Livin’ Large and Hangin’ with Street Dogs

Santiago, Chile is a really underrated city on the travel circuit. We went there expecting nothing more than a big city, but were surprised with the culture, Euro-style beauty and awesome food.

Cerro Santa Lucía, Santiago, Chile
Cerro Santa Lucía, Santiago, Chile

We were coming from our Workaway job in the Colchagua Valley where we had been off-the-grid for a month. We stayed in a nice, but rustic volunteer cabin there shared with the two other volunteers, and before that we had been doing a bunch of hiking and camping, so it had been a while since we had hotel night. Some incredibly generous and thoughtful friends gave us a Marriott gift card as a going away present, very wisely saying “after a few months in hostels and camping, you’ll enjoy this more than you’ve ever enjoyed a hotel before”. Smart folks!P1150086

So we booked the brand new Marriott hotel in Santiago, in the posh-est part of town. Of course, arriving as dirty backpackers gets some strange looks, but they took great care of us.

guy light
Even the lamps seemed to say “At your service.”

We grabbed pisco sours on the rooftop bar overlooking the Andes and took advantage of the gym, sauna and hot tub.

We weren’t done with being high rollers though!! Rick knows my foodie tendency and had researched a list of the best restaurants globally. Some were clearly out of our price and attire range (I’m looking at you, Europe!), but Santiago had one of the top 50 in the world that fit us just right. I thought there was no way we could get a reservation on such short notice, but Rick worked his magic and with the help of an in-the-know concierge, who incidentally dubbed us “Very Important International Guests of the Marriott”, we got a table. There are only eight tables in the restaurant, one seating per night.P1150132

We arrived at Boragó and were immediately wowed by the attentive staff and open kitchen. The restaurant is all based on using ingredients endemic to Chile, especially little known ingredients, and creating dishes that highlight those natural flavors. If you haven’t noticed, and I really didn’t until I rode buses the full length of it, Chile is a HUGE country. It stretches most of the length of South America and is extraordinarily diverse.

Of course we went big and did the fifteen or so course tasting with wine pairings, and it was out of this world! Each and every course was a visual work of art, told a beautiful story (which was explained to us by the chef each time he brought food out), and tasted incredible.

Its hard to choose a favorite, but a couple of our top picks were the Jaiba crab with flakes from natural sea rock minerals, the veal cooked in milk, and the sheep’s milk dessert. The wine pairings were incredible as well. In fact, the Viognier was so good it got us hooked on the varietal and it’s been our go-to wine if we can find it for the last month. It was Laurent Zaphire Viognier 2013 from Maipo. If you find a Viognier from Chile, it’s definitely worth getting a bottle– and telling us where you found it!

P1150242So after spoiling ourselves for a day, we returned to our backpacker ways and headed to a hostel to use as a home base for exploring the city. (Turns out when you have a nice hotel for the first time in months, you don’t really want to leave the hotel AT ALL. We just used high speed internet, took hot showers, inhaled the smell of a clean room.)

P1150247Santiago has beautiful parks running through out the city where everyone strolls. On Sundays they even close down the huge main avenue so everyone can bike, rollerblade and run on it. We decided to take the free walking tour of the city that was offered. As usual we were running late to meet get to the meeting point, so we were power-walking/jogging through streets to get there. Out of no where this little black dog spots us from across the street, I swear he made eye contact with me for two seconds, then decided we were his new best friends. We kept going at our power-pace, but undeterred he kept up. I joked to Rick that the dog had made quite a mistake because we were headed off to a five hour walking tour, Rick quipped something like “well bud, if you make it all five hours with us I’ll buy ya a Super Pancho (hotdog)” …you can see where this is going.

P1150280Without us talking to the dog, petting him or anything else, the little guy proceeded to follow us to the meeting point, and then continue on the ENTIRE walking tour. We would go in museums for twenty minutes and he would just wait outside for us. Other stray dogs would run up and bark at him, like “this isn’t your turf”, and he would just take a short cut through an alley and pop back out beside us. He soon became the mascot of our walking tour. And all of our pictures of Santiago landmarks have our little stray friend in them.

We learned that Santiago-ians have a soft spot for stray dogs. As fall comes and it starts to get cooler, people dress the stray dogs in dog jackets, modified sweatshirts and anything else to keep them warm. They also volunteer to build doghouses to go in the parks so the dogs have somewhere to sleep. We learned that there is a long history of the stray dogs being “the people’s dogs”. When Chile was going through a lot of political turmoil and there were frequent, sometimes violent protests, the street dogs always took the side of the protestors. The military and police would have their riot shields, pepper spray and water hoses, and the street dogs would line up with the protestors and go crazy barking at the police. So don’t mess with Santiago’s street dogs, they are well loved.

At the end of the afternoon, Rick was good on his word and we bought our friend a hot dog. We finally had to sad goodbye to him at the seafood market… despite his best efforts, they just don’t allow dogs in there.

Fish Market Central, Santiago Chile

Rick was not surprised at all by the whole thing, as I’ve attracted street dogs all over the world. I think it’s Ruger sending out some signal to all his canine network that I’m a dog person. The street dog will take one look at me (while I’m intentionally NOT looking at him), and decide I’m his new best friend.

From a top 50 restaurant to street dogs, our time in Santiago was never dull and always beautiful.

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