Forty-five days travelling Chile and finally reached the capital. We have already booked a hostel and catch the subway from the bus terminal to the other side of the city center. We spend the evening getting a first glimps of Santiago and walk towards the Plaza de Armadas. Without a backpack, without a camera, without a passport and credit card. Because the stories about Santiago that we heard in recent weeks are not to be ignored. But those stories do not last very long. The center of the city feels relaxed, streets are wide and well-organized, parks relaxed and where Pucón and the coastal towns are packed with tourists this seem to be the opposite in Santiago. There are no big crowds to be found here.
We join a ‘free walking tour’ to get to know some interesting places in the city. With OffBeat Santiago we visit a number of large, busy and funny chaotic markets, including the Mercado Central fish market. The guide spills interesting and funny facts so that we quickly get a better idea of the city and its inhabitants. In the largest cemetery of the city Jose Miguel tells about how the Chileans deal with their deceased people. For example, it is not unusual for birthdays to be celebrated in the cemetery, during a wedding the bride or groom in the cemetery is presented to deceased family members and the whole group briefly turns quiet at a story about a family that invites every child in the cemetery every year to celebrate the birthday together with their deceased kid. After the tour we decide to walk back to the large market halls to get a large plate of Chorrillana and enjoy the bustle and chaos for another while.
Of the colorful neighborhoods we visit, Barrio Yungay is the nicest and most lively. The walls have been painted with the most beautiful graphite artworks, often with a deeper meaning than a first glance suggests. The open wound with which the regime of Augusto Pinochet and in a sense the Salvador Allende regime left the Chileans is a subject that cannot be ignore in Santiago. We previously visited the grave of Allende, and the exhibits about the military reign of terror in the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos are impressive. Regularly elder people leave the exhibitions crying, comforted by their children. The stories and images about oppression, tortures and disappearances do get stuck in our mind! Fortunately, the Museo Nacional de Histora Nacional offers a more easy subject. And then it is lunchtime again, this time we choose a Completo and an Italiano. Hot dogs that are sold on every street corner and a lot bigger than the variant we know. The Completo with sauerkraut, tomato and mayonnaise and the Italiano with avocado, tomato and mayonnaise: the colors of the Italian flag!
Now that we have been exploring the city for a few days, it is time for a first viewpoint. Not far located from our hostel is Cerro Santa Lucia and a small climb further there is the famous Cerro San Cristobal. With a large statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on top, but above all a beautiful view of the entire city. As far as the smog allows, at least, because the suburbs of Santiago disappear into the polluted sky before the peaks of the Andes become visible. We spend a full week in Santiago and visit even more museums, do a second walking tour, print photos for our travel journal and traditionally send a postcard home from the capital.
Where Santiago runs empty during the summer holidays, the opposite happens at the coastal towns of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. The two neighboring cities are popular holiday destinations and we decide to join the crowds. Valparaíso is known for the elevators that get pedestrians easily and cheaply to the neighborhoods in the upper parts of the city. No modern affair, of course, but antique trolleys that fit perfectly in the atmosphere of the city. The houses in the city are colorful, an alternative to addresses with numbers. The colors of each house are therefore chosen so that no confusion can arise. No two yellow houses in the same street. Furthermore, the narrow streets are a true open-air museum with all the graphic art and murals. With a number of maps of the city in our pocket we try to see as much as possible and wriggle for a few hours through small alleys, stairways and streets from one district to another.
Finally we walk to Viña del Mar, a trendy seaside resort with large hotels and packed beaches. Nice for an afternoon, but we are not eager to get a spot between the parasols.