Friday – December 28, 2007 –
The next morning after breakfast, we said goodbye to Celia as we checked out of the Patagonia Rebelde. Our transfer arrived and drove us and a few passengers already inside to El Calafate’s nearby airport. After checking in and paying our departures taxes, we departed around 10:45 a.m. We had to fly south to Ushuaia, but this time the weather was much better! After a short delay, we flew back to Chile – this time to the Chilean capital of Santiago. We arrived at the very nice and newly remodeled Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport – Chile’s air gateway and the principal hub of LAN Airlines. We had some great views of the city before we landed. It kind of reminded me of Denver with its huge peaks rising near the city. A nice Chilean girl I was sitting next to from Vina del Mar told me about central Chile. She was very hospitable and proud of where she was from.
Upon arrival at around 6:45 p.m., our transfer picked us up by van. They told us we speak Spanish very well and taught us some differences between Chilean and Argentinean. It was pretty funny. They also pointed out key attractions and streets so we could get our bearings. Then we arrived at our hotel, the Marriott Santiago in the affluent financial district of Las Condes.
After checking into our hotel, we went for a walking tour of Las Condes, known as home to the country’s economic elite. We walked down Apoquindo Avenue, sometimes referred to as “Sanhattan” because of it’s 24 buzz and wealth. It kind of reminded me of Buckhead with all of the financial businesses, glass skyscrapers, sleek hotels, fine dining, theaters and glitzy shopping centers. We had dinner and TGI Friday’s, which was interesting because I had never been to an American restaurant in South America.
It was interesting to see how Santiago’s economic growth during the past few decades has transformed it into an international business center. We could see why Santiago is considered the cultural, political and financial center of Chile. Interestingly, we learned that the Chilean presidential offices and Supreme Court are located in Santiago, but Congress meets in nearby Valparaíso.
Another impressive experience was the clean and modern Metro de Santiago, South America’s most extensive subway system. The Metro de Santiago subway carries more than two million passengers daily through its three lines (1, 2, and 5). With the boom in worldwide copper prices, of which Chile is the world’s largest producer, much of the money is being invested in infrastructure such as new metro lines and freeways. By 2016, the government plans on opening the four new lines: 3, 4, 4A and 6.
We saw a few cafés con piernas, an interesting culture we had seen on television. The “coffee shops with legs” are popular in Chile where the service staff consists of females dressed in miniskirts and heels walk on a raised catwalk while serving businessmen. In recent years, more progressive cafés feature women in bikinis and have become a Chilean export to the rest of South America. We didn’t go in, but it was interesting to actually see some of them.
That evening we didn’t stay up too late because we wanted to get up early to make a full day out of seeing Santiago on Saturday.