Part II: Santiago & Valparaiso
Next stop…..the capital, Santiago.
Our over night bus ride from Puerto Montt in the “cama” section was great! Comfortable and fast! We met a really nice Chilean guy from Santiago called Sebastian who was on our bus. Sebastian spoke with a perfect American accent and said he learned how to speak English from watching TV and listening to music! Anyway, he showed us where the metro was and how to use it. Thanks Sebastian and good luck with your final year studying law. We made it efficiently and cheaply to our next couchsurfing host’s home – the lovely Claudia.
This is for FELIPE back in Puerto Montt – yes, we now agree that the Santiago Metro is the best, easiest and most efficient metro in the world! Friends and family – it is an unbelievable metro and if you miss one train then another one arrives in just a few minutes. Simple, clean and efficient! Wow!
Santiago is the capital and largest city of Chile. Santiago is located in the central valley of the country at an elevation of 520m above sea level. Santiago has a population of just over 7 million people, which makes it a rather large city!
Santiago was founded by Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Valdivia on 12 Feb 1541 with the name Santiago de Nueva Extremadura, as a homage to Saint James and Extremadura. Extremadura was Valdivia's birth place in Spain. The founding ceremony was held on Huelén Hill (later renamed Cerro Santa Lucía). Valdivia chose the location of Santiago because of its climate, abundant vegetation and the ease with which it could be defended as the Mapocho River then split into two branches and rejoined further downstream, forming an island. The Inca ruler Manco Cápac II warned the new rulers that his people would be hostile to the occupiers. The Spanish invaders had to battle against hunger caused by this resistance. Pedro de Valdivia ultimately succeeded in stabilizing the food supply and other resources needed for Santiago to thrive.
The layout of the new town consisted of straight roads of 12 varas (14.35m) in width in equal intervals of 138 varas (165.08 m, 541.6 ft) perpendicular to each other. With 9 roads in the east-west direction and 15 in the north-south direction there were 126 blocks that formed the so-called manzanas or square cut. All in all a typical Spanish model for main roads infrastructure!
More recently, Chile's steady economic growth has transformed Santiago into Latin America's most modern metropolitan area with extensive suburban development, dozens of shopping centers, and impressive high-rise architecture. It has a very modern transport infrastructure, including the steadily growing underground Santiago Metro, an effort at modernizing public bus transport and a free flow toll based ring road and inner city highway system, part of which is tunneled underneath a large section of the city's main river Mapocho. Santiago is the regional headquarters to many multinationals and a financial center.
We had 5 days in the capital Santiago. We had no expectations as most of the travelers we had met along the way did not have much positive to say about Santiago. Well we felt very differently - perhaps this was because we had no expectations or really because the place was fascinating!
We really enjoyed our time in this great city. We took advantage of a free walking tour around the city and learned a lot of great history and saw great sights. The city is surprisingly very, very easy to walk around and navigating yourself to a specific location never seems a problem. The architecture is quite special and it was interesting to get an insight into the time during the Pinochet regime. Thanks to our guide Pablo – who could forget Pablo! We also got to meet a fun couple from Holland on our tour - Marlies and Pieter who are both doctors (we seem to be meeting loads of doctors on our travels!). We enjoyed our tour and getting to know Marlies and Pieter.
After the walking tour finished we invited Marlies and Pieter to join us for dinner with our CouchSurfing host who was meeting us. We had sushi for dinner in the very trendy area of Bellavista. A fab night, lots of interesting medical stories and the sushi were great as well!
Whilst in Santiago we also got to meet up with one of my / David’s old Ecolint friends, Priscilla - thanks for showing us around and taking us to the central market for lunch! It was really nice to hang out and catch up on the last 15 years!!! Time flies!
We did lots of walking around, the weather was great, so nice to be back in shorts and t-shirts and in the heat again after being down south and in the cold. Santiago was a very nice change and surprisingly magnificent city x
Finally, a massive thanks to Claudia, her mother Mafi, her Tio and her sister for hosting us at their wonderful home. You were all very hospitable and especially Mafi when it came to breakfast, lunch and dinner! You are super nice and generous. I cannot finish without mentioning their little perra, Lira, the most human like dog we have ever met! The dog ate apples and was a vegetarian. Lira also got sad and cried when we left…I mean that is crazy or maybe we are!
Thanks again Claudia and family for being such lovely hosts!
On to the cultural hub of Valparaiso!
A short 2 hour bus trip from Santiago and we were in the culture metamorphosis of Valparaiso!
We are so use to long journeys on buses so it was nice to have a short journey of just 2 hours! We arrive at 10pm in the evening and after a short taxi ride we found a hostel and checked in. First thing the next morning we checked out as the people at the hostel were major losers and we were not fans of the place. We moved over the road to a hostel run by a guy from Londoner of Indian decent. He was a well travelled backpacker, well spoken, author of the Chilean edition of footprints book, ran a great hostel and had been living in Valparaiso for 10 years. He was such a lovely man which reflected on the hostel and the people staying there.
Valparaíso is one of the country's most important seaports and more recently is an increasingly important cultural center in the Southwest Pacific hemisphere. Although Santiago is Chile's official capital, the National Congress of Chile was established in Valparaíso in 1990.
Valparaíso's bay was first populated by Picunches Indians who were dedicated to agriculture. Spanish explorers arrived in 1536 aboard the Santiaguillo, a supply ship sent by Diego de Almagro, who is considered the first European explorer, or discoverer, of Chile. The Santiaguillo carried men and supplies for Almagro’s expedition, under the command of Juan de Saavedra, who named the town after his native village of Valparaíso de Arriba in Cuenca, Spain.
During Spanish colonial times, Valparaíso remained a small village, with only a few houses and a church. After Chile’s independence from Spain (1818), Valparaíso became the main harbour for the nascent Chilean navy, and opened to international trade, formerly limited to commerce with Spain and its other colonies.
Valparaíso played an important geopolitical role in the second half of the 19th century when the city served as a major stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by crossing the Straits of Magellan. It gained particular importance supporting and supplying the California Gold Rush (1848–1858). In its role as a major seaport, Valparaíso received immigrants from many European countries, mainly from Britain, Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. German, French, Italian and English were commonly spoken among its citizens, who founded and published newspapers in these languages. Examples of Valparaíso’s former glory include Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, the continent’s first volunteer fire department, Chile’s first public library, and the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication in the world.
The golden age of Valparaíso’s commerce ended after the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. Shipping shifted to the canal as captains sought to avoid the risks of the Strait of Magellan. The port's use and traffic declined significantly, causing a decline in the city's economy. Since the turn of the 21st century, shipping has increased in the last few decades with fruit exports, increasing opening of the Chilean economy to world commerce, and larger-scale, Post-Panamax ships that do not fit the Panama Canal.
On 18 August 1906 a major earthquake struck Valparaíso and there was extensive property damage and thousands of deaths. The city was also majorly affected by the 27 February 2010 earthquake (6th largest in history with a magnitude of 8.8) when over 500 lives were lost.
Persons of note who were associated with Valaparaiso include former dictator Agusto Pinochet, Pablo Neruda and John Christian Watson (Australia’s third prime minister b 9 April 1867 in Valparaiso of German decent!).
We walked the streets of Valparaiso like no others. We walked and walked and walked discovering almost ever street of this cultural melting pot. In recent times the government has embraced street art rather than trying to paint over it white or whatever. So what you get is quality street art of all different types and colours rather than erratic graffiti art of no meaning. It is such a retro, different place.
We enjoyed another free walking city tour, got to see the port area, the main Cerro’s, street art areas as well as use the elevators to get up the hills. Check out our pictures! As it is so steep and hilly they have old elevators that you can take from the bottom of a hill to the top.
Apart from Pinochet, probably as equally as famous (well Pinochet is probably more infamous) is the legendary poet, Pablo Neruda.
We visited his house which is probably one of the most visited attractions in Chile! The house tells the story of one of Chile’s most legendary people!
Pablo Neruda, born on 12 July 1904, was the pen name and later legal name of the Chilean poet, diplomat and politician Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. He chose his pen name after Czech poet Jan Neruda. Neruda became known as a poet while still a teenager. He wrote in a variety of styles including surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and erotically-charged love poems such as the ones in his 1924 collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair.
In 1971 Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez once called him "the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language. Neruda always wrote in green ink as it was his personal colour of hope.
On 15 July, 1945, at Pacaembu Stadium in São Paulo, Brazil, he read to 100,000 people in honor of Communist revolutionary leader Luís Carlos Prestes. During his lifetime, Neruda occupied many diplomatic positions and served a stint as a senator for the Chilean Communist Party. When Chilean President González Videla outlawed communism in Chile in 1948, a warrant was issued for Neruda's arrest. Friends hid him for months in a house basement in the Chilean port of Valparaíso. Later, Neruda escaped into exile through a mountain pass near Maihue Lake into Argentina.
In 1970, Neruda was nominated as a candidate for the Chilean presidency, but ended up giving his support to Salvador Allende, who later won the election and was inaugurated in 1970 as the first democratically elected socialist head of state. Shortly thereafter, Allende appointed Neruda the Chilean ambassador to France, lasting from 1970–1972; his final diplomatic posting. During his stint in Paris, Neruda helped to renegotiate the external debt of Chile, billions owed to European and American banks, but within months of his arrival in Paris his health began to deteriorate. Neruda returned to Chile two and half years later due to his failing health.
We met many interesting people at our hostel from all over the world and all in all had a fabulous educating and invigorating few days in Valparaiso!
Chile was fantastic, such a narrow but ever so long country! We met lots of lovely people, saw fabulous sights and now heading back into Argentina…
From Valparaiso we headed back into Argentina, taking a 7-hour bus ride to Mendoza, wine country. The bus ride was absolutely breath taking! It was sure worth taking a day bus to see this fabulous scenery.
(tambien, we have included photos of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile in this edition release, BUT will only write about it in our Bolivia blog because it was a major part of our Uyuni, Bolivia trip!!!
Until Mendoza where you will be hearing from Dingo, hope you are all well.