Santiago is often used as a gateway to the treasure trove of natural wonders that Chile boasts. But tourists in the capital city might agree with the reserved and disappointing homogeneous reputation given to the nation by its pan-piping, tangoing, salsaing neighbors. The Guachaca Walking Tour not only dispels this myth but leaves you baffled by what Chileans really get up to in broad daylight.
Photo courtesy Loretta van der Horst
From La Bicicleta Verde’s office in Parque Forestal we enter into immigrant neighborhoods Patronato and Bellavista. Although the seasoned hedonist will sniff out the cheapest drinks and loudest music under the cover of darkness, during the day the streets come alive with Asian, Middle Eastern and Peruvian eateries and chaotic clothes stands dazzling with tight, bright, animal print fashion.
Vendors hawk sopaipillas (fried pumpkin pancakes), completos (hot dogs), mote con huesillo (wheat with sweet dried peach) and delicious fresh juices from shopping trolleys,
as more stray dogs than you could shake a stick at lazily size you up for possible treats.
“Enough to feed an army” is an understatement as we enter Santiago’s food epicenter, commonly known as La Vega market.
Our guide talks us through the colorful jigsaw of produce stacked around us as we try local specialties and negotiate elopement options after a friendly fruit vendor takes a shine to one lucky tourist. Exiting via a maze of food stands, our guide explains the local sights and answers questions about Chilean politics, history and economy as we cross the Mapocho river to the Mercado Central fish market to pour over a platter of Pacific seafood oddities.
Our next stop: La Piojera. Meaning the lice pit, the 90-year-old cavernous bar smells like the aftermath of a wild house party (with toilets to match). The all-male staff pour pint-size concoctions such as the Terremoto (meaning earthquake, comprising fermented white wine,
pineapple ice cream and bitters) with the slapdash gusto of kids left home alone for the weekend.
Deliciously refreshing and instantly intoxicating, we pair off our "wine float" with the national empanada de pino (olive, onion, egg and beef) and bid a sad farewell as jolly punters cheer on yet another satisfied customer dancing a pre-lunchtime jig on the table.
With our best attempts at masking rosy-cheeked giggles, we head through Santiago’s underground shopping maze for a well needed coffee.
Unfortunately, the UV-lit bar pumping out reggaeton music and filled with suited men and semi-naked women is more mind-boggling than sobering. Far from a nocturnal, drunken and informal gathering spot, the cafe con piernas culture is enjoyed by businessmen taking a much-needed timeout from the office for a rejuvenating cupful and eyeful.
Waitresses clad in toppling knee-high boots and three strategically-placed shoestrings fit for a mouse provide surprisingly good cups of cortados and espressos. Shocked and fascinated, our volley of questions and subsequent chat to one of the waitresses through the guide epitomizes the Guachaca (meaning commoner) tour’s ability to provide a privileged insight into what most Chileans consider commonplace.
We come away slightly drunk, entertained and somewhat gobsmacked at having glimpsed a piece of the national psyche and the underbelly of local life. In addition to providing four months of insider knowledge in as many hours, the friendly and interactive tour provides the unique local insight to make it an unforgettable experience.
Tour Guachaca, La Bicicleta Verde