Thursday, November 21, 2013

Santiago Surprises

It’s been a busy couple days in Santiago, as I adapt to five hours of jet lag, but I’ve made a number of interesting discoveries. Here are a few of them.

Yesterday, in the Navimag offices at Las Condes, I learned the identity of the new vessel that will cover the classic route from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales in February (or perhaps a bit earlier). Acquired from Baja Ferries, where it covered the route between La Paz (Baja California Sur) and the Mexican mainland, and rechristened as M/N Edén, the new vessel will accommodate only about 100 passengers as compared with Navimag’s previous vessel Evangelistas, which had a capacity of some 250.
All passengers will pay about US$500 for the three-day trip, leaving every Friday from Puerto Montt and returning from Natales on Tuesday, but anyone who wants greater privacy will be able to buy out the whole of a four-bunk cabin. There will be other changes in services as well – the new ship will not detour to see the Pío XI glacier (pictured above), for instance – but I won’t appreciate all the details until I’m able to take the trip later this summer, hopefully. Still, given that this is a high-demand route, make your plans early.

It was such a busy day that I skipped lunch but, when I finished with all my appointments and office visits, it was not even 6 p.m. – far too early for dinner here, even though Chileans dine a bit earlier than Argentines. Nevertheless, I made my way to Barrio Lastarria and stumbled upon Bocanáriz, a new wine bar that opened just after my last visit, a bit more than a year ago.
Wine bars are too few in Santiago, but Bocanáriz looks ready to remedy that, with an impressive listing of exclusively Chilean vintages from throughout the country (as the wall display suggests), including an ample selection by the glass and in flights. They also have a bar menu, which made it ideal for me at that hour.
On a warm spring afternoon, avoiding the temptation to overeat, I chose a plate of ceviche – comprised of the mild white reineta (bream) plus avocado and cucumber – along with a flight of Chilean whites. It started with a Casa Marín 2012 Riesling, followed by a Casas del Bosque 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (my favorite of the three) and Maycas de Limarí reserve Chardonnay from 2009. Satisfying both my hunger and thirst, it was an auspicious introduction to a place I plan to return.

Earlier this year, I might conceivably have avoided Bocanáriz but, in the interim, Chile’s new tobacco control law has made all bars and restaurants smoke-free – except on sidewalk seating, where the air quality can still be toxic.

Another pleasant surprise, on boarding the Santiago Metro for the first time on this trip, was to enter an air-conditioned car on a system that, in the past, has sometimes been suffocatingly hot. It’s still crowded, and not all cars have a/c, but the trend is clearly in that direction.

I’ve never quite understood why the Metro provides free WiFi, given how short wait times are, but it does continue to provide sit-down space for computer and smartphone users. That said, it’s not user-friendly for foreign visitors, as signing in requires using your Rol Único Tributario (RUT, the Chilean government’s tax ID). Privacy issues aside, few visiting foreigners will have one (I do, but don’t know it by memory to be able to sign in without checking my papers).

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