Thursday, January 26, 2006

Santiago .....el grande cuidad de Chile!

Hmmmn.... remember what i said about liking the old bus journeys...well, that is still true! HOWEVER..... when 20 hours turns into nearly 24 hours you do start to get a bit antsy! My trip from BA to Santiago ended up a wee bit delayed, partly due to the incredibly sophisticated and speedy immigration process between Argentina and Chile, (not!) which is always fun, but all in all, no real problems. Got into the bus station in Santiago and in my new "real traveler" style, I took the subway to our hostel where I was reunited with my travel pal, Dominique! It may sound pathetic but those of you who know me well, know that a) i´m usually completely directionally impaired wherever i am, and b) when i started my travels i was definitely a tad nervous about getting around, especially with limited Spanish, so when things actually work out and i get to where i am going without too many mishaps, its like this small burst of confidence makes you think "wow, im not a complete idiot"! And just think folks, if i can do this, anyone can!!!

And what a great place Hostel Bellavista is...very funky, the decor is brilliant, huge TV room, great people working there, especially Gabby who gave me a list a mile long of hip South American music they played there. Of course, when Dom and I meet up there is so much to talk about that we immediately have to go have a cerveza or two, or was it maybe even three?? Oops! We decide to celebrate by treating ourselves to a non-backpacker AKA posh dinner at a fab and funky restaurant called Copa y Tapas, and how convenient that it is right next door to the hostel so we could stagger, ahem, i mean skip home later that night!

Jan 27th. Get up and head out for a day of exploring. We went to Barrio Brasil to visit Salvadore Allende´s museum but the damn thing was closed as they are moving all the artifacts to another building later this year! Bit of a bummer but we head into town instead, to check out the Plaza de Armes - beautiful indeed. The cathedral was gorgeous, and the architecture surrounding the rest of the square was quite inspiring! We had a great veggie lunch in town (for some reason Santiago has tons of veggie restaurants, way more than any other big city we have visited to date!) - if anyone is visiting, go to El Naturista on Calle Moneda (oh come on now, I haven´t talked about food for at least a few days...).

Then we decided to take the bus to the Cementerio General. This is by far the biggest (and one of the saddest!) cemetaries I have ever visited. It is truly massive with so many roads built within it for cars to drive through; almost overwhelming it is so huge. We walked around and found this little old lady sitting chatting to another girl who works in the cemetary. We struck up a somewhat strange conversation as every time we spoke or answered a question, the little lady would start crying and wringing her hands.. hmmnnn a little odd but we didnt want to pry (esp. hard for me to pry in Spanish!)... so we continued to chat until the wee lady decided she liked us, and offered to give us our own private tour of the cemetary (she did work there too, in case you think we are in the habit of randomnly picking up little old ladies!). She was so lovely, showing us many of the famous graves in the cemetery, including Salvadore Allende, president of Chile (1970–73). In typical blog tradition, I feel it appropriate to give you a little background to the political history of Chile, specifically surrounding the coup of 1973, as it has such strong connections to the cemetery. Salvadore Allende helped found the Chilean Socialist party in 1933, was minister of health (1939–42) and president of the senate (1965–69). Four times a presidential candidate, he won in 1970 by a narrow plurality. Attempting to implement socialism by democratic means (“the Chilean road to socialism”), he nationalized industries, including the U.S.-owned copper multinationals, and pushed extensive land reform. As a minority president, however, his programs provoked strong resistance in the opposition-controlled congress and judiciary. The Chilean people, too, became highly polarized, resulting in vocal support and often violent opposition. Instability was further fueled by soaring inflation and widespread shortages, caused in part by the U.S. economic blockade and the undercover activities of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. In Sept., 1973, Allende was overthrown in a bloody military coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. Official reports state that Allende committed suicide during the coup, though most assert that he was murdered. Democracy was not restored in Chile until 1990. In addition to his grave, there are also many, many other graves of people who died in the coup of 1973, in fact so many that there is a huge wall, also known as a memorial to the "disappeared" victims of the Pinochet dictatorship. Even knowing so little of this history, you could really feel the sadness from that period of time, so many young people died, some with marked graves, others unknown lying under rusted iron crosses with no-one to tend their graves. Very thought provoking time spent here...

So you would think that was enough for one day, but no! The intrepid travelers push on, and up actually, as we decided to climb Cerro San Cristobal which towers above Santiago and is also the site of the Parque Metropolitano, the capital´s largest open space. Sitting on top is a massive statue of the Virgen de la Gloria, which I managed to get to in a somewhat normal fashion, while Dominique in her usual "scrambler" style, decided to take an alternate route through a really steep hill of bushes and cactus, and something that could only tentatively be called a path! In a skirt, with stitches in her hand (she had a wee accident with a wine glass in Mendoza, but thankfully it wasnt too bad!), she scrambled all the way to the top, in flipflops... the girl is mad, but she just loves a challenge! Great views from the top, but you could also see the heavy clouds of smog that Santiago is famous for! What was even more incredible was the fact you could still see the clear outline of the Andes behind the smog..............The other great thing (completely separate from this visit but equally fab!) that happened today, again in traditional traveler style, was meeting our new friend Bec from Oz; Brisbane to be precise! We all clicked immediately and felt the need to go to a bar to celebrate our new found friendship (see a pattern emerging here?)....

Jan 28th. Today we visited the famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda´s house just around the corner from our hostel. The tour was fantastic and really interesting, especially as i didnt know very much about Neruda (not his real name by the way!) before this! Three wives, with this, his most loved house named after his third and last wife, Matilda. It is called La Chascona (which means wild hair)as she had a mane of incredible red hair that apparantly Neruda found irrisistable.... He was best friends with the painter, Diego Riviera, AKA Frieda Kohl´s husband, and his house was seen as a focal point for many artists during Pinochet´s reign. The house was ransacked by soldiers many times during this turbulent period of Chilean history, but it has outlasted the politics and is a beautiful example of a love story between very artistic people!

Then I was off to visit some other fab museums - the Palacio Cousino and the Museo de Precolumbia (oh dear, both were closed! But it was Saturday afternoon..isn't that when most people think about visiting museums - at the weekend!!!) Darn it! Oh well, I'll just have to do culture tomorrow! Dom, Bec and myself decided to visit a well recommended seafood restaurant in town for dinner, named Ocean Pacific. Absolutely hilarious.. little did we know it was the wildest themed restaurant any of us had ever seen, complete with every possible sea, sand and yes, submarine artifacts you could imagine! And yes, you could indeed walk through a giant whales jaw if you so desired to get to one of the dining rooms, or how about checking out the engine room where thousands of electric lights twinkled as you munched on your calamari!! Outrageous but great fun! After dinner, we asked the waitress for a recommendation for a cool bar close by.. must be something about these themed places that they think "like one, like them all" as she gave us directions to La Vikings bar, complete with giant viking helmet and horns hanging over the front door (oh, where was my camera!!!) .. I mean seriously, we do have some street cred! So of course we found an alternative, and quite funky, neighbourhood bar in Barrio Brasil.. lotsa pisco sour (the official drink of Chile...although i think Peru also likes to think of this brandy liquor made from distilled grapes, as their national drink!!!) caipirinhas, daiquiries and much, much more!!!

Feb 29th. Last day in Santiago...bummer as i have really enjoyed my time here. It´s funny.. the locals are very protective of their tourists, and ive been told a number of times "Cuidado" - be careful, and certain areas are "muy pelligrosso" - dangerous! Honestly, i havent felt nervous at all here and the people we have met have been brilliant... Visited the Museo de PreColumbiana Art today.....really really interesting museum that showcases the traditions and history of the many tribes who lived across South America thousands of years ago. One interesting fact....some of the tribes used to decapitate their loved ones after they died and use the skull as a traditional way to ward off diseases in their crops.. by burying it in the ground near the crops, or keeping it in the house! Apparantly some families still follow this tradition to this day. Hmmmmmnn.. might try some modern day pesticides myself but hey, that's what's wrong with this world. What do i know! So its off to Pucon tonight on the overnight bus... for some sun, sand, volcanos and much, much more!


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