Santiago, Chile, 16-19 May, 2011

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May 22nd 2011
Published: May 24th 2011
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Our bus left at 7.30am, expecting a 6 hour trip, mainly across the Andes. Wow, what a magnificent trip. The scenery was breath-taking. The Andes are so rugged. Again we saw snow-capped mountains, waterfalls and a large dam. We drove up the eastern slopes in Argentina and down the western slopes in Chile.

The border crossing was the most sophisticated with our bags going through x-ray machines. They also had a sniffer dog doing his job. The Chileans are pretty strict with people not taking fruit, meat, milk and wood products over their border. It was very cold waiting for our bags to be checked because we were so high up.

After we had crossed the Chile border, we came across a new road which zigzagged down the mountain through 14 hair-pin bends (see photo). Further along the road we even saw some revegetation of the verges. We were certainly in a more advanced country.

We arrived in Santiago at about 3.0pm. We settled into the Eco Hotel which had all the facilities and large room and queen-size bed but no on suite bathroom. The owners were very welcoming.

Tom and I decided to walk into the CBD (10 minutes) while the others went for a Chinese meal.

Santiago, also known as Santiago de Chile, is the capital and largest city of Chile. It is located in the country's central valley, at an elevation of 520 m above sea level. Although Santiago is the capital, legislative bodies meet in the coastal town of Valparaiso, a one-hour drive to its west. We took a tour out to Valparaiso which was a really interesting city, with hillside residence, multi-coloured houses many of which needed funicular to get to their houses. The port was large and busy. We saw many murals on walls and we even came across a group of art students who were preparing to paint another fence. You will see by the photos how interesting these paintings are.

Chile's steady economic growth has transformed Santiago into one of Latin America’s most modern metropolitan areas, with extensive suburban development, dozens of shopping centers, and impressive high-rise architecture. It as a very modern transport infrastructure, including the steadily growing underground Santiago Metro (which we used several times), an effort at modernizing public bus transport and a free flow toll-based ring road and inner city highway system, part of which is tunneled underneath a large section of the city's main river Mapocho connecting the Eastern and Western extremes of the city in a 25-minute drive. Santiago is the regional headquarters to many multinationals, and a financial center. Santiago has a diverse, cosmopolitan culture.
Santiago was founded by Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Valdivia (of which we saw a number of statues of him around the city) on February 12, 1541 with the name Santiago del Nuevo Extremo, as a homage to Saint James and Extramadura, Valdivia's birth place in Spain.

Valdivia chose the location of Santiago because of its climate, abundant vegetation and the ease with which it could be defended—the Mapocho River then split into two branches and rejoined further downstream, forming an island. The Inca ruler Manco Cápac II warned the new rulers that his Indigenous people would be hostile to the occupiers. The Spanish invaders had to battle against hunger caused by this resistance. Pedro de Valdivia ultimately succeeded in stabilizing the food supply and other resources needed for Santiago to thrive.
These early settlers constructed the first important buildings in the city, including the first Cathedral in 1561 and the Church of San Francisco, built in 1618.

We saw many parks in the city and we learned that through the work of European landscapes in 1873, the 1st park, O’Higgins Park opened. The park, open to the public, became a point of interest in Santiago due to its large gardens, lakes, and carriages. Other important buildings were opened during this era, such as the Teatro Municipal opera house, and the Riding Club. At the same time, the 1875 International Exposition was held in the grounds of the Quinta Normal. This is where one of the Metro stations is now.

A strong earthquake struck the city on March 3, 1985, causing few casualties but leaving thousands homeless and destroying many old buildings. Another earthquake, on February 27, 2010, caused massive destruction and 82 deaths in other regions of Chile but little recorded damage in Santiago. We went to the 2 year old Museum of Civil Rights and that was closed for 6 months due to damage.

In 1981, Chile entered a deep economic crisis. Initial policies enacted to try to lift the country out of recession appear to have been arbitrary, and policy mistakes were made and corrected along the way. The economy recovered relatively quickly and since then has built a strong financial sector, allowing the country to avoid the financial turmoil observed during 1995 and 1997-98 in other emerging market economies. Getting rid of the dictatorship rule before 1990 helped also!!

Santiago has a somewhat cooler Mediterranean climate: relatively hot dry summers (November to March) with temperatures reaching up to 35 degrees Celsius on the hottest days; winters (June to August) are more humid with cold mornings, typical maximum daily temperatures of 13 degrees Celsius, and minimums of a few degrees above freezing. Occasional snowfall occurs in the city, and may extend throughout the city, though this happens infrequently (about every 8–10 years). We noticed on our last day that it was getting really cold during the day.

Of the 5.7 million population of Santiago for 2007, it is estimated that 32.89 per cent of men and 30.73% of women were less than 20 years old, while 10.23% and 13.43% were over 60 years, respectively. In contrast, in 1990 the figure under 20 years in total was 38.04 % and over 60, 8.86%. For the year 2020 is estimated that both figures will be 26.69% and 16.79%.

Santiago is the industrial and financial center of Chile, and generates 45% of the country's GDP.

Despite the long history, there are only a few historical buildings from the Spanish colonial period in the city, because Santiago - as the rest of the country - was regularly hit by earthquakes. The buildings from this period include the Casa Colorada (1769), the Church San Francisco (1586) and Posada del Corregidor (1750). Another reason that it lacks old buildings from this time is the new richness of Chile. At the time of the Spanish colony, the city had economically only a low impact, the upswing was only after independence. This explains the low age of many buildings built mainly in neoclassic style. The Cathedral on the central square (Plaza de Armas), 1745 according to plans by Joaquim Toesca built, ranks as the sights as Palacio de La Moneda, the Classicist Presidential Palace. The original building was between 1784 and 1805 of the architect Joaquín Toesca. Since 1846, the Presidential Palace is home to the Government.

During our walk on the 1st day, we climbed up the Cerro Santa Lucia hill where there is a little chapel on the crest of the hill. There was a 360 degree view of the city. This is on the immediate outskirts of the CBD (Centro). On the way back to our hotel we found a restaurant for a chicken dish.

The next day we walked into the city as a group with our guide Betzy, to look at more of the important sites and buildings. After the orientation walk, we found a place in one of the many walking malls to have coffee and enchiladas. Yum! After that we decided to climb up the San Cristobel Hill/Park. This is a massive green belt to the north-east of the CBD where there is also a Zoo as well as the city’s main telecommunication towers. We caught the funicular up the hill and learned that the cable car was not working. We climbed to the massive San Cristobel Statue where there was a section for memorial plaques and an area where people have taken their candles to light for their loved-ones. Again, it was a fantastic view of the city. We could only just make out the Andes behind the smog which was a regular occurrence in Santiago due to the shape of the mountains around the city.

Tom and I then caught a Metro train out to Los Dominicos (end of the red line) and saw a church which we decided to walk to. We then saw people walking into a building so we decided to follow. We came across an amazing little town behind the fence. It had been set up for 150 local artists like a little town, with creeks running through it, birds and chickens in a large pen, outside cafe area, and attractive landscaping around the 150 outlets. The artists included painters, jewelry makers, wood turners and carvers, clothes, hats, clay work, ornaments, etc. etc. We wandered around for over an hour before catching the Metro back.

The next day we did the Valparaiso day tour. In addition to the wonderful scenery, it was a very cold day on the coast. On the way to the coast, we went through a thick fog which apparently occures frequently at this one particular spot. The wind was blowing when we arrived. Our tour guide took us for several walks so that we could have a close-up view of the murals and wharf. We eventually stopped for lunch and both Tom & I had a fish dish (my salmon was over-cooked, but Tom’s fish cooked in butter was beautiful). We got back at about 7.00pm.

The whole group then walked into the CBD to see what the city was like at night. It wasn’t excessively busy and it took us awhile to find a suitable restaurant as the majority of us were not hungry after having a 3.00pm lunch. This was our farewell dinner for Isabella and Matt who weren’t going onto Pucon with us.

The last day in Santiago was spent at the Civil Rights Museum and then wandering around the city. It was really good to see the Museum has presented the dictatorship and military rule without prejudice as many Chileans have pushed this under the table. It is a very liberated country now, with human rights up held and respected. The Museum is a reminder of what the population does not want again. There were photos of every person who was ‘lost’ and killed during this era of 1973 – 1990.

We then walked around the city some more. After going back to the hotel we decided to go out to dinner before catching the bus at 10.30pm. Sandra came with us. We found a great restaurant and had pisco sours, a pasta dish and red wine. It was a great time and then went back to the hotel to farewell our 2 members. We then jumped on the bus which was fully cama (reclining and had a good sleep on the way to Puno.

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