Hot...temp is averaging above 30C
Hilly...surrounded by the Andes...ski resorts 30km away
Hazy...with the heat and being in a valley pollution is that of Mexico City
High rises...tallest building in SA is completed
So when I last left you was at the border post in the Andes. To give you some idea of the height/altitude we are dealing within this area...I took a sip from my coke bottle at the border and upon arriving into Santiago the bottle had shrunk due to the drop in altitude/pressure!!
Santiago is a great city in the 2 days I have seen it...a nice European style city but less crowed than Buenos Aires. So as mentioned before it is hilly...there are 2 hills in town...mini Santa Lucia and grander San Cristobel. Great visual references for navigation particularly when you get lost walking down the grander hill after sunset!!
Did a walking tour (my own as well as organised one) that provided a great insight into Santiago life...and more importantly some quirky things to enjoy...
My favourite being "coffee with legs" which can be best described a cross between Starbucks and Hooters...btw the coffee is good rather than thinking i am a pervert! Although great skill is required to maximise enjoyment as I realised after my initial school boy error!! Walked into Cafe Caribe and pre-paid for my coffee to see that the lady serving was my mum's age in a shocking pink mini dress...the VPL was that off stomach sucking granny pants!!! Enough to make me burn my throat to get out of there quickly!! To enjoy the experience I scouted the second coffee house around the corner Cafe Haiti which proved a better choice although when the girl said "Hola Chico" and I said "Hables Inglais" to which she walked away to read the paper...at least easier on the eye whilst drinking coffee but doesn't do justice to the South American lady who is great on the eye particularly as summer ;)
The tour also highlighted a great ice cream parlour with earl grey tea, ginger and hazelnut ice-cream. The fish market run by the local mafia (they own all the restaurants) did a cracking crab pie (Pastel de Jaiba) as well.
One thing Chile has done that Argentina hasn't to my knowledge is bring to justice the regime under Pinochet. The Truth and Reconciliation commission has been involved post his regime to understand what happened to the Chilean people...I.e. those that disappeared. Similar to Argentina under the military coup people disappeared and the museum tries to highlight and bring reconciliation to those involved. Bodies were bound with metal and dropped from helicopters out at sea only for bodies to appear on beaches...mass graves identified...bodies in roads with throats slit...and still to this day a few hundred people have not been identified for those families involved. Those protesting where either against the regime, communists even faith leaders were locked up and tortured. Brutal for the people and understandably people still are coming to terms of the Pinochet regime. Will leave you to google Pinochet times in Chile.
So after coming to a major city again I change my mind once again about whether I could live in a small town or city. Mendoza was great and had what you need but Santiago with its culture and art and busyness of life is also appealing...tough one to call but as a city guy born and breed think it wins at the moment as where I would like to live...watch this space!!
Finally a point on Union Jack's? Over here I see many locals wearing T-shirts with the Jack as well as a bum bags amongst items seen. Are they more patriotic than me? Should I wear my footy top with pride? Am I concerned by the conertayions associated with the England top? With World Cup around the corner will hopefully be in Manuas to watch the first game and will be wearing it with pride then!!
For a cheeky day trip (doesn't necessarily do it justice) I went to Valparaiso which is/was a major port. Used to be massive before the Panama Canal was built as a stop between Europe and California when they had a gold rush...today still a port but famous for its 40 hills, funiculars and street murals...photos are only a small selection of the good ones!!
Explored the city and first stop was the 1971 Nobel Peace prize winner Pablo Neruda (poet and diplomat) home in the hills. Great views across the city. The city has many houses/shacks for the port workers so has a favela feel but not with the same tension...one thing to remember in Chile is major earthquakes and so shacks are easier to rebuilt than houses!
Tried the local shellfish "marisco" empanada (Cornish pasty) for lunch at the legendary Empanadas Famosas...people were buying 10 at a time. Bizarrely on the TV were naked ladies with body paint on jumping into a swimming pool after posing...like I have said before SA TV is good!! Also tried the local Pisco Sour for sundowners over the bay...Peru and Chile fighting over who has the rights but still a decent drink!
Did the free walking tour like in Santiago and worthwhile and recommend in any city that offers it...you just tip as the fee (just don't forget to tip like I did and now on a massive guilt trip back to Santiago!). Learnt about the port and city life...had the most expensive street in SA due to the port...now in ruin. All the fire stations are run by volunteers thus more revered than the police in the public eye...more interesting is that each individual station is sponsored by the Brits, Germans, Italians and Saudis i.e. the early immigrant settlers!! Most bizarrely though was the offering of Waitrose Essentials ketchup in the local supermarket???
Finally I head north on a 23hr bus ride today...guess no sympathy coming my way...I will arrive in the Atacama desert and have 4 days exploring high altitudes (roads at 5000m...think top gear in SA) and potential whale bones unearthing before crossing the frontier with Bolivia and the famous salt flats. Therefore those that do get concerned (few of you!!) I will out of radio contact for a while...don't be concerned unless you see me on CNN not waving behind the camera saying "hello mum"!!