Santiago Again & A Lovely Day at the Coast – Days 197 to 201

Fri 17th – Tue 21st Aug

Friday I get in late evening and stay with a friend. It’s a bit too far out though so i move back into the centre on Saturday. I had plans for today but just feel exhausted and just have a chill day watching tv and chatting with a friend.

On my way into town this morning, I pass the start point of the city’s half marathon and 10k.

I feel a bit gutted as I would have loved to have done the 10. Am looking forward to getting back to it when I’m back home.

Not being impressed with the last tour I did in Santiago, I choose a different one today with City Tours. It starts in Plaza de Armas and we’re already off to a much better start.

He explains about Pedro Valdivia who after serving with the Spanish jesuits, he was sent to South America in 1534, where he served as lieutenant under Francisco Pizarro. In 1540 he led an expedition of 150 Spaniards into Chile, where he defeated a large force of indigenous natives. Looking down over the city from the top of Cerro San Cristobal he founded and named the city Santiago in 1541.

Chile is an isolated and vast country with extremes on every side. It has the desert to the North, the Andes on the East, the Arctic in the South and the Pacific on the West. It was this isolation that made the country extremely difficult to capture during the time of the Mapuche’s and Spanish invasion. Mapi means earth and Che means people so they are the people of the earth. They are an agricultural tribe that live predominantly in the south of the country.

A monument to the Mapuche’s was put in the square in 1992.

The broken face is important and serves to illustrate the struggles of these people. They are apparently not Chilean residents, choosing to live by their own rules and beliefs than confirm to society. Many confrontations occur due to the fact that they claim and live on land but don’t pay any taxes etc. They don’t however accept any state benefits either thou.

We stop in the Pre-Colombian Museum of Art where I learn about the Selk’nam tribe.

These lived far south in Tierra del Fuego but 1810 these were pretty much wiped out via an act of genocide. A lot escaped to Argentina and the last woman of the tribe, Rosa Yagan, died in her 70s. Due to their persecution, they were a fairly private tribe so little is known about them but there are a few books I’m going to look into. They held deep and complex spiritual beliefs which included faith in a creator and worship of one main deity. They held initiation ceremonies for their young boys involving tests of courage, the overcoming of fear, and cunning resourcefulness.

As we walk through the town, our guide points out a building – Galería Alexandra which looks nothing of significance and is closed as it’s Sunday but apparently inside is a famous café. Backing the 70s when there was no good coffee in Chile, just instant, Café con Piernas (Café of Legs) opened its doors with its waitresses having to wear very short skirts. The method in the thinking was if people were caught up looking at the women, they wouldn’t notice how bad the coffee was!

Next stop is El Palacio de Moneda named so because it used to be the Mint.

It’s quite an important building in Chilean history. As said in my previous post, in 1971 Salvador Allende was the first democratically elected president. The USA were scared of him and the uprising of Communism and did whatever they could to damage him and his popularity. They wanted him out. The plan was to squeeze the economy until it was at breaking point. Thus they did and in 1972 the country wasn’t in a good way. Allende wouldn’t stand down, instead saying if the people wanted him out they would have to vote him out.

On 11th September 1973, one of the biggest things in Chilean history occurred – the bombing of La Moneda by a military coup with Allende inside. The airforce opened fire and bombed the palace whilst 4 tanks stormed the square. As the National Guard and Military fought, the National Guard got in. Allende ordered everyone to vacate but he himself stayed. From inside here, Allende gave his very last radio announcement. This can be found on YouTube. Allende’s body was found with 2 bullet holes. Today it is still not known whether he committed suicide or if he was taken down.

In 2005, papers were released declaring the USAs involvement in supplying money, weapons etc to the military coup in support of them bringing down Allende. They totally misjudged what would happen by doing so. Augusto Pinochet, the head of this coup proclaimed himself the new president of Chile and ruled as one of the most awful dictators of our time. Some of the first measures taken by the dictatorial regime were the closure of the National Congress, the prohibition of political parties and press censorship. Over 3,000 people were executed or made to disappear, thousands had to go into exile, universities and work centers were intervened or put under surveillance. The press was censored, and labor strikes and unions were banned. A fearsome security apparatus known as the National Intelligence Directorate, or DINA, persecuted, tortured and killed Pinochet opponents. In 1987 Pinochet announced that a national referendum would be held to either approve or reject his continuation as president. Why did he do this? Some say that international conditions, declining dictatorships in other parts of the world, and a shifting of the United State’s focus from communism to other world issues, forced Pinochet to appear more open to democracy. Others argue that Pinochet believed he would win referendum and allowed it to go forward because he thought it would quell public unrest and reinforce his hold on power. On October 5, 1988, the referendum was held and Pinochet lost, with nearly 55% of the population voting against him. After some hesitation in the days following, Pinochet finally agreed to step down and was replaced by a democratically elected opposition leader on March 10 1990. Despite stepping down and his crimes, he was made army commander in chief and a member of the senate for life – a position guaranteed under the constitution written by his regime. This meant to still had a hand in the going’s on of the country. In 1998, Pinochet traveled to London to undergo back surgery, but was placed under house arrest after a Spanish judge issued a warrant seeking to try him for human rights violations. British authorities decided he was too ill to stand trial and sent him home in March 2000. His actions back home we’re catching up with him and more than 200 criminal complaints were filed against him. In July 2001 a court ruled he could not stand trial due to poor physical and mental health.

On 25 November 2006 Pinochet marked his 91st birthday by having his wife read a statement he had written to admirers present for his birthday – “I assume the political responsibility for all that has been done”. Two days later, he was again sentenced to house arrest for the kidnapping and murder of two bodyguards during the coup of 1973. Pinochet however died a few days later, on 10 December 2006, without having been convicted of any of the crimes of which he was accused.

As was the case with Escobar In Medellin, the story of Pinochet is still a difficult one for the people of Chile. Some still love and applaud him whilst obviously many hate him.

Next stop is the University of Chile. It has taught 25 of the country’s presidents.

University used to be free but this was abolished during Pinochet’s rule. Due to the high cost of education versus the low salaries, there are frequently protests that turn to riots outside the uni. There is now always a police presence outside the uni.

The Opera House is a beautiful neo classical building.

Going to the opera is one of the cheapest things you can do in Santiago. Big discounts are offered to the young in an attempt to get people to go and it open it up to more social classes.

We walk passed Cerro Santa Lucía but don’t go up. It was a sought after area due to the high vantage point and views over the city.

Next is a walk through the cool area of Lastarria and the church named after the architect and district.

We stop for a proper lunch stop at a restaurant for 40 mins which I think is a bit unnecessary on a walking tour!

On to Bellas Artes where there is the Fine Art Museum

and behind this the Contemporary Art Museum. There is a gifted Botero in the grounds outside which is part of Parque Forestal. In this part it is 2km long but it actually spans 42kms in total across the city. Forestal Park did used to be the La Chimba neighbourhood, a poor rundown area full of prostituyes and brothels etc. However, when there was the Centennial celebration, they built the park and moved the neighbourhood to the other side of the river in Recoleta. That is why Bellavista is so edgy and has the majority of the nightlife scene. There are a few remnants of the houses in the park.

One thing any visitor to Santiago night notice is the number of stray dogs…particularly in this park. 20 years ago there were hundreds of them and they formed packs. People were scared of these packs and started to not use the park. They raised many a complaint but the city wouldn’t do anything. In the end, the people of the area took action themselves and fed, watered and immunised the dogs. There are even kennels dotted through the park.

This broke up the packs, the dogs are cared for and friendly and the whole thing was a while success which was adopted throughout the rest of Chile.

I leave the tour in the park having already been through Bellavista and knowing the Thai restaurant will be shut this evening, head off there for a nice bit of lunch.

Monday is a day I’ve been really looking forward to since starting to speak (again) to the the friend I met in Peru who lives here. It’s a metro and bus ride out to his town, about 40km south west of Santiago but with some great road infrastructure in this country, it only takes about 40 mins to get there. Doubt creeps in as I sit in the plaza waiting – don’t cancel on me again or I will totally lose it! Suddenly a car horn beeps and I’m reunited with my gorgeous friend Tevy who I am delighted to be with again. I jump in, take control of the car heaters (it’s bloody freezing here) and off we drive. Tevy chats, I listen (as best I can…you Chileans speak so bloody fast). Finally we arrive at our destination and I’m over joyed. He’s brought me to the beach, the Pacific coast of Chile and it’s beautiful. Being winter there aren’t many people about and we just stroll along the sand chatting away.

Pulling up at a restaurant, I’m immediately asked by the crazy funny waitress where I’m from. Blond hair and blues eyes a bit of a give away that I’m not from these parts! A nice bit of lunch with some Chilean wine, in the sun on the beach with great company.

It’s so nice here I just want to stay but unfortunately after a perfect couple of hours, we have to head back.

Back home, I get to meet his lovely son Tomy again, we have dinner and followed by too much wine for the adults. We spend the evening having a laugh listening to music and trying to teach me steps to the merengue!!! Sadly the time comes for me to leave. I’ve had a great day, in great company and Im saddened by the realisation I’ll never see Tevy again. This is one of the hardest things about travelling – becoming great friends with local people then having to leave knowing that the possibility of meeting again is slim to none. Despite some issues we’ve encountered, I love this guy dearly and will miss him loads. Te extraño mi amor

Tuesday’s plans are out the window as a hangover takes hold and I’m pretty much bed bound! This hasn’t happened in a while! I manage a walk around Providencia and some dinner before having to pack to leave tomorrow!

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