Nichol and Matt go to Chile!

Archive for March 18, 2012

Venture La Vega

Hi All,

This weekend saw us embark on an adventurous St. Patrick’s day afternoon followed by another lazy-ish Sunday (we’re kinda coming to love these things). Upon waking up Saturday morning, we came up with two plans: 1) to finally ascend Cerro San Cristobal or 2) investigate what sounds like the largest market in town, La Vega. We elected to check out the market, as it is apparently where the locals go, and we were encouraged by various online photos of market-cats sitting on produce. Cat-butt watermelon? Who could pass that up?!

Nichol dipping her fingers into one of the many fountains in Santiago Central.

Rather than take the metro directly to the market, we elected to take it to Plaza de Armas and explore a little more of Santiago Central by walking from there. We’re glad that we did as it was a nice walk through the busy streets, passing by small Mom-and-Pop stores selling everything imaginable. Every so often we would come across a stone-work fountain, or little parks that dotted the scenery between the hodge-podge of modern steel and glass buildings, or centuries old cathedrals. The juxtaposition of new and old in central Santiago continues to bewilder us each time we’re in the area.

As we approached the bridge crossing Rio Mapocho, things got a little seedy. A block consisting almost exclusively of lingerie stores and what assuredly was a large strip-club, replete with ‘questionable’ clientele and the requisite music thump-thumping its way into the streets (it was noon…), welcomed us into the neighbourhood harbouring La Vega. Among the growing crowds, we crossed two busy thoroughfares, dodging dogs, cars and people before turning down a side-street that led to one of the market entrances.

We’re not yet sure exactly what we experienced, but it was not what was expected. The side street quickly deteriorated into some sort of bizarro-flea-market (would anyone like to purchase a Teflon-stripped frying pan, mis-matched used shoes, bits of string, or unidentifiable fruit? …and that’s just the tip of the iceberg). We quickly realized that we were the only gringos around as we shuffled along the narrow sidewalk, covered by locals selling all of the aforementioned goods. We avoided a few more cars and taxis as we crossed the street to enter the covered area of the market. Soon enough, we were met by what we suspect are all the missing Santaguinos that have seemed to disappear every weekend. It was a literal wall of people, squeezed between food venders selling vats of uncovered olives, pickles and soft cheeses; flies were common, and smells weren’t pretty. The little old lady asking people to feel her green peppers as she thrusted them at passing market-goers and the severed pig-head squinting happily over freshly butchered carne were just two of the sights that we could make out between the mass of people.

We quickly felt overwhelmed and out of place as we shuffled down the buzzing market corridor, which looked to go on forever with no respite from the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. It should be noted, importantly, that at no point did we feel unsafe or threatened, but after about 15 minutes of sensory overload we opted to slink out a side-exit, intending to return with a better idea of what La Vega entails. Unfortunately, this side-exit led to an even more ‘local’ alleyway, with a small stream of…something? flowing down the centre of the alley towards the original street that we had entered from. We eventually found our way back across the bridge to re-enter Santiago Central and decided to have a walk around the more touristy Mercado Central, which was noticeably busier than our previous visit. Again, our experience at La Vega was not a negative one. We’ve since discovered that the market is split roughly into 3 sections and we shall return, but will be much more prepared for the intensity of such an bona fide marketplace.

Returning to Providencia, we opted for lunch at the California Cantina in hopes of finding some Guinness in honour of St. Paddy’s Day. No such luck, but we each had a couple ‘Schopps’ (pints) of a dark local ‘Kunstmann’ brew. Along with our meals, it capped off a pleasant afternoon of exploring some of the older parts of the city. Hopefully as our Spanish improves we can begin investigating some of the smaller establishments that line the streets; the most enticing aromas seem to waft from them.

This morning we made ourselves a South-American inspired gringo-breakfast, before heading out in search of a replacement coffee grinder. As expected, we didn’t find one. Oh well, the search continues…


BBQ spiced quinoa with grilled tomatoes and bacon, topped by poached eggs, cheese and cilantro. It made our tummies smile.