We have been in Santiago for four days now, and are getting to know the 'Centro' area a little. We have also taken an excursion to the city of Valparaíso and I have had my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. I have also got a head cold, which is rather annoying when the temperatures are around 25C.

Santiago architecture

Santiago is a great city. The mix of old Colonial architecture and shiny new offices seems to work. Many of the older buildings are crumbling, which adds a pleasing genuine feel to the city. Some grand old buildings are covered in peeling paint, with plants eking out the bare existence of life in the cracks, and they're rather pleasing to look at through a romantic western lens. I'm sure not everyone shares this view, not least the locals.

Our lack of Spanish is a little problematic, but through a phrase book and determination (mainly by Tehm, admittedly) we are able to get the basics that we need to survive. Very few people speak English here, and why should they?

There is a shop close to the hotel which sells basic groceries and water, which we are grateful for. Although we were told that the water is drinkable, it tastes horrible. One of the conference organisers recommended that we don't drink it “just in case”.

We also discovered that the large church that we thought to be the cathedral definitely isn't. Yesterday we navigated through the grid system to Plaza Armanas, the place where Santiago was founded in 1541. It is flanked by what is very definitely a cathedral!

We have also visited the Santa Lucía Hill which affords absolutely stunning views over Santiago and, if the smog allows, a glimpse of the Andes.

Our trip on Saturday to Valparaíso deserves a blog post all of its own. It is a place unlike any other, and colourful in every way. A heady mix of colonial architecture, ruins, docks, the stench of sewers, the heady smells from the fruit and vegetable markets, the butchers, and heavy traffic. We jumped in at the deep end by arriving by bus at the bus station. More later!