Monday, 24 March 2014


15th - 18th Mar 2014

OK, my journey by bus over the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago was not as arduous as either that taken by General San Martin and his troops in 1816, or those intrepid travellers mentioned earlier who did it, both ways, by horse, a month ago. I believe Gen. San Martin (lets call him 'Mart' from now on as he is becoming a rather familiar friend) lost quite a few of his men on the way across; many of them entombed and well preserved, still on their horses, in ice. We also nearly lost a couple at the border control point when they got back on the wrong bus.

It was nevertheless a spectacular trip up the winding pass initially following the Rio Mendoza to the Chilean border with snow-capped peaks either side. The road follows the old, and long since defunct, railway line. The tracks are still in place if overgrown and strewn with boulders. There are some magnificent rail bridges over rivers gorges. It was the British who constructed and ran the railways here back at the beginning of the 20th century and such a pity they are not still running. Buses now rule OK.

Right: One of the smaller disused railway bridges. Bad photos here due to being taken through the moving bus window.

We climbed on up for about 3 hours before reaching the border control point (left). I'm not sure what altitude this was at (11 or 12.000ft maybe?) but my large unopened bag of nachos had expanded due to the altitude and then exploded. I was sitting next to a previously silent lady and we then, per force, shared the scattered remains. Had to help her get some out of her hair, like a monkey picking fleas.
The whole journey took 8 hours, but 2.5 hours of it was spent doing the formalities at the border.
Very bureaucratic, inefficient and tedious. 

Right: On down the other side; part of which is an incredible zigzag slalom course. I took this half-way down and there must have been about 30 zigs and zags in all.

Left: Inside the bus. Sandwiches and coffee were served and films shown whether you wanted to watch or not. I wouldn't have minded but they were all dubbed in Español so I understood nada.
We arrived in Santiago at about 6.30pm.

I found a pleasant old-fashioned hotel, Hotel Vegas (right), in the Paris-Londres district of Santiago; not far from the city centre. This area of cobbled streets and 'ye olde worlde' houses dates from the time when the area was owned by Franciscan monks back in the 17th century. La Vegas, their orchard, was around the site of this hotel.

Left: El sitting room; wood panelled and  antique furniture throughout. It was a very convenient and comfortable place with a pleasant open-air restaurant next door. As with all previous hotels in Argentina it has free wi-fi and free use of their three hotel computers. It compares somewhat favourably with the rip-off situations I remember in New Zealand and Oz where you were charged about $8 per hour just for the use of wi-fi!
All the room 'info' folders contained 'instructions in the event of an earthquake'. I made sure I had my torch and an unopened tin of beer to hand. Nothing worse, I imagine, than being under a pile of rubble with nothing to drink and not being able to see.
Right: The Franciscan monastery around the corner. It was all within 10 mins walking distance of the Plaza de Armas, the main city square. I am now back in a country, like Peru, where 90% of town/city main squares are called 'Plaza de Armas' (where the Spanish troops had their barracks). The main thoroughfare through Santiago is the Avenida Libertador Bernado O'Higgins (Oirish origins?) who is nearly as revered here as 'Mart' is in Argentina.

Five things quickly became apparent in Santiago:
1. They have plugs in their hotel bathroom sinks.
2. Their electric plugs are the same (two-pin) as in Europe.
3. Lots of German influence. I think many German families emigrated here after WW2, and their armed forces were trained by the Germans (they have Leopard 2 tanks).
4. Breakfast included hot food with eggs (haven't seen one for weeks).
5. Everything is exactly 3 times more expensive than in Argentina!

Left: One of the entrances to a most pleasant city centre park around the Cerro (mountain) Santa Lucia.

Right: The Neptune Terrace and fountain thereon....... 

Left:........and a view from the top down to the gardens

Right: Looking south across Av. Bernado O'Higgins from the park's summit.

Great cafes/bars/restaurants plus musicians and stalls selling knick-knacks in the 'traditional' Lastarrias area at the east end of the city centre, except that food and drink prices were up to, if not beyond, European ones.
My initial impression is that Santiago is a very cosmopolitan, almost European city in outlook and appearance. I have yet to see any blacks or Muslims. Not even tourist ones. Didn't see any in Argentina either for that matter.

Left: The centre of Plaza de Armas which was boarded off and hidden from view (until a workman opened a gate), due to extensive renovations, hence noone inside.

Right: On one side is the cathedral (naturally) and the impressive library building. They have a good bookshop in here where I managed to buy a Terry Pratchett book to read, having lost my kindle....! 

Left: Outside the cathedral were several statues of, I think, dead Popes, or saints, or some such. This one was particularly popular with our feathered friends; perhaps the Patron Saint of Incontinent Pigeons. They wouldn't let this happen to their statues in Pyongyang, I can tell you!

Around the plaza there were various 'acts' taking place. You know; magic, juggling, stupid 'human statues' etc. plus a brilliant Punch and Judy style puppet show 'with edge'. This show had both children and adults rapt. The very realistic puppets interacted with the audience with often hysterical reactions from the children. This hostile character (right) was abusing everyone in sight and eventually 'urinated' over a hastily scattering crowd.........

.....and this 'nasty' crocodile appeared suddenly from time to time, normally to scare the wits out of an  unsuspecting small child who had been lured up to the stage for some innocent reason (e.g. to tie a puppet's shoe laces) and run away screaming, much to the amusement of his/her friends (and us oldies). 

Right: Several horses were on parade, such as these patriotic ones.......

Left: .......and the mounted Carabineros de Chile. Interestingly, when not covered by hi-vis jackets, the uniforms of the smartly turned out Carabineros displayed their name tags; not something that our UK police would care, or dare, to do.

Right: Much music, singing and dancing in the surrounding streets. It was good quality stuff.......

.......which attracted many to take to the dance-floor such as this old geyser and his partner (left). They were actually very good dancers. I took a video of them and, much to his pleasure, showed it to him later.

Right: A statue in the Parque Forestal which runs along the southern side of the Mapocho river which divides the city north-south. I thought for a moment it might be wreckage from the much sought MH370 aircraft. 

The Mapocho river now resembles nothing much more than a narrow canal, or high sided drainage ditch more like, with a trickle of dirty water in the bottom (at this time of year anyway). Very few bridges cross it which is rather inconvenient.

Left: A local landmark, the Cerro San Christobal, to the north of the city. I wanted to get to the top and having been walking around the city all day was concerned that it would be a long and tiring climb.

Fortunately there is a funicular railway up to the top. Right: The entrance.

Guarded by cut-outs of some Italian gentlemen (left) who built the thing in the late 1800s.

The city is full of ice-cream shops. I suspect the Italians had a hand in this too.

Right: The funicular. It only took about 10 minutes to the top. There is a path, or course, but I was being idle.

Left: View from the top over the city to the south.

Surmounting the hill is a chapel and this statue (right) of the Virgin Mary, I believe. It has signs around the base demanding 'silencio' and some solemn religious music is played from discretely hidden speakers in the trees. There is also a sort of amphitheatre just below it where religious ceremonies are held plus a shop selling souvenirs and post-cards, and a cafe further down. 

Left: Needless to say, as with all statues, this one is no exception to attracting the attention of pigeons.

Looks like she has been dribbling a bit.

Right: Just to prove I was there. The Waitrose supermarket bag is still serving it's useful purpose. Nobody has yet tried to nick my supermarket bag.

Left: The Bellas Artes museum . This features Chilean fine art and  shares the site with the Contemporary Art museum behind it. I didn't venture inside.

Right: A fine figure of a horse in the forecourt. Slightly dodgy legs I think.

Left: Inside the Mercado Central. This used to be the major city fish market and is just south of the river/drain, north of Plaza de Armas. It still does have a few fishmongers around it but is now a vast enclosed area of very good fish restaurants. A must for your fish lunch; it closes at 6.00pm, so nae 'fush supper' on offer.

Right: Palacio de la Moneda. This houses the Presidential offices and is the place where the late Marxist President Salvadore Allende, who refused to leave, was overthrown in 1973. The name 'Moneda' means 'coin'. It was originally the official mint.

Left: This nondescript looking house in a leafy suburb has an interesting history. I had to make a long journey to the Vitacura district, north-east of the city, to make an appointment to come back later in the week to be shown around. All will be revealed when I return to Santiago on the 20th.

Next stop will be the charming little township of Olmue, 2 hours bus ride over the mountains to the north-west. I look forward to meeting up with an ex-Scots Guardsman, brother of an ex-colleague of mine, who has lived and worked there for some time.

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