Mountains and Korean BBQ – A match made in Chilean heaven

Chile was another country that I’ve always wanted to visit. I don’t exactly know why but I just remember wanting to go there one day for a number of years. With us being stationed in Córdoba, Argentina for the month of October, a trip to Santiago was at the top of my wish list. I decided to make this trip during the work week, my first mid-week side trip I believe, and extend it by a few days instead of opting for the quick Friday-Sunday side trip. Santiago was a cheap hour-long flight just over the mountains from Córdoba and I couldn’t wait to get there.

Whatever picture I had in my head of Santiago was certainly not what I saw, but that’s ok. I guess when I thought of Chile, I pictured Patagonia, the beach and the mountains. I was only able to see one of those things but it was definitely worth the trip. Santiago is actually a massive city at the base of tall mountains that reminded me of the Rockies. The city is very spread out and has many skyscrapers. The airbnb complex we stayed in had almost thirty floors which was something I certainly did not expect going into the trip. Luckily, being that high, we had a great view of the mountains for the apartment porch which was great to wake up to each morning. Coming from Córdoba, we put an emphasis on eating really good food on this trip  since we weren’t eating much of it back in Argentina and Chile is known for its cuisine.

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The first morning, I went out solo for a few hours while my buddy Yun was at the apartment working. Like any new city I visit, I search google for a local craft beer spot and head there hoping to find some good beer and cool people to talk to. The first place I went to had just opened when I arrived so I was the only person in the whole place. I sat down, ordered a beer flight and tried to converse the best I could with the bartender in Spanish. After my first sip of the beer, I knew I’d like Santiago because it was better than any of the local beers I had in Argentina. I ordered chicken fingers with buffalo sauce since it is something I always seem to be craving and enjoyed my beer flight. After I was full, I headed out into the city to walk around a bit until I stumbled upon another beer spot.

Walking through the Bellavista neighborhood in Santiago was awesome! There is street art everywhere and isn’t a ton of car traffic like the rest of the city. In the neighborhood, you can find some really cool restaurants and it has a China/Korea town section with little holes in the wall type places that always smelled so good. There is a big university in this area so you can tell it caters a bit to the students with many casual spots to hang outside and have a beer.  It was great to just walk around and pop into a few places, try some beers and move to the next spot. Everyone I talked to was really nice and since it was 2-3pm on a Monday none of the places were busy. I really enjoy these types of afternoons where I have a few free hours to just walk around and explore a new city with nothing planned. Sometimes you get caught up trying to knock out Tripadvisor’s top ten things to do a city and miss the real feel of the city. This is a big reason why I always seek out the craft beer spots. There are usually in trendy neighborhoods and it gives me a chance to explore the local neighborhoods and see the city from a different perspective.

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After walking around, I went back home to knock out some more work and then Yun and I decided to check out some of the touristy sites. This is when I really realized the enormity of the city. It was around 5 or 6pm at this point and there were people everywhere. We walked to the main plaza and there were so many people selling random things or food and what seemed like endless tiny little restaurants lining the streets. This is definitely something that stands out in Latin America so far. Everybody hustles, from juggling or washing car windshields at a red light for spare change to selling anything and everything under the sun on the sidewalk, everybody is trying to make some extra money. I think it probably speaks to the lack of a middle class in some of these countries where countless people have to try whatever they can to make ends meet. These cities aren’t particularly cheap so if you don’t have a steady income it must be tough to get by, but I guess that goes for anywhere in the world. We walked around the downtown area for a while and stopped in for a Pisco Sour, the national drink of Chile, and now Peru I’m learning. I’m now a fan of the Pisco Sour and it was cool learning about all the different types of pisco from the different regions within Chile or Peru.

The next day our goal was to hit the local market to find a local meal. The market was filled with fishmongers everywhere you looked. The fish looked incredible and there were many sit-down restaurants in the actual market itself, which was unique. We figured we had to try one of these restaurants so after walking around for a little while and getting every restaurant’s sales pitch from the host, we picked one. The seafood was really fresh and it was a really nice local meal. Yun bought an alpaca pancho which he couldn’t leave without so we were officially Chilean at that point. After a little bit of work, we decided to have a nice steak dinner and get drinks at the Ritz-Carlton beforehand. Even when you live on a budget, its always nice to reward yourself with a fancy meal every once in a while. The meal was amazing and after popping around to a few bars for drinks we called it a night.

The next day was the day we were most excited for. We were going to travel outside the city to visit a winery and then head up the mountains. We woke up early and hopped in a car for the two hour drive to the winery. The winery had a great view of the mountains and it was cool to see all the racks of barrels in their warehouse and learn a little bit about their wine-making process. The most interesting thing I learned was that 97% of their wine is exported to other countries. It was also interesting to learn that they sold wine to companies that were able to brand it as their own. So the same wine would have a total different label in the UK versus the US. It could even be different from state to state in the US which I didn’t know could be done. After a tasting and buying a bottle, we hopped back in the car to head up to the mountains. It was another two hour ride up to the mountains but it came with spectacular views.

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As we got closer, we began to see the tall mountains out the window which was really cool for me as I haven’t ever lived near mountains. As you go up, you reach a spot and then its all vertical from there. This road, labeled as 8th dangerous in the world by history channel, has 26 turns to it from the bottom to the top. You just weave your way up this mountain getting higher and higher at every turn. At the top was our destination, the oldest ski resort in Chile – Portillo ski resort. The resort is right next to a beautiful lake and the lifts are right outside the front door. I really wish I had come during ski season because it looked like the perfect place to spend a few days. The resort has hosted many downhill skiing championships over the years and seemed like a really cool place to stay. We went out by the lake to take some pictures and sat down for lunch. There was almost no one in the restaurant and we ate one of the best meals I’ve had as we looked out over the lake and mountains. It was so cool to me to see these mountains up close and it made me really want to take a trip to the Rockies when I get back to the States. The whole ride home I just started out the window looking up at the mountains as they broke through the sky.

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After our long day in the mountains, Yun suggested we go to a Korean BBQ restaurant for dinner. I had never been to a proper Korean BBQ place before so I figured I’d give it a shot even though Santiago, Chile is the last place I would’ve thought I’d first try it. It quickly became one of the most memorable meals and experiences of the trip and I loved every minute of it! Yun, being South Korean, took the lead on all the ordering and I just said I’ll pay for half of whatever we get. We started we beers and soju (kind of like sake) that were mixed together to create a drink that wasn’t my favorite but bearable. Not long after that, tons of plates come out with little side dishes like Kimchi, picked vegetables, some sort of omelette thing with shrimp and plenty of other things I had never seen before. Next, the grill was fired up and we had a big plate of pork and beef to cook. It was a cool experience being able to cook our own meat on the grill and the food was amazing. We made lettuce wraps with all the ingredients and washed it down with our Soju beers. The food was amazing but it was also a fun experience to learn a bit more about the South Korean culture. I’ve been traveling with Yun for 8 months now and this was the first time I really felt connected to the Korean culture. This random dinner experiencing South Korean cuisine in Chile is what really makes traveling so fun. You never know what you’re going to end up doing and the spontaneity of the situation makes it that more memorable. Now when I get back to the States, I’m doing going to seek out a good Korean BBQ restaurant and share the experience with my family.

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The next day, our last, we had one more thing to check off the list before we headed back to Argentina. We wanted to take the cable car up to the top of a hill in the city center where a giant statue of the Virgin Mary was. The cable car ride gave great views of the city and the mountains and made me want to go skiing even more. Once at the top, more great views were to be had and we took the Funicular down which was a unique experience. Built in 1925, it is a train-type thing that went straight down the hill on a track at a crazy steep angle. It was definitely quicker than walking all the way down. After gorging ourselves on burgers, mac and cheese and taquitos our trip to Chile had come to and end and it was time to head back.

I’m really glad I made it to Chile and I definitely want to go back someday. Next time, I want to check out Valparaiso and the beach/coast. I also want to visit the southern Patagonia part of Chile. There is so much to offer in this super thin country and it was definitely one of the my favorite I’ve visited thus far. The city of Santiago and especially the neighborhood we stayed in was very vibrant with a good mix of the new and the old. The people were very nice and welcoming and I ate some amazing food while there. I actually considered staying for three or four more days because I felt so comfortable and was enjoying my time so much. Santiago is a great city to stay for a few nights before you head out to the other amazing things Chile has to offer.

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