So now I'm in Chile's capital and one of South America's largest and most significant cities, Santiago. It was just a 6 hour bus journey here, including a lunch stop at a nice service station, and we arrived 3 days ago at about 3pm. Joaquin took us on an orientation walking tour straight away and showed us the Chilean parliament building, Plaza des Armes and the large Catedral. The streets were buzzing with people and there were department stores and fast food restaurants everywhere, which is such a strange sight following being in Bolivia. Being here is like being back in Europe its so modern and wandering the streets I feel like I'm in Madrid or somewhere. There isn't an awful lot to see here but its nice to have a brief taste of the western world again.
On our first full day we took a bus tour 1.5 hours out to the coast and the cities of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso.´On the way we stopped at a famous Chilean winery for a tasting session. The valleys near the coast are reputedly the most fertile land for wine in the world, but the wine I tried was flat and not very nice. Disappointingly we were not offered a tour of the vineyard and we had to pay just to taste the wine. That kind of set the tone for the tour, which we soon realised was overpriced and not very good. On arrival to the touristic and modern city of Vina del Mar we were simply driven around while the depressive tour guide pointed out sights without giving us chance to photo them or get a proper look. The one place we did get out though I got a photo with one of just 3 Easter Island statues removed from the island, which is owned by a Vina del Mar museum. We were then taken for lunch at a restaurant on the beach "where the locals go", but it was full of tourists and overpriced.
Following some disappointing swordfish for lunch we were swiftly taken off to the neighbouring port city of Valparaiso, where the Chilean congress is actually located. Large swathes of Valparaiso are designated UNESCO world heritage sights, and the city was very pretty with coloured houses built up the hillsides. The centre looked pretty nice and there was the unusual sight of a cathedral which had rented space to chain stores such as the mobile phone provider Movistar. However we were not pemitted the chance to get a proper look and just drove past it. We finally got out of the bus some way up the hill (but not at any of the good photo points) for a walk through some traditional neighbourhoods. However, bizarrely we seemed to be in the dirtiest, most litter ridden streets. There was also graffiti everywhere, which is apparently accepted in Valparaiso (its full of hippies), and I wasn't very impressed. The final part of the tour was a ride in a shed on wheels cliff railway down to the port front, where at 5pm we were picked up and taken back to Santiago. Not a great day and not at all value for money.
Yesterday was officially the last day of the 2nd tour of my 4 in South America, so it was goodbye to a number of the group. Me and Selina took the modern and nice subway out to a cable car, which was supposed to take you up the San Cristobal Hill overlooking the city (see the Virgin Mary statue picture). However it was closed for maintenance so we had to walk up through the forest. Running out of time before we had to be back at the hotel we had to walk fast and once at the top had no time to reach the statue or admire the view (it was cloudy and hazy so not great anyway), and we had to immediately get the cliff railway (which was on the otherside of the hill) down, and then taxi back to the hotel.
The reason we had to be back was to go with some of the group to a football match! For about 17 pound we got tickets in the "safe for tourists" side stand to the Chilean "Superclasico", the Santiago derby between Colo Colo and Chile's version of Manchester United, Universidad de Chile. Colo Colo (supported by the working class here) were hosting the upper class supported Universidad in their 47,000 capacity stadium Estadio Monumental (Universidad play at the nearby national stadium). We didn't have resered seats and got there 1.5 hours early, but to my surprise the stadium was very busy even that early, and literally all the away fans were in their 2 pens singing and chanting and waving their balloons. As the match neared the stadium got busier (it was about 2/3 to 3/4 full by kick off), but the terrace end behind the goal was absolutely rammed with home fans. The atmosphere was unbelievable, with all sections of the stadium, even our side, chanting and singing. The behind the goal sections were unbelievable to watch, with literally everyone bouncing up and down half the time. The teams did not warm up on the pitch for safety reasons and the tunnels they came out of were stretched right out onto the pitch in case fans were to throw things over the high fences at them. When the teams did eventually emerge at 4pm everyone went mental, with people climbing the walls and fences, throwing toilet roll (as they did all match) and setting off flares, bangers and smoke bombs. The away goalkeeper was actually peppered with bangers 1st half and the riot police could do nothing to stop it. The actual game of football was low quality and the pitch was poor. First half there were few chances for either team, but I was fascinated to watch the very hard tackling by both teams, the sort of which
would have seen about 6 red cards in 10 minutes in England. There was also a lot of theatrics by the players, but strangely that rarely came after players went in with 2 footed scissor challenges. The 2nd half was better and Colo Colo scored after about an hour with a crossed free kick that went straight in. Universidad then had a man sent off for dragging down a player who was clean through. As he trotted off down the tunnel riot police swmped the home end to stop him being peppered with items, and a near riot broke out! Colo Colo had loads of chances on the counter to add to their lead, but failed to convert any (the finshing was shocking), but it didn't matter as they held on and won 1-0 to cue massive celebrations from the players at the end (the pictures of which are on every front page in today's local newspaper). It was definitely one of my best experiences in South America and I can't wait to go to the Maracana now in Rio and catch a game there.
Today is Sunday, and incredibly everything in this huge city is closed (its taken me ages to find an internet cafe). I had intended to go for a hair cut today but the barbers are all closed - even the hilariously named Lady Di hair salon, which sports pictures of Princess Diana on its shop front. We took a wander up the hill next to our hotel, which had some nice views, and this afternoon we might go back to San Cristobal as the weather is somewhat sunnier and clearer today. 9.30pm is when we leave on yet another night bus, this time to head south to the adventure sports city of Pucon. Hopefully the bus will give me chance to acquaint myself with the new people, who I've yet to speak to as I've been so busy spending time with departing friends from the previous tour. Sad times.