Saturday – December 29, 2007 –
Sadly, today was our last day during our first visit to South America. Chile is such a beautiful country with the warmest and friendliest people. We wanted to make our last day count by seeing as much as possible before our flight tonight.
After waking up, we enjoyed the views of the nearby Andes out our window on the 23rd floor of the Marriott. It made us appreciate how mountainous Santiago is at around 1,800 elevation in the central valley but surrounded by large Andean peaks.
In fact, Santiago rests in a large bowl-shaped valley flanked by the Andes to the east of Las Condes, the Chilean Coastal Range to the west and the Cordón de Chacabuco to the north. The tallest is the Tupungato volcano, approximately 21,500 feet tall. The Mapocho River flows through the city. Looking east, we could see the Cordillera of the Andes with many peaks exceeding 19,000 feet. The city, much like San Francisco, is known for its earthquake activity along the San Ramón Fault which makes the metro area very seismically active.
After our continental breakfast, we checked out of our room and checked our luggage to pick up later. We walked down to Manquehue street to Avenida Apoquindo to board the Manquehue metro to the city center. We took the metro to the Plaza de Armas, the most famous plaza in Chile.
The Plaza de Armas offers a very historic look at Santiago’s colonial past. This is where the city was founded in 1541 and has been the county’s capital ever since. Only a few historical buildings from the Spanish colonial period remain because Santiago has been regularly hit by earthquakes. We saw the San Francisco Church, which dates back to 1586 and is the oldest structure in the city. Some of the mostbeautiful architecture consists of 19th century neoclassical buildings in this area along with art deco and neo-gothic buildings.
The Plaza de Armas, or central square, is where the independence fight with Spain was declared. The two most beautiful buildings are the Cathedral and the Palacio de La Moneda, which is the Presidential Palace. The palace dates back to 1784 and is home of the President. Other buildings surrounding the Plaza de Armas are the Central Post Office Building and the Palacio de la Real Audiencia de Santiago. This palace houses the Chilean National History Museum. We also saw the Casa Colorada, which houses the Museum of Santiago, and the Teatro Municipal de Santiago.
The plaza was beautiful with its Christmas decorations. A huge manger scene attracted admiring visitors – quite different than the U.S. where nativity scenes have become rarer because of the secularism of Christmas. A huge Christmas tree fir towered over the Plaza de Armas as an Ecuadorian band in traditional clothing including Alpaca fur chaps played Andean music in the plaza while hawking their cds.
Afterwards, we walked by the Tribunales de Justicia where the Supreme Court not many years earlier decided on former dictator Augusto Pinochet’s fate to stand trail for crimes committed against the Chilean nation. Unfortunately, Pinochet died before he could be tried. We admired the beautiful flag of Chile,which looks like the Lone Star of Texas. A huge Chilean flag with white and red stripes and a blue box with a white star waved proudly in the wind over the Roman façade of the building.
Next, we visited the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. The Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art is considered to be one of the greatest art museums in the Americas. We saw amazing artifacts dating back several millennia that shed light on various pre-European civilizations from Mesoamerica, the Amazon, the Andes, Caribbean and Chile. They include civilizations such as the Inca, Aztecs, and local civilizations such as Mapuche. Among the collections were art, jewelry, tapestries, pottery, textiles and tablets.
Most impressive, but somewhat disturbing, were the famous Chinchorro mummies from the Atacama Desert of southern Peru and northern Chile. We saw the mummy of a child that is considered to be the oldest in the world. These mummies pre-date the Egyptian ones by more than 2,000 years (5,000 BC compared to 3,000 BC). It was fascinating that the civilization, much like the Egyptians, removed the internal organs. The Chinchorro people replaced the organs with vegetable fibers or animal hair. Gross but interesting! We also saw some exquisite gold and bronze jewelry.
After leaving the museum, we headed to the Mercado Central, Santiago’s wrought-iron fish market and one of the cities top attractions. We had a seafood lunch of Chilean sea bass, shrimp and tried a tomato- and potato- based stew ceviche, reported to be poet Pablo Neruda’s favorite. The smells were both good and some, not as much. In fact, we saw just proprietors hawking every type of fish sold along the coast of Chile.
But the market doesn’t sell simply seafood. We saw the fruit, vegetable and floral markets. Chile exports huge amounts of fruits and vegetables, so we had a glimpse of the Chilean economy in action. It was a happening place!
After our lunch, we took the metro to Baquedano where we took a bus to the base of Cerro San Cristóbal. We took a funicular train from Plaza Caupolicán at the Bellavista neighborhood entrance that climbed 284 meters up the ridge to the summit of the mountain. The summit of Cerro San Cristóbal at the Terraza Bellavista offered an extraordinary view of the city from its elevation of 2,000 meters. The peak is the second highest point in the city after Cerro Renca. It also contains Santiago’s largest public park: the Santiago Parque Metropolitano.
We saw two huge pools, Tupahue and Antilén, before visiting the centerpiece of the mountain: the Immaculate Conception, a 22 meter statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The statue about 45 feet tall, but about 75 feet including its pedestal. We visited the small chapel where John Paul II prayed and blessed the city of Santiago in 1987. At night, the statue is lit up and shines gracefully over the city.
After admiring the views, we took the teleferico San Cristobal down. We passed by the Chilean National Zoo. We also La Chascona, one of Pablo Neruda’s homes. From there we walked through the Bellavista neighborhood, a community known for its restaurants, cafes and shops. I did a double take as we passed by the Restaurante Alabama! Who knew Alabama was in Santiago and that they served Cristal?
After a long walk back to the metro, we took it back to the Las Condes Marriott. There we picked up our bags and took a taxi to the airport.
Around 9:45 p.m., our flight took off for Atlanta. We passed over the beautiful city of Santiago below. I watched a movie before drifting off to sleep somewhere over the Bolivian desert. After awaking for breakfast over the Caribbean, we landed around 7 a.m. on Sunday in Atlanta. What an unforgettable first trip to South America!