After a fantastic week with Roberto and Rose we set off for Santiago de Chile. We needed to leave Brasil briefly as we are only allowed to stay for 90 days without a Visa and so decided to take a week in Chile.
We went into São Paulo to stay over night with another of Valeria’s old friends Adriana as she lives closer to the airport and set off at about 4 am on Tuesday 11 December to make sure we beat the traffic for our 3 hour flight across the Andes to Santiago.
Our Air B&B apartment was in San Isidro close to the Santa Lucia subway station. Being on the 22nd floor we had a great view of Santa Lucia hill and it’s small Castilo Hidalgo.
First impressions of Santiago were favourable. Our big concern in Brasil is personal safety, so much so that we left anything vaguely valuable in the UK, as wearing jewellery or watches is asking to be relieved of them. So Santiago was a refreshing change. It is a busy place, crowded at times with plenty of traffic, loads of pedestrians and lots of street vendors. But the vibe is different from Brazil and I didn’t feel the need to check over my shoulder every 10 seconds. The large number of police on the streets probably helped, but even away from the centre where there were fewer Carabineros the atmosphere was quite safe and relaxed.
Having said that all was not ‘quiet’, but we only found out about the demonstrations from the UK news. Recently a young guy belonging to the Mapuche people from the south of Chile was shot by the Police, resulting in resignations and demonstrations by activists in Santiago.
There are a large number of things to see and do in and Santiago and to get a good idea of the city itself we took a free walking tour. This lasts about 3 hours and was very interesting, giving us a good look at the centre of town and what can best be described as the Restaurant Quarter; we went back there three times!!!
The tour started in the Plaza de Armas which is flanked by the Cathedral and the Post Office. The Plaza was the original muster point for the citizenry when called to defend the city.
Our guide was an entertaining guy, whose day was as an actor, and we picked up a host of historical titbits from him and he helped explain the background to the recent demonstrations.
Apparently the Mapuche people from the south of Chile successfully defended themselves from the Incas, the Spanish and initially the Chileans. As the Chilean nation became established the Mapuche’s indomitable spirit of resistance came to embody Chilean values, but that admiration never translated into much benefit for the Mapuche themselves and the issue of Mapuche rights is still a political hot potato.
On a lighter note, our guide told us about Cafè com Pernas, or Coffee with Legs. He stopped outside a coffee shop we had visited the previous day, where we had noted that the waitresses all wore rather short skirts; this is Cafe com Pernas. It is a ‘tradition’ in the business district which originated back in less enlightened, less PC days when business men would flock to these cafes to ‘flirt’ with the waitresses, flirt being a euphemism. The ‘tradition’ continues although not the ‘flirting’.
The old Congress building is in Plaza Montt-Varas but the Congress itself was moved to Valparaiso in 1990 in an apparent attempt to encourage so move some of the wealth of the capital down to the coast. It didn’t work as everyone still lives in Santiago and simply commutes the hour and a half to Valparaiso, and back, and complains bitterly about it! Apparently moves are afoot to return the Congress to the Capital.
The Presidential Palace is called the Palacio de la Moneda, the Coin Palace, because it was originally the Mint. It was here that the left wing Salvador Allende put up his last stand against the Coup lead by General Pinochet in which the Chilean Airforce bombed the palace. Allende died and is now commemorated with a statue in the City Park outside the Palace. The side door to the building where his body was brought out now remains locked and guarded, with the pavement in front of it closed off. On the other side of the Palace is the Plaza de la Constiution and the biggest national flag I think I have ever seen!
Our tour then took us on a walk around Santa Lucia hill and into a series of back streets and a craft market on our way up to the Parque Forestal, taking in a view of the museum of Fine Arts before heading across the river to the Barrio Bellavista district, the area around the university, passing another ‘artisanal market’ before turning off to take a walk past numerous restaurants I mentioned earlier as our guide sang their various praises.
The tour ended close to San Cristobal hill and although it is ‘free’ there is a suggested tip of 5 or 6,000 pesos per person. That worked at about £12 for us both and was well worth the money. This was an excellent way to see some of Santiago and was very informative.
Over the rest of our stay we visited a number of the places we’d passed, but I’ll come back to those in another post.