Cool, dry morning air fills my lungs as we step out of the noisy, chaotic airport terminal. Men yelling taxi? Taxi sir? I was too excited to care, the start of a new adventure was well under way. Its high summer in the southern hemisphere, welcome to Santiago, capital of Chile.
I always remember the first full breath I take in new countries. People get easily caught by the sights of a new place, but the first breath brings so many emotions you don't realize. Me and half of the Council of Giants crew begin our way to the hostel which is in the colorful Bellavista neighborhood. Our poor Spanish skills got us to the location but to find out that Dominica Hostel doesn't exist. A nice couple who spoke broken English helped us talk to the locals to ask where the hostels were. We donned our backpacks and started walking down the shaded streets in search of a hostel - just a few blocks away apparently. No more than two blocks away, we found Gnomo Hostel, and luckily they had room for all of us. Dropped off our bags and started walking.
Bellavista is just across the river from the administrative side of Santiago. The walls are covered in colorful graffiti and well painted murals. The streets are fairly quiet, even at noon. We would soon learn that everything opens late here. We walked in the high summer sun in clear skies to the market area, in search of food and a beer - this is a vacation after all.
Gnomo hostel is 2 blocks away from Mt. Cristobal (Cerro San Cristobal), a small hill that offers short hiking trails and spectacular views of the city. There is a tram that takes you up, we decided to take the one way tram and hike back down during sunset. Sit in the last spot on the tram, you will have a nice vew going up, wish no one in the way. At the top you are instantly greeted with the sprawling urban expanse of Santiago. The air is amazingly clear and you can see all of the city and the towering Andes Mountain peaks flanking the east side.
The trail down took about a hour to do, winding its way down the hill. We had the sunset smiling at us the entire time, peaking through the clouds on the horizon. Golden hour seemed to last longer than usual, it was past 8:30pm and the sun was still dancing on the horizon. The long summer days was a nice surprise after leaving the short winter days of the northern hemisphere.
The kid manning the hostel recommended a brewery for dinner, and what better way to experience new culture other than locally brewed beer? We walked a few blocks, which were much more alive than a few hours earlier. People were out, eating and drinking, loud music blaring from each bar, multiple servers showing their menu to us as we walked by - inviting us to sit down at their restaurant.
We made it to Krossbar and sat outside and chatted up a couple of locals at our table. Meeting new people who speak another language and not your own is always a challenge, a fun challenge. Our minimal Spanish was equaled with their English as we laughed and drank through dinner. Santiago seemed like a cool place. The architecture is wonderful, sunny, fairly clean, lots of art and color and friendly people. We finished our beers and called it a night, we had a 4am taxi to take to the airport the next day, Patagonia - here we come!