Santiago
  • Aperture: ƒ/8
  • Camera: ILCE-7RM2
  • Taken: 13 December, 2015
  • Exposure bias: -3/10EV
  • Flash fired: no
  • Focal length: 55mm
  • ISO: 400
  • Shutter speed: 1/800s

My first visit to Santiago was when I was fifteen years old, on a family ski trip to the resorts of La Parva and then Portillo. Good skiing, great après-ski, amazing views, incredibly strong sun at that altitude that I remember burnt my exposed neck worse than I’ve ever been burnt before (imagine an oozing turtle-neck skin!), it was a good time to be an irresponsible teen. My visit this time was a little less exclusive, arriving bleary eyed on the overnight bus from Puerto Varas in the early hours of the morning, falling into a taxi and heading off to my next reasonably-priced AirBnB accommodation. The apartment was located in the Providencia district of Santiago and even had working wifi! For anyone concerned about their safety / security, look no further, there’s a 24hr concierge and you should have no problems here. I never met the owner as she was away in Panama, but the instructions / tips were all nicely printed out and I never needed to ask for anything. With the Metro walking distance away, getting about was easy enough.

As South American cities go, Santiago doesn’t feel particularly dangerous and I always felt comfortable wondering around and using the metro. My first night there, I headed out to Barrio Lastarria, an area with plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from, and found the perfect place to have my first Pisco Sour cocktail, at ChiPe Libre. If you’ve never had one before, I suggest you find your nearest Peruvian restaurant and head on in there. On a recent visit to Amsterdam, I discovered that the two friends I was with had never tried the drink so took them straight into the nearest place and remedied the situation; they were enlightened, temporarily.

  • Aperture: ƒ/2.8
  • Camera: ILCE-7RM2
  • Taken: 12 December, 2015
  • Flash fired: no
  • Focal length: 90mm
  • ISO: 6400
  • Shutter speed: 1/125s

One of the most boorish arguments is whether pisco originated in Peru or Chile, with both countries claiming it as their national drink, and I liked the way ChiPe Libre played on this issue by proclaiming themselves a part of the ‘República Independiente del Pisco’. And, yes, when you’re a stranger in town and you’re sitting alone at a bar, it’s okay to bring out your camera and play around with the macro capabilities of the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 lens. Look at the detail of the foam on the edge of the glass, handheld! The colours come from the glowing neon bar surface, not from anything funky I’ve done. Afterwards, I went to a nearby fancy restaurant they recommended and I was looking forward to spoiling myself. I had to be honest when the maitre d’ asked me how my meal had been and I was surprised when the bill came with no charge. Nice to see a bit of class when called up on something and I left a large tip for the service.

The next morning I set off to the Mercado Central, something I regularly do when arriving in a new city. There’s something about an old-style market that always makes you feel welcome and I love to see all the fresh produce on display. Maybe it’s a habit I picked up from my days living in London, a city with a whole history of markets. A downside when you’re travelling is that you don’t have a well-stocked kitchen to go back to, so you’re restricted by what you can buy. Luckily, Santiago’s main market has a lot of little restaurants dotted within the market area and I eventually allowed myself to be enticed into one of them. I had myself a delicious seafood soup, a dish that is always near the top of my list when surrounded by market-fresh seafood. The musical accompaniment from the man with the guitar was extra.

  • Aperture: ƒ/2.5
  • Camera: ILCE-7RM2
  • Taken: 11 December, 2015
  • Flash fired: no
  • Focal length: 35mm
  • ISO: 5000
  • Shutter speed: 1/250s

As usual, I spent the rest of the day on foot. The Museo de Bellas Artes is a few minutes walk away and I have to admit that I can’t remember anything about its contents, except that they had a very nice café in there. It could be that I have a terrible memory, or that there wasn’t much on show that left an impression, you decide. I remember I took a photo of this tree outside the museum that was covered in these odds and ends. I’ve no idea if it’s supposed to be art, or if it’s to commemorate something that happened near that spot.

  • Aperture: ƒ/2.8
  • Camera: ILCE-7RM2
  • Taken: 11 December, 2015
  • Flash fired: no
  • Focal length: 35mm
  • ISO: 160
  • Shutter speed: 1/250s

A quick detour to the Cerro Santa Lucia for a scenic walk with pleasant views of the city. You may wonder why, as a photographer, I have few to no photos of these places I’m mentioning. I could claim to be struggling to find my creative muse, or to be suffering from ‘visual fatigue’. I think it’s more the case that there are times when my work has made me into a visual snob and I’d rather not take a picture just for memories sake. Take the walk up to the top of Cerro Santa Lucia… It’s pleasant enough and you do get to see the city from a high-ish vantage point, I just couldn’t see anything that would make me want to capture the image for future viewing. It would be like those terrible moments when you’re invited to a friend’s dinner party after they’ve come back from holiday and are obliged to sit through their holiday snaps, except that this time they would be my own holiday snaps. Yikes, what a scary thought!

This brings me nicely to the Costanera Centre, a place that many people strongly suggested I visit when in Santiago. It has some pretty impressive stats, having the largest mall in all South America and, with the Gran Torre Santiago at 300 metres, it makes it the highest building on the continent too. Santiago is rightly proud of their architectural shopping cathedral and, don’t get me wrong, I like to do a bit of shopping as much as the next man. There’s just something about the vastness of the Costanera, full of its international brands that you can find in any affluent middle-class part of the world, that was simply overwhelming. I backtracked swiftly and headed for the hills, in this case the Cerro San Cristóbal.

  • Aperture: ƒ/8
  • Camera: ILCE-7RM2
  • Taken: 13 December, 2015
  • Exposure bias: -1.7EV
  • Flash fired: no
  • Focal length: 35mm
  • ISO: 6400
  • Shutter speed: 1/40s

Here’s an easy bit of advice, when a security guard tells you that it is not a good idea to be heading up the ‘cerro’ as nighttime is falling, listen to what he has to say. Don’t do what I did, deciding that getting a picture of Santiago as the sun is setting is more important than your own safety. As the cyclists on their racing bikes belted down the steep curves for their last run of the day, I kept on thinking that I must reach the top soon but there was always another turn up ahead. I may also have been fooled by the fact that the sun sets a lot slower in Helsinki than it does in Santiago. I managed to get this shot of the Gran Torre before the light disappeared completely and I eventually came to my senses when all I could see was the road disappearing into the pitch blackness, probably round another curve. I turned and fled back down, with the fear of the unknown spurring me on. The security guard was more amused than relieved when he saw me reappear sweating and panting at the bottom. I let him know he’d been right, asked where the nearest metro station was, twenty minutes walk away, and my nerves were too shot to accept the lift from the stranger in the passing car. Serves me right, a lesson learned.

Then again, did it stop me getting up before first light and heading off to the ‘cerro’ the following morning from the Bellavista side? No, it didn’t. And did I listen to the security guard here when he also warned me that it was too dangerous? No, again. And I took the disused path that he told me wasn’t safe. All I can say in my defence is that it turned into a great walk, with me being greatly relieved when I realised that the noise coming up behind me about an hour in to my walk was only a couple of off-road cyclists. I’m not sure who was more surprised. There’s quite a maze of paths up there, once you head off the beaten track, and it doesn’t take much to imagine that there are probably quite a few crazy goings-on when the lights go down and you have the whole city at your feet.

  • Aperture: ƒ/8
  • Camera: ILCE-7RM2
  • Taken: 13 December, 2015
  • Exposure bias: -1EV
  • Flash fired: no
  • Focal length: 55mm
  • ISO: 400
  • Shutter speed: 1/640s

Obviously, in the three days I was there, it’s impossible to do justice to any city, let alone a capital city like Santiago that is going through a bit of a purple patch and is enjoying showing off its stability and growth with a bit of architectural expansion. I had a great night out listening to a trumpet, double bass and drum trio at the Thelonius Jazz Club in Bellavista; good to see that the great Finlandia vodka is also available in bars here (I didn’t even know that Finlandia do that many flavoured vodkas!); I can recommend the Sanguchería José Ramón 277 in Barrio Lastarria for a quality quick bite to eat… And I’m not sure how Santiago can solve their air pollution issues when they are surrounded on all sides by mountains that trap the fumes from all the ubiquitous cars. Bring on the technology!

I had an apartment booked for my next destination, Valparaiso, and was looking forward to checking out all that colour and experiencing some of the good vibes that I’d heard about the place. Unfortunately, the owner had to cancel at the last minute, I ended up worrying about running out of time on my journey, changed direction and headed back across the border to Mendoza in Argentina. It’s another one of my regrets that I didn’t get to see Valparaiso. No matter how much time you give yourself, there’s never enough; make your choices, move on. A bit like life. Yeah, right, what do you know, you seasoned traveller who was lucky not to be made into a human ‘piñata’ on the slopes of Cerro San Cristobal!

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