25 December 2015
It's early summer in Santiago, Chile. Days are long and warm and full of sunshine, with incredibly blue skies. Sunrise is around 6 AM, sunset maybe about 9:30 PM, and people are out and about and enjoying the glorious sun!
Really, Santiago feels like one of the most urban cities we've been in for a while. Quito was like small neighborhoods. Lima was sprawling, but still had that neighborhood feel. Santiago in summer is something like New York City in the summer - full of people who work and live here, intent on going places and shopping and, at the same time, getting ready for the holiday but still enjoying the long sunny days. Streets are full of pop-up markets with Christmas gifts, people are rushing around with packages and boxes of special holiday treats, and bakeries and stores are jammed with paneton (like Italian pannetone) and candy canes.
We're staying in an "apart-hotel" - basically, someone bought a batch of apartments and rents them out similar to a hotel. This seems to be something that happens all over Santiago, we've stayed in apart-hotels before. The plus is that there's a small kitchen (great for breakfasts as well as cooking on Christmas Day when restaurants are closed), separate bedroom and living room so there's more space, and many of the people in this complex of buildings are Chileans, people who own or rent an apartment. The down side is that there aren't some of the usual amenities in a hotel - such as someone to ask the partiers to get quiet. But it definitely gives us a taste of life in Santiago.
So - the city of Santiago was founded in 1541 by the Spanish conquistador and explorer Valdivia. The original city was first organized around the main square, a church, and wood or mud (adobe) houses. The information sign said that it is now a modern metropolis and the heritage capital of Chile, which churches from the 17th century, markets, and an intense cultural life.
And the history of Chile is pretty similar to the history of the rest of South America - there were indigenous people, the Inca controlled the most northern regions, the Spanish arrived and killed about half of the indigenous people, and these days the country is a modern republic. Of course, there were the economic problems in the Allende years, and Pinochet's coup and subsequent reign - but things are quiet and relatively stable now.
Despite internal conflicts, there are many of the original Spanish buildings still standing, ornate and gorgeous. We have no idea what the building that resembles the White House might be, but it definitely is a government building. The home of the president? The place for the legislature to meet? There were no signs, just a fence and guards. Definitely something!
The fancy building that looks like a wedding cake with whipped cream frosting is the post office!!!! SO beautiful, both inside and out - I had to take photos inside, it just was so incredible! (It was built in 1882.)
In the main square, Plaza de Armas, there was the cathedral, another gorgeous building, though we didn't go inside. This square is where the tourist information office is located, and that's why we were there - this is always one of our first stops in a new location, so we can gather information, pick up maps and brochures, find out about what to do in the city and where to visit while in country.
The city apparently had sponsored some sort of competition for alternative Christmas trees, and they were all lined up in the plaza. I only took photos of a few, there were some that were less appealing. But I really liked the bicycle wheel tree, the chair tree, and what looks, to me, like a modern interpretation of the African influences in this country, or continent. At least, the tree looks somewhat like the masked dancers of West Africa.
The Plaza de Armas is also the location of some museums, so I'm sure we'll be back.
Inlaid in the cement of the plaza, there are several huge bronze plaques. I don't know what else to call them. They're like giant square manhole covers, showing bas relief and etched plans of the city of Santiago from 1580-something, 1600-something, and 1712. Truly beautiful and fascinating! You can see how the city began as the central square, not far from the Mapocho River; and then how the city grew outward from there.
Plus in the late morning sun, these huge squares were glowing like gold ingots rolled into the concrete!
We've had fun walking around the city, and have some information about where we'd like to go beyond Santiago. We even have tickets for our next adventure. Unfortunately, the train system in Chile doesn't cover the whole country. In fact, what was once a rather extensive train system has not been maintained, and the tracks have fallen into such disrepair that there are only a few small areas that can be travelled via rail. So we'll most likely rent a car to travel south to Patagonia and maybe even Tierra del Feugo. And if possible, north to the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth.
In the meanwhile, we'll have a week or two in Santiago.
Today, Christmas Day, is quiet. As in much of South America, businesses and government offices close for Christmas, and people spend the day with family or friends. We're catching up on sleep, reading, etc. And I will cook something for dinner, since it seems that most restaurants are closed for the holiday. (I met a woman while shopping at the supermarket; she said her hotel's restaurant was going to be closed. So it isn't just small independent places that are closed - seems to be everything.)
We'll see what's open tomorrow. There seems to be some sort of parade celebrating the life of Pablo Neruda, Chile's most famous poet.
I'm sure we'll stumble into something interesting and exciting!