This weekend we had a long weekend in honour of Christopher Columbus' discovery of the Americas, so I decided to take advantage of the extra day off and head to Chile.
I took the coach from Mendoza. We followed the same route to the border that I took on my trip to the mountains last weekend. It was colder this time and we had a little snow at the border, where I also found out that there were two British girls on the coach with me. One was from London and one from near Birmingham, and they were travelling around South America before eventually going to work in New Zealand.
After we crossed the border the road took a much steeper descent through the mountains than on the Argentinian side, with a few very tight corners very close to the edge of big drops! I noticed that Chile was much greener than Mendoza province had been and there were more people living closer to the border. At this point the on board entertainment started, with a showing of the film The Punisher, which was actually pretty violent considering there were children on the coach.
Although the coach was advertised as taking 7 hours, it ended up taking 9.5 hours, and I didn't arrive in Santiago until 10.30. The worst part was that the last hour of the journey had been sitting in traffic in Santiago, waiting to get into the bus station! I ended up sharing a taxi with the girls I had met on the bus as it turned out we were staying in the same hostel and we finally arrived at 11pm, ready for bed!
I stayed in a hostel called Andes hostel. It was in a perfect location on a street called Monjitas in downtown Santiago. The room itself was OK, and I was sharing with a nice Dutch couple and an elusive third guy who would go to bed in the early hours, snore loudly until around 6 am and then disappear all day. Unfortunately he prevented me from getting much quality sleep all weekend...
I spent the morning getting my bearings. I followed the road the hostel was on down to the main square in the city, Plaza de Armas, and kept walking as far as a metro station with a rather amusing name that you can see in my photos. Next, I passed through plaza Brasil and down Avenida Brasil, which was lined with palm trees, before reaching the main thoroughfare of the city - Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O'Higgins, otherwise known as La Alameda. The centre of the road, which used to be a tributary of the Mapocho river, is pedestrianised and has statues important Chilean military figures. There was also a replica Moai statue, in honour of Easter Island, which for the uneducated among you is owned by Chile (don't worry, I didn't know either).
I next came across the area of the city where the University of Chile is located, where the students were collecting signatures for in support of abolishing fees for studying in the country. I had seen them with petitions all around the city and finally worked out what their cause was.
Before eating lunch I went to Cerro Santa Lucía, a small hill in the centre of Santiago. It used to be a cemetery, but was remodelled in 1872 and is now covered with various gardens and statues, including one of Pedro de Valdivia, the first Royal Governor of Chile and founder of Santiago. On top of the hill is a small fort from which you can look out across the city, where I took some photos.
For the afternoon I joined a free walking tour, which was headed by an English speak Chilean guy called Felipe. He was very passionate, and told us about lots of Chilean history - the poor treatment of the indigenous Mapuche tribe by the government; how the Pinochet regime came about, and how it finally ended; and the current problems of the gulf between rich and poor in the country, despite it being rich in natural resources. It's all worth a read on Wikipedia.
We started in Plaza de Armas, which is apparently so called because it was where the Spanish conquistadors would congregate to fight against the indigenous peoples when they came to attack. The square is home to several important buildings: the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago; the Chilean National History Museum; and a rather fancy main post office, which I think used to be a home of Pedro de Valdivia. We then saw various other important buildings, including the the old national congress building (now based in Valparaíso), the museum of fine art and the Presidential palace, called the Palacio de la Moneda. The word moneda means coin in Spanish, and the palace itself used to be a mint.
We next saw the business district, which has a street called New York as it apparently looks like it could be from there. We saw some cafés that the businessmen use, which in the past used to be famous for 'café con piernas', or 'coffee with legs'. This was because the waitresses used to be scantily clad, and would ensure that the businessmen enjoyed their lunch breaks.
We passed the university that I had seen earlier, and Felipe explained that the students had been holding big protests every Thursday for the last 3 months. On one occasion he and a tour group got caught between the police and the students and narrowly escaped tear gas!
We stopped in a café just past Cerro Santa Lucia (that I had climbed earlier) and drank a Pisco Sour - the national drink of either Chile or Peru (depending who you ask) which contains a grape brandy called Pisco, lemon juice and egg whites. It was actually rather nice!
We then walked through Parque Forestal, past Plaza Italia, which had a building designed to look like a giant mobile phone - unfortunately a 90s one, complete with aerial - before entering Barrio Bellavista. There were lots of restaurants here, and a cute courtyard with lots of cafés and stalls selling crafts. The area was also home to La Chascona, the first of 3 houses owned by Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.
The tour ended at the entrance to Cerro San Cristóbal, a massive hill in the heart of the city. An Australian woman on the tour and I decided to go to the summit (by funicular) to take photos of the sunset.
On top there is a statue of the Virgin Mary, which was a gift from France, and a platform from which mass was taking place. At the end of mass they released lots of purple balloons into the sky. I took lots of photos of the sunset, which was very pretty.
Unfortunately we just missed the last funicular by minutes - we actually watched it go down. This meant a journey down the hill in the dark, but the views of the city at night more than made up for it. Fortunately my Australian acquaintance had a better map than me, as the road had taken us to a different entrance.
I arrived back at the hostel just in time for the Saturday night BBQ on the roof terrace, where I got to hear the stories of other people travelling around South America, before, after a few beers, heading to bed exhausted.
On Sunday I decided to take a trip to Valparaíso, on the coast. By the time I found the right bus station, bought a ticket and waited an hour for the bus, I didn't leave Santiago until 12.30.
I finally reached Valparaíso at 2 and decided to join an organised tour, as I didn't have much time to see things. We first went a few kilometres down the coast to the tourist hotspot of Viña del Mar, which was full of people enjoying the beach and good weather, despite it still being Spring time. We visited a casino, a monument to Pablo Neruda and the town's stadium adjacent to it, where Sting apparently played last year. We also went to a museum about the Moai on Easter Island, which actually has one of the real statues from the island standing outside. Apparently we have one in the British Museum in London too.
We next went slightly further along the coast to Reñaca, where there is another beach, and we had lunch in a seafood restaurant where I had (what I think was called) reinata a lo pobre - fish with chips, two fried eggs and fried onion, which was very tasty.
After eating, we headed back to Valparaíso for a whistle-stop tour of the important sights. We saw several of the funiculars in the city, including one that was still in use, as well as another house of Pablo Neruda, la Sebastiana, but unfortunately by this time the it had closed. We also went up to Cerro Alegre and saw some of the painted houses the city is famous for, before heading back to the bus station via a square with the naval college and a monument to the fighters in the Battle of Iquique, part of the Pacific Wars with Peru and Bolivia. I took a quick detour to see the National Congress of Chile behind the bus station before travelling back to Santiago for a well-deserved rest.
I had some time in the morning before my coach for Mendoza left on Monday, and had planned to visit some of the museums I had seen on Saturday, but unfortunately ALL the museums in the city were closed on Mondays :( To make matters worse, they had all been free on Sunday day!
I decided to explore a little north of the Mapocho River in Barrio Recoleta, where I hadn't been on Saturday. It was a much less developed area, and seemed more typical of the city that the Chilean people actually live in. I walked through a couple of markets, including a flower market, where I dropped camera and dented it >_<
I decided to treat myself before my mammoth return journey, and had a coffee and big slice of cheesecake in Wonderful Café. As I was walking to the metro to go to the bus station I saw some people in traditional Mapuche dress playing music, and followed them a short way to a big protest march down La Alameda. As far as I could tell they were demonstrating about the treatment of their people at the hands of the government, and I think it was timed to coincide with the 'celebration' of the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the conquistadors hundreds of years ago, which ended in the killing of lots of indigenous peoples like the Mapuche, as well as the taking of their lands.
My journey back was much quicker than the one on the way had been. We watched the Punisher a second time(!) followed by an even more violent film that I didn't catch the name of, but involved an interrogation scene where a man had his fingers cut off one by one to get information out of him…
A very well timed bus connection in Mendoza got me back to the house quickly where, after eating, I slept very well!
I really enjoyed visiting Chile. I learnt a lot about its history in a short time and realised that we hardly get taught anything about Latin America in the UK, even though we did actually get involved in some conflicts, and it all being very interesting.
You'll see in some of my photos examples of some excellent street art that I saw in the Chile, as well as paintings featured on the walls of the platforms of some of the metro stations, which I thought were very nice.
I've also realised that I haven't really talked much about Mendoza itself and so I've decided to devote my next entry to telling you all about the city. In any case, I think I need a relaxing weekend not spent travelling on a bus, so it seems the prefect opportunity for taking some photos locally and sampling some of the wine in the wineries nearby.