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Published: October 9th 2013
Concha y TorroFriday 31 May to Monday 3 June
A neo classical world just off the main road
I arrived to torrential rain for the start of my stay in Chile's capital, Santiago. After taking the Metro to the stop near my hostel in the Barrio Brasil area I decided that rain protection for Little and Large were the most important. So the bag cover went on Large and my raincoat went on Little. Result: I got drowned!
Sadly there was a 7 hour wait to check-in. I hadn't figured out at this point that not being checked in doesn't stop you from being able to shower and change, so I sat in the lounge waiting for my room like a damp dog. Luckily the French Open was on to keep me entertained.
This drew an unwelcome comment from a Spanish guy staying there, who after walking past me a few times asked "What are
you doing!?" It was clear from his tone he felt my watching television for so long was a complete waste of time and I should be out and about. To be honest it was none of his bloody business (even if I was doing it from choice rather than necessity), but I decided to
Old Meets New
Catedral de Santiago, from Plaza de Armas
remain polite and explained I was waiting for check-in, which he seemed more happy with.
Anyway, on with the joys of Santiago. Over the next couple of days I was blessed with beautiful weather, going totally against the weather forecast predictions of more rain. It was truly glorious.
Added to this, a fellow traveller (Rickin) from my time in Bariloche turned up at the same hostel, so I arranged to meet up with him for the Spicy Chile free walking tour later that day before heading out.
First, I chose to explore the neighbourhood of Concha y Torro. This was handily near the hostel, off the main road Avenida O'Higgins. Just turning a corner there was a complete change of atmosphere - like you had stepped back in time. There were tens, if not hundreds of neo classical buildings, built off a central circular plaza. Beautiful architecture was complemented by cobbled streets and trees growing close into the buildings. It felt like another world to the one just round the bend.
Afterwards I grabbed the Metro to La Moneda. At this point I should say it was a really impressive Metro system. This is not something
Street Art at the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Centre - a backdrop to groups of young dancers
I'd usually get excited by, but it was so good it needed a mention - easily navigable, efficient and very clean. I set off in search of the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino - a must see in the Lonely Planet guide. Sadly, I can't confirm or deny this as it was closed. I later found out that the Museum had been badly affected by an earthquake in the capital in 2010, which measured 8.8. Much of the collections had been damaged and restoration work was currently being finished before it reopened later in the year. I therefore chose to wander round the shopping area and settled down on a bench in Plaza de Armas for lunch and some people watching.
Then it was on to the meeting point for the walking tour where I joined Rikin and his new roomie Matt - a young American guy just starting his South American adventure. We were led round by a softly spoken (possibly because he was ill) American called Blake. We started at Palacio de La Moneda, originally a colonial mint but now the Presidential Palace. It became the seat of government and a presidential residence under Manuel Bulnes. In
Neptune in Full Flow
Neptune Fountain at Cerro Santa Lucía
1973 a military coup resulted in Chile's president of the time - Salvador Allende - being overthrown by General Pinochet. This included air raids and ground attacks, which saw the main road lined with tanks. Those still loyal to Allende managed to hold off the onslaught for an hour, but the attackers broke through. Before they reached him, Allende had committed suicide following his last speech where he vowed to stay in the palace.
Blake went on to outline how during his presidential reign, Augusto Pinochet had been responsible for mass human rights violations, including the torture or murder of more then 30,000 political opponents.
We moved on to the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, which I had previously tried to visit. It was here that I learned why it was shut. This was followed by a short walk through the beautiful Catedral de Santiago (seat of the Archbishop of Santiago) and out the other side into Plaza de Armas.
In Plaza de Armas, Blake pointed out the Natural History Museum, previous Presidential Palace and some brass plaques that charted the history and development of Santiago.
Around the financial centre we heard of Chile's attempts to
A ballerina has her photo taken at the Neptune Fountain
sell real coffee to the masses. Despite having some of the best coffee in the world at their fingertips, Chileans seem hooked on instant Nescafe - very frustrating as a traveller who loves her coffee!!! Some clever souls decided that sex sells, so they set up cafes where real coffee was served to businessmen by attractive waitresses in short skirts and heels - "Coffee with Legs" was therefore born. I was quite interested to know whether there was anywhere you could get coffee served to you by a topless man, but apparently this hasn't come about yet - damn!
Other stops on the 3 hour tour included the arty neighbourhood, where we visited the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Centre. Here there were groups of youngsters practicing their street dance routines to a backdrop of street art. Gabriela Mistral was a Chilean poet, educator, diplomat and feminist who was the first Latin American to win the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1945. She is still the only Latin American Woman to have done so. In the bohemian neighbourhood we walked down streets lined with antique and artisan stalls. Then there were the areas manufactured to attract the tourists with their
Skyscrapers in the Mist
City heights viewed through the smog of Santiago, backed by the Andes
boutique shops, restaurants and bars.
En route to our final stop at Parque Metropolitano (at the base of Cerro San Cristóbal) we also stopped outside Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda's house - La Chascona - named after the abundant red hair of his secret lover at the time, Matilde Urrutia.
After all that culture there was only one choice - Rikin, Matt and I went to drink beer!!! We then went back to the hostel for dinner before heading back out to Bella Vista, joined by a young American girl called Sam, for a night on the town. This basically involved some more beer at a bar called Harvard, which wouldn't let us into the club section without ID, followed by some salsa at a Brazilian Bar we found round the corner.
The following day I went out to walk off the fog of the night before, climbing the Cerro Santa Lucia. It was a lovely walk to the top, climbing curved staircases and passing the Neptune Fountain. You were offered excellent views across the city from several viewpoints on the way up, with the stunning backdrop of the Andes. They looked somewhat surreal rising up from behind
Above the Clouds
Views from Cerro San Cristóbal
the buildings, almost as if they were projections. At the top I was amused to find that the street dogs of South America even make it up to the mirador points. A few were curled up at the top, asleep in the sun.
On my way back down I was blessed with the surreal sight of a ballerina "en pointe" at the base of the Neptune fountain. She was drawing a bit of a crowd and it turned out that she was there having her photo taken. What for I never found out, but it was a pretty impressive backdrop for her poses.
I was joined by Rikin, Matt and a newbie from England called Sarah on Monday for another walk. We headed back to Parque Metroplitano to climb the Cerro San Cristóbal, stopping for lunch on the way. Halfway through about ten fire engines turned up to deal with a blaze that started in the adjoining street. There was a pretty big plume of smoke, but we were puzzled as to why so many fire engines were needed. All seemed to represent different countries, so we came to the conclusion that perhaps the fire services in Chile
A statue in the shadow and sun in the grounds of Cerro San Cristóbal
are in competition. If anyone else knows, answer on a postcard please!
Cerro San Cristóbal was a fairly easy 45 minute climb. The view at the top was both amazing and shocking. You got a complete 360 degree vista, but this was somewhat blurred by the thick smog covering the city. It's not something you really notice when you're down in the streets, but from above you get to see just how polluted a place it is. It made you think a bit about the quality of the air you'd been breathing in for the last few days, but c'est la vie!
Back in the hostel that night I relaxed with Sarah over a glass of red wine, getting in some practice for my next stop - wine capital of Argentina...Mendoza!
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