By Liz Gill, Freelance Journalist who wrote for Mail Online.
I’m beginning to fear Santiago might be a bit bland when three things happen. We stop at some traffic lights, I watch the changing of the guard and I dine at Borago.
The traffic lights are on one of the main tree-lined avenues and ahead of us is the gleaming symbol of modern Chile - the Gran Torre tower block, at 64 storeys the tallest building in South America.
As we pull up a couple of youths spring into action and start juggling – with stools, hurling them into the air in a great display of virtuosity while still managing to collect coins through car windows in the time it takes to change from red to green. It is an example, my guide tells me, of the ingenious alternatives which arose when squidgee merchants were banned.
The changing of the guard takes place at Moneda Palace, the fine early 19th century neoclassical seat of the president. In the square in front are some pretty fountains and various statues of significant figures including one of Salvador Allende, the democratically elected Marxist president ousted in a military coup by Augusto Pinochet. Under his 17 year dictatorship, opponents were ruthlessly disposed of, some thrown out of helicopters into the sea; others, maybe as many as 3,000, simply became los desaparecidos, the disappeared.
Today though the military presence seems entirely benign, all glossy horses and dazzling white uniforms. It’s commanded by two slender young women and at the finale of the ceremony, the band launches, not into something stirring and martial, but into the Tom Jones hit It’s Not Unusual.
And just to add a final flourish, two street dogs decide to play a part. These are not the wretched curs of many foreign cities but reasonably healthy looking individuals who run out with tails wagging to greet the guardsmen before settling to sleep in the middle of the parade ground. No-one shoos them away and when the soldiers march off they simply wheel neatly round them.
On to Borago, the brainchild of Rodolfo Guzman, Chile’s answer to Heston Blumenthal but with movie star looks. In his restaurant, which regularly finds its way onto lists of the world’s 50 best, I eat one of the strangest meals of my life.
The themes are foraging and the fusion of the cooking techniques of the country’s indigenous peoples – Guzman is half Mapuchean - with modern methods. So I eat pickled sea snails, conger eel in squid ink and veal cooked for 40 hours and various other dishes from the tasting menu which rather get lost in translation.
Nothing comes on anything as ordinary as a plate. It comes on slates and on moss, in paper bags and in little buckets filled with hot coals and for some courses you need guidance on what you can eat – those flowers – and what you can’t – those twigs. Almost every mouthful is delicious but the experience is beyond just having a fine dinner: this is food as theatre, as conversation piece, as surreal experience.
TRAVEL FACTS: SEEING SANTIAGO IN STYLE:
Journey Latin America (T.020 8622 8444, www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk) offers a 4-day stay in Santiago from £1,017pp based on two sharing including flights from London, private airport transfers, B&B accommodation and a private city tour.
For the full article view it on Mail Online
(published: 19:02, 3 September 2014).