Posted by: robinson2000 | June 15, 2011


12th – 15th June

With much reluctance, I tore myself away from Iquique, bidding farewell to the nice folk that I had met, and hopped on a bus heading south to Santiago. The bus would take me just shy of 2000km, back through the driest hot desert in the world, and into the slightly greener, but smoggier surroundings of Santiago. The 24 hour journey was fine, but it was quite frustrating to be woken up at during the night and turfed out onto the tarmac in order for a check point to riffle through our belongings for any contraband. It was a relief to finally leave the bus in Santiago, so I grabbed my bags and I quickly headed down into Santiago’s metro system. Santiago’s metro system is dead easy to use and is very cheap, so in no time at all I was at my stop, Santa Isabel, and walked the four blocks to Hostel Ventana Sur. The streets were bustling with people and the atmosphere was jubilant, as two of Santiago’s biggest University football teams (University Catolica vs University de Chile) had just played in the cup final. Unfortunately the rival fans clashed later that evening and it was reported that there was a shooting near to a hostel that a friend was staying at.

The following day, after gorging on an excellent breakfast provided by the hostel, I ventured out to the Plaza de Armas to take in some of the sights and join a free walking tour around the city. Santiago has all the trimmings of a modern-day metropolis and is the heritage capital of Chile, with churches from the 17th Century, markets and an intense cultural life. The city is organised around the Plaza de Armas, which the founder of the city, Spanish conqueror Pedro de Valdivia, created so that if the city was attacked by natives, the Mapuche, then everyone would grab a pitchfork and congregate in the plaza to defend the city. On the corner of the plaza is a statue of Valdivia riding his horse that was erected by his mistress, a formidable and ferocious woman who was known for beheading the natives and displaying her trophies on stakes.

Slightly away from the main plaza are dozens of coffee shops that are known as coffee with legs, due to the high numbers of business men who frequent the shops in order to stare at the long legs of the waitresses. Apparently there also used to be a “happy minute”, where the coffee shops would close the blinds, and the business men would be treated to a quick strip by the waitresses. South of the Plaza de Armas are the governmental buildings and the palace, where you can find statues of the dictator Augusto Pinochet and of the socialist leader, Salvador Allende. Situated behind the palace is a huge Chilean flag, a quarter of a football pitch in size, which was made in Oregon. The red stands for the blood that was spilt fighting for independence, the blue represents the sky and the Pacific Ocean, and the white symbolizes the Andes mountain range. Just next to this is a tele-communications building that was built to look like a mobile phone, except by the time it was finished, mobile phones didn’t look like that anymore. 

Within the area known as Bellavista stands a sharp, conical hill called San Cristobal. It’s the largest of the city’s parks and on the summit (300 metres) stands a colossal statue of the Virgin. The hostel provided a free bike hire service so I took full advantage and headed out on a comically small, single geared bike. I looked more like a circus act that a cyclist, but I persevered and headed up San Cristobal. The ride up the hill was fun, but quite tough as I only had one gear and all the other riders had multi-geared, mountain bikes or racers. I arrived at the top a sweaty mess and took in the limited views, due to the dense smog over the city. Even though the views were disappointing, the ride down was fantastic.

There wasn’t a huge amount to captivate my interest in Santiago, so after the second day of sightseeing I bought a bus ticket to a town south of Santiago, called Pucon. Before leaving I visited a vineyard called Concha y Toro, which is the largest producer of wines in Latin America. The estate is vast, owning about 8000 square hectors of vineyards spread throughout Chile. The temperature was bitterly cold as I was shown around some of the vineyards before being taken into the fermentation area and into the cellars where the wines are left to rest. I was the only member on the English tour, so the guide allowed me to take my time and sample a few of the wines. The best being Don Melchors (the founder) special reserve, which cost $100 a bottle. He also showed me around the cellar where the legend of the Casillero del Diablo, or cellar of the devil was born. The story goes that Don Melchor wanted to prevent the local villagers and workers from stealing his wine, so he boasted that a devil walked the corridors of the cellar.

Santiago is a beautiful city to visit for a few days. It’s a modern industrial capital, full of skyscrapers, bustle, noise, traffic and plenty of smog to choke up the lungs. Next stop Pucon, near the erupting volcanoes.    

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  1. Nice post. Love the ‘happy minute’ idea!

    You taking in Valdivia as well as Pucón? Take care

    • No, just Pucon. Going to probably spend 4 days there and maybe get up the volcano. I’ve been recommended a nice place on that island just next to Puerto Montt so i’m going there before my ferry leaves next friday.

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