The last of the embers have settled into the Valparaiso harbour along with the banished haze of a new years bender not to be forgotten; the former far sooner than the latter. Even this is questionable of team Poland, or as they say in central Europe, Polska Drużyna. Valparaiso seems a long way away now in the most current and refined of latin cities we’ve seen so far, Santiago. We met team Poland in Quito Ecuador what seems like a lifetime ago and indeed it is now that they depart our company for some other life, Piotr particularly looking like a little kid terrified of a first day at school. It’s a warm and mixed farewell, fittingly we wave at the departing cab with beer glasses still yet to be collected from our street side table too small for five. But close mates don’t need the space of strangers, our wobbly little table all the room we need. We’re all of a sudden just two once more standing on the kerb of the suave alternative streets of Lastarria outside a small microbrewery crowded by girls with fierce haircuts, street art and a fashionable lack of fashion, yes it’s our type of place. We become aware that we run the risk of becoming anti-fashion hipsters. Terrifying.
And it’s this sense of what we define as social cool that has Santiago leaping up the ladder of favoured cities to visit. Through the eclectic vibe and artistic trendiness remains enough latin sass to avoid the very possible feeling of gentrification that Santiago runs the risk of. We’re constantly warned to watch our bags in a bizarrely contrasting circumstance, the over-the-top friendliness of Chileans a stark opposition to the warnings they give. We even have a car stop suddenly in the street to call something out to us, is something wrong? Not at all, they stopped for fear of driving into a photo Charlie was preparing to take, immeasurable politeness bordering absurdity. It’s all relative though, Santiago is none the less a South American major city which means there’s danger, but in relation to its peers it’s an oasis of safety and security.
This sense of civility is particularly notable in the areas we’ve been staying, the alternative gay student hippie pinko centre-lefty area as far as we can tell. Here we do find coffee that is a strong contender for the best coffee in South America so far, a small cafe cheekily named Wonderful. Yes we needed to have wonderful Wonderful coffee at least twice a day, maybe we are becoming ‘those’ people. Throw in trendy bars, pedestrian markets, public music, street performers and we have the social sophistication that Bogota failed at, Quito did in its own way, Lima can’t dream of and Cancun; poor Cancun. Trust the gay area to have all the trimmings, I bet the property prices are too high as well.
In our visit here nine years ago we saw slices of all these things emerging but Santiago has come a long way since then. One thing we noticed then is that there was a disproportionate amount of PDA’s, public displays of affection. Well it was disproportionate then, it’s positively rampant now with parks becoming the favoured place for getting your love into gear and now it’s gay boys and girls too, you go Santiago. Not to mention that this isn’t confined to the discreet wedges of public spaces, it’s everywhere, out there and unrestrained. However we have been told that after dark it takes on a whole new level, the less articulated here the better; yes mum, I reckon they kiss with tongues after dark; scandalous.
Yes Santiago walks the fine line between clean sanitation and edgey pulse alarmingly well. Grown up is the semi cool city we saw then into a maturity that doesn’t need overt downsides to feel unbleached. Santiago is clean, relatively safe, packed with all the things we love without the boring sterility that often accompanies these positives. Danger, dirt, grit and decay have been replaced with edge, personality, vibrance and soul. Beyond all the amazing places we’ve experienced Santiago is possibly the only place that we could live, a bold call but one as undeniable as the wonderful coffee.
But it’s not all macchiatos and craft beers, a visit to Cajon de Maipo just 90 minutes South of the city for a spot of white water rafting gives us that little bit of adventure that we so crave. It’s in this valley that we spent Christmas those years ago, the sense of cycle just keeps on recurring. Geared up with a life vest bulky enough to raise the titanic we venture off into the pumping water of the rapids. We both jump to the front of course flanking ‘El Capitan’ a bubbly girl that can’t swim perched at the front to cling to the ropes for dear life. Safe to say she gets obliterated by every wave and loves it; those ropes have never been gripped so tight. The rapids aren’t the most aggressive ever, nor are they too tame, being tossed overboard I manage to barely hang on by one foot and a hand grabbing a rope somehow, great fun. The dude behind me contributed precisely sweet nothing to the paddling effort all day so was appropriately thrown to the water. We’re not in Lastarria now yet Santiago just keeps ticking boxes.
Fitting it is then that we farewell team Poland here in Santiago, close mates leave us in a place that feels so much like home. Travelling relationships are an intense and isolated beast but whether we visit Poland or the band gets back together in Australia we all somehow know it will happen; somewhere. It’s only a fleeting visit to Santiago this time, we now add it to the growing list of places that we need to visit again. Tomorrow we go to Mendoza in Argentina leaving friends that complete our social circle here and a place that feels like home. Four months into this trip it feels like we’re leaving home over again. Farewell Polska Drużyna, we now cut the cords of security all over again.