Chile / Travel

Smoggy Santiago: Our First Chilean Stop

A man we met on the ferry from Colonia del Sacramento to Buenos Aires said that Santiago was a smaller and better version of Buenos Aires, he lived half the time in one and half in the other. We had high hopes as our time in Buenos Aires had been great.

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The journey from Mendoza to Santiago was the most incredible yet. It was a good 7 hours, but we decided to take the bus during the day so we’d get the best views as our bus drove through and over the Andes. I’m not a huge fan of bus journeys in general, they’ve been a good way of getting between places throughout our trip, but the journeys themselves are usually a bit rubbish. This one wasn’t; this one was a sightseeing tour in itself. We drove initially through Argentinian countryside, with the looming Andes becoming less and less distant, before crossing the border in the middle of the mountains surrounded by snow.

We had recommendations from two friends studying in Santiago that a good first thing to do is to climb San Cristobal hill, which offers great views of the city (on a clear day). The walk took about an hour and it wasn’t too strenuous and although Santiago was incredibly smoggy the views were still pretty cool. There was a stripe of the Andes mountains at the top, then a thick stripe of smog, then a bottom stripe of the city’s buildings. It wasn’t as good as the views on the postcards, but Santiago does have a big problem with smog being caught looming over the city because of its geographical location so close to the mountains. It was an enjoyable walk and it was one of the few warm moments!

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The next day, under recommendation from our hostel (our trip is becoming a whole stream of recommendations!) we went to the Plaza de Armas in the centre of the city for the free walking tour. This was by far the best thing we did in Santiago. Felipe, a part time actor and part time tour guide, showed us the most notable parts of the city and he was excellent. We thought it might be a little dry, and the whole tour lasted over three hours, but that time actually whizzed by with Felipe teaching us about the history of the city with entertaining and dramatic anecdotes, and also showed us all his favourite spots for food and drink. We stopped off half way for Pisco Sours, a cocktail made from a spirit made from grapes, claimed both by the Peruvians and Chilean as their own. Felipe taught us about the darker hours of modern Chilean history, explaining the importance of 11th September 1973, when the first freely elected socialist president in the world, Salvador Allende, died (either was killed or he killed himself) in a siege of the parliament and the beginning of the Pinochet regime.

As a result of Felipe’s explanations and stories, we decided to visit the Museum de la Memoria to learn more. He told us on our tour that everyone living in Chile today knows someone or knows of someone, either a relative or friend, who was killed or kidnapped during Pinoche’s dictatorship. He said very matter of factly that his father in law disappeared one day, presumably killed, but to this day they aren’t sure what happened to him. There are still Chileans missing, assumed dead, that were never found, that Felipe said many of whom were thrown into the sea. Much like the memorial museum in Cordoba, this isn’t a cheery museum to visit, and it’s not a part of their history that Chileans are proud of, but it is important never to forget. 11th September is not just an important day of memorial in the United States, but also in Chile too, as it marks the beginning of a dark time where it is thought about 3,000 people disappeared or were killed, and 200,000 Chileans were forced into exile.

Another interesting, and less depressing museum recommendation from Felipe was the pre-Colombian museum, which offered a look into Chile’s native history before the invasion of the Spanish. With an impressive display of pottery, textiles, jewellery and more, it’s a good place to spend a few hours and learn a bit too!

While in Santiago we also had our first experience of a Chilean nightclub. With lots of Pisco, strangely familiar songs (think Spice Girls, Shakira and Blur – an interesting mix) and sassy South American dancing, it was a fun night. It’s funny how nightclubs are the same all over the world, it felt like I was back in York at university!

Santiago is an interesting and cosmopolitan city, with some very interesting Chilean history. However, after a few days we felt we had seen all we had wanted to, and decided it was time to continue our journey onwards to Valparaíso.

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