Scene-setter: You don’t normally associate Roberto Bolaño with “beach read,” but his novellas Distant Star and By Night in Chile are both quickies that you can knock out in one sitting. In addition to being the type of well-crafted, boundary-pushing (By Night in Chile is essentially one 150-page-long paragraph) writing you’d expect of Bolaño, they also give you a crash course in recent Chilean political history. We read Distant Star aloud on the drive from Napier, New Zealand, to the Auckland Airport, where we caught our flight to Santiago, and that was a good move.
Pound-the-table recommendation: There is a restaurant in Santiago that people—people including Anthony Bourdain, apparently—talk about. It’s called El Hoyo, and it’s one of those “if you want an authentic Chilean experience…” places. There were cuts of meat the size of an adult human head (zero exaggeration) and a house “cocktail” that’s made of white wine, pineapple juice, and sherbert. But, the mashed potatoes. THE. MASHED. POTATOES. We realized after we ordered that there was also a picante version and not ordering those (in addition to the normal ones) is one of our biggest regrets of the trip to date.
Back-pocket fact: Under former dictator Augusto Pinochet, Estadio Nacional was converted into the country’s largest detention center and prison. Horrific acts of torture and murder were committed there, and as unappealing as it might sound we recommend a visit to the amazing Museum of Memory and Human Rights to learn more. The prisoners were kept in the dark at all times except when their blindfolds were lifted slightly on trips to the bathroom. There the drain covers were shaped like seahorses, which Chilean political prisoners adopted as their emblem of hope, Mockingjay-style.