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A TASTE OF CHILE After Antarctica Cruise 2002 This short visit to Santiago and nearby attractions began on Day 21 of our voyage to Antarctica, South Georgia Island and the Falkland Islands. We hired an English-speaking driver through the concierge at our hotel to take us around and act as our guide.
C ONTENTS Santiago .............................................................................................. 4 Santiago Walk about Town ........................................................... 4 Santiago Subway System .............................................................. 5 Cerro San Cristobal Hill ................................................................. 6 Local Landmarks ............................................................................ 7 The Mountains................................................................................. 10 The Town of Los Andes .................................................................. 11 Sanctuario del Santa Teresa de los Andes................................... 14 The Beach......................................................................................... 16 Home of Pablo Neruda ............................................................... 17 Vina del Mar ..................................................................................... 19 Valparaiso......................................................................................... 21 Santiago Again ................................................................................. 22 Cultural Museum ......................................................................... 22
Author: Lois Gray Photography: Kay Gilmour
The flight from the Falklands to Santiago was breathtaking. Volcanoes and fjords galore. Perfect weather with crystal clear skies.
After a good night's sleep, we got up without benefit of the alarm clock or the ship's intercom announcing Geoff’s cheery, “Good Morning, Everybody!” This is a really nice hotel and the beds were quite comfy. But best of all, they didn’t move at all during the whole night and we were very appreciative of the stability! Went down for our “included” breakfast which turned out to be just as good as on the ship. Plenty of fresh fruit was the wonderful part of the buffet.
View From Our Hotel Window
Santiago Walk about Town Next we got outside and took a wonderful walk in the neighborhood of the hotel which is in the World Trade Center of Chile! It was such a different kind of day from what we had been used to hot, sunny, and dry with cloudless skies. There were lots of people on the streets moving around the tall buildings. In front of a modern church was a wonderful little cul-de-sac neighborhood with quaint apartments and single family homes tucked away amid beautiful big trees and flowers and, wonder of wonders, a Burger King on one corner. We kept on walking and found the Mapuche River that runs through Santiago with one of the many city a parks along its bank, the Parque Uruguay. There were magnificent weeping willows with twisted trunks and luxuriant foliage lining the banks and a fine biking/jogging trail through the green grasses. However, when we looked down from
the bluffs into the riverbed, we could see huge earthmoving equipment and lots of raw earth. Apparently, the course of the Mapuche is being changed so there can be parking down along the new banks. What a strange use of the riverfront here in this very nice residential/business area.
Back at the hotel, we got instructions on how to use the Metro to get to the various sights we wanted to visit. It turned out that the system is excellent. It is easy to use, new, clean, fast, and attractive.
Santiago Subway System
Lots of colorful and flamboyant murals, depicting scenes from Chilean history both mythological and historical. Though there was too much graffiti on buildings and walls above ground, the graffiti artists did not seem to ply their trade in the subway. From La Baquedado Station, we walked a few blocks, along with half the families in Santiago it seemed, heading for the funicular or the trails up to the Zoo and the Statue of the Virgin atop the Cerro San Cristobal Hill. Cerro San Cristobal Hill Many families were taking their children out for a Sunday adventure. The funicular was old- fashioned with four cars standing room only no seats. Everyone stands facing downhill and enjoys not having to climb the steep hill. The ride is cheap and the views get better and better the higher up we went. Just below the hilltop were the Virgin stands looking out over the city, a church is tucked into the hillside.
Mass was going on there and being broadcast over loudspeakers to the folks standing around in the area. Many went up to the statue and went inside to read the Bible verses for the day and say their own devotions. Others were enjoying the more worldly pleasures of the food and drink kiosks all over the hill. After enjoying the people
watching, the views of the city and a refreshing Fanta Orange, we walked back to the Metro to La Moneda Station to visit downtown Santiago.
Local Landmarks We had lunch at a Burger King where we sat and rested our feet and appreciated a cool breeze and another cold drink. Did I mention that it is hot in Santiago? What a change this was from parkas, gloves, two pairs of pants, earmuffs, and the like! We found a few of the Local Landmarks we were seeking like the Palacio Moneda, the Cathedral of Santiago, Centro Correo, Plaza de Armas, the pedestrian malls - Paseo Huefanos and Paseo Ahumado. Lots of the places were closed but the Cathedral was of course open for business. It is a typical Spanish colonial cathedral building that stands on one side of the Plaza de Armas; it is quite ornate inside and out.
The cathedral was built in 1745 after five other churches had occupied the site. We were surprised to find it a little bedraggled since everything else in this city seems in good repair. The city as a whole appears to be quite prosperous. We did see many signs all over the city asking for money for the church because it was falling on hard times and
couldn’t meet its various obligations to the poor or even to its parishioners. Most of the signs asked for the people to consider tithing again at least 5% if they could not manage 10%.
The shops along the pedestrian malls seemed full of merchandise and people were busily shopping and carrying bags of purchases with them The restaurants, cafes and ice-cream shops were doing a good business as well. We supported the local economy ourselves by having another delicious ice cream cone. We hadn't eaten this much ice cream in years! The ice cream was good but their flavors are different from what we're used to even when called by the same names. They also have many unfamiliar flavors that were not particularly enticing to us like raisin ice cream, papaya, flavors with dried fruit nuggets in them, etc. However, their coconut ice cream was delicious by any standard! So we took our time and watched the world go by. Young Chilean girls and ladies seemed to favor very tight and revealing clothing, whether skirts, dresses or pants. Older women wear looser fittingand more comfortable-looking outfits. Shoes for women are different too. Almost all the women wear much higher heels than we see at home and they seem to like novelty type shoes Lucite heels with flowers or little statues in them, bright primary colors for the bodies of the shoe, and complicated straps around ankles and legs. We got back to the hotel about 5 PM and booked a car and driver for Monday and Tuesday so we could see some other areas in the country. We will be going up to a ski resort area in the Andes on Monday and to Valparaiso, Vina del Mar and Isla Negra on Tuesday. We had supper in the room so we would watch the Super Bowl (New Orleans Superdome with St. Louis Rams vs. New England Patriots); it surely seemed strange to be watching such an Yankee event on TV in Chile. Our feet were sore from all the walking we had done so room service was just the ticket.
T HE M OUNTAINS
On Day 22 , after breakfast, we met with Luis, our driver, and got started on the road to the Andes. The little town/ski resort of Portillo is some 100 miles from Santiago. The drive was interesting since we saw lots of agriculture and Luis was very knowledgeable about what was growing in the fields. Chile is very much like Southern California in climate and soil conditions so much of what grows in the Imperial and San Joaquin Valleys grows here in Chile such as almonds, walnuts, nectarines, apricots, grapes (both table and wine), melons, raspberries, peaches, artichokes and asparagus. Among the more curious things we were shown were the Federal Prison at Colina and the Sanctuary of Chile’s only Saint, Santa Teresa de Los Andes. She was a sixteenth century nun who founded the Carmelite order. Luis told us we could go to the Sanctuary on the way home if we wished. He didn’t offer a prisonvisit.
T HE T OWN OF L OS A NDES Los Andes was also on our route and it was an interesting small town that was very busy and prosperous looking. The streets in and around the central plaza were jam- packed with people in business dress as well as more casual attire. Luis told us the little city is a center for exporting agricultural products of the area. It was hot and dry here too. Cacti grow and very little else in the uncultivated areas, except for the espina trees which is rather like mutant tumbleweeds. These trees must grow in Argentina too and figure in that wonderful Argentine poem our guide, Claudia, taught us while we were there: En el campo las espinas En el cielo las estrellas En media de mi pecho La RepublicaArgentina! After leaving Los Andes, we turned north and east up into the mountains, going up and up towards Portillo. The road which replaced the railroad travel into this town is really amazing. It contains 29 hairpin curves to the top and very tight curves indeed. The trucks were laboring both up and down, negotiating this very tough road quite carefully. There are cobertizos, avalanche sheds, along the way so it was clear that lots of snow falls on this road and complicates travel between Chile and Argentina even more during winter.
Our lunch at the Portillo Hotel was delicious. It is situated on a lovely glacial lake that is a miniature Lake Louise. Lake Inca’s typical moraine lake's deep turquoise color was such a wonderful contrast to the dark mountains surrounding it.
We could not stay outside for very long as it was hot in the sunshine and we had dressed for a trip up into the mountains where we expected it to be cold. We almost perished in our wool clothes.
There was a narrow hiking trail along the lake. Luis told us we would see a glacier at the end of that hike; the one that feeds Lake Inca. The hike looked so tempting but we just didn’t have time for it as it was three hours one way and we were at 3100 meters. The path looked very narrow and rocky as well. The ski slopes here are used by the US Ski Team for practice in winter since it is summer at that time at home. These runs were truly awesome. Mountains were 4000 feet from top to bottom and so steep it was hard to believe they could be skied. Luis told us that many Europeans he brings here in the winter are really bowled over by the runs in both senses of the word. There are no beginner trails here. And the altitude does make itself felt. We thought that if our skiers can negotiate these runs, they should do fine in Salt Lake City. At the border station at Caracoles, we were only 5 kilometers from Argentina. Trucks are checked very carefully with dogs and human inspections looking for marijuana, especially from Paraguay, where according to Luis, a very good grade of the stuff is grown. We didn't ask how he knew. On the way back, we saw the signs of a thriving agricultural society many horses, mules and cows in the fields and massive vineyards and grape arbors for table grapes. We were excited to see Aconcagua on the horizon. The big “A” is the tallest mountain in the Americas and it proved that by being completely snow-covered all over its rounded sides. It is enormous and much higher than the other peaks in its neighborhood.
S ANCTUARIO DEL S ANTA T ERESA DE LOS A NDES
Our stop at the Sanctuary was interesting in several ways. It’s a rather spare and modern church building with Santa Teresa’s tomb in the basement.
Sanctuario Del Santa Teresa De Los Andes - Lois And Luis The area surrounding her tomb was overflowing with flowers and the whole basement area was filled with people, in attitudes of prayer, meditation, and adoration. This saint had been born in this part of Chile and her family had owned the property on which her Sanctuario is now situated. There were numerous outbuildings for a school, a convent and several stores and shops. A social observation here concerned the way people figure out how to make a living. This area is very hot and dry. In response to the climate and the tourists that were braving the heat, an enterprising fellow was offering car drivers sun screens for their windshields while they went onto the grounds. The fellow would affix cardboard screens to the windshield and when folks came back out to their cars, he would quickly
remove them. Luis was very careful to follow the custom of offering him a tip. Also here and there we saw musicians singing and playing instruments for tips.
Luis was driving a KIA van that would have seated 10 people easily so we could spread out very well. His English was adequate, though he was a little rusty, but between his rusty English and our halting Spanish, we did just fine. He seemed very anxious to please and tried to tell us about things he thought we would find interesting. He was very proud of his son, a civil engineering student in Boston. Though the KIA was comfortable we were pretty tired after we got back to the hotel around 5:30PM. Luis doesn’t run the air-conditioner very often so you get lots of road noise as well as the heat. A 200 mile roundtrip in the mountains in eight hours was wearing! So we walked around our neighborhood some more, in the El Golf area and had supper at Sebastian’s again, including another ice cream cone. The evening was absolutely beautiful with soft breezes and clear skies so we enjoyed sitting outside along the street at this friendly little café watching the Chilenos enjoying themselves in their pretty city. One really neat thing about the hotel that I forgot to mention is the key system—one of the credit card type keys. However, when you get in the door, you need to put the key in a slot that activates the electricity for the room. Without it, there is only one light that will work. That way, when you leave the room, taking your keycard with you, the electricity in the room does not burn all the while you are gone. Clever. (As an aside as I review this journal in 2017 - my how things change so quickly and so easily become common place.)
T HE B EACH If we thought yesterday was long, we were in for a big awakening today. We met Luis again at 9 AM to start out to the coastal cities via Isla Negra, which is neither an island nor black in any way. We got much more sense of Santiago’s rush hour today because we drove through much more of it on the way north and west to the coast road than we had going north and east to the Andes. It would be difficult for a stranger to drive the Santiago streets at any time, but rush hour would be suicidal because six-lane highways become one-way on five of them and the opposite direction on the sixth or one way all the way across or many other variations. If you did not know what you were doing, you would end up heading in all the wrong directions. On the way from Santiago to the coast, we passed through two big valleys which are very productive agricultural areas, the Andes Valley between the Andes and the Coastal Ranges and the Coastal Valley between the Coastal Range and the bluffs of the Pacific beach area. The majority of the cultivation was grapes. The fields are kept very green through drip irrigation. In addition to the vineyards, there were many, many more fields of fruits and vegetables, citrus fruits including oranges and lemons, peaches, nectarines, pears, melons and more asparagus and artichokes. The purpose of visiting the little coastal town of Isla Negra was to see one of Pablo Neruda’s justly famous houses. Isla Negra looks like beach towns all over the world with sand streets, lots of T-shirt shops, outdoor fast food places, pastel buildings, cacti growing everywhere, barefoot folks in beachwear, and a tangy scent in the air. However, we had forgotten one thing, one very important thing; this is a Pacific Beach in summer! So there was no sunshine but there was plenty of fog and cold air. And here we were in shorts and light shirts. We were colder on the beach than we had been in the Andes yesterday; we had dressed all wrong for both places!
Home of Pablo Neruda
So, shivering in our beachwear, we walked the sandy road to the house Pablo Neruda, Chile’s poetry Nobelist in l972. The house is situated on high bluffs overlooking the Pacific looking for all the world like Big Sur country. There were even golden hills beyond the beach areas to the east. Neruda’s house is a delight! It shows such childlike enthusiasm for bright colors, for collecting oddments, for humor and discovery. Neruda lived here from l939 until his death in 1973 and the house rambles quite a bit as he added to it during the years he lived there. It shows several sides of his character: his playfulness, his superstitious nature, his imagination, sensitivity and love of nature. There are such dramatic views of the Pacific that every room is oriented to the west so that the scene is always available. His collections included: seashells, colored bottles, beach glass, ships’ figureheads, masks from various cultures, interesting and odd bits of furniture. Some of the items are displayed in cases and shelves, but the figureheads and other statues are suspending from the ceiling, leaning out from wall sconces, standing in nooks and crannies.
The house looked very comfortable despite all the “stuff” crowding around. One room in the house was built just to display a life-size horse statue that had been in a store in the town where he grew up; he tried for years to buy it from the shopkeeper but could not get it until that gentleman has passed away. All the rooms, the bedrooms, a dining room, a living room, a private study, a library, the “horse room,” were quite differently and idiosyncratically decorated with many things of interest in each one. An artist friend made a special mantelpiece for the fireplace in the sitting room. She used only stones found in Chile and designed an abstract pattern; Neruda wanted each visitor to imagine for himself what the stone mosaic pictured. Neruda and his third, and surely his favorite wife, are buried on the property in a boat- like setting at the edge of the cliffs. The poet liked to pretend that he was a ship’s captain all his life and so his grave setting looks like he finally has a boat to call his own.
V INA DEL M AR
After enjoying this fun home/museum, we drove on to Vina del Mar which we expected to be a small sleepy coastal resort. Instead, it is a large city of 300,000 people in winter and over a million in summer. The seashore is littered with hotels, condos, restaurants, shops and other stores. We had our lunch in a restaurant on stilts built right on the beach sand where we watched the rollers come in and some brave souls swimming in the very cold waters of the Pacific. Luis was sure they were Argentineans rather than Chileans since most of his countrymen do not swim at this time of year. We agreed because these bathers were much “fluffier” than the Chileans we had been seeing all over the country.
The sky was overcast, but the stubborn and optimistic vacationers were “sunning” themselves anyway. There are some lovely apartment houses and condos as well as a few seedy looking hotels on the main street running along the coast. The contrast was rather startling actually. There were lots of folks promenading along the streets, dipping into the shops when they weren’t flailing away in the Pacific waves.
V ALPARAISO After we had our delicious Chilean sea bass lunch, we got back in the KIA and rode along the coastal road to Valparaiso which is really continuous with Vina del Mar. Both cities sit on half of a huge Pacific bay. Valparaiso is a port of ancient pedigree, the Spanish and English having used it for exports and imports of their goods from the 16 th century on. Now it is also a huge navy base for the ChileanNavy. The city has 400,000 residents and is built up the hillsides like San Francisco. Because of its hilly streets, the city has had 59 “ascensores” similar to the funicular in Santiago. They have been in place since the late 19 th century. Not all of them are in working order right now, but the ones that do function still carry residents up to their condor nest homes without their having to climb the steps. Though Valpo, as it is affectionately known to the Chileans, is a very old city, there are very few of the old Spanish buildings left because of a huge 1906 earthquake which nearly flattened the city. Because of this wholesale razing of edifices, space was made for many city parks throughout which really do soften and humanize this beehive of commerce.
The ride back from the coast took 2 ½ hours and again we were tired after the long day. So it was back to Sebastian’s for a chocolate soda/shake concoction for lunch. More people watching too— always interesting and fun!
S ANTIAGO A GAIN Woke today to the horrible realization that I had nothing to read on the long flight back to Miami this evening. So we had a quest to fulfill; find Lois a book in English. It turned out to be no small endeavor. We started at the usual places, the hotel gift shop, a textbook shop a couple of blocks away, newsstands, and drugstores, all to no avail. There were books and magazines in Spanish, but absolutely nothing in English! (Again this aside in 2017 thank you Kindle!) We had been planning to go back downtown to visit the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino anyway so we figured we would be able to find a bookstore on the pedestrian malls for sure. Cultural Museum The Museum was fascinating, but not nearly as dramatically arranged as the one in Mexico City. This museum certainly does have excellent examples of pottery, cloth, jewelry, toys, funerary items, and statues.
Museo Chileno De Arte Precolombino
After enjoying the museum, we headed for Paseos Huerfanos and Ahumada to look for bookstores. We saw several and ducked into each one with an eager inquiry, “Tiene algunos libros en ingles?” And always the same answer, “No!” This was followed by, “Sabe Ud. a donde es possible comprar libros en ingles?” Some clerks would name a store and others just shook their heads. Finally, I stopped at an American Airlines outlet figuring someone there could help. Sure enough, the clerk there told me to go 4-5 blocks down Huerfanos and I would find a really big bookstore which was sure to have publications in English, La Feria de Libros. We continued walking and found the place with relief. I hurried in with my question and was promptly told that they did not carry “libros ingleses.” However, one of the clerks told me that there was an English bookstore around the corner from La Feria. So we went in search of that prize. This indeed was a tiny shop with only English books. And such a collection it was. We had a marvelous time just looking at the titles in wonderment. They carried little known titles by well- known nineteenth and early twentieth century British authors such as the one I bought, "The Trumpet-Major" by Thomas Hardy, and obscure books that it was hard to imagine anyone in Chile wanting to read like "The Mint" by T. E. Lawrence. Of American “best sellers,” there were hardly any. So the quest was not only successful, but also amusing. After “mission accomplished,” we walked around some more enjoying being outside in such a lovely and warm place. All that awaited us now was a trip back to the hotel to pack, a final supper at Sebastian’s and then a ride to the airport to catch our 10 PM flight to Miami where we arrived at 5:30.
What a trip!!!
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