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Touchdown in Santiago

April 16, 2019

In the long, thin country of Chile, Santiago, the capital, is its largest city and the jumping-off point to Easter Island, the object of my latest adventure. So I book-ended this latest photography expedition with an exploration of this cosmopolitan city.

Staying close-in in the Providencia area turned out to be a good choice, as I could walk everywhere I wanted to go. Arriving early on a Saturday morning and not able to check into my B&B, I killed time just walking around my neighborhood to see what was nearby (ATM, mini-market, a good place for café con leche and desayuno (breakfast)). A combined driving/walking tour later in the afternoon gave me a larger overview of the city so I could home in on the areas I wanted to explore on the back-end of the expedition.

Plaza de Armas anchors the city and was the site on which it was founded in 1541 by Pedro Valdivia, whose mounted statue oversees the plaza. The magnificent National Cathedral presides over the east end of the square.

Parque Bicentenario commemorates the bicentennial of the country, and is a lovely urban oasis, where families picnic on the weekends while watching the black-necked swans and flamingoes wade in the protected ponds. The bonus: the only clear view of the Andes I had during the trip.

The highlight of my first short stay was a 3 1/2 hour walking tour on Sunday, organized by an outfit called Tours4Tips. Just as it sounds, they don’t charge a fee; at the end of the tour you simply pay your guide what you think it was worth. Our enthusiastic guide, Cammie, was a Canadian ex-pat who engaged our group right away and kept us entertained. We started at the busy Mercado Central (the fish market), then moved on to the mob scene at Mercado Vega, a mammoth two block by four block area selling everything but fish.

Hopping on the subway, we traveled toward the northern edge of town for a fascinating walk through the General Cemetery. Over two million souls are interred here, and Cammie said there’s still room for more. All but two of Chile’s presidents are buried here; and there is a memorial to the “desaparecidos,” the people who were “disappeared” during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet from 1973-1990. Chile commemorates its own 9/11: September 11, 1973, the date of the coup d’état overthrowing the socialist president Salvador Allende. During Pinochet’s ruthless regime, over 3000 political opponents were made to disappear, hundreds of thousands more were tortured and/or killed, and many thousands left the country.

The modern-looking structure above is the burial place of Salvador Allende, who committed suicide during the coup and was buried elsewhere, but subsequently was reinterred here after Chile’s return to democracy in 1990.

Animata are very important to Chileans, and that is nowhere more obvious than in the cementario, where people remember their dead with elaborate tributes and requests for blessing marked by flowers real and fake, stuffed toys, plaques and letters.

Those who can’t afford mausoleums are interred in niches…

We were lucky to see people getting ready for a funeral parade.

After the walk I made my way back to my neighborhood to pay a visit to La Chascona, the Santiago home of Chile’s Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda. Though I couldn’t take photos inside, I enjoyed the informative audio guide as I wandered through the comfortable rooms Neruda shared with his mistress, Mathilde, whom he later married. He led a colorful life as a diplomat and prominent communist, going into hiding and fleeing to Argentina in the late ’40s when the government outlawed communism and issued a warrant for his arrest.  Much later, he was an advisor to Allende, and was hospitalized for cancer treatment during the 1973 military coup. He stayed in the hospital only a short time, believing that the doctor had injected him with poison, presumably on the orders of Pinochet. He died shortly thereafter at his home in Isla Negra (more on that lovely spot later). In 2015 the Chilean government acknowledged that there was documentary evidence strongly pointing to the possibility that his death was hastened by others and not a heart attack, which was listed as the official cause of death. Neruda is much beloved by Chileans.

More on Santiago later…

  1. Your photos are exquisite. Each one tells a story on its own and adds to the narrative. So glad to be on this journey with you.

  2. Your photos are exquisite. Each one tells a story on its own and adds to the narrative. So glad to be on this journey with you.

  3. Beverly permalink

    Ok did it…
    Another entry on our travel wish list! Thank you for the great read and photos.

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