Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Santiago - Chile

The flight involved no sleep but time passed quickly, notably because three hours of it was spent bringing this blog up to date!   We managed to find a local bus although the hassle received upon leaving the arrivals hall was on a par with Thailand and touts were trying to get us into expensive minibuses and taxis.  On the bus we met a lady called Mary Ann, which I took as being a good sign with it being a Jersey beer and all so we decided to follow her to the hostel that she would be staying in.  Even more surprisingly, after an all-nighter on the plane we managed to ride buses and subways and find the hostel, not bad considering there was no sign and only a door with a number on it!  First impressions were that is looked quite modest and the owners seemed pretty chilled.   

We could see the Andes as we drove into Centro (central Santiago) which was cool and the city is covered in graffiti, most of it being political surrounding the suppression of Patagonia by the rich Santiago elite.  There were plenty of poor people in the streets and in the subway system and it seemed that most of them just wanted to talk to you but their English was non-existent and my head was far too fuzzy to attempt my first real conversational Spanish since GCSEs.  The hostel was more of a guest house and we managed to do a little haggling to secure a room for fifteen thousand Chilean Pesos per night including breakfast (there are about seven hundred and sixty to the pound which works out at about twenty pound a night between us).  The owner Rodriguez was friendly and laid back, the building was secure which is important as crime isn’t exactly rare here.  

Kate was too tired but I went for a walk with Mary Ann to keep myself awake until the evening.  We were trying to find a supermarket when we came across a street market which was much better.  We tried a bit of haggling and managed to get some mackerel, potatoes, sweet corn and a lemon (the latter required us to thrust the money at the gentleman who was trying to give it to us for free) for dinner.  The fish stalls had for sale the biggest mussels I’ve ever seen.  They were literally bigger than my hand and were called ‘Churros Zapatos’ or shoe mussels.  After dinner we had a very early night and an early morning too!

Some artistic graffiti in the city

I couldn’t get back to sleep after waking up at 3am so I messed around online for a bit, checking the news and what there was to do locally.  We were extremely keen to see more of the city but it was a Sunday so with the inhabitants being religious there was very little open other than churches.  Next door to the church of St. Francis was the Colonial Museum consisting of old whitewashed buildings containing 16th and 17th century artwork which surrounded a cold and muggy overgrown courtyard.  There were extremely impressive works here, the majority of which captured the life of St. Francis of Assisi but there were also graphic life size models showing the Death of Christ and artefacts of Catholic self-flagellation as a form of penance.  We were asked to leave the museum a bit earlier than we would have liked as it closed at two in the afternoon owing to it being a Sunday.   

Museum of St. Francis entrance
Peacock roaming the grounds

One of the first galleries with some choir singers in the background

A chilling Jesus mannequin

Some of the excellent 17th century artwork

We spent the rest of the day walking around ‘Centro’ or the town centre.  On our walk we came across a bizarre amusement arcade which had both modern and old rides and arcade games.  It was great to see entire families in here, especially fathers and sons.  There were photographs of the arcade from the 1950’s in there and the place still housed what appeared to be the original carousel wheel and although the arcade was now under roof, a gap had been left in the walls where the carousel protruded so it was half indoors and half outside.  There was a notable military presence around the city in the form of ‘Carabineros’ or armed, uniformed officers which can be slightly unnerving and slightly reassuring at the same time.   

The night before we arrived there had been massive riots in the town centre which isn’t an infrequent occurrence due to the immense divide between the rich and the poor.  The southern Patagonians feel as though they aren’t free under the current regime and it seems as though they are getting a raw deal when you consider the subject matter for the recent riots.  There is a lot of discontent surrounding a massive hydroelectric dam being planned in order to generate the phenomenal amounts of electricity required to power the city that Patagonians have nothing to do with. 

There is a special police presence around ‘La Moneda Presidential Palace’ which stands in the shadow of a Chilean flag big enough to be the BFG’s bath robe.  The palace is a large and impressive structure that is free of the graffiti which tends to surround the rest of the city.  Some of the paintwork is quite artistic and the majority is highlighting Patagonia’s plight rather than unnecessary scrawling.  Further down the main O’Higgins (named after the Chilean of Irish descent who helped liberate the country from the Spanish) Avenue there is a large Moai statue from Easter Island which was great to see if not a little unusual.  Upon asking directions we were lead to the supermarket by a friendly local where we bought a couple of things for dinner.  The supermarket was only slightly cheaper than what we are used to back home, however there are still cheap-eat options and we had a traditional Chilean ‘Doggi's’ brand hot dog or as they are called in Chile, 'Completos' from an in-store fast food outlet.  It’s pretty similar to a standard hot dog but with a little more taste as they pile on tomatoes, guacamole, chilli sauce, cheese and other tasty toppings to make it that little bit more special, what’s more it is the cheap option! 

La Moneda Presidential Palace

Moai statue positioned amongst a busy main road

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