Santiago, Chile - 19-January-2000

Well, well, well ... another place that I never thought I would ever visit: Chile. Because I never thought I would travel to Chile, I did what most Americans (well, lets be honest....what most people do, American or not) do when considering other people in the world: I ignored it. Perhaps that is a little harsh: Instead, let's just say that I was indifferent to Chile, her people, and her politics. Over the past few years, I have started to learn what sheer folly this outlook on the world is. In this day and age when a flight on the Concorde can get you from North America to Europe in just a few short hours, and Boeing is working on a 747 with the fuel capacity to make it from San Francisco to Moscow, non-stop, it is foolish to ignore other countries and cultures. Add to this the "coming of age" of the World Wide Web, and it becomes even more important to know more about your neighbors, because with the Net, everyone in the world is your neighbor. With that being said, I encourage all of you to ignore Chile...that way it will remain as beautiful as it is today (and the next time I go back there won't be throngs of tourists there who read this web page and decided to see it for themselves).

Santiago currently stands as my "furthest point south" on the globe. The interesting thing is that Santiago is situated just a little farther South of the Equator than Sacramento (where I currently reside) lies North of the Equator. This makes for a VERY long plane flight (something like 11 and 1/2 hours from Dallas, TX) from the US (don't be fooled into thinking that South America is "right next door"...a flight from Miami to the Northernmost city in South America is still a 3 and 1/2 hour plane ride) and Santiago is a LONG way south. Also of interest is the fact that Santiago is climatically quite similar to the Central Valley of California. Both are roughly 100 miles inland from the coast. Both have relatively low coastal mountain ranges, then a wide valley that rises to a much larger mountain range in the East. There is even a cold ocean current that flows down the Western Coast of South America, much like the one off the coast of California. This creates similar weather patterns, although they are during opposite seasons (Winter in Chile is June, July and August). My trip to Santiago in February felt exactly like late September in Sacramento: pleasantly warm with low humidity. A lot of the flora and fauna are quite similar too, although Santiago has some indigenous plants as well. Don't let this "similarity" to Central Northern California fool you, however. Chile is a country that stretches nearly 4,300 kilometers (2,700 miles for the "metrically-challenged") and encompasses drastic differences in geography: From the Atacama Desert (a desert that has NEVER recorded rainfall) that lies in the northern part of the country, to the vast rainforests of Patagonia to the frigid lands of Antarctica....Chile has it all.

As usual, I scheduled my flight to arrive early in the morning to allow myself a day of sightseeing before going to work (unfortunately, my company doesn't send me anywhere for just a vacation). I found Santiago's airport to be medium sized and pleasant. Despite the fact that I had obtained the necessary work Visa for Chile, I (and all the other travelers) needed to pay an "admission fee" to enter the country. $40 lighter in my wallet (the $40, by the way, gains you unlimited entries into Chile for a year), I caught a taxi to my Hotel in the Las Condes area of Santiago on the Eastern edge of town. There was a noticeable lack of "shanty towns" which always seem to exist on the outskirts of major South American cities, which testifies to the prosperity of the Chileans. Indeed Chile is one of South America's most stable countries, both politically (despite the Pinochet incident) and economically. Comfortably ensconced in my hotel (the Regal Pacific in Las Condes), I headed out to see the city. Santiago actually has a useful (to us tourists) subway (Métro) system. Other South American cities such as Caracas, Venezuela and Sao Paulo, Brazil have métros, but they don't really go anywhere interesting...they are basically built for moving the population to and from work. Santiago's métro took me from my hotel in Las Condes into the center of the city. The Estación Santa Lucia or the Estación Universidad de Chile will deposit you exactly where you want to be to see Santiago's sights.

You start on Libertador Géneral Bernardo O'Higgins (yes, that's a can call it Alameda for short....the locals do). Cross over to the North side of "the Alameda" and head East toward the Andes Mountains. Take a left on 21 de Mayo (I'll never understand the South American obsession with naming streets after dates....there's a major avenue in Sao Paulo, Brazil named after a date in April) and keep going until you hit the Plaza de Armas. Check out the original post office, the Correo Centro (rumor has it that all points in Chile are measured in kilometers from this office. Kinda like Rome, isn't it?), the Catedral (no, that's not a spelling mistake), the Palacio de la Real Audencia (Natural History Museum), and enjoy a rousing game of chess and a lemonade in the square (just watch out for the "dive bomber" pigeons in the square). Head east out of Plaza de Armas on Merced. On the corner of Merced and Mac-Iver (a few blocks ) is the Basilica Merced a "church-turned-museum". Unfortunately, this was closed the day I was there. According to my guidebook (the "Open Road" Chile Guide), this place has some of the best artifacts from Easter Island (owned by Chile). There are several other museums in this area that deal with colonial Chile and one in particular that my guidebook rather colorfully referred to as "...and extensive tribute to dandified white guys with guns..." (sorry, I just couldn't resist putting that line up here on my kills me!). I stopped for lunch at a French place on Merced called 'Les Assesins'. The Coquille San Jacques was fantastic, and best of all, they understood my French (my Spanish is merely passable). Wash your meal down with the Chilean "Pisco Sour". Pisco is a type of brandy (this originally comes from Peru, but don't tell that to the Chileans). Mixed with lemon juice, powdered sugar and egg whites, it creates the wonderfully refreshing Pisco Sour (don't have too many, though...this ranks right up there with the Brazilian Caipirihnia for "most punch per drink").

Continue heading East (as a side note, there is a lot of Art Deco and Neoclassical Architecture in this sure to check it out) until you reach the Cerro Santa Lucia. You can't miss this's a huge mountain right in the middle of the city. When entering, you will be asked to "sign in" with your passport (apparently, there once was a lot of crime in this park, and the City is doing this as a protective measure. I found it to be quite safe during the day, but I wouldn't want to try this place at night). This was my favorite place in all of Santiago. At the top of the hill, there is a replica of a Medieval Castle, and there are all sorts of plants, flowers, statues and fountains all over this mountain and it provides fantastic views of the city and the Andes. If you are fortunate enough to be travelling with your "significant other", find a small secluded place in the rocks and "make out" like's what the locals do. From the top of the mountain, you can also see a neighboring hill called the Cerro San Cristobal and the cable car that takes you to the top. On one side of the mountain, you will see the Biblioteca Nacional. Head to the right of this, and exit through the main entrance/exit to the Cerro Santa Lucia and cross the Alameda (good luck...there is an iron fence in the median and no crosswalks for about a mile or so on either side. Go dangerously) to the Centro Artesanal de Santa Lucia. This place is one of the best markets that I have seen. Pick up some Lapis Lazuli jewelry or some Chilean CDs or (if you're loaded with Chilean Pesos) splurge on some fantastic artwork.

I had the eerie sensation of witnessing a full lunar eclipse while I was in Santiago. This was a little creepy. First of all, I was on the 11th floor of the hotel. With the Andes as a spectacular backdrop, I watched while the moon slowly disappeared from view over several hours. One tip if staying at the Regal Pacific: try to get a room on one of the upper floors with a North facing view. I was very eager to get up in the morning, because my bathroom faced East, and I was able to watch the sun rise (the bathroom had a HUGE window) over a 5,200 meter peak (once again, about 17,000 feet for the "metrically-challenged")...awesome! I definitely need to get back here during the Austral Winter (North American summer) to check out the legendary ski resorts like Valle Nevado and Colorado-Farellones. The road that heads up to the resorts starts in Las Condes, and is reported to be a nightmare of hairpin turns and switchbacks. My buddy Gonzalo, who I was there to work with, also loves to ski and said that the skiing is fantastic (as if Warren Miller Movies were not enough inspiration). The Andes simply take your breath away...they dwarf the Rocky Mountains in height and are incredibly "awe-inspiring".

As far as work goes, it was pretty tough! These Chileans are smart people and they asked a lot of intelligent questions that really kept me on my toes. In comparison to other spanish-speaking people of South America, the Chileans are pretty conservative. They know how to have fun (like the night when Gonzalo took me out to several bars/clubs/discos in Providencia, El Bosque, and Las Condes), they are hardworking (long hours at the office), and are very civilized. Americans often think of South America as an "extension of Mexico". This could not be farther from the truth. The people in Chile are more European than any others that I have seen in South America, a fact that is reflected in social attitudes, architecture and everyday life (although I have heard that Argentina is even more European). These people have class. I really enjoyed working with Fernando, Gonzalo and Jorge at the office.

I could go on and on. Did I mention Chilean Wine? Some of the best stuff in the world (if you don't believe me, ask your friendly sommelier. If you don't know what a 'sommelier' or an 'administrateur de vin' is, then shut have no clue what makes a wine a good wine anyway). Next time I go back (and there will be a next time), I want to visit valparaíso on the coast, go hiking in the Patagonia region. Let's not forget Rapa Nui (Easter Island) has been on my "to visit" list since Geography class in the 6th grade. That's part of the frustration in visiting Chile: The country is SO big and SO diverse, that it is impossible to cover everything that you want to do in one visit (unless that visit is for 6 months)!

Other Destinations

Big Sur, California Lisbon, Portugal Paris, France Madrid, Spain
São Paulo, Brazil Caracas, Venezuela Amsterdam, Netherlands Arnhem, Netherlands
Nassau, Bahamas London, England Curaçao, Netherland Antilles Santiago, Chile
Edinburgh, Scotland Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Hyderabad, India Rome & Florence, Italy

© 2003 - Todd L. Holsopple
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