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July 9th 2011
Published: August 5th 2011
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Free TourFree TourFree Tour

Our tour guide at the Plaza de Armas with a statue of Valdivia
Following our travels in Peru, we headed farther south to Santiago, Chile. The main mission of this part of the trip was to see my good friend Jamie. She is on a Rotary scholarship to study abroad for a (calendar) year in Chile. And, since she so good naturedly came to visit us during our Peace Corps Vanuatu days, we just had to repay the visit.

Jamie's hospitality exceeded ours from the moment we stepped off the plane. Those of you regular readers may remember how we left Jamie at the airport on her visit to see us. She, on the other hand, was right at the terminal as we exited customs with a smile and the now-how to navigate the bus system, metro, and short walk to get us to her apartment. She had also prepped a meal of shrimp, broccoli, and rice stir fry to feed her tired guests and fuel herself for an all-nighter, finishing a paper. When we shared a house during our college years, Jamie's ability to go without sleep always, and now continues to, baffled me. At Jamie's insistence, Justin and I commandeered her bed for most of the week.

Our first full
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at Jamie's apartment
day in Chile was a Monday, and Jamie had to go to class. She had a folder of ideas for us to take advantage of while she was away and recommended we take the Free English Tour of the city. So, we braved the metro system and headed to the Plaza de Armas to find the free tour.

Since Chile is in the southern hemisphere, the season was heading into fall/winter when we were visiting. This was a welcome break from what was crescendoing into (we now know) a record breakingly hot summer. In Chile, we enjoyed dressing in layers, wool socks, and jeans. Santiago is a very smoggy town. The classic postcard views of cityscape with the Andes in the background almost never happens; the mountains are blocked by the city's smog.

That Monday morning, it was drizzly, smoggy, and gray. Even though it was rainy, we eventually spotted a man in a red coat with the English words "Free Tour" printed on its' back. The tour started with explanations of the historical Plaza, statues, and government building. The history of the colonization of Chile is dramatic, so it doesn't take much to intrigue visitors. Starting with
Catholic ChurchCatholic ChurchCatholic Church

Also at the Plaza de Armas
a man named Pedro de Valdivia, a love story, and tales of torture of the local peoples during the process of colonization. After helping Francisco Pizarro in his efforts to colonize areas of Peru, Pedro de Valdivia was sent south to continue the colonization. Always hungry for gold, Valdivia and his men were disappointed in the lack of precious metals of Chile's land. What they eventually came to see, however, was the fertile land bounding with agricultural potential. Valdivia set to conquering the local Mapuche people and claiming the land for Spain. The Mapuche were proud and fiesty, giving the Spaniards an unexpected challenge. Valdivia, inspired by his wife, used brutal tactics of fear and torture to psych out the Mapuche. Years later, Valdivia was eventually killed by the Mapuche; a fate that it sounds to me like he deserved.

No matter how bloody or embarrassing the history of colonization is, it is fact and has shaped present life today. Valdivia is still honored by a statue on the Plaza de Armas and as a key element in the history of the country's foundation.

The tour continued to different areas of town, including places to eat and shop
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In the foreground, the bean and pumpkin soup. The corn pie is in the background.
and one of poet Pablo Neruda's houses. It finished early in the afternoon and, after tipping our tour guide, we doubled back to a restaurant that the guide had recommended for local Chilean cuisine. The restaurant, called Galindo, was famed for their corn pie: layers of corn, chicken, beef, egg, potatoes, and an olive that were slowly baked. Only 20 pies are made for lunch and 20 for dinner. We were pumped when I ordered one and it was available. We also ordered a soup of white beans, pumpkin puree, and a hunk of roast beef in the middle; which I found even more delicious than the infamous corn pie.

We walked back to meet Jamie at her apartment, hit the gelatto shop, had a spaghetti and red wine dinner in, and to bed, to bed we went!

The next morning we joined in Jamie's hilarious yet frustrating attempt to get a new gas tank for her heater in the apartment. Language barriers and the culturally acceptable concept of time always make these situations interesting. Jamie's housemates are native speakers of Spanish, yet Jamie insisted that she could handle this chore on her own. We hung around all
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Jamie selecting some veggies at on of her regular stands.
morning, and finally decided to give up and go get some lunch. On the way out of the apartment, you guessed it, a man hauling a gas tank over his shoulder came in the door and asked the doorman to go to her room number!

Once downtown with Jamie, we visited a few of the museums we had passed on our tour the day before. (No museums are open on Mondays in Chile.) One was the Museum of Pre-Colombian art, and another the National Museum. A sketch of Chile's historical background fresh in our minds from yesterday's tour, we were ready to internalize what the museum had to offer.

Still, museums tucker me out. Justin wanted to rejuvenate at one of Santiago's marvels: Cafe con Piernas, or, Coffee with Legs. To keep the business men motivated during their long days at work (long because they start late, take long breaks, and hence have to stay late), Santiago offers a multitude of coffee shops that serve only the basic coffee drinks but with the added perk of a cute waitress in a formfitting outfit who focus on really conversing with their clientele. The original version of the coffee shop
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Ham and Cheese with Corn and Cheese
is rather clean cut, but there are others that lower that standard, to the disgust of many traditionalists in the city. The coffee shop we visited was one of the traditional ones.

Then we took a long walk to La Vega, the vegetable market. Justin and I are vegetable geeks and this place had them! We picked up some items for Jamie's kitchen, for snacks, or that just looked good. Chile is an agricultural haven, so most everything can grow there; everything from grapes to brussel sprouts, peanuts to lemons. It was cute to watch Jamie, who was a regular at specific stands, navigate her way to what felt familiar in the pandemonium of the market.

We grabbed empanadas, a fried tortilla with any variety of fillings, on the way home. There are meats like ham, shrimp, and pork, almost always cheese, and vegetables like corn, onions, peppers. After that snack, we settled in for popcorn and a movie and called it a night.

On day three in Santiago, Jamie had to go back to school. She recommended Justin and I take a bus to Valparaiso. Valparaiso is the original port town. Before Panama, it was THE
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Pablo Neruda's house with the quaintness of Valpo hilliness and zany houses in the background.
port, the last stop before going around the southern horn of South America. These days, the port is not nearly as key, but the quirky, hilly town popping with colorful houses is a unique and tempting pull for tourists and locals alike. Once in the town, we walked up, up, uphill (as if we hadn't had enough of that already) to another one of Pablo Neruda's houses. This one was open for tours and we had an English audio guide to accompany us from room to room.

Pablo Neruda is an internationally recognized poet. Most of his work is translated in numerous languages, so check him out! Part of the beauty of his poetry is how he can work up a romantic and yet realistic description of almost anything; like socks. His homes reflect his quirky personality and also an alarming attachment to material things. He was an avid collector of unique items like carousal horses, all of which he liked to display in his houses.

After the tour, Justin and I found a juice bar that also served ice cream and settled down for a snack. By this time were starting to figure out the cashier system in Chile. When you walk into a restaurant, coffee shop, etc, you first go stand in front of the menu (which usually mean before those serving as well) and figure out what you want, then go to a little booth in the corner called the cashier, place your order, pay, collect a receipt, and then go back to the menu/servers and give them your receipt and they fix your food. It seems like an awful lot of back and forth, but when in Rome...

Refreshed, we walked down to the port. The street we were walking down was full of character. Old, colonial style banks loomed up with ornate pillars and old cobble looking streets before them. We seemed to be walking down the street at closing time and everywhere we looked, BRINKS trucks, or something like them, were pulling up to haul off the money.

The port felt a little skeezy. There were tons of boats, ships, and dingies of all sizes and colors bobbing in the wakes; and there were also tons of people selling stuff and trying to sell boat rides as well. We didn't hang around too long, but had to get a view
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The above ground cemetery of Valpo
of the port since that is was Valparaiso is all about.

Next, at Jamie's recommendation, we headed towards the city's cemetery. Due to the elevation and ancientness of the city, the dead are buried in vaults or above ground tombs. They are gorgeous. We meandered respectfully through the rows of tombs while the sun set.

We took the bus and metro back to Jamie's house, who was cooking vegetable stew (trying to be practical with our veggie splurge from the day before) with her French friend from school. Also joining us for dinner was another classmate of the two (this one from the U.S.) and we all enjoyed our meal together, chatting and laughing into the night.

While Jamie went to school the next day, Justin and I bought opera tickets for the group that night. Santiago has a cute opera house downtown with discounted tickets for youth (26 and younger). We got to watch the opera, in the nosebleed section mind you, for about $10 each! I had never been to an opera before and I really enjoyed the performance. It was in German, with Spanish subtitles projected onto the curtain above, so I followed the
Streets of SantiagoStreets of SantiagoStreets of Santiago

Notice the policemen on horseback and the shoe shining stop. I was never wearing shoes worth stopping to have shined.
plot better than I anticipated. The opera house itself was enough to enchant those not taken with the opera, however, as it was immaculately constructed with engravings, rounded sitting areas, and a shiny chandelier hanging in the center.

Earlier that day, we visited the museum of Derechos Humanos (Human Rights). The museum is exhausting but very well done. It is dedicated to the universal application of basic human rights all over the world. Mass genocides, tortures, and other abuses imposed by the government or otherwise are what the museum is educating people about in hopes of putting a stop to it on a global scale. In the 1970's, Chile's then president, Salvador Allende, was overthrown by Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet took control of the country's government by dictatorship until 1990. All the while, he used methods of mass torture and espionage to control every aspect of life in Chile. The museum strives to make this sore spot in Chile's history a learning experience, that it may never happen again.

The Friday before we were to leave Chile, we had Jamie all to ourselves. Since we had completed all of her "must dos" for the city, we spent the day visiting some of her favorite places. This turned out to be my favorite day in Santiago.

We spent about an hour in the Mercado Artesenal (Artisan's Market) checking out souvenirs. Variations on the alpaca wool items were the common item, as they had been in Peru.

Then, we checked out a grand park that is built into a hill, right smack in downtown Santiago. There are mostly strolling grounds, a fountain, and areas to sit. Here, I must go on a tangent about Santiago's tendency for very intense Public Displays of Affection. I find myself a pretty nonchalant and accepting person, but the PDA in Santiago made me into a gawker. Young couples, probably 14 to 30 somethings, sit on park benches, under trees, on grassy knolls, fountain walls, you name it, and practically suck each others' faces off. The locals aren't phased by it, so I guess that's just how they do things in Santiago. Anyhow, the park was chalk full of such make out scenes, so we moved ourselves right along.

Jamie's classmates had an ugly sweater party the next day, so we headed to a second hand area of town to participate. There was
Park on a hillPark on a hillPark on a hill

Look closely to spot the lovebirds.
a whole street with mounds, not piles, mounds, of clothing just heaped on tables for sale. It looked like someone took a cargo container full of clothes and just dumped it upside down in the store. What an adventure. And what a waste. These clothes were new to someone at some time, most likely in the U.S. as many had familiar name brands (Faded Glory, GAP...) and even tags that listed prices in USD from Salvation Army. I guess what second hand stores in the U.S. can't sell gets passed on down the line. We each picked out a sweater (ugly as possible) for the sweater party the next day.

On the way home, we picked up some fresh salmon from the central market for dinner that night. Another of Jamie's friends came over to showcase his culinary skills; which was alright by me. He made an appetizer of tomato puree, salted ham, and toast that we all snacked on while he cooked. Then, came salmon, brussel sprouts, rolls and wine. Yum-O! After getting nice an full, we headed out to go dancing into the wee hours of the morning.

The next day was, thankfully, very low key.
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Fresh salmon! And practically anything else.
We spent most of it preparing food for Jamie's friends' ugly sweater party. Snacks from home were Jamie's theme - no-bake cookies, hummus, and jell-o made the list. Then we headed to the party for awhile. Back at the house, we packed up and got ready to tell Jamie good-bye the next day. She was packing too, taking a break at the end of the semester to head north, to the desert area of Chile. And thus our South American venture came to a close.


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