We also left Lima half-asleep.
On December 23, we got up at 5:30 a.m. to beat Lima’s crazy traffic, potential Christmas travel mayhem and board the 8:30 a.m. Sky Airline flight to Santiago, Chile.
Peru was a gateway to South America and Lima was an enjoyable city to start the trip. However, we weren’t planning to head to Cuzco and the Machu Picchu (an insanely expensive journey nowadays) and the traditional route to the Bolivian highlands wasn’t even considered.
We’re going South, period.
We got to Jorge Chávez International Airport shortly after 6 a.m. We completed the check-in process then promptly went upstairs to go through security since the main departure hall was being evacuated because of a suspicious suitcase left behind.
I couldn’t wait to go back to sleep. Just as well, we all boarded the brand-new-looking aircraft early.
I woke up somewhere above the Andes, just before landing.
“Son las dos de la tarde en Santiago,” the steward said.
What? It couldn’t be right. It was a three-hour flight and we had left at 8:30 a.m.!
Two second later, the steward confirmed in English it was indeed 2 p.m. Shit. We didn’t know there was a time difference between Lima and Santiago.
Never mind, we were almost here. We just had to go through the migración and pick up the bags.
Why the rush? Santiago is an easy city for us, we know it very well and I spent weeks there last year. However, it was December 23, dangerously close to everything-is-closed-for-Christmas, and we still had to complete the usual arrival process—withdraw Chilean pesos, buy food for a couple of days, etc.
And now, we were already two hours behind schedule.
There was a long queue at the migración, one of these serpentine lines where you can’t really see how many turns you will have to take before it’s your turn.
Thirty minutes later, we started to suspect the answer would be “many.”
We finally got our passports stamped an hour later.
No time to take the slow bus, we bargained with an unofficial taxi driver who turned out to be an off-duty firefighter.
“His phone says ’26 minutes,’ mommy,” Mark informed me after glancing at the GPS route.
Twenty minutes later, we were stuck in traffic and nowhere close to downtown. I closed my eyes, mentally reorganizing the evening and prioritizing tasks.
“Do you have pesos?”
“No, I have to go to the bank.”
“I have some from last year. Take 20,000. I’ll go get groceries at Lider as soon as we arrive.”
“Pesos, Mark, pesos. It’s about $27.”
“Sounds good, I’ll go eat with Mark.”
We eventually arrived at 5 p.m. I rushed to the supermarket, bought yogurt, bread, butter, cheese, ham, bananas and more and found Mark and Feng at the Chinese restaurant downstairs.
“Gimme the key. I’m going to put the food away. I’ll bring it back to you then… I’ll go for a walk, I guess.”
I started to relax on the way to La Alameda, Santiago’s main avenue. The apartment was fine, we had food, I’ll go to the bank the next day… we were doing okay.
Oops, a fire in the middle of the road.
Wait. FUCK, A FIRE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD!
I looked around and suddenly realized all businesses were boarded up, covered with graffiti and messages. A pile of garbage was burning in the middle of La Alameda. Plaza Italia was packed with armoured police trucks and armed tactical police units.
Oh, right. The protests.
Las protestas started on October 14—this is one of the reasons we landed in Lima since we didn’t know how the situation would evolve.
Okay, so definitely ongoing civil unrest, then.
But hey, it was also Christmas. On December 24, Santiago was busy shopping before the unofficial earlier end-of-business day, 6 p.m. We went to check out San Isidro area where I stayed alone last year—mostly boarded up and/or burned down—and the jam-packed street markets around Estación Central.
“Did I tell you about the Christmas tradition in Chile?”
“Oh, it’s easy,” I explained. “You get to pick one toy for 5,000 pesos or less. Like, one that fit—”
“—in my bag, I know. I love this!”
A Fornite figure pack later, Feng and Mark took the subway back to the apartment and I crossed Barrio Brasil to finish Christmas shopping—no traditional dinner, but an eclectic mix of food we all enjoy, including slices of cake from the Colombian bakery (the kind that looks very Christmas-y for Mark).
We went out for a late-night walk and even checked out the cathedral to see if there was a midnight mass but it was closed and boarded up (because of the protests?).
On December 25, Santiago was shut down and we spent the day taking pictures of political messages on the wall, then Mark and Feng went to see Star Wars.
All in all, a very fun—if unconventional—Christmas.