Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Farewell to Santiago

4 May 2016

We're currently snug in a hotel near the airport, ready for a morning flight to Isla de Pasqua, Easter Island.  Or Rapa Nui, as the indigenous islanders call it.  And I'm thrilled we're finally heading there, to see those amazing monuments.

We've enjoyed our time revisiting Santiago, especially since we were at the opposite end of a familiar neighborhood.  We could go to some of our old favorite spots, but we also explored our new area and found new favorite spots.  Including a café with bagels.  So you know we were there.

Just up the block from our apartment-hotel is Cerro Santa Lucia, the Hill of Santa Lucia.  The whole hill is one giant park, with old buildings on the top.  On one of our sunny and not-so-cold afternoons, we walked up the hill and around the top, exploring.  Great views, interesting old buildings, and just a fun place to check out.

The way up the hill is via stairs, old worn stone stairs that have seen countless feet climbing up and down the hill.  Some of the stairways had handrails, very helpful since the stones were rather uneven.  And some had not rails, so walkers trusted to fate and hoped their balance was good enough for these lumpy bumpy steps.

At one of the level areas, there was a fountain which the pigeons enjoyed as their personal birdbath.  There were also a few statues, the best being this coy marble angel.  Plus a few benches for readers and young couples who were focused only on each other.

The little black and white gingerbread house looked like it would be a playhouse for Hansel and Gretel, but turned out to be the snack bar.  There were several of these along the trails at the top of Cerro Santa Lucia, very cute and quaint.  But we skipped the snacks, which were mostly coffees and cold drinks.

At the very top of Santa Lucia is the Castillo Hidalgo, the Castle of Hidalgo.  Except it isn't really a castle, nor a castillo.  This is the old fort built between 1814 and 1817, and used during the various wars of independence between Chile and the Spanish, as well as Chile and some of its neighbors over borders and land rights.  

Unfortunately, the castle was locked up.  There was a young musician and his crew filming a music video right outside the gate, so I watched and waited for a bit as everyone positioned their smart phones, someone started the music, and the singer started his rap.  Or maybe the rapper started his song.  (You can tell I'm not into rap.)  And everyone seemed to be recording it on their phones, as well as one stationary phone on a tripod right in front of the rapping guy.  I'm guessing everything will go into a master device and be spliced into a video.  

They were all very nice, though, and after they finished their first take, offered to move so I could photograph the gate without them.  I explained in my minimalist Spanish that I liked the gate (puerto, which really means door) and that I was photographing above them (solo alto, only tall - it was the best I could come up with).  They seemed to understand, and as they got set up for their next take I finished my photos.

There were great views from the plateau at the top, plus a few cannons.  I think the cannons were authentic, but the wooden carts they were on had to be new.  I can't imagine wood holding up that well after nearly 200 years.

And walls everywhere, holding up roads and walkways, or acting as retaining walls to keep the hill from eroding away.  The walls also probably made it more difficult for enemies to invade the fort.  I tried looking over the wall from the top, and it was a sheer drop straight down.  I'm not sure if I was on top of a wall or bedrock, but it was dizzying!

There was a huge fancy red brick gate at the top, although this seemed to be at the opposite side of the hill from where we entered.  Given that there was a better view of the city from this side, this may have been the original front entrance.  No idea.  There were very few signs explaining anything.  And the few that were around were, of course, all in Spanish.

One of the odd things we've noticed here in the southern cone of South America (the Chile/Argentina region) is that even though it's fall, and the temperatures are dropping, and leaves are falling off the trees, the leaves rarely seem to change color.  We don't see the yellows and oranges and reds that are so common in autumn in North America, or even in parts of Asia.  It seems as if the leaves are green, then turn brown around the edges, and then fall off the trees.  After a windy or rainy night, the sidewalks are covered in brown leaves. 

So it was nice to find a tree that was turning yellow, bright and happy on this sunny day.

You can tell I also really liked the old-fashioned light fixtures against the old stone or brick walls as the background.

It was definitely a fun afternoon, and if you ever find yourself in the Cerro Santa Lucia neighborhood, it's definitely worth a visit.  I also walked a bit around the base of the hill, on the sidewalk.  There are a few highways that run through the city and interrupt the sidewalks, so walking around the entire hill would mean a zigzagging walk back and forth across the streets.  But it is possible.

I also visited a basilica down the street from our apartment, on Merced.  I thought it was a church or possibly a cathedral, because it's really big and pretty fancy.  Turns out that this is La Basilica de Merced, constructed in 1795!  I walked inside and it's absolutely gorgeous, full of crystal chandeliers and pink marble columns, with barrel vaulting and all kinds of marble inlay on the curving arches between the pillars.  I would have taken photos but there was a service or Mass or something taking place, and it just seems rude to start snapping photos in the midst of people's religious observances.

So I contented myself with photos of the exterior.

I have no idea why this building is red with yellow trim.  The colors seem rather exuberant and youthful for such a serious and stately building.  And a basilica is at the upper echelon of Catholic church hierarchy.  But red it is, and also
worth a visit.  Especially if you can see it between services, so you can walk around and really look at the interior.

I have a few funny stories of our weird conversations in Spanish, one from Argentina and one from Uruguay. I know, this is sort of a non sequitor, but they just were some of the funny interactions we have with people as we stumble around improvising with the language.

We were in a town that had an evening carnival kind of thing for children – games, food trucks, and a carousel. I enjoy a good carousel, and this had nice animals. So I stood in line to buy a ticket at the kiosk. When it was my turn, I asked for one. The woman selling tickets was confused, and I think asked who I wanted the ticket for – I said it was for me. She said no, children only, yadda yadda yadda. (I got the children only part.) I asked if I was too old. She said no, children only. I said, “But I’m a child in my heart.” (“Pero, yo soy una niña en mi corazon.”) She laughed and agreed, it’s good to be a child at heart, we’re all children at heart. But she explained that the carousel is old and not strong, so they only allow children. And then she started chatting and we had no idea what she was saying because it was all beyond our little bit of Spanish.

When I bought my tango dancers pin, the woman asked me if I’ve seen a tango show. I explained that I was attending tango classes, so I could dance the tango a little. But that my husband didn’t dance the tango with me. Oh she went into a long theatrical soliloquy about how women like to dance and men don’t, and the men just sit on the side with their arms folded and looking sour (she acted this part out very dramatically), and she went on and on in this vein for a while. She was just so funny, so dramatic, and going on and on in lightning-speed Spanish while she’s acting out all of her one-sided conversation! I was laughing, she was so funny – which of course she took as encouragement, and she continued on for another few minutes. All on the sidewalk, with other tables of vendors trying to sell their own items.

Gotta love it!  And it's a really good thing that laughter is an international language all its own!!!

Okay, that's about it.  We fly tomorrow AM, and hopefully we'll have decent wifi on Rapa Nui.  I'm sure I'll take thousands of photos, if not millions.  And there will be blogs.  However, the wifi tends to be iffy when one is 2300+ miles away from any other land.  And in the middle of the ocean complete with various weather systems passing through.

But I'm absolutely thrilled we're doing this.  And will do my best to keep everyone posted!


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