Castillo Hidalgo

Logging into the Tourist Information Office, located at Castillo Hidalgo, Santiago.

 

In Valdivia, we caught the night sleeper bus to take us the 500 miles to Santiago. These are comfortable buses with seats that recline about 60 degrees and only three seats in each row. For Lope, no bus could have provided enough leg room. However, the ride was smooth and I actually got some good sleep; I guess years of sleeping in a crew bunk on a 747 or 777 conditioned me to catching some rest in strange situations.

In the morning, the scenery was more like Bakersfield, California, than the greenery we had left behind. The Andes to our right were barren of vegetation, but the intervening plain was productive with fruit trees and vineyards, no doubt due to irrigation. We were in a more populated area and we continually passed through towns and crowded settlements of cinder block dwellings. Eventually, we saw industrial plants of various kinds and finally the tall buildings of Santiago.

Central Santiago is European and I found it quite reminiscent of Barcelona. Wide boulevards with parks down the middle, cobblestone streets, plazas, statues and solid buildings with Gothic facades all made it feel like Europe.

We collected our luggage at the bus and started following the iPhone map to the Tourist Information Office. At the designated spot, we were on the grounds of Castillo Hidalgo, a castle built up a hill. The was no office in sight. We asked a grounds keeper, and he said that the office was indeed in the castle and that they would open in ten minutes.

Many of the hotels we checked proved to be full but we finally settled on an older hotel described as quirky and multi-level, but well located. It turned out to be a sturdy row building on a narrow cobble stone street, with high ceilings and community bathrooms, but located close to everything, including the subway.

We launched out immediately to find breakfast and to start our exploration of Santiago. We focused on the central district and enjoyed the huge variety of photogenic buildings, shopping of all kinds and interesting looking streets. The central area encourages walking. The big city traffic was well controlled, and several of the streets were blocked to vehicles entirely.

We toured the Museum of Pre-Columbian History, where we found a well organized display of tribal artifacts going back to 4,000 B.C. Here we saw evidences fueling the debate as to whether the earliest South American peoples came over the ice bridge through Alaska, or whether they were Polynesian. The former theory predominates. The authors of history write from their own perspective, and that applies to history as observed from Chile. For example, the British hero, Sir Frances Drake, who first sailed around the tip of South America, is known as a terrorist in Chile. Women and children would flee to the recesses of the Andes when his masts appeared in a harbor. Sailing prowess is of secondary importance if one is also known as an indescriminant killer.

Santiago has a modern subway, and we used it to explore outside the central district. Barrio Bellavista, just east of Centro, is a quiet, fashionable neighborhood of decorated condominiums, interesting cafes and restaurants and shops. We wandered this neighborhood and allowed ourselved to be tempted by an ice cream emporium that was a popular hang-out for the locals. We had dinner at a restaurant in this area; for my last Chilean meal I had what else, roast lamb. It was time to go home and shed the pounds and cholesterol that I had enjoyed acquiring in Chile.

 

Sleeper bus.

Counting sheep on an iPhone.

 

Pan American Highway

The Pan American Highway, which is Highway 5 extending north to Vancouver, B.C.

 

Hotel Plaza Londres

The Hotel Plaza Londres (London Plaza), quirky, but close to everything.

Relaxing at a cafe.

Relaxing at a cafe in Barrio Bellavista. The temperatures reached 90 f during the day, much warmer than the cool temperatures we had further south.

 

A fruit stand in Santiago.

The fruit in Patagonia had been disappointing, however, in the warm temperatures farther north, we found some of what we were seeking. The table grapes were delicious, with the tangy skin one no longer finds in the carefully bred grapes we are used to in our supermarkets.

 

Food court

An elegant food court in Santiago. Here one can pick fresh ingredients and have them prepared on the spot.

Fish Market Santiago

An example of the fresh offerings in the food court.

 

Wine wagon.

A courtyard setting on the outskirts of Santiago.

 

Castillo Hidlago castle.

Castillo Hidalgo in City Center.

 

Siesta in busy Santiago.

Siesta is from 1:00 to 3:00, but in Santiago many use the time to shop or lounge in restaurants.

 

Birds eye view of Santiago.

A city-scape of Santiago. The city is much larger than this suggests.

 

Going home

I left one day before Lope and Amy. I said goodbye at the subway, as they headed for an outlying crafts district.

 

Chile is a spectacular country, and we barely touched the surface of what it has to offer. It is a country that is very cognizant of its European heritage, but is increasingly interested in discovering its pre-Columbian roots. I thank Lope and Amy for being great travel partners. They took everything in stride and their easy sense of humor made for a relaxing trip.

This has been a long post, and if you are reading this, I admire your persistence. I hope that this has given you a tase of the interesting country of Chile.

The End