arrived in San Antonio, Chile, having taken a cruise ship from
Miami so we could enjoy one more pass through the Panama Canal.
The canal is truly a marvel of engineering. That it is the major
link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans only enhances the
wonder that it was ever completed despite all the lives lost
in doing so. While living in Guatemala we met the widow wife
of one of the engineers involved in the project. Her stories
of his adventures seemed almost unimaginable.
Our ship docked in San Antonio, Chile, a port city, the center
of the country's huge fishery export industry. It has little to recommend it
as a tourist stop except that it is the closest port to Santiago capable of
handling cruise ships. We tried too late to get a car rental so hopped a cab
to Santiago as we had already rented an apartment for a month to get to know
the city and a bit about the country. We chose a young woman driver who seemed
absolutely delightful. But for her lack of English, she would be a terrific
personal guide to the country -- an excellent driver, an unimposing conversationalist
and a very genuine human being. We are both fluent in Spanish so for us it
was truly wonderful.
arrival in Santiago went smoothly and we settled
in well on December 23 hanging our Christmas lights and tiny
Italian Christmas ornaments, joining our neighbors in celebrating
the holidays. And, celebrate is what Chileans do. They were up
and at it for days, lasting from Christmas through New Year's
and even beyond. Hanging lights of all sorts were strung from
balconies near and far.
it turned out, Santiago was experiencing its profound smog while
we were there. I began and went through my days with deep coughing,
burning eyes and feeling in constant need of a shower. The city
is dirty, more dirty than any I have ever visited. There is unattractive
graffiti everywhere. People were usually overweight and poorly
dressed with an occasional exception that stood out in being so
unique. Despite there being no protective ozone, no one wore hats,
no one appeared to protect their children or themselves from the
sun's burning rays. Most days it was hot and it was always dry.
The Mapuche river running through the city is its sewerage treatment
plant as it runs all the way to the sea. The city's sense of history
seems almost nonexistent as so many small charming old buildings
are left to decay to be finally torn down and replaced by one more
high rise. Graffiti covers all of the first floors of buildings
and with artistry undenied it has reached the second floor of many
few exceptions, the country's interest in tourism is not evident
in its capital city. Yes, there are places for the wealthy as
there always are. Yes, there are hard to find tourism information
offices. Yes, there are expensive car rental services and hotels
that offer less than you would expect for the exorbitant prices
they charge. Everyone walking in the streets of the city seems
to be in a race to get somewhere although there is no where in
particular to go and they walk at a speed enough to make me uncomfortable
walking anywhere with other pedestrians.
people were kind to us. They were open to new ideas and we had
more than one thoughtful, intellectual conversation in casual
encounters, even with our taxi drivers who all seemed underemployed
except for the old fellow that drove down a four lane one way
road the wrong way. Harrowing, yes, but he was probably just
too old to still be driving in any case. We did arrive back at
our apartment safe and sound which had seemed
unlikely given the givens.
hired one of our drivers to take us around the city to show us
the neighborhoods. He was very bright and passionate about Chile,
although he was planning to take his family to Europe in the
near future. Every 'neighborhood' he brought us to was but a
few streets amongst the high rises and businesses that make the
city. All historic and modern buildings were also covered in
graffiti and traffic was more often at a stall than it was moving.
seemed not an issue even as evident and confused foreigners negotiated
city streets. It is not a place I would have been fearful in, even
alone. Sadly, like everything else moderately developed, restaurants
were outrageously expensive given the poor quality of offerings.
highlight of our time in Santiago was visiting the new Museo
Chileno de Arte Precolumbiano on the central square
of the city. It is extraordinary from stepping in to experiencing
all of the exhibits. This is a place not to be missed if you
find yourself in Santiago. Try to go at opening hours so you
have a little time to enjoy this wonder all on your own. Later
it fills up very quickly with visitors from around the world
who can be a distraction to your enjoyment of the exhibits.
The building in the photograph to the left is some sort of political enclave
and the whole property is guarded by a 10 foot iron fence.
that being said, we visited the vegetable market, La
Vega Central, which occupies an extraordinary number
of acres devoted to every need you might ever have. Again, people
were more than kind and accepting of us as foreigners, but chaos
reigned at great speed as fast as any pedestrian could achieve
without actually running. Foods offered were plentiful and extremely
fresh coming not only from Chile but from countries like Peru,
Bolivia, Argentina, Mexico and more. In truth, you could eat
in Santiago almost for free if you liked to cook. Ask anyone
there what you may be looking for and they'll happily tell you
where to find it. If you are just visiting Santiago you may enjoy
dining in any one of dozens and dozens of Mom & Pop cookeries.
If you are spending more time in the city, perhaps in a rental
apartment, bring a shopping cart which you may fill to overflowing
in minutes for just a few US dollars.
the river from this market is the famed Mercado Central,
the Santiago fish market. Pick your favorites and enjoy everything
from the sea you can imagine. Do take a little care as we found
less than very fresh fish on the occasions we visited. As well
as in the vegetable market, this one has dozens of small eateries
although we didn't find one more appealing than the kitchen in
month was up in Santiago and it was time to head south. Doing
so is easy on the Pan American Highway, locally known as Rt.
5. The roadway is in excellent condition and there are gas stations
with small cafeterias offering good foods. Do make sure to turn
on your headlights at all times, day or night. It is the law
and though you won't be stopped by police along the highway,
you will find very stiff fines on your credit card bill because
there are overhead cameras on the highway. Also, if you are traveling
by car, be prepared for high fees for highway use. Bring cash
in small bills to make this a more speedy transaction. Sadly,
you will see along the way many small chapels dedicated to those
who have died on this roadway. Some appear to have been loaded
busses who's drivers simply fell asleep, others were families
lost in the same way and now and again there was a lone chapel
maybe for someone returning from Santiago at too great a speed
and after too many hours of sleeplessness.
roadside towns were developed in a modern industrial fashion
making the roadway more tedious than we had ever dreamed possible,
even in the wine country immediately south of the city. We drove
on through Rancagua, eventually settling in Temuco for
the night at of all places, a Holiday Inn Express. Moving on
the next day we settled in the river town called Valdivia which
was pleasant, but not a place I can write much about. One of
the highlights of our time there was sitting at a shared picnic
table where we met a delightful family with two enchanting children.
As with all people we met in Chile, this family was very open
there we drove on to Puerto Varas on Lake Llanquihue,
one of the many lake towns in southern Chile. And, indeed there
was a lake large enough I thought it must be the ocean. We stayed
in an older hotel with a great view of the lake and the nearby
snow capped volcano. The following day we took a drive to Ensenada highly
recommended in a Fodor's guide as being one of the best in all
of Chile. It didn't turn out to be all that interesting, but
we did find the Parque Nacional Vicente Rosales,
the oldest national park in Chile and then traveled on around
the entire lake. One part of that drive was on a beautifully
maintained dirt road through rolling hills of farm and cattle
country. I will always remember that drive, though sadly it is
being paved as I write this story so much will have changed if
you choose to follow in our tracks.
more night of R & R and we set off for Puerto Montt where
you may, without reservations, drive on board the inexpensive
car ferry to Chiloe Island. I dreamed of visiting
this island for months and had outlined all of the outlying places
to explore. As it turns out, the island is very developed with
excellent roadways and all of the services you might expect,
except for the internet. We got there and our first night settled
into Ancud where our tired, but charming old
hotel boasted of a restaurant and internet. In truth it had neither,
but it did have a great view, a scrumptious local blueberry tart
for breakfast and of course the kind and attentive Chileans we
had grown to know and respect.
From Ancud we
drove on the Pan American Highway to the small and depressing
town of Qemchi which had also sounded incredibly
charming. It lies on the seashore, but having arrived, all we
wanted to do was leave. We did visit the tiny market where you
may buy fish, fine art, or artfully crafted woolens. As a knitter
I fell in love with the skeins of naturally dyed wool, but in
the end settled for a knitted soft white wool winter hat. We
never did find the tourist office or see any hint of Isla de
Aucar with its "stunning wood bridge" access.
I wish so much I could pay to preserve and restore the beautiful
historical wooden homes and buildings in the town, but fear all
will be lost to an admiration for things modern and American
which pervades the country -- out with the old and on with the
new. This is a small treasure of a town that I fear will soon
drove on aiming to stay away from the Pan American Highway and
found ourselves by a lonely beach with seals jumping and playing
in the nearby sea. As it turned out there was no connection from
here to there as we were informed by a wealthy Chilean enjoying
his beach side property. We made an about turn heading back toward
the Pan American Highway toward our next destination, Castro,
the capital city of Chiloe. And, a city it is;
busy and hustling and bustling as every where else we'd been
in the country. In truth, we'd just about had enough of Chile
and dreamed of spending the days before our Italy bound cruise
in a place more peaceful and more beautiful. Nonetheless, we
did drive through the fishing 'village' of Caleta Angelmó on
our way through the city of Castro. It resembled nothing of a
fishing village but a town deluged with the traffic of cars and
busses, hawkers in the streets yelling for folks to eat in their
respective restaurants or to buy crafts from any one of 100's
of small shops offering whatever memento or souvenir you might
ever desire. This was where we drew the line on Chile deciding
to head off to Buenos Aires as soon as we returned to Santiago.
our way back north we decided to take an R & R
break at the Sonesta Hotel in Osorno just
south of Valdivia where I wanted to
return to visit the Botanical Garden with a reported
1000 Chilean plant species. From Osorno,it took us
about two hours going this way and that to find out
that the garden is part of a university. Then it took
almost an hour guided by six bright and delightful
Chilean students to get us to the park entrance on
foot. By then we were pretty hot and tired, sadly cutting
short our anticipated time in the garden. This is the
way in Chile which seems unprepared for visitors despite
its desire for American trappings of modernization.
on the road heading north toward Santiago we stayed a night in
the town of Chillan. We ordered a room service
meal of perfectly delicious steak and a take out pizza
recommended at the front desk where we had to sign a waiver of
responsibility for anything eaten outside of the hotel restaurant
as it was explained that our tastes might be different than those
of their staff. And they were right, the pizza was terrible.
We split the steak dinner as neither of us was very hungry and
settled in for the night. And, as it turned out I took away a
pretty upsetting intestinal problem from Chile which I am only
now able to medically treat with years of experience living in
Mexico and Guatemala. When in Chile do take a little special
care of the foods you choose to eat.
next day we sailed on into Santiago taking two nights at the
same apartment as before to make flight reservations for Buenos
of the most important features of Chilean land I have not yet
mentioned is the almost constant tremors you
will experience. These lands are marked by active volcanoes,
earthquakes and tsunamis. As someone who always felt soothed
by land, this was a new and terrible experience for me personally.
Everyone in the country goes about their business never mentioning
the seismic activity, but it is always there everyday. One of
the students that guided us to the Botanical Garden at the university
in Valdivia spoke to me of her grandmother who lived her whole
life there unnerved as I was by the constant movement of the
write this as we are happily sailing to Italy, having spent a
month in Buenos Aires in an apartment in a neighborhood new
to us -- Palermo. We dropped back to Recoleta while
there to speak to the doorman at the building where we had stayed
before. My husband Stassi asked for Guillermo on the speaker
and when he said his name, Guillermo shouted "Pizza man." We
had made a pizza for this kind fellow and his expectant wife
and we were fondly remembered after eight years.
-- FOOD AND MORE
You can fly into Santiago or for about the same price as taking
a cruise ship voyage from Miami stopping in several ports along
a place to stay -- Rental apartments are affordable
and easy to find, but do ask about square footage as some can
be almost claustrophobic.
-- It is a standard 10% in restaurants and 0% in taxis.
Taxis are terrific in Santiago. They'll take you where you want
to go and rarely will it cost more than a few dollars.
Take very good care to drive only during the day and to get off
the road when you become tired. This part of the Pan American Highway
is largely flat and straight and it can make the drive very tedious.
Always wear your seatbelts and turn on your headlights. Headlights
on is the law in Chile and you may incur a nasty fine if you fail
to abide by it. Tolls are frequent and expensive on major highways
and they get higher on the weekend. Bring lots of cash in small
bills to make it more convenient.
Do take a taxi to the Mercado de la Vega where you will find everything
you need. With a little more walking you will cross the river finding
the now renowned fish market, Mercado Central.
Water is generally considered safe to drink, but the level of minerals
may be unpleasant. I recommend sticking to bottled water
to be on the safe side.
to go -- Stay away from traveling in Chile in its summer
months, December, January, and February. Air pollution is at
its worst at this time of year and everyone is traveling because
school children are out of school, making the serendipity of
a voyage sometimes very difficult.
Clothing even in the capital city of Santiago is extremely casual
so wear what ever you like and you'll fit right in.
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