My travel to the far flung stretch of bizarrely shaped land of Chile started with its capital city. My vicarious introduction to the country was through a work of fiction – Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia. Santiago is far up north from the Patagonian region. With a lot of people being underwhelmed by Santiago de Chile, or simply ignoring the city, especially after having travelled to other more vibrant South American cities like Buenos Aires, Cuzco, La Paz and the likes, I didn’t expect much from the city. I did not have any plans or anything close to an itinerary in Chile, so I decided to walk the streets of Santiago as long as they held my interest and form my opinion. People came across as friendly, not shy of my intruding camera and eager to strike a conversation. My Spanish has been getting better as well with my travel to Mexico and Ecuador earlier this year. That, of course, went a long way. However, it was a little annoying to get tapped on my shoulder every quarter of an hour to be told by the well meaning locals to keep my camera safely away in my bag. Just the thing a photographer wants to hear! Often they would whisper the words of wisdom in the most furtive manner imaginable – lest the person next to us would catch the drift.
From witnessing an active social chess scene to local musicians playing Miles Davis tunes or indigenous music on a lute, sampona or even a bagpiper, Santiago breathes life. The cafes have interesting concepts with mirror walls, elevated platforms for the coffee machines and those brewing it, and some of the more attractive ladies in town serving you your hot cuppa. The secret is that the coffee is great as well. It may come across a tad unusual to you that your coffee comes with a complementary vaso of soda.
It lives to being the capital city of this uniquely shaped country – with it being the stage for demonstrations, debates and other displays of non-conformist traits. The student unrest has been picking up again after it had been catapulted into the news by the 23 year old Chilean student leader had managed to open a dialogue with the government. The underlying current of unrest is hard to miss. This might be a bizarre account of the city, and perhaps incorrect too – but hey, its coming from someone who just walked its streets for a couple of days.
“Reflections from Cafe Haiti. A chain of these “cafe de piernas” line the streets near Plaza de Armas. Don’t be surprised if you see men flirting with the servers as if that’s the most natural thing to do in a cafe.
“ An artist at work in the Barrio Lastarria. Seeing artists at work always holds special attention for me. They are always engrossed in their art, and I get to maintain a discreet presence”