My first day in Santiago started early, 2 am, when I woke from a bang and the building shaking violently. A 5.3 earthquake had struck nearby, in Valparaiso. This is the strongest earthquake I've ever felt, and I lived many years in California. But I saw no damage and city life went on unperturbed.
Today is warm and dry and I walk around the central city, starting from my apartment in Barrio Santa Lucia. The apartment is well located on a narrow street a block from the hilly park Cerro Santa Lucia and a couple of blocks from the Universidad Catolica . The university students give the neighborhood a lot of vibrancy, which I like.
I walk along the river, Rio Mapocho, that cuts Santiago in half, to the fish market and food court, Mercado Central, where maitre d's stand in your way to entice you into their establishment then insult you when you refuse their entreaties; like Istanbul, but with fish instead of carpets.
From the Mercado I walk along one of the many pedestrian-only streets, filled with workers and shoppers and the ever-present police or carabineros. I'm getting accustomed to the heavy police presence in south America. I've read the Chilean police are scrupulously honest, and I see them interacting with civilians, giving directions, for exsmple, but I've also read that they are powerful and you shouldn't be caught photographing military related stuff as they will take your camera. I really don't want to lose my camera so I'm cautious.
I stop to sit in the Plaza de La Constitucion. One side of the Plaza is bordered by the Palacio de La Moneda or presidential palace. The president no longer lives here but it contains the president's offices. The building was rebuilt since being attacked by the military during the 1973 coup d'etat that overthrew president Salvador Allende (with a little help from the CIA).
Interestingly, this Catholic country recently elected Michelle Bachelet as their new president, and by a wide margin. She is a former president, a physician, a socialist, separated from her husband, and an agnostic.
As I look at the Palacio I see standing across from the guarded building a line of protestors holding signs about some people being wrongfully terminated (at least I think that is what their protest is about.) I also see tourists taking pictures of protestors and police and I figure my concern is probably misguided and my camera is safe.
Next I pick up some pastries, which requires me to practice my mangled Spanish as you must first tell a cashier what you want, pay, then take the receipt to another person for pickup. Once again I'm rewarded for my effort to speak the language by my pronunciation being corrected.
Finally I walk to the top of the park, a lush yet rocky hill with fountains and a church and many different vantage points overlooking the city. From here I can just barely make out the near by Andes, which would provide a beautiful mountain backdrop for the city - the mountains are close, like Vancouver - if only the air were clear as Vancouver's.
I expected Santiago to be more like Buenos Aires, but they feel very different. Santiago goes to bed earlier and seems more conservative in terms of opening hours and alcohol.
Santiago is also better maintained: sidewalks are clean and unbroken, parks are watered and groomed, everything looks as if it could be in a prosperous North American city. Drivers are better behaved. Even the cars are different: Buenos Aires is full of small European cars, Fiats, Peugeots, VWs, etc. , plus old cars that make me think I'm in Cuba, whereas Santiago has larger American and Asian cars.
That is all for today, I'm off for sushi. Ciao.
Yesterday it hit me that I'm not in the mood for a big city but here I find myself in Santiago so I gotta suck it up and do the tourist thing. After Salta, Tilcara, and Atacama, all smallish towns , the crowds and traffic and noise and too many choices of Santiago don't sit well with me. And the heat bugs me more here than in Atacama. So last night I was glad to go back to the apt and settle in with a glass of wine or three, my book, and an occasional glance at the television for the amusement of watching foreign language programs.
Today I feel better about Santiago. For me, it is the more livable city of the two large cities I've visited on this trip. Buenos Aires is for a one night stand, Santiago is for marriage.
I start out early before it gets hot and head east through Barrio Bellavista which has many interesting old buildings and lots of murals. I love murals. The murals' artistry, colors, characters, and occasional alien (space not illegal) really spice up the neighborhood.
Next I ride the funicular to the top of a hill (869m) in Santiago's largest park, Cerro San Cristobal. At the top is a large statue of Mary, an open-air church, and a regular enclosed church decorated inside like a stone grotto. The grounds have piped in meditation encouraging church music. There are also odd looking tile-covered rectangles where you can have someone's ashes interred.
The park is very large and popular with bicyclists. The views of the city and surrounding mountains would be great if it weren't for the cloud of brown smog that is trapped in the bowl occupied by the city. I read somewhere that the smog is the main complaint Santiagians have with their city.
On a nearby hill, also in the park, is a decommissioned observatory, the Lick, who's name reminds me of the Lick observatory in Northern California. Turns out it is the same Lick - the observatory was put up by UC Berkeley. Berkeley still sends students to Chile to study the stars, only now they go to Atacama. On the afternoon I checked out of the hotel in Atacama I talked to the young woman who managed the accomodations for their astronomer guests and learned that Berkeley shares a nearby observatory with astronomers from Europe and Japan. Go bears!
Tonight I had a delicious and cheap Indian dinner (New Horizons) . My philosophy of dining out is the more I spend the less satisfied I am, sort of a law of diminishing returns.
Then I head out to explore the neighborhood, on foot of course. Barrio Santa Lucia is full of street side cafes which are packed in the evening. It feels very European and very safe. Even the drivers are well behaved here. At a street corner I stop to let a cab go through. The cab driver stops and leans out to tell me that I have the right of way. Weird. And i thought BC drivers were polite.
I'm back in the apt writing this with the help of some Chilean cabernet. Pleasant eastern European music is wafting in from a neighborhood cafe. Tomorrow is my last full day in Santiago and I need some culture so a museum or two will be on the schedule. Ciao.
Another beautiful warm day in Santiago. I walk to Universidad Catolica subway station and say "Quiero dos boletos por favor. De ida." The cashier smiles and holds up a calculator showing the amount due and then starts handing me maps and brochures to the city. My cover is blown as soon as I open my mouth.
The subway is modern and clean and no one walks down the aisle placing items in your lap. I transfer at Los Heroes to another line then get off at Cementario station. Once aboveground, I find myself standing in front of a long line of flower shops. You see, this is the station for the cementary and the flowers are for placing on the tombs. The cementary has a population of over two million and it is growing by one as I stand here.
I am at the cementary because it is the resting place of many of Chile's most famous figures. And I find cementaries a bit interesting. As I walk in I look to the right and see a long white stone wall enscribed with names. It reminds me of Maya Lin's Vietnam memorial in DC except for the color (Lin's is black) and it is above ground. I study the wall and see that the names are in two alphabetical lists, with one large name in between. The entries on the left consist of a name followed by a date, the entries on the right consist of a name, age, then date. Most died in 1973 - many were in their teens and twenties - though the dates range up to 1986.
In the middle is the name Salvador Guillermo Allende Gossens. The left set are names of the disappeared, the right set are the executed. It is a sobering site. I sit for awhile thinking about how recently this occurred, and that it occurred in this very country in which I am sitting. My mind rolls around the similar recent histories of Argentina, where I've just come from, and (as I was in Barcelona a few years ago ) Spain, which not that long ago suffered under Franco. And i think that I am fortunate to have never lived through such an event, though i wonder whether the US, via the CIA and multinational companies, played a role in the horrors that occurred in south america.
I walk the grounds for awhile. There are many people here, visiting, placing flowers. The above-ground cemetary resembles Buenos Aires' Recoleta but the latter is small, more densely packed with tombs, and more varied in tomb architecture. The Santiago cemetary has one distinctive feature: two- and three-story "condos" for those of lessor means.
I'm cementaried out and the day is heating up. I walk back to the central city through a section of town that is less nice than where I'm staying but likely more typical of life for the middle class. One neighborhood features block after block of clothing stores, many with rows of sidewalk mannequins, an army of female cylons in skin-tight jeans.
I stop when I reach Parque Forestal, a greenbelt that follows the Rio Mapocho, and eat my sandwich, then walk to Iglesia de San Francisco, one of Santiago's oldest buildings. Large and nondescript outside, it is attractive enough inside. It features the usual 14 stations with lots of bloody crucified bodies. It is old, built between 1572 and 1628, and looks like the next temblor could knock it down. I take a few pictures from the entrance to capture the aisle leading to the altar, then move about the church. There are many people inside , walking and sitting and taking photos with their little cameras, flashes lighting up the room. My camera doesn't need a flash so aside from its size I consider myself sort of unobtrusive. Suddenly a man walks up to me and tells me to stop taking photos, so I do, but there is no sign to that effect. I try to obey the rules but whatever.
I stop for a latte around the corner from the church. The neighborhood, Barrio Paris Londres, has a few windy cobblestone streets lined with attractive old stone buildings. Then I walk back to the apt. It is hot, walking city streets is tiring, more tiring than a hike in the country, and there are too many people, too many cars and buses, too much noise. I think i'll skip the museums and relax until evening.
Just before dark I hike up to the top of the park next door - an amazing park, it is a huge rock covered in odd little stairs and patios and waterfalls and topped by a stone turret with views of the city. A sort of adult playground. Oh yeah, I have never seen so many young couples kissing. Most are straight couples but not all. Is it a Chilean thing? A university student thing? Or is it just this neighborhood ? Maybe the giant rock in the park is emanating some weird vibe that makes kids make out. It is all fine, kindof sweet really. I end the evening with dinner at a Patagonian cafe (Sur Patagonico) on Lastarria, a nearby street lined with sidewalk cafes. Very good food and a delicious pisco sour. Ciao.