Santiago, Chile (Leap Day)

The four of us started our day with breakfast in the wall-of-windows breakfast room that overlooks the harbor. The hotel is situated near the top of a hill, so the view is spectacular! The best surprise of the meal was the custard apple juice. Milky white, not too sweet, with a hint of pineapple flavor although it comes from the ugly fruit of the cherimoya tree.

Walter (fist bump) had prearranged our pickup and tour today. Michelle, our German guide, and Marcelo, the driver, came by for us at 11:00. Our destination was Santiago, an hour and a half drive southeast. The road was great and the traffic a breeze. We soon noticed a difference in the landscape as we went from the hilly, foggy, green of Valparaiso to the dry Casablanca Valley where wine is grown. We passed tall, beautiful pines, scraggly gum trees, and native palms.

Soon enough we went through a short tunnel and transitioned into a valley that grows fruit, vegetables, and olives. All the while we had coastal mountains (not the Andes) on our left and right. There were lots of short windmills that help distribute the cool morning mist. We passed a pilgrimage church that hosts thousands of walkers who come 45-80 kilometers (multiply by 0.6 for miles) each December 8. It was right along the highway, so during the pilgrimage the road goes from being partially closed to closed completely to accommodate all of the faithful.

We were taken by surprise when we stopped to pay a toll on the multi-lane highway and looked left to see a guy hawking peanuts, prickly pears, and local snacks to the cars that stopped to pay. In full view and with total cooperation of the toll taker.

A second tunnel took us into the Santiago Valley where we had our first, sadly smoggy, view of the snow capped Andes. In contrast were cactus that resembled our saguaro cactus in Arizona.

Fun facts
Chileans are not particularly fond of wine in spite of the world class
reputation of theirs. They much prefer beer and pisco.

Chileans are the #2 consumers, after Mexico, of avocados in the world.

Because of earthquakes, there are no trains because of the expense of
maintaining tracks. An alternative is long distance, luxury bus travel with seats that lie flat, blankets, and pillows. Sigh me up.

Santiago, a city of 8 million, houses almost half the population of Chile. It is huge and offers massive contrasts of the rich and poor, sophisticated and unsophisticated. We passed hovels along the river bank built to house the less fortunate, and large, gorgeous, old homes. Much like all big cities around the world in that way I guess. The streets are wide and very good. At a couple of huge intersections guys were walking between the cars hawking bottled water and soft drinks. One guy was in an intersection standing on a footstool bouncing a ball off his knees, hacky sack style. This I didn’t get!

The architecture downtown was really beautiful, a mixture of French, German, Spanish, and modern. Because of all the earthquakes, the buildings are primarily only a few stories. Most churches lack tall steeples because they’ve long ago fallen down. In contrast to this earthquake construction/reconstruction strategy, Santiago is home to the tallest building (984 feet/60 floors) in all of South America. It’s also home to the largest shopping mall in South America, but it is not a high rise.

We saw some amazing paintings on exterior walls just like in Valparaiso, and thankfully not loads of graffiti. My favorite stop was an urban park that covers an entire small mountain and houses a zoo, picnic spots, walking trails, and so forth. At the very top is a beautifully landscaped outdoor church that is calm, quiet, and beautiful. Soft music was playing. A huge white statue dominates the sky at the very top of the hill, and multiple, painted crosses are tucked away in unexpected places. There’s a small, stone chapel also, but it’s dwarfed by the outdoor, tiered seating and alter that have the city below as a backdrop. Dan and I lit a candle for Aunt Gerry in a beautiful outdoor alcove.

There were loads of interesting statues. My favorite was in honor of the natives from this area of the country. These citizens, more than a million strong, are poorly represented in government affairs, sadly, but at least they have not been systematically  eradicated entirely like in Argentina and Uruguay.

We visited a gorgeous cathedral where I saw what was a first for me: confessionals were placed along one wall of the main part of the church. The people confessing knelt in front of the confessionals in full view not only of the priest but also of the visitors to the church. There was no privacy for the priest or the parishioner.

Street dogs and cats were everywhere, and like others we’d seen this trip, not at all phased by all the activity around them. They napped right in the middle of busy, sunny sidewalks or tucked away in quiet corners. Many have owners who expect them home for dinner at night, but lots just live on the street and are fed and cared for by the locals. Many have names. They are, above all, intelligent and street smart. Get this, we saw some wait for the light to change at intersections. For real.

Fresh, hot empanadas ended our tour! Cleone and I had cheese and the guys enjoyed meat. We ladies fell in love but the guys, expecting the traditional ground beef, had the surprise of one un-pitted olive, hard boiled egg slices, too little meat, and gravy. Good but not out of this world.

We four were dropped at the airport Hilton where W&C were spending the night before going on (to a desert up north and to Easter Island, a six hour flight off the coast) another week. We freshened up, chitchatted, and enjoyed a last couple of hours before taking the airport.


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