I wanted to experience South America, but I wasn’t sure where to start. I consulted with Google search and coincidentally, I also came across this tiny Chilean flag pin on my bookshelf–my friend Varinia gave that to me before she returned to her country about 5 years ago. Then another thought came up–I recently met Maicol, a Chilean dancer at the JoelSalsa studio not too long ago. Honestly, I couldn’t deny these signs from the universe. The tickets were booked!
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing the local life of Santiago–the art, nature, history, culture, food hecho con amor, and warm hugs with extra cariño. Maicol’s family was so kind to me and their neighbor was so excited to meet me, a Chinita from New York. She had so many questions to ask me! The Spanish language allowed me to truly connect with the people and culture there. It sparked the most wholesome conversations at 2AM along with delicious BBQ oysters paired with vino tinto in the backyard.
I wandered into one of Pablo Neruda’s three homes before meeting Varinia. She took me to see the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (GAM) in the “SoHo of Santiago,” try Chilean-style hot dogs, and ended our evening with a pitcher of Terremotos!
Es tan corto el amor, y tan largo el olvido. // Love is so short, forgetting is so long.–Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet-diplomat/politician who was known as “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language” and had three houses–one for each of his many muses (La Chascona, La Sebastiana and Isla Negra).
A few days later: flying across the Andes Mountains on my way to el fin de mundo was such a fantastic view from above. During my stay in Punta Arenas, I visited Museo Maggiorino Borgatello (founded by the Salesian missionaries) which provided an overview of the history, habitat and culture of their indigenous people and there was a great collection of historical artifacts from Patagonia. Before embarking on my journey to Torres Del Paine, I took the ferry to Isla Magdalena–a tiny half-a-square-mile island in the stormy seas of the Strait of Magellan–for a meeting with the Magellanic penguins.
After that, it was finally time to see the “end of the world” at Torres Del Paine. Its wilderness was breathtaking–even the 40,000 acres that was affected by the 2011 fire (due to irresponsible tourism) had an eerie beauty to it. This is also my first time experiencing glaciers so close-up and I am glad that this encounter was in the Chilean Antarctica because I’ve always dreamed of visiting Antarctica! I was definitely ill-prepared for the notorious winds and four-seasons-in-one-day experience of Patagonia, but no regrets…I was hiking alone, but met some solo hikers (Jo from Korea, Yoshi from Japan, and Ling from China) and the Fukui brothers (Kyle and Grant from California) on the trails. I was so thankful that Grant lended me his jacket for the extra cold nights. The day that I departed from Torres Del Paine, I met the sweetest strangers on the ferry–Amy, Sarah, Macao, and Jose, who even walked me to my hostel since I was all by myself. Oh man, and the universe worked its magic when we bumped into each other again that same night at the local restaurant, Jekus, so they invited me to their table. What were the odds?! P.S. The friendly bartender at Jekus also made me a drink on the house for my last day there. How sweet!
I flew back to Santiago for my last days in Chile, and as promised, Maicol took me to Valparaíso–an important seaport of the South Pacific, filled with street art, lots of stray doggos, bohemian aesthetics, and Chile’s maritime history! We rode on the infamous funicular elevator there and had delicious mariscos in the seafood market. Before leaving Chile, Maicol also brought me to Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, a space created to commemorate the victims of human rights violations during the civic-military regime (1973-1990) led by Augusto Pinochet. It was a place of memories and emotions–ones that I did not have, yet observed and felt throughout the museum visit. Last but not least, I took my familia out to eat for dinner and wrote them a thank you card from my heart. :’)
Sharing the dinner table with pan y bromas--those were the most unforgettable moments in Santiago. I met so many inspirational people from around the world–tour guides, consultants, artists, scholars, retired couples, and traveling siblings. I am also super grateful for kind souls who've kept me safe and warm (literally) in the wild Patagonia ¡ya poh!