03.05.2006 - 10.05.2006
We took the overnight bus to Santiago, hoping to leave the wet weather behind us. It was a first class bus with seats that were almost horizontal. I should have slept, but as usual, while everyone was snoring around me, I was stone cold, wide awake. I have sleeping problems under the best of circumstances. I like to say that it had evolutionary value in cave man days. I would have been awake when the wild beasts came to eat me, and would have had time to run away while everyone else would have been dinner. That's the rationalization anyway. It's probably more like your typical anxiety neurosis. You know what they say about shrinks.
We found the capital to be a big modern city of 5 to 6 million. The streets were wide and clean, where we were anyway, and the parks well kept. We visited the Mercado Central, a lively place with sea food restaurants and shops, although the meal we had was not especially good despite what The Handbook said.
What follows are some random photos of streets and buildings.
We also went to a few museums, the most memorable of which was La Chascona, one of Pablo Neruda's houses. The house was named The Uncombed, after the unruly hair of Mathilda Urrutia, who later became his third wife, but was his secret mistress at the time. It is a delightfully whimsical place that looks and feels like a ship built into a hillside, full of memorabilia. Neruda has become a kind of national hero in Chile, which is interesting given his frequent clashes with the government.
La Chascona in fact, was vandalized by some of Pinochet's goons prior to his death, which occurred when Allende was overthrown in 1973. Urrutia was then harassed by the military government, and eventually wrote a book about it and her life with Neruda. A movie, Il Postino, was made about an earlier time, when he was in exile in Italy, though it is really a love story based on his poetry.
Allende on a Wall with Funny Caption
After a brief few days in Santiago, we went on to delightful Valparaiso. Situated on steep hills by the sea, it reminded us very much of San Francisco.
It was by far, our favorite city in Chile. Neglected for years, it is slowly being renovated after being declared a World Heritage Site in 2003. However it is still full of ramshackle wooden and corrugated tin houses, many of which are painted in vibrant colors.
It is the cultural center of the country with a large art scene, music, cafes, etc. The murals which appear all over the city are spectacular. It is the kind of place which invites random wandering along curvy and narrow lanes, often with one vista after another.
The first few days we stayed in a hostel run by a Brit who was the primary author of The Footprint Guide to Chile.
Our street continued down a very steep hill.
Very conveniently, the city has many ascensors, a kind of cable car/elevator to assist you in getting up the hills. These are practically antiques, and were a real gas to ride in for about a quarter. They didn't go far, but it was the elevation gain and not the distance which counted.
We met an Aussie couple while touring La Sebastiana, Neruda's home in Valparaiso. Located on one of the city's high hills, it feels like a combination bird house and ship, and is named after its first owner, who in fact, wanted to turn the third floor into bird house.
The harbor is a busy place and one day we took a tour of it with our Aussie friends.
The views looking back over the city are......
On a role with Neruda's houses, we went to see the third one, Isla Negra. It is not on an isla, but is right on the sea about an hour from the city. It has a very ship-like feel, even more so than the others, and is full of shells and other nautical objects.
The setting is dramatic.
Equally as eye-catching, was the young, German/Indian couple who came with us that day.
For most of our time in Valparaiso we just walked around the streets, looking at buildings, eating in the cafes, checking out the art galleries. People were quite friendly, though not as effusive as the Argentinians with their Italian background.
We noticed these folks eating some unusual fruit and they insisted on giving us some. And of course, they wanted their picture taken.
We could have stayed longer, but after a while the weather deteriorated. It stayed damp and chilly, and we decided to push on, back across the mountains to Argentina.