastic!

We planned on staying with Maria for a couple nights, as it was easier for her and us to meet each day. Little did we know she decided to stay with her mom, who lived a couple blocks away, so could enjoy her beautiful home alone. WOW! We couldn’t believe it!

It was a beautiful start to two jam-packed days of touring madness.

Santiago is a melting pot of nearly six million people, most of them with European decent. As you walk through the streets of Santiago you’ll know exactly what I mean. You’ll see faces of New Yorkers, Londoners, Norwegians, French, Italians, Asians and Indians.

I found the architecture here interesting as it is a good mix of historic churches, monuments and buildings from the 1920s, others from the 50s, and then a lot of hi-rises and housing units obviously built in the late-1980s. Yet, the restaurant scene is sophisticated and the city seems relatively safe.  And, if you can see beyond the smog filled air, it is also very clean.We also never encountered a beggar asking for money or loud obnoxious taxi drivers honking at us, only a couple street vendors trying to sell us cheap jewelry.

Maria shared with us her favorite spots in Santiago, and places she thought we would really enjoy. Here were a few of our favorites:

  1. Barrio Bellavista: Centrally located this bohemian gourmet ghetto, with dozens of first-rate ($$$$) restaurants virtually side-by-side, is the ultimate place for expensive souvenirs, cocktails, food and discotecas. We stayed long enough to window shop and take a couple pictures. It looks like it would be a lot of fun at night!
  2. Cerro San Cristóbal/Parque Metropolitano: There is really no view of the entire city that compares to the panorama at the top of this hill. There are several ways to get to the top. We rode the historic funicular (railcar) from Bellavista (2300/P, or $4 USD each way), which stops at the Zoo halfway up. At the top is a church (80 percent of Chile’s population is Catholic), and a gleaming white statue of the Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción (next to it an outdoor vigil), a gift to Chile from France in the 1980s.
  3. Plaza de Armas: Like many cities in Latin America, this is the main plaza of the city. Here you’ll see tons of street entertainment, art for sale, and get a good look at the faces of Santiago. The chess players from around Chile meet in the center. The Cathedral of Santiago is here; it’s probably the biggest one in Chile.
  4. Palacio de La Moneda: Here is the home and place of work for President of the Republic of Chile, Sebastián Piñera. It also houses the offices of three cabinet ministers: Interior, General Secretariat of the Presidency and General Secretariat of the Government. It occupies an entire block in downtown Santiago, in the area known as the Civic District located between Moneda (North Side), Morandé (East), Alameda del Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins – Barrio Brasil (South) and Teatinos street (West).
  5. Peluqueria Manuel Cerda Francesa (Barrio Yungay): Keeping appliances, furniture and tools from the 1980s and early 1990s, this traditional pro-French style barbershop is one of the oldest in the city with a history dating back to 1886.  Originally a French inspired salon opened and ran by French hairdresser, Victorino Tauzan. Don Emilio Lavaud, an immigrant from France, married Tauzan in the late 1880s. Lavaud died in 1988 and put Don Manuel Cerda, its oldest employee in charge. Cerda continues to run the shop – which is considered a Center of Historical Conservation for the Department of National Goods and for the Council of Monuments. Brandon got his hair cut by Cerda, and even a photo!
  6. Baires Sushi Club (Barrio Brasil): After spending an afternoon in Barrio Brasil (highly recommended) seeing the city, its capitol and B getting a haircut we were hungry. Baires Sushi Club didn’t disappoint. Beautiful presentation and very yummy!
  7. San Jose de Maipo/El Cajón del Maipo: Heading out of Santiago on a cold and stormy day, Maria drove us through San Jose de Maipo toward El Cajon del Maipo – the mountains about 30 minutes outside Santiago. Sadly the weather wasn’t cooperating and we didn’t get too far. However, it was a beautiful drive. And it was amazing to see how fast you can escape the city.
  8. Café Vienes (in Cajón del Maipo): Trying to wait out the rain on our way back to Santiago from San Jose de Maipo, Maria took us to her favorite café along the highway to have a warm beverage. She settled for her favorite, a hot chocolate topped with chocolate flakes and whip, I had a tasty cappuccino, while B had an Irish whiskey. The food here is supposed to be great too!
  9. Remanso Empanadas (La Florida): Ok, I know I’ve talked about many tasty Empanadas in previous blog posts, but nothing compares to Remanso. This family owned ‘locals-only’ joint, located in the middle of residential La Florida, pumps out the BEST empanadas in the city. The best we’ve ever had. From the moment we pulled up, seeing the line out the door, we new we were in for a special treat – it was our Anthony Bourdain moment. We hit the jackpot. With a variety of carne and vegetariano options you will not be disappointed.
  10. Ferreira Penthouse Suite: With 180 degree views of the city, a comfy bed and kitchen to cook in – and “Friends” on TV – coming back to stay at Maria’s beautiful home each night was one of our most favorite experiences in Santiago. Alone at last. Sweet. (Thanks Maria!!!)

Leaving Santiago – Chile for that matter – was really difficult.  I fully cried as we hugged Paula at the airport. We had created such a close family-like bond with these wonderful people. I just didn’t want to leave. I LOVED Chile. We will be back. I promise!

Saving the best for last, on the last day we were in Santiago, Brandon (and my brother) had an early birthday surprise waiting for me at the Santiago bus station. Rushing to the station just a few hours before our flight, it was a 6’6″ surfboard custom made just for me by Kris Cabezas! My very first custom board. I still cannot believe how beautiful it is – and it’s all mine! Costa Rica, here we come!

Stay tuned for more about our life and living in Costa Rica.

For more pictures of our adventures, visit our Facebook Fan Page.

Until next time, keep shredding and living. Much love, Katie and Brandon.

One thought on “Central Chile: Feeling the love in Santiago (Part III)

  1. Thank you Ivan and family for taking such wonderful care of our children. Mi Casa Ed su Casa…come visit us anytime.

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