Gay and I flew on Latam on the 16th February from Sydney via Auckland to Santiago which was a 14 hour journey. We had a long wait of over an hour for immigration checks and then were picked up by our driver to take us at breakneck speed to the Novapark hotel in the Paris Londre Barrio in the city.

We were both surprised to see a lot of old multi storey apartments and that section of the city looked quite poor. Being Sunday most of the shops were closed and there was a lot of graffiti everywhere on metal shutters and buildings. Our guide explained had only been there since the 18th October when rolling protests started. Over 357 protesters have either lost their sight or their lives with police firing rubber bullets since that date. They have suspended that practice thank goodness.
Chileans are wanting a new constitution and the country is in a bad way with very poor public education and health system.
Only the wealthy have access to good education, universities and good healthcare.

The main street just a block away from our hotel is called Liberador Bernardo O’Higgins after one of Santiago’s founding fathers.
As with many struggling cities,homeless people and small street stalls with people selling clothes, food and small trinkets are found along the streets in the poorer parts of town. Across the main street in the pedestrian area were more upmarket shops like Saville Row, Calvin Klein and the others such as Sunglasses Hut and H and M.

The architecture is varied with French and English influences and some of the more stylish apartment buildings have Arabic features with outside enclosed balconies called Mashrabiya.

Our first full day was spent finding a good coffee shop and then we embarked on a free three hour walking tour with Vanessa our guide. We started from the visual arts museum, one of the many free museums in the city and it’s cafe served excellent coffee. There are many coffee shops in the city and a particular one the locals call “coffee with legs”. Girls in short dresses serve the coffee but we found it to be quite unpalatable.

Vanessa our guide was a font of information about the political situation and all aspects of Chilean life. There are over 7 million people living in Santiago but the city looks much bigger and is very spread out in a large basin between the mountain ranges. The small Maputo river flows through it. Chile had virtually no rain last winter,no snow therefore no ski season and everywhere looks very dry. There are however many parks which are well kept and watered.
The main park in plaza des Armas is beautiful with big old buildings and churches surrounding it and is a meeting spot for the locals as well as tourists.
A man in a passing car shouted abuse at the guide who was giving us information at the statue of Salvador Allende who was the first democratically elected president of Chile. He was murdered in a military coup in 1973 and Pinochet took over. Opinion is divided and loyalty was either to Allende or to Pinochet. Everyone is wondering about the outcome of the elections for a new constitution and whether it will bring any reform to the country.

After the tour we crossed the canal which had a small amount of brown flowing water and walked up to catch an old and clunky funicular which took us up to a viewpoint on the Cerro San Cristobal where we had a spectacular view of the Andes and the various parts of the city between the mountains. On descent we walked around and found an group of shops, restaurants and cafes on that side of the canal and there we found houses in many various styles and even an alpine looking one.
The shops that had been shut on the Sunday made the area we had seen look much more inviting with their open metal shutters and tables and chairs had been set up outside their establishments. Sunset was at 8.20pm and many people were enjoying themselves outdoors. The weather was perfect with a warm day and evening.
We ate a traditional bean and pumpkin dish and a humitas which was compressed parcel of mashed corn, onion and basil wrapped in corn husks and boiled. We ate “Galindo” in the Barrio Bellavista. We tried a Pisco sour but we both found it a bit sweet as it is made with Pisco 32% alcohol with about a cup of sugar and lemon juice. We retired to the hotel and a very pleasant barman served us another Pisco with tonic which was much nicer.

Our second free tour was a market tour with the following day with the fish market on one side of the canal and several others on the other side with the oldest wholesale market in Chile which remarkably turns over more than 7million US dollars a day.
The markets were a bustling hive of activity, open from 5am to 7pm and the stall holders were a pleasant bunch.

We walked back to our good cafe and then on to “La Chascona” the house of celebrated Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, a very quirky and interesting house set on many levels on the side of San Cristobal hill. I didn’t like the thought of another funicular ride so we waited for the small bus which took us up to the cable car and we took that to the the business district and the much more affluent side of the city with large houses, some with pools. We joined the ‘hop on hop off bus’ which cost 33,000 pesos or about AUD60. The infrastructure there was far superior with many upmarket restaurants, a large mall and hundreds of shops. The service stopped at 7pm every evening and the driver took us back to our starting point. We ate at a vegetarian restaurant “El Huerte” which had been recommended to us and which was exceptionally good. It was dark by the time we had finished so caught a taxi back to the hotel. There was a large police presence and they were either on foot, on horse or rode trail bikes in the city

We started the day with a good coffee followed by a visit to the Casa Colonado and the museum of Santiago situated in the Plaza Des Armas. We had booked a tour earlier in the day for a tour of the State Theatre of Santiago and Camila gave six of us a very lively informative tour in Spanish of which I could make out a lot. The theatre was beautiful with European chandeliers and plush red seating which looked rather tired. We visited the President’s box and the several rooms behind it where he can entertain guests and relax.

We retuned to the hill of Santa Lucia to the Indigenous Art market and then back to Casa Colonado to climb several spiral staircases to the tower (which had been closed over lunchtime) where we had a good view of the park and surrounding buildings of Plaza des Armas. We were in a climbing mood so made our way back to the Cerro (hill) Santa Lucia and climbed to the top to have a good view of the city and surrounding mountains.
A Mr MacKenna and his wife were buried on the top of the hill in a mausoleum. He was an Irishman who was fought against the Spanish in Chile and was promoted to commandant general.

After a good vegetarian salad we went back to the hotel and had a last drink with Eduardo at the bar of the Novapark hotel. He told us when we were in Rio to be careful and not look like tourists. A bit difficult. We had a reasonably early night to prepare for out 4am departure to the airport for our flight to Rio. We were looking forward to a good night’s sleep because jetlag for the first couple of nights and someone bashing on our door at 3am didn’t give us much rest.

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